Marian Helper Spring 2024

Seek and find But the endurance Justin had developed as a racer served him well. His persistent quest for answers led him to investigate what the Church has to say about the power of redemptive suffering. Jesus promised that those who seek will find (see Mt 7:7), and through reading Scripture and the lives of the saints, Justin found not only answers, but a treasury of wisdom that shone light at last on what he was going through. “Pain used to mean I’m training well or I’m doing well in the race, but now it’s an indicator that I have a gift to give to God,” he says. “I have tremendous joy in all I’ve learned about suffering. I feel I’ve won the lottery in all I’ve learned.” The value of suffering comes from God’s love transforming the trials of life into gifts that, when willingly offered to Him, can draw down grace to save souls. Without this love and grace, suffering would indeed be pointless. “I couldn’t read many of the saints’ writings about suffering without having a crucifix in front of me to remind me of His love,” Justin says. Through his reading and reflection, Justin discovered that the pain he bore was both less and more special than he had at first understood. “I began to realize just how much we suffer without even knowing it,” he says. People carry the burden of suffering daily, whether in their bodies or spirits or both. Pain is at once as common as dust and more precious than gold. Uniting with Jesus Displaying enormous spiritual maturity, Justin began to unite his own suffering with Jesus’ sacrifice at every Mass. During the Offertory, he prays for his pain to be dropped into the chalice, mingling with the water and wine that will become Jesus’ Precious Blood, which the priest will lift up to Heaven as atonement for sin. Like the Eucharist itself, which God gives to us but which we offer back to Him through the hands of the priest, “suffering is a gift from God and a gift to God,” he says. Outside of Mass, Justin gives his pain to God through prayers such as the Morning Offering and the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. He learned from the writings of the Marian Fathers that “the Chaplet is an extension of the Mass. When I pray ‘His Sorrowful Passion,’ that includes my own. With Jesus, I can implore God’s mercy on the whole world.” Justin’s family also gave him a powerful example of the potency of suffering united with love. “My dad has always desired to take on suffering for me,” he says. When Justin got sick, his father prayed that he could experience his son’s pain in his place. Astonishingly, in time, Justin’s father was afflicted by an illness with symptoms similar to Justin’s. Then, unexpectedly, and without any apparent connection with his existing condition, Justin’s father had a stroke. His right side was left paralyzed, but, surprisingly, the symptoms from the illness he shared with Justin were significantly reduced. Research Justin and his brother have informal research experience, and they were able to work with professional medical researchers to try to discover why their dad’s illness had improved. Through this research, Justin learned ways to alleviate his own suffering. While Justin’s dad did not actually take all of Justin’s pain onto himself, the stroke — the paralyzing effects of which he continues to endure — lit his son’s path to a more comfortable existence with his own illness. “I don’t believe my dad suffered a stroke primarily to provide physical relief,” Justin says. “I believe it’s for saving souls.” Saving souls Suffering is a profound mystery. “I once thought that a mystery meant I couldn’t learn more, but it means you can always learn more.” Justin still struggles with suffering, but when doubt and darkness attack, he says, the soul has to “just cling to Jesus in the Eucharist.” When people do not look at pain through the lens of God’s love and within the setting of His redemptive plan, they can torment themselves with the question of why they should have to suffer. Those who understand that their suffering can help save souls, however, may instead wonder how they merited a role in the mission of Christ. Justin marvels, “The King of the Universe desires us to do the same day-to-day work that He does. There’s nothing I did to deserve a share in His work. Suffering is incomprehensible only as much as God’s mercy is incomprehensible.” Justin Koelbl visited the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy last summer. Marian Helper • Spring 2024 • 5