Fr. Taylor shares a different perspective of suffering through the lives of different saints. His talk is a good reminder of how we can emulate the saints and their love for others and Christ as we go through the Lenten season.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“For whenever anyone bears the pain of unjust suffering because of consciousness of God, that is a grace.’”1 Pet. 2:19
- Father discusses the example of saints who accepted suffering from physical evils, for the sake of Christ. Physical evils like pain and disease can be very difficult to accept, but doing so can bring about great good. Like St. Damien of Molokai and Bl. Chiara Luce Badano, what physical sufferings might you be able to embrace and offer up in your life?
- We don’t always tend to think of mental disorders as crosses that can be offered up to God, but St. Benedict Joseph Labre suffered greatly from a mental disorder and embraced it as a cross. What mental sufferings in your life might you be able to work on offering up to God?
- Moral evils, the sins committed by others that cause sufferings for us, can be difficult for us to accept. Have you ever suffered as the result of moral evil like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Josephine Bakhita, and St. Maria Goretti did? What suffering from the sins of others can you strive to offer up to God?
- It can be very hard to voluntarily take on suffering like St. Rose of Lima did, but doing so can help bring about great good in our lives and in the world. What penance or sufferings can you consider taking on voluntarily out of love for Jesus?
Text: Saints Who Suffered & What We Can Learn From Them
Hello, I’m Fr. Taylor Reynolds and today I will be talking about the saints who suffered. Before we begin, let’s dive into the heart of God through prayer.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. God, our heavenly Father, we thank you and we praise you for the company of saints that give us hope in this present life. We thank you, Lord, for their example, which inspires us, the living example, and the living hope of what you promise in the world to come. We thank you, Lord, for their intercession, which shows forth your charity, reflected and lived out in the saints. We thank you Lord for their companionship which draws us out of our isolation into the great communion of love that you have destined for us.
We pray, Lord, that through the saints, we may be given strength, encouragement, and example in our own struggles that as we face suffering, we may not face them alone, we may face them courageously and with the true hope that you have overcome sin and death. We pray that the saints may be our companions, may be our friends, may be our assistance as we journey in this life. We ask this through Christ, our Lord, amen. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
How did the Saints Live with the Church?
It’s a pleasure to be with you again. And again today, I’ll be talking about the saints who suffered. In one of my other talks, I discussed about how suffering is sanctified. And one of the things that I mentioned is that there’s no one single answer to this. That the entire Christian walk, every part of the Christian faith in its own individual little way, but also all together form the answer, that it in each little part, they give an answer to how suffering is sanctified, but also together they form the entire answer. The entire Christian walk is the response, how is suffering sanctified. And in a beautiful way, the saints, again, are one of those parts. The saints in their own way, again, give us a great response, a great way in which suffering is sanctified. And they also, again, form part of the entire Christian walk, and again, answer that call of how is suffering sanctified. And yes, the saints form part of our entire Christian walk.
And what is it about the saints? How do the saints do this? How do they fit into the life of the Christian? Well, I’m going to outline and say that there’s three areas: through their example, through their intercession, and through their companionship, how they still live in the church.
We know that the saints, once they died, didn’t stop being part of the church. They became ever more part of the church. Once they got to heaven, once they found that union with Christ, they became ever more united with us because they became united with the body of Christ, which is the church, which is where we are. There’s one church, one Christ. So, they’re ever more united. The saints, again, we’re given that promise by Jesus that they who were faithful in little things would be given great responsibility. So, once they got to heaven, God gave them more responsibility, more task to live out what they showed faithfully on earth. So, they give us that help here and now.
And so, we’re very aware, first of all, of example that we can look to their lives and get hope, get inspiration, but also how their example is a living translation. They translate it in their lives, in their actions, the hope, the hope of God’s promises. Also through their intercession, we see the love. We see, again, that great care and concern that God himself has that has lived out in the saints. That them being in heaven are all the more concerned about us and their love for us gives us that inspiration of God’s love. And so, we can see through their intercession, how they also continue to work. Then finally, their companionship. That again, they’re very close to us, they’re very near us. They continue to journey with us here and now. And those of us who suffer, they’re very familiar with. They drawn near us because they’re so familiar with it. They can understand that. But also, that we have this great gift of being able to share in their merits, in their virtue and what they’ve won. Just like any of us who are part of a city, you are citizens of a city, it doesn’t matter how weak you are, you share in all the rights, the dignities and the gifts of the higher members, of all the other members of the city.
