Retreat to offer perspective on suffering

Sr. Rupp

By Celine Klosterman

Like most people, Sister Joyce Rupp, OSM, has had opportunities to find meaning in suffering.

In addition to losing her brother, who drowned at age 23, the Des Moines resident, spiritual director, writer and speaker receives “countless” e-mails and letters from people telling of their pain. At a recent retreat, a mother shared grief over her son’s suicide. Another participant begged Sr. Rupp to pray for the attendee’s daughter who is a prostitute. And a woman in a wheelchair voiced concern about her deteriorating health.

Difficulties find everyone at some point, Sr. Rupp said. “We can’t avoid troubles, so we must learn how to approach them.”

To help people do so, she’ll lead a day of reflection in Iowa City next month titled “Growing in Faith Through Difficult Times.” Through prayer, group dialogue and quiet time for reflection, the retreat will aim to help participants find peace and hope and renew their dedication to God.


“Suffering offers us the possibility of finding deeper meaning and more of our untapped virtue, especially that of self-transcendence,” Sr. Rupp said. “During times of darkness we can grow stronger in our faith, more loving and compassionate toward others who suffer.”

But much depends on people’s attitudes, she noted. “We have the option of resisting or denying what pains us, of becoming resentful, hostile and bitter. Or we can enter into these tribulations with confidence in God’s grace and discover spiritual growth we had not thought possible.”

Some people offer living witness of the latter option. “Some of those I’ve met who’ve suffered the most are also the ones in whom I recognize the greatest compassion and kindness,” Sr. Rupp said.

However, “we need to be careful to not idealize suffering. We must do what we can to alleviate our afflictions.” When they can’t be changed, consider how to embrace them in a way that fosters growth, she said.

Sr. Rupp’s own approach to suffering was shaped by Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” “It helped me so much in how I relate to the Holy One and to the world. Frankl could have hated the people who put him in the horrific conditions of the concentration camp. He never did. Instead he learned from his situation and went on from there to help countless people find greater peace in their lives.”

Christ’s resurrection also offers hope. The retreat will take place not long before Lent, which “seems an opportune time for this topic because of the One who has taught us so much about the experience of suffering. It’s vital that we keep our focus not only on the pain of Christ’s life but on what follows after his death. No one expected the emptied tomb.”

During severe sorrow, it’s nearly impossible to believe the pain will pass, Sr. Rupp said. “That’s where faith comes in. Faith insists that we trust in life after death, that there’s a butterfly forming in the cocoon, that there’s peace beyond chaos, joy beyond grief, reunion beyond death.”

“Growing in Faith Through Difficult Times”

The day of reflection with Sister Joyce Rupp, OSM, will take place Saturday, Feb. 26 at St. Patrick Parish Center, 4330 St. Patrick Drive, Iowa City. Registration begins at 9 a.m.; the retreat is slated for 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Lunch will be served. Registration cost is $35 and deadline is Feb. 19. 

To sign up, send your name, parish or school and town, diocese, daytime phone number and e-mail address with a check payable to Diocese of Davenport to Barb Butterworth, 780 W. Central Park Ave., Davenport, IA 52804. For more information, contact Butterworth at butter or (563) 324-1911.

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