I began this as a single essay, but the more I wrote, the more I realized that I had a lot to cover. After finishing the first essay and planning out what I wanted to cover, this evolved into a long series, which I plan to teach on over the course of the following year in my mental health ministry. Once I am finished with this series, I intend to collect and edit all of the material to put into book form. To read PART 1 of this series “WHAT IS SUFFERING?” click HERE.
In the last essay, I covered what Suffering is. To summarize, Suffering is more than just pain, it is agony. Suffering may be temporary, but it can also be long lasting. We experience suffering via four forms: Physical, Emotional, Psychological, and Spiritual. Sometimes one form leads into another form or it can be a combination of multiple forms. The five causes for our Suffering are (1) YOU, (2) OTHERS, (3) Your ENVIRONMENT and CIRCUMSTANCES, (4) SATAN and his demons, and (5) GOD for PUNISHMENT or for TRAINING and PURIFICATION. (Cases 4 and 5 can technically fall under the category of Cause 2, but since they are specific spiritual causes unique from humans and they have different motivation, I have included them as separate Causes.)
In this essay, we will explore the subject of what Joy is, Joy from having gone through Suffering, and Joy in the midst of Suffering. To explain what I mean by Joy from Suffering, I will share with you some parts of my past to demonstrate this principle. To explain what I mean by Joy in the midst of Suffering, which is something that I do not always have, and I share with you a story about one of my favorite my Saints to demonstrate that principle.
I caution you that some of what I will cover will be very emotionally heavy for you; I will only censor what is prudent and necessary to censor. Since the theme of this chapter is Joy in relation to Suffering, it is necessary to use real and personal examples of Suffering to demonstrate that Joy is merely an idea, but a very possible reality. In order to do so, I will explain a bit about the scientific reality as well as the spiritual reality.
WHAT IS JOY?
Some people believe that joy is merely an emotion, an extension of happiness. However, in light of what God has revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and through history in the example of the Saints, Joy is more than an emotion; it is a state of mind. From what I have observed from these examples as well as from my own personal experiences, Joy is the ultimate balance of your feelings and your intellect.
Traditionally, we have associated emotions, such as love or anger, as coming from your heart. This is an artistic metaphor but untrue, for your emotions come from your mind just as your intellect. On the biological level, your brain produces chemicals, which in turn affect billions of neurons, which are like electrical circuits in your brain. The chemicals and the triggered neurons affect your body functions, your intellect, and your feelings. Your thoughts are an extension of your intellect and your feelings; your feelings are an extension of your emotions and your intellect is an extension of your ability to utilize logic and reason. An imbalance of these chemicals, which affect the manner in how the neurons react, can be one of the causes of various mental illness and prevent the brain from functioning properly, which in turn affect your emotions and ability to reason and utilize logic.
Some professionals in the field of psychology emphasize the importance of your feelings over your intellect, while others tend to emphasize your intellect over your feelings. In reality, there has to be an equal emphasis on both, for God created us with both functions in our brain, in order for our minds to be healthy. Moreover, the cultivation and emphasis of both your intellect and your feelings can balance the other when our thoughts race with an over-emphasis of one over the other.
For instance, our feelings enable us to have compassion for people and circumstances when the use of logic alone can shut us off from our emotions and make us unable to empathize with the plight of others. An extreme example of this can be seen in how various nations have utilized warfare during the 20th Century, through the use of chemical, atomic, and other forms of mass destruction, in order to win a war, but with no regard for the humanity of the non-combatant populace, which are called “collateral damage”. Logic and reason can help us develop a very efficient way to resolve a conflict, but the lack of empathy and compassion, which in large part extend from our emotions, can lead us to forgetting that the causalities of war are human beings. We can be quick to judge our enemies when they do this, but do we always keep this in mind in how we fight?
The other extreme is when we let our emotions outweigh logic and we are quick to respond in extreme to those emotions, whether they range from love to anger. When our mind is clouded with the fervor of an emotion and our logic and reason do not reign it in, we can become mindless beasts consumed by the passion of the emotion that is controlling us. If we respond to an angry feeling with little or no regard to the consequences of our actions, we will be the cause of the suffering of others, and likely ourselves as well, which could potentially lead to death. Since our emotions are important, the use of logic and reason can help us reign them in, not to suppress them, so that we can properly vent our feelings in a healthy and nondestructive manner.