So, to the saints, who in heaven, have won all these great merits and gifts, they now can share that strength, that hope that they endured, that they won over on earth. They can share it with us because we are fellow citizens with them. St. Paul said that we may be able to have the inheritance of the saints in light. That we are no longer strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints in heaven.
So, we’re going to dive now into the saints and see their example, be encouraged by their intercession, and again, be comforted through their companionship. And I’m going to break the saints up into three groups as they encountered suffering. First, saints who encountered physical evils. In my other talk, I talked about these as the roots of suffering. So physical evil, then those who experienced moral evil, the bad choice of others. And then finally, those who voluntarily chose suffering, who accepted suffering, they even performed suffering on themselves.
Saint Damien of Molokai
So, let’s look first at the physical evil, again, the evils that come about from the disordered world that’s a result of original sin. And one of the first saints I want to look at is Damien of Molokai. Damien of Molokai, a very beautiful, inspiring man, born in Belgium, enters the Congregation of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, and is sent to Hawaii. He is sent to Hawaii, this new mission land, and is ordained a priest in Honolulu.
And off of Honolulu, on one of the smaller islands is the island of Molokai. And it is quarantined island where they keep the lepers. It’s a leper colony. And so, they keep them there, and they’re very underprivileged. Not only are they suffering from leprosy, but they don’t have proper housing, proper schools, any of these things. They’re kind of just left there to die.
So, Damien volunteers to be in this routine of rotating priests, of priests who go there for a few months and then change up. Well, he goes there and begins to serve, but then he volunteers to stay there permanently. He wants to stay there in this, what could be considered most despicable situations. The smell was horrendous. Just the vileness of their physical bodies, just kind of the despair that even they’re experiencing. He volunteers to stay there.
And first of all, he’s able to win great rights for them, greater housing and schooling and everything, but he gives them hope through his compassion, through his love of them. Their morale begins to grow and increase. He would live there for 16 years, himself contracting leprosy but never asking to leave. Himself, again, actually asking to be buried there in Molokai. And he gives us, again, this beautiful image of how that love in that midst of that situation was able to change everything, was able to make almost flowers grow in the midst of a desert. And so, it gives this beautiful example of charity as response to physical evils.
Blessed Chiara Luce Badano
Another saint that I want to talk about is actually a blessed. Now, theologically, there’s no difference between a blessed and a saint. It’s just saints have permission from the church to be honored universally, whereas blessed, it’s a little more restricted, but this is Blessed Chiara Luce Badano. Chiara was a beautiful young girl in Italy. She was part of the Focolare Movement, a group of lay people that just drove to live out charity and love in the midst of the world. They tried to love every person they met as if they were the only person in the world. And Chiara is this normal girl who loves to play tennis, loves to go eat ice cream, hang out with her friends. And she has aspirations of actually becoming a flight attendant because she wants to be able to encounter just so many people and just spread love and joy.
One day when she’s playing tennis, she’s actually experiencing this sharp pain in her shoulder. And she goes to the doctor, turns out it’s a very malignant bone cancer. And she is distraught because her life is taken from her now. All of her dreams are shattered. And she into her room, in what she calls her little Gethsemane, and she prays and prays and prays. And she finally says, “Jesus, if you want this, then I want it as well.” And she gives, again, her yes to accepting all this. And she undergoes all the chemo, the radiation. Her hair begins to fall out. And every time and now she would take a little lock and say, “Another gift to you, Jesus. Another gift to you, another gift to you.”
She begins to go and visit all the other people in the hospital and again, give them encouragement and strength in these moments. She actually refuses to take any painkiller because she says, “All I have left is my suffering. If that’s taken away, what will I offer Jesus when I go to heaven?” And she takes no painkiller, and ultimately, her condition gets worse and worse and she’s on her deathbed, but she tells her mother, “Mama, be happy because I’m happy.” And so, she gives us this great hope in the midst of that suffering that nothing can take away our joy. There is so much greater that that God can do in the face of evil. So, she gives that living example, again, that hope, how God can make a greater good come out.
