Life is hard. The past few months have been especially hard for many. Marriage, supposed to be the most intimate and safest of relationships, often turns into painful conflict, coldness, infidelity.  Disease in all of its ugliness strikes our loved ones. Accidents happen. Our beloved children leave our beloved faith. Friends betray us. Some people live day to day in fear of losing their home or not having enough food. Others deal with the agony of infertility. Depression and anxiety can plague us, and perplexing mental illness may strike a loved one. Some suffer from bullying and ridicule. And more recently, with the pandemic, our most important needs of human and spiritual connection are denied with the shutdown of churches, schools, support groups, celebrations and gatherings.

As Catholics we know that God is not the author of these sufferings. We also know that He allows hardships  to draw us closer to Him, to help us see clearly that this Earth is not our home (we are simply pilgrims passing through), to form us into kinder and better people. But suffering, even with the perspective that it has value, can bring many to despair and exhaustion, even bitterness.

Is it possible to find joy and strength during these challenges? How do we survive and even thrive amidst the hardships of life?

I will refer back to my previous column in which I wrote about how we think. We can choose to change our perspective.  We can choose to inform ourselves about the purpose of suffering, to determine to rely on the resources of our faith and family and friends, to acknowledge and express gratitude for what is still good in our life. We can choose to think of God’s arms around us, to open our eyes to all He is trying to do in our life and that of our family. We can learn to let go. We can love and be loved, and we can achieve a peace beyond understanding.

And we can again look to the saints for wisdom and guidance. In particular let’s take a look at those known for perseverance.

  1. Marguerite Bourgeoys, the first female saint from the Catholic Church in Canada, was a religious sister who helped care for and educate many Native Americans and Canadian colonists. She was a trailblazer, enduring stark poverty and the dangers of the Canadian wilderness. She founded the order of the Congregation of Notre Dame de Montreal, still thriving in countries throughout the world.
  2. Jude was one of Jesus’ 12 Apostles and preached the Gospel in very difficult circumstances and with great passion. He is believed to have been martyred for his faith in Persia. He is the patron of impossible causes because he urges Christians to persevere in difficult times.
  3. Elizabeth Ann Seton, another North American saint, had major loss, death, illness and financial stress through most of her life. She lost many of her friends when she converted to Catholicism. Her mother died when she was two, and by age 29 she had lost her father and father-in-law and her beloved husband. Several of her children preceded her in death. She faced epidemics, frightening sea voyages, uncertainties and misunderstandings. But it was her motto to “look up and be thankful for the good that yet remains.” It was her testimony that “I seek but God and His church and expect to find my peace in them.” And she did.

Sharon Trani, a nurse practitioner, is a marriage and family therapist with Vermont Catholic Charities Inc.

—Originally published in the Fall 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.