Serving in the Midst of Suffering

Posted: 5/10/2012

Pat McEntee, Associate Vocation DirectorPat McEntee
Associate Vocation Director

A good friend and former mentor passed away on Monday, April 30, 2012. Although it was not a shock that he died at age 62, it still really stung. It was the last thing in the world I expected to see in a Facebook post. (That's how we get much of our news these days, right?)

After a bout with polio as a child, Bill Westerman was left with a raspy voice that made him hard to understand in person and nearly impossible to communicate with on the phone.

His life did not follow the traditional path. Well, maybe it did for a time, but God had different plans in store for him. Bill was making a nice living in the insurance industry and coaching sports on the side. He lived a good life, raised a good family and was genuinely well liked.

Later on, though, he gave up his position in the insurance industry to become a high school religion teacher. Obviously, there was a pay cut involved in terms of earthly money. However, this move gave him the opportunity to store up great treasure in heaven by bringing his students, coworkers and anyone else he encountered closer to God. I have no doubt that Bill has entered into the mansion prepared for him in heaven.

During his time as a teacher, Bill encountered heart difficulty that necessitated a transplant. Unlike many who die waiting for a transplant, Bill got a new lease on life when he receive a donor heart. Afterwards he was very limited in what he was able to do and had to take a cocktail of medications (which were constantly being changed and adjusted) to keep his body from rejecting the new heart. But despite his limitations, he made enormous contributions to the kingdom of God for every additional year that God gave him.

The clear vocation message in Bill's story is that each of us must respond to the universal call to holiness that we receive in baptism. In Bill's life, he answered his call with every fiber of his being.

Bill's example reminds me a great deal of Blessed John Paul II. Until his death, he was the only pope I really knew. I had the great privilege of seeing him and participating in a Mass he celebrated in St. Louis in 1999. I remember thinking then how frail he looked. As pictures were snapped of him, his head was down and he appeared to be in pain. But he persevered.

In the face of those who said he should retire and that he was ineffective, he calmly kept working. He wanted to share Christ with the people who came to see him. I will never forget the video that showed him trying to speak to the crowds at the Vatican when he was physically unable to do so.

Pope John Paul II showed us how to link our suffering with the suffering of Jesus. Jesus didn't let the suffering he endured tempt him into straying from the mission God sent him to do. Neither did Pope John Paul II. Neither did Bill Westerman.

All three men taught us how to faithfully approach suffering and, ultimately, death. They also showed us how to put full and complete faith in God to use them as instruments. Living for God is not a job from which a person retires. It is a mission that permeates every aspect of one's life and carries that person into eternal life.

Glenmary missioners are also examples of this approach. Many missioners have had to be pried out of their missions because their bodies and/or minds were unable to continue serving effectively. One recent example is Father Larry Goulding, who passed away last fall. In spite of dealing with illness and having to come back to Glenmary Headquarters to live, Father Larry still found a way to contribute by making phone calls on behalf of Glenmary.

In what way will you respond to your call to holiness? Maybe by becoming a home mission priest or brother? For more information, contact us at 513-881-7410.