The Suffering Evangelist

The vocation of the baptized is to become holy – that is, to accept the invitation into the Trinitarian communion, to be conformed to Christ and to introduce others to the God who loves us all so deeply. This is a weighty task, and one that can seem overwhelming to us, and for which we can feel unqualified and out of our depth. Yet God doesn’t look at our “expertise” but at our faithfulness and trust in Him. If we surrender ourselves to Him and pray to know our purpose, our particular giftedness, we’ll become His witnesses to the world. Most of us won’t draw hundreds or thousands to conversion, but what is most significant is that we draw the one person, at one particular time, whom God sets before us. Following the example of St. Teresa of Calcutta, we are asked not to convert the many, but only to bring God’s love and His Gospel to one person at a time.

Since the papacy of Pope St. Paul VI, the concept of a new evangelization has permeated the Church and re-invigorated the laity in carrying out Her mission. Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict each wrote and preached forcefully about the necessity not only of introducing Christ to those who do not know Him, but to re-introduce Him to those among the baptized who have grown cold or complacent in their faith. It is an invitation to those who have become slaves to rules rather than followers of the God whose precepts deepen our relationship with Him, and shape us into the men and women He created us to be. This is our responsibility as Christians: to bring Christ to the world, and to continue to invite Him anew into our own hearts.

Technological advances like television opened up new opportunities for evangelization starting with Bishop Fulton Sheen’s unique mixture of humor and theology, conveyed joyfully in a way that appealed to people of all, or no, faith. This model of spreading the Gospel over the airwaves continued to great effect with Mother Angelica and her EWTN worldwide Catholic network, and with CatholicTV in the Archdiocese of Boston. The internet has opened still more possibilities to bring the Gospel to the world with the click of a mouse or an app on the smartphone. Whether it is from the Sunday pulpit, the television or computer, the Word of God and the witness to His love remains a deeply personal reality. The Faith is not summed up in theological concepts or commandments, but in a relationship with the God who is Love; who in His essence is relational. It is through personal witness – our stories – that the Gospel is most effectively communicated to those who have either abandoned God, or who have forgotten who He is and how much He loves them. This is the primary way each of us can evangelize: by sharing ourselves and our personal encounters with the Lord. Though it’s not high tech or even innovative, a particularly effective but often overlooked means of sharing Christ is through our personal experience of suffering.

In his 2000 address to catechists, then-Cardinal Ratzinger placed the heart of evangelization in the Cross, saying that, “Jesus did not redeem the world with beautiful words but with his suffering and his death. His Passion is the inexhaustible source of life for the world; the Passion gives power to his words.” Suffering is not what we’d like to associate with evangelization. We’d generally prefer ways of witness that are more comfortable, more attractive and less difficult. But Jesus, through the paradox of the Cross, demonstrates that death brings new life, suffering is way for God to work in and transform us, and that what seems to be our heaviest burdens are often the means by which we can love most completely. Each of us, carrying our unique burdens, are called to be “suffering evangelists,” infusing our personal stories with the hope and fruitfulness promised us by God to win hearts over to Him.

I have learned first hand the power inherent in our suffering when it is yoked to Christ’s. Almost two years ago I co-founded an apostolate dedicated to offering emotional and spiritual support and accompaniment to those struggling with infertility and loss. When my friend and fellow John Paul II Institute graduate Kimberly Henkel and I founded Springs in the Desert, we did so mostly for our own sakes. In our shared experience with infertility we found that friendship was a necessary companion to prayer as we struggled to make sense of a desire for motherhood that would ultimately not be fulfilled biologically for either of us. Grateful for our formation at the Institute, we were still left puzzled by how the “beautiful words” found in the Church’s teaching applied to us, who felt isolated, suffering – barren. As we worked through our grief, personally and through our friendship, we began to understand that because Jesus first suffered for us, and continues to suffer with us, there is power in the pain we endure and the burdens we carry. Jesus is not only with us in our suffering, but He brings new life, a unique fruitfulness through it, if we will recognize that He can do so.

Since we took those first steps together “in the desert,” we have reached hundreds of women and men through our blog, social media, and our recent Springs of Hope Virtual Retreat. In the process we assembled a team of individuals and couples with whom we share the experience of infertility, and together we accompany others who, like us, are searching for the unique fruitfulness for which God has created us and our marriages. In this time of “social distancing,” technology has been a gift allowing us to connect with and “virtually accompany” so many who feel isolated, alone and even rejected by God. In social media posts and comments, direct messages and emails to us, we have been privileged to hear stories of pain and to cry with and pray for those who reach out to us. We hear their witness to being transformed by the message that Jesus carried their personal suffering to the Cross and is transforming it into something beautiful and life-giving. Many people have shared with us a renewed closeness to Christ as they begin to re-frame the experience of infertility not as a suffering (read punishment) imposed on them, but an invitation to a different but no less worthy means of giving life in the world.

