Sometimes pain and sickness are hard to bear, but we’re still called to bear them. St. John Chrysostom writes to Olympias, a woman who was suffering from a painful illness, that even these sufferings have a purpose: they lead us toward our salvation.
Nothing gives you so much credit, Olympias, as patiently enduring suffering. For patience is certainly the queen of virtues—the most perfect crown—and, as it excels all other forms of righteousness, so this particular kind of it is more glorious than the rest.
Nothing is worse than bodily infirmity—not losing your property, even if you were stripped of all possessions; not losing honors or being expelled from your country and transported to a distant land; not the strain of labor and work; not imprisonment and captivity; not reproaches and abuse and insults.
And this is proved by the greatest hero of endurance, who, overwhelmed by bodily sickness, thought death would be a release from the disasters that oppressed him—though he took no notice of his other sufferings. So you can understand that this kind of suffering is worse than all the others, and this form of patience is the highest of all. But don’t think the fact that Job desired death when he couldn’t bear his sufferings gives you an excuse to desire death. Think of the time when he desired it, and the circumstances he was in: the Law had not been given, the prophets had not appeared, grace had not been shed forth as it would be later, and he didn’t have the advantage of any other kind of philosophy.
Listen to the voice of St. Paul when he says, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account” (Philippians 1:23-24). The more the difficulty of the affliction increases, the more the rewards of victory are multiplied; the more the gold is heated, the more it is purified; the farther the merchant travels on the sea, the greater the freight he gathers.
–St. John Chrysostom, To Olympias, 1, 2-3
IN GOD’S PRESENCE, CONSIDER . . .
Do I really have the strength to trust God even when health fails me?
Have I prayed for that strength now, even if I’m still healthy?
Father, your Son took on our sufferings to teach us the virtue of patience in the face of bodily infirmity. Help me and all who suffer illness or pain realize that we are chosen to be saints, and know that we are united with Christ in his suffering for the salvation of the world.
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