November 9, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Important lessons from the school of suffering

Shirley Vogler MeisterWhen I returned to college as a non-traditional student, one of the courses I took was Russian Literature.

Dr. Marian Brock, now retired from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, skillfully inspired in me a yearning to read more Russian authors and poets—in English, of course.

I then spent an entire summer reading only Russian literature, developing a deep respect for what Brock already proved in the course: Russians understand suffering well. So do citizens of many other countries with a difficult history.

Suffering is not easy to bear. Doctors have told me I have a high threshold for pain, but I still suffer like everyone else. I am not as strong as others think I am.

Suffering is not easy under the best circumstances—and horrible under the worst.

One time, a priest, Father Leon Flaherty, suggested that I read a book he recommends to the people he serves in Wisconsin who are experiencing suffering.

The book, Lessons from the School of Suffering: A Young Priest with Cancer Teaches Us How to Live, was written by Father Jim Willig with help from Tammy Bundy.

Bundy had worked with Father Willig to found an inspirational hotline, which was successful.

On the day Father Willig learned that his cancer was spreading, Bundy suggested that she help him write a book about his cancer journey.

“I don’t think anyone would want to read anything I have to say right now,” he said, but promised to pray about it.

She did, too.

The next day, one of Father Willig’s friends called to say that he had a dream the night before.

“The Lord told me to tell you to write a book,” he said, then explained that Father Willig shouldn’t “worry about not being a writer—he’s going to send you one.”

Father Willig believed, and his book certainly inspired me.

He also inspired Dr. John M. Tew Jr. to comment for the back cover: “Like his most revered mentor, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, Father Jim discovers the profound distinction between spiritual healing and physical care … an intense dosage of prayer to complement the adjuvant therapy of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy.”

Before his death, Father Willig was pastor of SS. Peter and Paul Parish in Reading, Ohio.

He died in 2001, two months before his book was published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. His book costs $6.95 and is also available from Heart to Heart, 244 W. Vine St., Cincinnati, OH 45215. You can also visit their Web site at or call 513-791-9700 or 877-208-4875.

Father Willig said, “Some things we may never understand this side of heaven.”

Bundy adds, “But some things you just know.”

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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