Bad things happen, and they happen to everyone. Even good people.
Roman prisons were not nice places. They were dark, dank, and desperate. If you were in a Roman prison, usually that meant that you were placed in a huge hole or a cave underground. The only way to get in was through a hole at the top. The guards would let you down on a rope, and then you were trapped down below the surface. Even worse, down below the surface there was no food. The guards provided you no food. The only way for you to have any sustenance, any nutrition, was for friends or family members to come visit you. They would lower down on that rope the food they brought you.
Now obviously, everyone beneath the surface was hungry. And so all of you would fight over who was going to get to that food. But if you made your way to it and it was supposed to be for you, then you might live.
Those places were so desperate and so dark and so full of suffering, that in the old historical descriptions of people who walked by those holes in the ground—those caves—the words that they used to describe the wailing and the moaning and the agony that they heard are the exact same words that people use to describe hell. And that’s where St. Paul ended up. He wrote many of those letters (the letters you and I find in the New Testament), from places just like that—from Roman prisons.
He wrote the letter to the Philippians from a Roman prison: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice, the Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
How in the world do you write something like that from such a dark, dank, desperate, death-filled place? A place of suffering. Wow! In that short little letter to the Philippians (it’s just four chapters), St. Paul uses the word “joy” sixteen times. What did Paul know? What did St. Paul know that you and I, perhaps, forget?
Hope helped me get through the hardest obstacle in my life. A year and a half ago, I lost my dad to cancer. Through radiation treatments and what seemed like endless doctors’ appointments, his cancer was kept at bay, until one day it had spread to his spinal cord and paralyzed him from the chest down.
I remember being in the emergency room with my mom and dad, and I knew that our lives were drastically different. He fully had to depend on us now.
Despite this major transition, I had always had hope. There were really hard days where I didn’t know what to do. Days of uncertainty and fear. Days where all you could do was cry. And I knew that I had to choose to be hopeful. I had to choose to be grateful for the time that we had together, no matter how hard it was. And we had to choose to laugh more than cry.
Hope doesn’t necessarily come easy to me, which is all the more reason why I had to cling to it. And the strength that came along with the hope was a direct response from God that truly helped sustain me and give me an overwhelming sense of peace.
How has hope sustained you in suffering?
St. Paul knew that you and I are never alone. In fact, Jesus came to us. He came to us, and he entered into the world, and he joined in our suffering. That story begins in Advent and Christmas, but it moves toward the cross. We’re joined to him. And often we know him most of all when those bad times arrive, because we know that he is at work in our suffering . . . comforting us, loving us, purifying us, saving us.
Suffering isn’t the end of the story, because we are never alone. St. Paul knew that in a deep, deep way. So much so that with death and desperation all around him in that Roman prison, St. Paul could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say it: rejoice.”
You’re never alone. There is hope in that.
We are not forgotten. This is not wishful thinking. God promises that he will be with us always. He will never leave us.
Read this passage from the Bible: Jeremiah 29:11–14.
If you’re reading Beautiful Hope (40% OFF – Limited time only), read “The Triumph of Hope” by Sr. Miriam James Heidland (pages 23–27).
Jesus, I trust in you.