Concerning Joy, I argue that as a state of mind it is the ultimate balance of both your feelings and your intellect because you can be joyful in the midst of suffering and tragedy. You may feel the emotions of fear, anger, and sadness, as well as great physical suffering, but when you have Joy you are able to endure them. It is not the same as happiness, for no one is really happy that they are afraid, angry, sad, and suffering, but it can be similar.
Joy, as a result of Suffering and from in the midst of Suffering, is made possible due to the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love (Charity). To explain these in a simple manner related to their relation Joy: Faith is belief and trust (as in belief in God and trust in Him); Hope is the belief that the future will be better than the present; and Love, more precisely unconditional love (Agápe in Greek, Caritas in Latin), is sincere caring for others as you would yourself.
In English, our one word for love tends to mean and imply the emotion of love, but other languages tend to have multiple words to associate the particular meaning of love. For instance, the Greeks had four words to distinguish what form of love is being referred to: Agápe (perfected and unconditional love), as in God’s love for us, which is the highest form of love; Éros (erotic and passionate love), as in the sexual love between a husband and a wife; Philia (affectionate and brotherly love), as in the love between close friends; and Storge (affectionate love), as in the love that parents have for their children.
Therefore, in terms of the virtue of Love, I refer to the form known as Agápe, since it is the highest and most perfect form of love. It is this form of love in which Jesus said that we need to love God, love one another, love our neighbor as ourselves, and even love our enemies. It is also the ultimate form of love that God has for us, that we ought to have for Him, and that a husband and wife ought to have for each other. It is this form of love that St. Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13:1-8:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
It is sacrificial and in large part is an act of your will and thus not a feeling. Like Joy, I believe that this form of love is the balance of your feelings and your intellect. For instance, we are commanded by Jesus to love our enemies (to be precise, other humans, not demons), but we do not like them. They may have caused all four forms of Suffering that I have previously talked about and we likely feel fear, anger, sorrow, and pain because of them. Our feelings tell us to hate these people and our intellect can rationalize good reasons to do so. Nevertheless, our logic and reason can remind us that Jesus gave us this to be a commandment, not a suggestion, to follow. In addition, our emotions can remind us that these are human beings and we can cultivate compassion and empathy for them as human beings. Granted, this is very difficult to put into practice, but we see this being proven to be possible thanks to the examples of the Saints. For this reason, through prayer and the cultivation of virtues, this form of love is in large part an act of the will that balances our feelings and our intellect to wish the good for all individuals. An extension of Love is thus forgiveness of even our greatest enemies, which will bring internal healing to your mind and possibly external healing in your relationships with others.
At first this might seem to be a tangent, but this is essential to our understanding of how to be joyful in the midst of Suffering. With Faith in God, you have belief and trust in Him that He is in control of all things. With Hope in God, you believe that the future will be better for you, whether in this life or in the next. With Love, you are willing to give yourself for God and for others and are not attached to yourself alone as the source of your happiness. From the synthesis of these three Theological Virtues thus comes Purpose: either after you have come through Suffering you come to see the necessity for you having to go through it, or in the midst of Suffering you believe that there has to be a purpose for it and you are able to endure it no matter what that purpose may be. From Purpose thus comes Joy, for you either know why you had to endure Suffering or you are confident thanks to these three virtues that there is purpose to why you are suffering.
JOY FROM SUFFERING: OF MY OWN SUFFERING IN THE PAST
In order to explain the Joy that comes from having endured Suffering, I will briefly tell you about some of the Suffering that I have endured in life. I have shared some of this before in my conversion story “More Than A Conqueror: The Alex Brittain Story” (available on CD through Saint Joseph Communications), but I will provide a basic summary here, as well as some additional details that were not included there. However, before I do, there are three important terms that need to be defined, which I have learned from my studies of the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, in order to emphasize the point of using myself as an example for this subject:
CAUSALITY: The causes and chain of events for what, why, and how things have come into being; everything that is in existence has to have a cause for its existence. Example: a tree began as a seed from another tree, was planted into the ground, and with water and proper nutrients became a tree
ACTUALITY: What things actually are now, not just what we perceive them to be. Example: a tree is a tree and is not an animal. It is also a particular kind of tree and is different from other trees.
POTENTIALITY: What things can potentially become in the future, ranging from all extremes of good and bad; nothing remains the same and everything goes through some sort of change in its existence. Example: a tree could live for a long time, it can fall down due to a natural disaster, and it could be cut down. After it is cut down, its wood could be used for fire to provide warmth, to cook a meal, or provide destruction; its wood could be used to make paper, which can be made into a book or used for artwork; its wood could also be used to build a home, furniture, and toys. The potential for what the tree can become are virtually limitless.