St. Benedict Joseph Labre
The last one of the physical evils is St. Benedict Joseph Labre. And he was this young man in France, grew up in a big family, always wanted to be a religious, but he had mental disorders and he just could not enter a religious community. Everyone he tries to enter into, they turn him away and they turn him away because he just can’t live the life. He can’t live the life because of his condition. His family disowns him because he’s just already scorned them, trying to go and be religious. And he’s not accepted by any religious community. So finally, he just says, “Then the whole world will be my monastery. The entire world will be my place to live.” And he just becomes this poor beggar who basically travels around Europe, going to different shrines, different churches and praying, spending this whole life in prayer.
He carries with him a little copy of his baptismal certificate, so when he goes into church to receive communion and they see this stinky beggar, he can show them his baptismal certificate and know that he’s a Catholic and can receive communion. But when he would go to confession, these priests would be very marveled that this man had such a great holiness about him.
Ultimately, one day he’s found in Rome, dead outside of one of the churches. And when they find him, they begin to put the story together and see that this man was a saint. And so, Joseph Benedict Labre lives out this great faith about how, again, heaven is where we go, where we’re desiring to be. And it’s not a specific place on earth, it’s heaven. And so anywhere we are on earth can be our home. And so, despite that situation, despite his handicap, he, again, found so much greater opportunity.
St. Ignatius of Antioch
So, the next group I want to focus on are those who face moral evil, and these are those who, again, are facing the evil decisions of others, the attacks of other people. And first of all, almost any of the martyrs could be brought up at this point. We could look to any of the martyrs to an example of this charity that they show in the face of evil. One of my favorites is St. Ignatius of Antioch, who is being led to the Colosseum in Rome. He’s going to be fed to lions to be ripped apart and he basically compares it to being like grain that’s being led to the mill to be ground up and made into bread to be offered to Jesus. And again, it’s just an inspiring way of how I see this.
The evils of these people is going to do nothing more than hasten him on the road to heaven. And so he gives that beautiful reflection for us and about heaven is our homeland.
St. Josephine Bakhita
The next saint I want to talk about in that group is St. Josephine Bakhita. Josephine was born in Sudan, and at a very early age, she was actually kidnapped, sold into slavery, beaten, tortured, and just passed around as a slave. Just her humanity was taken away, her dignity was just stripped off her, and she was just treat treated very horribly. Eventually though, she is actually sold to a landowner who is a Christian, and through him, she begins to experience respect, dignity, but she also begins to hear about another Lord, a Lord who is loving, a Lord who is caring, a Lord who gives her respect and dignity and how this Lord actually became a man, actually was sold into slavery, actually was whipped and beaten as well and died and rose from the dead. And this Lord loves her and wants her to be his child. And she wants to live with that Lord. She wants to ultimately become baptized. And then she finally enters a religious community. She becomes a religious to live her life totally for Jesus. And she had a very beautiful quote reflecting on this. And she says, “If I were to meet those who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if these things had not happened, I would not have been a Christian and a religious today.” So again, how she sees the great gifts that came to her from those actions, again the greater good that God brought about in it. So, she gives us this example, again, of hope in the face of people’s evil, the moral evils overall.
The next saint I want to talk about and one of my personal favorites is Maria Goretti. Maria Goretti was this beautiful, young girl, lived in a big family, very poor, in a farming community. And she was approached by a young man named Alessandro. Now, she knew Alessandro very well. Alessandro had a very broken life. When he was a little baby, his mother tried to drown him. His mother was locked in a psychiatric ward, his father was an alcoholic. Alessandro never knew true love. And so all that he could see in Maria was broken love and the desire to love her in a broken way. And so, he once advanced on her and he tries to, but she begins to resist him and telling him, “No, no, it’s a sin, you can’t, you can’t,”
In a fit of rage, Alessandro stabs her 14 times. 14 times he stabs this little 12-year-old girl. Well, Alessandro’s taken off to prison, Maria is taken to the hospital. Maria’s little body is so small that when they’re trying to do surgery on her, they can’t give her any anesthesia or painkiller because she’s lost so much blood already that giving her this medication will kill her. So, they have to do the whole surgery without any anesthesia or pain killer, which involves them going into those wounds, cutting them open, and then resewing them back together. After the surgery, Maria’s dying of thirst and she’s just so thirsty. And the priest comes in and has to explain to her that basically her body is so perforated that if she drinks any kind of liquid, it’s just going to drown her. And he has to tell her that she can’t drink anything. And so, he says, “Maria, Jesus was thirsty on the cross too and he forgave all those that killed him.” And without skipping a beat, Maria says, “I forgive Alessandro and I want him in heaven with me.”
