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Redemptive Suffering

January 23, 2007

Last summer, I burned the top of my foot with boiling water. It was a second degree burn that I will never forget, because it taught me the meaning of pain, loneliness, and solidarity with members of the mystical Body of Christ.

The day of the incident, Michael happened to be in town so he was able to take care of me (which he did a very good job at, I must add). However, he had to go back to work the next day, so I was all by myself through the days when the nurses had to clean the burn. I’m the kind of person who does not get scared with needles and I’m always very calm about it. Pain is not a new concept for me either, because since I’ve been little I have broken a lot of bones; a nail went through my left foot, I had chickenpox when I was sixteen (which was not fun at all) and I constantly suffer from migraines. However, during these times I have always had my mom or someone else to take care of me: to get me warm soup, to help me take a shower or to walk…but this time of the burn I had no one.

I thought that the worst had passed when I actually burned my foot, but I didn’t know that I had to go through every day for three more weeks of cleaning the burn in order to avoid infection. I cannot explain with words how excruciating this pain was. It was an open wound that had to be cleaned and there was no way around it. I couldn’t take very strong pain killers, because I had to drive back home, so I just had to cry my way through it. The first time they cleaned it was the absolute worse. It was the first time they opened the wound and the white blood cells were rushing to the burned scene to heal it, which made it that much more painful. I couldn’t walk, because it hurt so much, so they took me on a wheelchair to my car and I had to drive to my apartment crying like I had never cried before. I lived on the second floor and without crutches I had to jump around everywhere I went, because the doctors didn’t see a need for crutches. I was alone crying and screaming at the top of my lungs in my lonely apartment and I kept doing that for two straight hours. Most of the apartments around me were vacant, so I don’t think anybody heard me. I tried distracting myself by watching the TV or reading or talking on the phone, but for some reason, that just made it worse. I had to order the pain killers from Walgreens, but I was afraid I could get in an accident, because I couldn’t get myself to calm down. I was in agonizing pain. But after two hours of lying down and screaming I gathered the strength to drive down to Walgreens and got the pain killers. The pain was not less, by no means, but I think I was just getting used to it and I knew I couldn’t go on with such horrible pain, so I made the choice to drive down to Walgreens. I took the pain killers and cried myself to sleep.

I’m never going to forget that lonely Friday afternoon. Even when I’m only writing about it, I can still feel that same pain and desperation today. On that afternoon I thought of the man who was with me at the clinic and had second degree chemical burns all over his legs, who was suffering much more than I was for sure. I thought of our Lord on the cross. I thought of him at the garden. I thought of all the sick and elderly in the world who were suffering just like me or worse and were doing it in silence with no one to sympathize with their pain. For the first time in my life I embraced my pain and my desperation and I rejoiced in it. I was even thankful for getting the chance to experience something like this, which gave me a peek of what many go through. I screamed St. Paul’s words constantly in a mix of joy and agony: “I find joy in the sufferings I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Col. 1:24). I remember this experience with much thanksgiving and humility, because I shared in the suffering of many in my own flesh. Not to mention that the scar I will have for many years to come will serve as a reminder of this important step in advancing in my relationship with the Lord. It was this experience that taught me solidarity and it also taught me how the sick and the abandoned are powerful witnesses of the sufferings of Christ.

“In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris).

“Dear Brothers and Sisters who suffer in body or spirit, to you I express my heartfelt hope that you will learn to recognize and welcome the Lord who calls you to be witnesses to the Gospel of suffering, by looking with trust and love upon the Face of Christ Crucified and by uniting your sufferings to his.” (John Paul II, 2003 World Day of the Sick).

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