I was conceived out of wedlock and my father left sometime when I was six months to a year old. When I was three, my mother had another son with another man. Due to having multiple mental illness, such as Schizophrenia and Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (due in part to previous use of drugs and possibly also due in part to genetics), she was very abusive. I was on a very restricted diet and was malnourished, looking like a third world child in starvation according to reports. I was also emotionally, psychologically, and physically abused to the point that I have to get stitches multiple times, I have broken bones, and was hospitalized. I remember praying on night for God to take me away from this suffering. On June 7, 1991, when I was seven years old, God answered my prayers and my brother and I were taken away from our mother; he went to be with his father, while I first was hospitalized again and then put into foster care.
I lived in two foster homes, but despite the agony I felt from the separation from my mother at first, despite her abuse, they were both good Christian homes with good families who cared, which is not always the case in the foster care system. The later set of foster parents, Jerry and Gloria Young, are emotionally my parents to this day and I am very grateful for them. In fact, my dad Jerry has not only been my best father figure, but since he was a very gifted senior pastor of the nondenominational church that I attended prior to my conversion to Catholicism, he was and still is an important spiritual counselor for me. Even though I was already a Christian prior to meeting him when I was nine, it was because of this man that I really grew to love and study the Bible, theology, and history. It was him who encouraged me to continue to study and was a great moral support for me when I studied history in college. The irony is that because of my studies in history, along with my love for Christianity, I later became Catholic. How I now approach my studies and teaching of the Faith, including what I am writing here, is majority a result from my dad Jerry, and everything that I have learned is an extension, not an abandonment, of what he first taught me. Thankfully, my dad seems to understand this, has been very supportive of my ministry for the Church, still provides great spiritual counsel to me, and has said that he is proud of what I am doing and what I have become.
Nevertheless, I still went through a lot of emotional trials as I was trying to heal. I was a good kid overall, but there were times that I was far from good. Moreover, from the age of twelve to eighteen, I lived with my brother and his father, which seemed like a great thing at first. Like Jerry, I also consider this man, Bill, to be a father figure and I refer to him also as dad. (To distinguish my dads though, I at times have to refer to Jerry as my foster dad and Bill as my stepdad.) However, this dad had many vices, such as alcoholism, which led to many hardships during this time of my life.
There was a time when we were homeless and there was another time when we lived in pure poverty in a trailer. The extreme summers and the extreme winters were difficult and many times my brother and I were hungry. There were times when I survived on free lunch at school and my brother and I hunted in the desert to eat.
Over time, we moved in with our Aunt Becki, who like Gloria has been a very important mother figure in my life. Life had some hardships during this time, but living with Becki and regaining contact with Jerry and Gloria made this one of the best periods of my life. I began to study how to minister more under Jerry. I was in theatre in high school, and I acquired many great friends. Two of those friends, Mike and Theresa (and who are now married with two daughters) were of extreme importance later on.
After high school, I went to college at California State University San Bernardino in 2002. Between the difficult transition, my backsliding due to the bad choices that I made at first (especially with girls), my mother nearly killing me twice, my brother nearly killing my older stepsister (his half-sister), and the murder of my older stepbrother (his half-brother), life was very difficult at times. There were brief periods of absolute loneliness and depression, caused by myself, caused by others, and caused by environment and circumstances.
However, this period of my life became the most fruitful. After repenting from my backsliding, I returned to become active in ministry with my dad Jerry, I excelled in my upper division history work, and in 2005 I met my wife Kayla. In June 2005, I regained contact with Mike and Theresa and in July I went to his house and met his sister. Honestly, the fairy tale concept of love has a lot of truth to it and we fell in love immediately. Kayla and I started dating and her family welcomed me as part of their own.
I graduated in 2008 with my B.A. in History and Kayla and I got engaged. I was led to believe that I could immediately start teaching and begin my graduate program, but the economy tanked hard. I was stuck in a job that I hated for six years as I worked hard to find something better. This was a period of great depression and anxiety for me.
In addition to this, my mother came back in my life yet again. Due to her nearly killing me twice, I had to cut contact with her for my own safety. But around August 2008, I allowed contact again because I discovered that she was dying from cancer. I had to be careful with my contact with her because even though there were some great times that we talked with one another, she put me through a horrible emotional and psychological rollercoaster. This added a lot of grief during this period when I was also struggling to get a better job and go to graduate school.