Now, Alessandro was very indignant, very callous. He was locked away in solitary confinement. He was a delinquent, so he was not given a life sentence, but a very, very long sentence. In the midst of that, in the midst of that solitary confinement, he has a vision and Maria Goretti appears him and she gives to him 14 white lilies, one for each time he stabbed her. Alessandro is so shocked, and when the vision ends, he has a great conversion. He asked for the Bishop to come to hear his confession. His character changes so much, that for the first time in the Italian penal system, they actually lessened his sentence because of good conduct.
He eventually gets out after about 30 or so years in prison. The first thing he does is he goes to Maria Goretti’s mother. And he goes to her door, knocks on it and says, “Assunta,” her name is Assunta. He says, “Do you know who I am?” And she says, “Yes, Alessandro, I know who you are.” And he says, “Can you ever forgive me for what I’ve done?” And she says, “Alessandro, God has forgiven you, Maria has forgiven you, how can I not forgive you?” And she forgives him, she welcomes him into her home. She actually adopts him as a son and the two of them are actually able to be present at Maria Goretti’s canonization. The first time that a parent is ever able to be at a child’s canonization, the first time a canonization that is so big, they had to have it outside of St. Peter’s. And again, it shows how Maria’s act of forgiveness not only gave her life in heaven, but also new life to Alessandro and to her mother, how that love that she was showing already from the first moment she was in heaven that how, again, as a saint, she was already being active in the church, being active in our lives, was winning grace and love for this world. And so, us too, when we forgive, how it can give that greater life to this world.
St. Rose of Lima
The last group of saints I want to talk about are those who voluntarily took on suffering. Now, this category is a little more difficult. These are the saints who took on penances and disciplines and it can seem very hard. But first of all, each of these saints all took it on out of love for Jesus. Jesus suffered and so they wanted to imitate him. But also, they took them on out of love for others. They normally offered their suffering up in reparation for sins, to win over graces.
One of my favorite examples, a very dear saint to me is St. Rose of Lima. Very beautiful, young girl and she accepts all these great sufferings for winning over other people, for winning over these anchors who are being evangelized, for the bishops who were working in South America to establish the Christian faith, for the people, who, again, were trying to hold fast their faith. She would ultimately, again, through her prayer, actually saved the city from an attack of pirates.
Her prayer and her penance won so much grace for the world. And she has a very beautiful quote. She says, “I want all to know that grace follows after tribulation. May all know that without the weight of affliction, we will not arrive at the heights of grace. You should know that according to the increase of labor, it is such that the growth of the charisms in our life will come and that nobody should be fooled that there is only one true stairway to heaven and that outside of the cross, there is no other road in which we can arrive at heaven.” And again, so she saw that Jesus was that example. Jesus, who suffered, is the way to reach heaven, by being close to Him, by drawing near to Him through suffering. Through the means of suffering, we can be united with Him, and she can find a way to heaven.
A Special Blessing
And so, at the very end of this talk, I want to offer my special blessing using the relic, the first-class relic of Maria Goretti. So, through the intercession of St. Maria Goretti and all the saints, may almighty God bless you, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Thank you, God bless.
About Fr. Taylor Reynolds
Fr. Taylor Reynolds is a priest of the Diocese of Alexandria, Louisiana. After studying Theology in Rome, he was ordained in June of 2014. He has severed in various ministerial roles such as high school chaplain, parochial vicar at several different churches, hispanic ministry, Steubenville South and leader of various other retreats and conferences. He has gone on various mission trips throughout the world including to Peru, Ecuador, Guyana, Tanzania and Albania. He has studied deliverance ministry from various priests and leaders (including Neal Lozano, Unbound) and has used this tool in his priesthood. In 2017 he went back to Rome to finish his degree in Canon Law (JCL) and has returned to serve in the tribunal as judge, defender of the bond and even assisting with canonization processes. Recently, Fr. Taylor has authored the book No Longer Strangers Finding Companionship with the Saints based on his study of canonization, his devotion to the saints and his own personal journey with St. Rose of Lima. He is excited to be a part of our team and offers talks on The Prodigal Son Parable, How to Forgive and love your enemies, How is all of our suffering sanctified, and Saints who suffered.