Many of you know that I write novels about people who suffer--dedicated, faithful people who love God and others, and yet still don't experience an easy pilgrimage as they make their way home to heaven. Dr. Michael J. Norman has penned a fascinating story that sheds light on this vital topic.
Answering a two-line classified ad in the newspaper had life-changing consequences for a trustingly naive doctor fresh out of school, just starting his career and life as a new father. In a nightmarish true story that could occur to any of us, he innocently takes a part-time chiropractic job from employers who were later found to be a Russian-organized crime ring involved in money laundering, insurance fraud and other crimes. Despite his cooperation in a federal government investigation, the author soon finds himself surrounded by deception on all sides. As his cooperation is turned cruelly against him, Michael endures a federal indictment and an early-morning raid upon his home where he was arrested at gunpoint by six FBI agents in front of his five-year-old daughter. He’s left with two choices: plead guilty to crimes he didn’t commit, receive probation and avoid prison time; or fight the injustice and risk going to prison for at least 10 years. The first means cooperating with the government and lying to put people in prison who may be innocent; the second means doing the impossible and taking on the government.
Unbridled Grace is the true story of how one man rises from the forces of evil through his renewed faith in Christ and takes the reader on a journey to redemption through the bold use of our power of choice for God. Along the way, Michael meets a dynamic Catholic parish priest who gives him the courage to forge a path through this crisis and a hard-working attorney who joins him in this monumental battle. Will their efforts be enough to free the author and his family from this nightmare? It is at this time that a series of seemingly miraculous occurrences begin and the reader is shown what courage, faith and the power of heartfelt prayer can bring to all of our lives when all else appears hopeless.
The question of suffering is an extremely difficult subject for our world today. After searching the landscape for answers, many discover that only the Christian faith has the ability to transform life’s tragedies into a beautiful new creation in union with Christ. Dr. Michael Norman would like to share a passage from his new book, Unbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice.
The Nature and Beauty of Christian Suffering
As Christian faithful, it is no accident that the symbol of our faith is a cross, a humiliating instrument of torture, rather than a triumphant flag. Christ does not save us on Palm Sunday by His triumphal ride into Jerusalem with honors. We are saved due to a much darker day on Golgotha after all the cheers and waving palm branches have fallen silent. We would never have had the saving redemptive grace of Easter Sunday, without a dark, cloudy Good Friday, two days earlier.
If we are in Christ, suffering and salvation shall always go hand in hand. To separate or avoid either of the two, removes all purpose and reason for our existence. We see frequent attempts at both of these approaches in our world today by false prophets with soft messages. The tragic approach of human suffering without salvific merit, is pain without the promise. This is not united with Christ and soon deteriorates into hopelessness and despair. Equally tragic, is the assurance of salvation through the avoidance of suffering. A reward without struggle robs our lives of meaning and leads to the self-destructive results of swollen pride, pursuit of comfort and self-absorption.
It is always important for us to distinguish between two types of suffering. With painful self-honesty, we must discern between the crosses that God has sent into our lives, and the crosses of our own making. For the answer to this, there is always a question which helps distinguish between the two: Are we working to change what can be changed and accepting what cannot be changed? If the answer is yes, we are walking God’s path.
Along with this question, we must ceaselessly pray for His holy wisdom to know the difference. Although God can work through both types of suffering, it remains up to us to take the first step regarding the crosses we have created. These man-made crosses are a result of our choices in life. Quite simply, if we are unwilling to change what can be changed, we must be content to persist in a hell of our own creation until we respond differently.
When we come to know why we suffer, anything becomes possible. At the center of God’s plan of salvation, redemptive suffering requires a supernatural faith and is part of the necessary path to our union with God. This is how God chooses to unite with us. Worldly attachments to our soul must be removed to make room for God. The kingdom of God cannot be ushered in without suffering. As we wake up to this realization, we begin to send ripples out into the sea of eternity.
Regarding suffering in this life, one question remains: Do we have what it takes to choose greatness? Christ faced His suffering head on, although the overwhelming temptation to turn away, particularly at Gethsemane, must have reached supernatural proportions. Likewise, at this very instant, millions of souls await our decision. One person in this life can make an eternal difference.
True greatness shall only be revealed at the Last Judgment, when we all stand together as the Mystical Body and our salvific work is revealed for all to see. Our time is short in this life to make an eternal difference. Soon, our ability to lift the Mystical Body of Christ with the redemptive grace of our courageous and dignified sufferings, will pass away. If we miss our opportunity, we may, quite possibly, become dependent upon the actions of others.
The paradox is striking. Our periods of trial and suffering in this life can truly be gifts if we allow them to be. Life’s lowest points can bring us our greatest freedom, happiness and fulfillment. A loving Father prunes the branches of His vines to unleash an abundance of fruit. This fruit is a supernatural love for our brothers and sisters which embraces the inevitable pain in this life for their sake. The human tears shed for this noble purpose become the wine of angels and cause for great joy in Heaven.
With each passing day, eternity is approaching and millions of souls await our decision on how we shall spend our lives. What will be revealed of our work on the last day? Did we boldly take the cup and drink from it? Did we choose greatness?
Dr. Michael J. Norman is a chiropractor in private practice in Dallas, Texas. His new book, Unbridled Grace: A True Story about the Power of Choice, is available on his website, www.UnbridledGrace.com, Amazon, Barnes & Noble or ordered through your local Catholic Christian bookstore.