In June 2010, all of the stress came to a head. My brother had been serving time for his crime in a mental hospital due to schizophrenia being the cause of why he did what he did to our sister and his sentence was coming to an end; we feared that month was when he was going to be released. During this month, it was also evident that my mother was in fact going to die soon. On June 6, I had an anxiety attack and a mental breakdown at work. The next day, June 7 (19 years to the day when I was put into foster care), I took off from work and went on Paid Family Leave to take care of my mother in her final days and figure out what to do with my brother. Thankfully, Kayla and her family were there with me to help me during this dark time.
I put my mother into a convalescent home and I finally went back to my mother’s house for the first time in years. Her mental illnesses became visually apparent when Kayla and I stepped foot in there for the first time. As it turned out, she was a hoarder: every room was filled with brand new junk and years old trash in great mountains; our heads touched the ceiling of the living room as we climbed over a mountain of junk in order to cross into other rooms. We discovered so many horrible things, the details of which have too much gravity and horror to tell you about right now. We used a lot of dark humor to cope with the horrors that we faced there.
My mother died at the end of the month. When she did, I was filled with so much anger and hate for her that I had hoped that she was burning in Hell.
When she died, Paid Family Leave came to an end, but I was in no condition to return to work at a job that I hated already compounded with the new found stress of the horrors that I was now facing. I immediately sought psychiatric help. First I went to a psychologist, who was a pure quack, but then I went to a psychiatrist who was of great help to me. I went on antianxiety and antidepressant medications and enjoyed the therapy that I had with the psychiatrist. She also put me off work for another two and a half months so that I could cope with all of the stress that I was under.
Thankfully, my brother was not discharged from the state mental hospital that month and for his safety and ours he is still there.
During this time, since I had left my dad’s church and he retired from ministry, I began searching for God once more. For over a year, after continuing to study Catholic history and theology since I graduated from college, I felt a strong pull to the Catholic Church. During July of that year I began attending Mass at St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church in Alta Loma, I began RCIA in August, and I was received into the Church during the Easter Vigil of 2011.
During this period, I found great healing and began the long process of forgiving my mother. The Sacraments of Reconciliation (Confession), Confirmation, and Holy Communion (the Eucharist) helped make that possible. My mother loved Jesus and she was the first to plant the seeds of the Faith in my heart when I was a very young child. She was a Fundamentalist ANTI-Catholic, but she did love Jesus. And even though her mental illnesses cannot completely erase the blame for what she had done to me in life or excuse it, it did provide some understanding. Rather than wishing her to burn in Hell, I now pray for her often in the event that through God’s mercy she was given access to Purgatory. (Please pray for her eternal rest with me!)
Kayla and I got married on April 2, 2011. She later got pregnant in October and we were very happy. However, Suffering came again. Kayla got really sick and we discovered that she might be having a miscarriage. With tears I went before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament in the Adoration Chapel at St. Joseph’s in Upland and begged the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, to come to our aid. I consider this to be the worse time in all of my life for at that moment I was to become a father and I was powerless to save my unborn child.
As it turned out, it was a molar pregnancy, in which one of the two sets of chromosomes were expelled from the fertilized egg shortly after conception. At this point, no baby could develop, but the cellular tissue kept growing. If we had not found this out soon enough, it would have killed Kayla. If discovered too late, it could have led to her getting cancer. Thankfully, she had an operation that removed the tissue and saved her, but for a year she had to get regular blood tests to check her hormone levels to make sure that no cancer would develop and during this time we were not allowed (nor were we mentally prepared) to attempt to have another baby until the doctors said that Kayla was in the clear.
Just over a year later, we tried again. On January 1, 2013, on the Feast of The Mother of God, we discovered Kayla was pregnant again. Although anxiety and fear gripped us due to what happened before, Kayla had a healthy pregnancy. On September 15, the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, our daughter, Audrey Monroe Brittain, was born. Kayla battled postpartum depression for a couple of months, but she pulled out of it. And around this time I was able to quit a job that I hated and begin a job that I still love as a mental health counselor at a locked mental health facility known as an IMD (institute for mental disease). We have since faced many struggles, but we are a joyful family. Kayla and I have become so much closer as a couple over these last ten years and we now have a healthy, beautiful, and bright little girl.
