Listening to God through Pain
They have helped scores of people to navigate life’s stormy seas in the traditional Passionist “front parlor” and retreat house ministry at St. Paul’s Monastery and Retreat House in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Q: In your effort to assist people who come to the Monastery and Retreat House for spiritual counsel for a variety of challenging issues, what basic advice do you find most helpful?
Fr. John: The basic spiritual counsel I give is prayer. . First of all, besides encountering needy Catholics in confession — many of whom have serious problems of anger and resentment, I also meet a variety of faiths in those coming to step-five in twelve-step spirituality programs.
After hearing their stories, I do a meditation on the Passion of Jesus with them if they are Christians or have the faith to recognize God’s presence in Jesus on the cross. I ask them to accept God’s forgiveness, forgive themselves and forgive others in their stories who have hurt them and whose memory may still be hurting them.
Father John McMillan, C.P.
I run into chronic anger, very deep at times, which makes it difficult really to forgive something they feel. I ask them if they pray or have prayed for those who have hurt them. Sometimes they say, “Yes.” Often they say, “No, I don’t want to pray for them. I want to kill them.” I tell them to pray for those who hurt them even when they don’t feel like it, citing our Lord’s words: “Pray for those who persecute you.”
I also tell them that Jesus sometimes heals slowly to keep them constantly close to himself and so learn patience. I remind them of Jesus’ words “Ask and you shall receive.”
Fr. Tim: I stress a fundamental faith and trust in God, based on a genuine friendship with Christ. Even for staunch Catholics this is not easy. Patience and scripture readings are helpful.
The Gospel of John 6 and 15, prayerfully pondered, open risky but rewarding results.
Philippians 3 is also a challenge to surrender to a Lord who invades a life, investing it with new meaning and cementing a relationship which puts all else in true perspective. This text’s strong emphasis on knowing Christ, being seized by him, feeling the power of the resurrection so as to enter into his Passion, is especially meaningful to those who are suffering in any way.
Moving gently from this highly personal life with Jesus, I open the door to the Lord’s greatest revelation: living always a Trinitarian life. Here, John’s last supper discourse is very effective. Of course, not everything follows completely this trajectory. The spirit moves where he wills.