Sickness & Christ/Physical Flaws & Perspective – Raising Catholic Children


Artist: George Kilburne

Article from How to Raise Good Catholic Children by Mary Reed Newland

Show your child how to unite sickness with Christ’s sufferings

Chronic illness is a very special threat to a child’s security, not only for its suffering, but also because it’s easy for invalids to feel either totally useless or totally helpless.

Uselessness can breed despair, and helplessness can breed a monster of self-pity. This is particularly tragic when we know that suffering played the most noble part of all in our redemption, and suffering that’s united to Christ’s suffering can be the highest, most mysterious vocation.

Of two families we know whose children suffer the same affliction, one mother comforts her child by reminding him of the afflictions of his friends.

This one has braces on his teeth, that one wears glasses, the other can’t run very well — and she tries to help him find comfort in the sharing of seeming injustices. It’s a little comfort, but not much. It doesn’t answer his question, “Why me?”

The other family has taught their son that suffering is powerful prayer. For some reason that God alone knows, He has chosen this boy to share His own suffering from time to time. The boy may, if he will, unite his suffering with Christ’s and work with Him to save the souls of men.

He can use it for a hundred intentions, for his family, his friends, the missions, the children all over the world who suffer with him.

One time I asked him if he used his suffering, and he said very simply, “Oh yes, I always offer it up.” It’s the magnificent usefulness of those who feel useless.

Help your child see his physical flaws in perspective

Childhood is filled with little problems in security, like being born with a big nose, or too many freckles, like being too fat, or too thin, like being too plain and wishing you were pretty, or having straight hair and wishing it were curly.

A thousand things can prey on the confidence of a child and expose him to terrible torments of embarrassment and secret suffering.

Being cheerful is the best cure of all for sensitivity, and when children come to us for comfort in their secret unhappiness, we can help with our own cheerfulness.

“Why, you silly little boy! Here you are, wishing you looked like someone else, and all the time God went to the trouble to make a special one like you. With a nose so, and eyes so, and nice, nice freckles (which, of course, He has counted), and red hair that isn’t the color of carrots at all, but the color of gold. Have you forgotten who you are? You are you! Very lovely in God’s sight, and very, very lovable. And if you keep your soul shining and bright, very, very beautiful.”

Of course, there are things we can do to help. We can help a stout child to control her eating, which, in the unhappily stout, often becomes the only comfort and gradually grows into gluttony.

We can help an unattractive child (but are there really any?) to develop all his other gifts, and remind a boy who is, say, self-conscious about his changing, squeaky voice that even Jesus put up with a changing, squeaky voice.

We can help them a great deal if we know the stories of the saints, who were all shapes and sizes, funny and lovely to look at, attractive to men and unattractive, and give them these special companions to help them find happiness by learning how to love others and forget themselves.

A boy we know broke off his front tooth and died a thousand deaths wondering how to face his friends. His mother went straight to the heart of suffering and helped him unite his disfigurement with Christ’s in the Passion, and in a week’s time, he was over his fear and had forgotten his tooth.

A woman we know of worried all her life about a mole above her lip, and finally had it removed. When she did, her friends said among themselves, “But she isn’t the same. The mole was part of her.”

I wonder if it wouldn’t have saved her those years of embarrassment if someone had told her how the great Teresa’s biographer described her: “On the left side of her face there were three small moles which added to her attractiveness.”

A little girl who was always plump offered her suffering lovingly each time she said the Hail Holy Queen, the prayer where we “send up our size.” She discovered only when she had read the prayer for the first time (after knowing it by heart for years) what mistake she had innocently made.

Today she is a blissfully happy novice, and I wonder if the patiently offered size didn’t help as well as all the other prayers she said for the grace to know her vocation.

“Lord, You know my weakness; every morning I make a resolution to practice humility, and every evening I acknowledge that I still have many failures. I am tempted to be discouraged by this, but I know that discouragement also has its source in pride. That is why I prefer to put my trust in You alone, O my God. Since You are all-powerful, deign to create in my soul the virtue for which I long”. – St. Therese of the Child Jesus

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When God Is Silent shows you how to trust God even when He seems unresponsive and remote – even when, as in the famous incident in the Gospels, He seems to sleep while you are buffeted by the storms of life.

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