I have shared this long account for a reason and this is related to what I began this section with the concepts of CAUSALITY, ACTUALITY, and POTENTIALITY, which I learned from St. Thomas Aquinas. My understanding of these concepts and their relation to Joy came about as a result of the birth of my daughter.
CAUSALITY: If my biological father had not abandoned me, my mother had accepted psychiatric help, and they stayed together to strive to have a healthy and happy family, my brother would not exist and nor would I have been put into foster care. Had I not been put into foster care and my brother had never existed, I would not have eventually moved in with him and his dad and later gone to the high school that I did and joined theatre. If I had not joined that theatre department at that high school, it is likely that I would have never met Mike and Theresa. If I had never met them then, it is likely that I would have never met my beloved wife Kayla. If I had never met Kayla, we would have never gotten married. And although the molar pregnancy was a horrible tragedy for us (especially for her), then our daughter Audrey would have not been born. (We may have had another child, but he or she would not be the one that we now have.)
When I held my beautiful baby the day she was born, I realized that all of my sufferings had purpose, for had the chain of events that occurred in my life not happened, my daughter would not exist. The reality helped me understand why the Apostles taught about rejoicing from Suffering. Moreover, as Jesus said in Luke 24:25-26:
"O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?"
Yes, and was it not also necessary that I should also have had to suffer in order for my daughter to now exist? I now have Joy from the Suffering of my past because now I see the purpose in it all!
JOY IN THE MIDST OF SUFFERING: SAINT MAXIMILLIAN KOLBE
Now, having Joy in the midst of Suffering is a lot more difficult. I have found Joy from my Suffering after the fact, but I was never joyful in the midst of it. Nevertheless, this is a lesson that I have begun to learn since the birth of my daughter. My wife and I are still going through trials, but we do so together. I have also recently gone back on medication, since I had to go off of it in 2010, to help with my anxiety and depression. In my weaknesses, as St. Paul described, I am finding strength through God so that I can have Joy whenever I face new forms of Suffering. To do this, I also look to the examples of the Saints; in particular, St. Maximillian Kolbe.
St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe (January 8, 1894 – August 14, 1941) was a Polish priest from the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, is a branch of the Franciscan Order founded by St. Francis of Assisi in 1209. He had a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was the founder of the Knights of the Immaculata (Militia Immaculatae), founded a monastery known as Niepokalanów (the City of Mary), was very active in evangelism in Poland and Japan, and influenced evangelism in other parts of the world. He was known for using whatever technology he could find, from print to radio and the desire for more, in order to promote the Gospel of Christ and the consecration to Jesus through the Virgin Mary.
Those who knew him have said that he was always very joyful. He suffered from tuberculosis and other illnesses for the majority of his life and always put others before himself. To the best of his ability, he always cared for the needs of his religious brothers who served under him (or with him, as he had preferred to distinguish), the local community, the poor, and the sick. He was always respectful of the individual and would care for them and work with them, whether they were Protestant Christian, Buddhist, or atheist, while showing them never compromising Catholic Truth. In many ways, St. Maximillian was a forerunner for what the Church called for in the New Evangelism decades later.
On September 1, 1939, World War II began with the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany. For about a year and a half, St. Maximillian cared for refugees and the sick at his monastery and published many anti-Nazi works. On 17 February 1941, the monastery was shut down by the Germans, Maximillian and others were arrested by the Gestapo, and they were sent to the Pawiak prison. Then on May 28, he was transferred to the infamous Auschwitz concentration camp as prisoner #16670.
Auschwitz was Hell on earth. It was but one of many death camps used by the Nazis, but our minds tend to associate the name of Auschwitz as representing the Holocaust as whole, in which about 9 to 11 million people (depending on the varying statistics), not just the 5,830,000 or so Jews, were tortured and brutally killed by a group of people consumed by pure hatred and apathy. The Polish people were predominately Catholics, as well as some of the victims from the other regions who were conquered by the Nazis. Although the Jews alone were over half of those killed during this genocide (which alone is a tragedy), the many other victims are often overlooked.
From various accounts that I have heard of and read about, Maximillian still served and acted as a priest in the midst of the suffering at Auschwitz and somehow strove to be joyful in the midst of it.
The more he was harassed, the more he strove to be joyful.
The more he was beaten, the more he strove to be joyful.
The more he was starved and overworked, the more he strove to be joyful.
