By Stephen Jones
On the night of Christmas Day 2015, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher OP, began to have difficulties with his hand movements.
Within 24 hours, he was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit of St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, paralysed from the neck down.
The Archbishop had been struck down by a severe occurrence of the rare Guillain–Barré syndrome, an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the body itself.
There is no cure; recovery is slow and often requires months in special rehabilitation facilities after discharge from hospital.
‘The Healing Peace of Christ’, published this month, is a collection of homilies and articles written between March and September 2016.
Archbishop Fisher wanted to share his experiences to give encouragement to all those who are dealing with suffering.
The existence of suffering is a mystery that many Christian writers have dealt with.
In 1984, St John Paull II published ‘Salvifici Doloris’, his Apostolic Letter on Redemptive Suffering.
He said that, “man in a special fashion becomes the way for the Church when suffering enters his life” and “that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering.”
In the last years of his life St John Paul experienced the very type of suffering that he had written about.
In an article written before he returned to his episcopal ministry, Archbishop Fisher asked why anyone should suffer.
He points out that being vulnerable to suffering is part of our free, human condition and this means each of us can suffer at the hands of nature or others.
He reminds us that Christ suffered for all of us, so that we may one day enjoy an eternal life without suffering.
He also asks each of us to join our suffering to Christ’s suffering on the Cross and use it to grow in “wisdom and virtue, in patience, courage and hope.”
The Archbishop was fortunate to be able to return to “light duties” at the end of Holy Week in 2016.
In his 2016 Easter Message, Archbishop Fisher talked about the healing peace of Christ as being most appreciated in a “radical wounded-ness” that united his suffering with that of Our Lord.
This healing peace can overcome every break from a God who wants to take us back into his arms regardless of what we have done.
In his homily on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of his priestly ordination in September 2016, Archbishop Fisher refers to Guillain–Barré syndrome as “the sort of Christmas present only saints can call a grace”.
He said he spent the early part of his recovery “wondering what it all could mean,” yet it had given him a new perspective on the mystery of the Cross.
He hopes that he has become more understanding and compassionate towards those facing end-of-life issues.
This is not a collection of arbitrary essays on unrelated topics – far from it.
The personal nature of his story means that we are given an essential insight into Archbishop Fisher himself.
But despite what he has gone through, he avoids focusing on himself and brings everything back to Jesus Christ and His love for us.
‘The Healing Peace of Christ’ will be a useful aid to prayer and meditation, especially for those who are troubled by events in their life and unsure as to what they mean.
Anyone involved in catechetical work will also find the booklet useful as the mystery of suffering is often raised as an objection to Christian truths.
Courtesy The Catholic Weekly.