In describing the “method” by which the New Evangelization must occur, Cardinal Ratzinger tells us it requires an “expropriation of one’s person, offering it to Christ for the salvation of men….” This, he says, “is the fundamental condition of the true commitment for the Gospel.” In other words, if we unite ourselves with Christ and join our wounds with His, they will be transformed by His authority into a way of ministering to others in their pain, bringing His love and mercy to those who feel lost and abandoned. My infertility, and the suffering I still experience to some degree, is transforming me. In every encounter with another person on this desert way who carries this burden God is showing me that suffering is one of the most powerful ways to evangelize because it is an experience that connects us to each other. Each of us, in our own unique pain, can be a suffering evangelist, bringing others to Christ so that they will know He has not and will not abandon them.


Ann Koshute is co-founder of Springs in the Desert and teaches a variety of courses for the Saint Joseph’s College Online Theology Program.

Joy and Suffering: Living with ALS

Worth Revisiting Wednesday! This post originally appeared on July 27, 2014.

In January 2011 I was giving a presentation on bioethics at my parish, and just after the presentation started a man hobbled in on a cane. A few months later I was giving another presentation on the same topic, and a man entered the room in a motorized wheelchair. I puzzled for a few moments because it looked like the same man. As I continued with the presentation I realized that it was indeed the same man. It was rather unnerving to be able-bodied, in good health, and speaking about ethical issues so closely related to the suffering of the sick, while this man, who was clearly suffering from a debilitating disease, was there listening intensely. I couldn’t help wondering what it was like to be grappling with these issues “from the inside”—so to speak.

Marty and I met soon afterwards. We discussed our common interests and goals: we were both striving to be good husbands and fathers. Marty recounted stories of work and play around the horse farm where he and his family live. He spoke about arranging horse jumps for his daughter Cecilia, clearing brush from the woods behind the house, laying up firewood for the winter, cleaning out the horses’ stalls, and myriad other chores. In our discussions about bioethics he drew upon his medical expertise, built up over eleven years as a successful, interventional radiologist.

Marty was also interested in my literary and theological background. He asked me to read the rudiments of his spiritual autobiography. I asked questions that prompted him to think more deeply about the meaning of the joys and sufferings he was experiencing. At times I felt as though I was giving him “work” to replace the professional life lost to ALS. And what a “worker” he has been! His spiritual autobiography, Joy and Suffering: My Life with ALS,was dictated through an iPhone into emails, initially, and then into a document that was edited by Christian Tappe of St. Benedict Press.


Photo of D’Amore Family at Lou Gehrig’s Disease – ALS website

In many ways, Marty is a typical American guy, but there is definitely something special about him. He is inspired by the meaningful lives other people lead, for example, by the doctors who first showed him the beauty of a medical career and motivated him to pursue it. He has been given given plenty of natural intelligence and talent, and as a young man he struggled to discover and develop himself. He worked hard at his profession, marveled at the good he could do with it, and reaped its rewards. He has been wildly successful—by American standards—in his profession, family, and lifestyle.

More importantly, Marty demonstrates a kind of spiritual excellence. Not the spiritual excellence of the great ascetics of history, who master temptation with an iron will honed through self-denial. Rather the spiritual excellence of one who has prayed with a child’s trust for a good life, lost himself in the confusion of growing up, found the way his talents could lead to success, and finally, as he achieved success, recognized something missing even before detecting the first symptoms of ALS. ALS focused his heart and mind on another kind of success: developing spiritual maturity. By slowly eliminating his physical mobility, ALS forced Marty to find new ways to love his wife, children, and friends. His book offers Marty’s explanation of what he has learned in the hope that his family can discover, with him, some joy within the tragedy that has befallen them all.

Spiritual conversion is the stuff of great literature and epic poetry, but we are not usually given the privilege of a guided tour of this process unfolding in the lives of our neighbors and friends. We all change profoundly as we move through life, and know that our neighbors change in similar ways, but rarely do we get the opportunity to understand that change from the inside. In Joy and Suffering: My Life With ALS, Marty describes the experience of suffering with ALS, depicting not only the intricacies of the disease but also the hard-won meaning of the suffering it has brought him and his family.

This blog post was adapted from the Foreword to the book Joy and Suffering: My Life with ALS by Martin J. D’Amore.

Grattan Brown teaches Ministry with the Aging, Sick, and Dying for Saint Joseph’s College Online.

Update: Marty D’Amore died on January 28, 2015 surrounded by friends and family.  He was laid to rest in Belmont Abbey monastery cemetery, a few 100 yards from the chapel where he often prayed.