Was he angry about what was going on? Of course he was. Was he fearful? I would think so. But how was he joyful?
It is said by his mother that when he was a small boy, Maximillian had a vision of the Virgin Mary in which she offered him to take a white crown or a red crown, with the white crown signifying purity in life and the red crown signifying that we would become a martyr. When the Blessed Mother asked if he would accept either of these crowns, he said that he would take both of them. From that point on, Maximillian wanted to become a great Saint and continued to seek Mary’s intercession and aid, consecrating himself to Jesus through her, so that he would not deter from the promise that he made to her as a child.
Maximillian acquired, lived, and came to embody the virtues, especially the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love. In essence, he was able to be joyful in the midst of the suffering of Auschwitz because he strove to be holy; because he had great faith in God and in the intercessory power of the Immaculata (Mary, the Immaculate Conception); he had great hope in reaching the goal of Heaven as well as the hope that the evil that the Nazis represented would one day be defeated; and because had come to embody unconditional love for God, for Mary, and for others. He saw that his sufferings had the purpose of making him into a Saint, of fulfilling to his promise to Mary, and as the means of uniting his sufferings to Christ’s suffering to serve as an inspiration and hope to his fellow prisoners. As St. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:13-18:
Since we have the same spirit of faith as he had who wrote, "I believed, and so I spoke," we too believe, and so we speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.
For these reasons, St. Maximillian Kolbe managed to have Joy while suffering the worst form of Hell that humanity had created up to that point of history. Moreover, it was because of these reasons that led to the great heroic act of sacrifice that he has been remembered for.
On July 29, 1941, three prisoners escaped from Auschwitz. The deputy commander of the camp, SS officer Karl Fritzsch, ordered ten men to be starved to death in a cell in an underground bunker to deter more prisoners from making any further attempts to escape. One of the selected men was a Polish man named Franciszek Gajowniczek, who broke down and cried out, "My wife! My children!"
Maximillian did not personally know this man, despite being together for a couple of months at Auschwitz. Although there are varying accounts of what he had said, Maximillian was so moved by this man’s concern for his wife and children that he stepped forward and told Karl Fritzsch, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I will take his place.” Fritzsch let Maximillian take Franciszek Gajowniczek’s place.
For about two weeks, Maximillian and the nine others were in the cell slowly dying of starvation and dehydration. All the while, according to eye witness reports, Maximillian was always deep in prayer and led the others in prayers and songs, encouraging them that they would all soon see Jesus and the Immaculata. On August 14, all of the other prisoners had died and the Nazis wanted the cell empty. To hasten Maximillian’s death, he was given a lethal injection of carbolic acid; it is said that with what little strength that he had left, he offered up his arm to take it. Maximillian died on August 14 and was cremated on August 15, the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
St. Maximillian Kolbe was canonized as a Saint of the Catholic Church by Pope St. John Paul II on October 10, 1982. Franciszek Gajowniczek was present in Rome at the event and continued to tell the story of St. Maximillian until his own death on March 13, 1995.
It is very difficult, although not impossible, to have Joy in the midst of great Suffering. From the first thirty-one years of my life, I have learned and have embraced the Joy that comes from Suffering and I would not change anything from my past (even my personal failings) because of what (in particular, who) I have now. As St. Paul said in Romans 5:1-5:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.
However, I am still learning about how to have Joy in the midst of Suffering and not just after the fact. St. Maximillian Kolbe has become a model for me to strive to achieve that.
Although Suffering is great agony and is very difficult to bear, when the three Theological Virtues of Faith, Hope, and Love are cultivated within you and you come to live them as an extension of nature as it is transformed by the Grace of God, you find Purpose from Suffering, no matter what it might be. That Purpose from Faith, Hope, and Love then leads to Joy in the midst of Suffering, even if you are in the most evil forms of Hell on Earth. As St. Paul said in Romans 8:18, 28-39:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us… We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies; who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, "For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
With these words in mind, the next chapter will explore the dangers of a heresy known as the “Prosperity Gospel”. This is a dangerous heresy that has deceived many Christians, including some Catholics, which teaches that Suffering is not necessary for Christians and if you are suffering then you are doing something wrong. This is not only antithetical to what I have written thus far, it is also antithetical to what Christ and the Apostles teach us in Sacred Scripture.
SCRIPTURES TO READ:
ISAIAH 43:1-4, 8-11
2 CORINTHIANS 4:13-18
MATTHEW 5:1-16, 6:25-34