Edel Quinn and the Gift of Suffering

We all have our favourite Saints. We are more attracted to some Saints than to others. Why are so many of us so deeply attracted to the Venerable Edel Quinn? I can almost hear her laugh embarrassingly at the idea of being called Venerable when she was so young and full of mischievous joy. I think we take to her because of her spirit of fun, her warmth, her naturalness, her charm, her gift of friendship. And besides being such a delightful companion we know that we could share with her our deepest concerns and be understood and encouraged by her. She has so much depth beneath her always engaging smile. She is so close to God and His Mother. She so loves people and will do all she can for us.

But what is so remarkable about Edel’s spirit of joy is that it was accompanied by an incredible degree of suffering. The Legion apostolate is ultimately based on personal contact with others in the spirit of Mary and this means that we will meet a great deal of suffering in those we meet because there is no human story that does not have its quota of pain and wounding. There are no exceptions to suffering and legionaries will spend a lifetime of learning how to be present to wounded people in the spirit of Mary. We can gain a great deal of help from the example and friendship of Edel in dealing with the sufferings of others. But perhaps an even greater challenge to us is how we deal with suffering in its many forms in our own lives. It can be relatively easy to sleep on another person’s sorrow. What Edel has to say on the meaning of suffering in our lives is of immense value. She knew what she was talking about when she spoke about suffering. We can all speak with ease about the role of suffering in the Christian life but it is an entirely different matter when it comes to putting it into practice.

Edel was born on the 14th September 1907, the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Cross was to play a pivotal part in her life. She died on Friday, a day normally given to reflection on the Passion of Christ, the 12th of May, the month of Mary, 1944. She spent a great deal of her adult life in and out of hospitals and in a state of exhaustion and weariness. Yet listen to what she has to say about suffering and illness. She writes in her private notes, ‘We should realize that those things which ran counter to our own plans and likings are graces one and all. The will of God permits them for us; they represent his persistent following of us. We should embrace them, make the most of them, and pay the little price that they entail. His will must always override ours. Little sacrifices are all we are able to bear; let us be faithful in accepting them gladly with our Mother’s help. We have only this life and perhaps only a short one, in which to prove our love. If we make the effort, Jesus and Mary will help us to carry it through. If one saw things truly, how one should be grateful and rejoice at every physical weakness and tiredness. These are our slight share of Christ’s sufferings and graces.’ She sums up her whole approach to suffering by saying ‘To suffer for our Lord is my greatest joy’.

You will notice that the language of Edel in her most private notes is exactly the same as that of the Handbook. She was truly a living embodiment of the Handbook on suffering. The Handbook refers to the inestimable privilege of suffering, the gift of suffering the apostolate of suffering and argues that every suffering is a grace. The Handbook quotes St Theresa of Avila, who says ‘No greater favour can his Majesty bestow on us than to give us a life such as was led by His beloved Son.’ It also quotes the words that St. Peter of Alcantara used to say to patients when he visited them in hospital: ‘O happy patient, God has shown me how great a glory you have merited by your illness. You have merited more than others can gain by prayer, fasting, vigils, scourging and other penitential works’.

The Servant of God, Archbishop Fulton Sheen who was a great supporter of the Legion of Mary and spoke at our Concilium meeting on at least one occasion, often remarked that there is so much wasted suffering in the world. It would be a great tragedy if that were ever to be the case with the Legion. There is something special in the intercession of those who suffer. Therefore we must try and get those we visit in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices for the terminally ill, the sick and the elderly in their homes to pray for the active apostolate of the Legion. It would be a precious resource for the Legion if all our auxiliaries throughout the world were helped to see the immense value of suffering for the salvation of souls and for uniting us to Christ.

Let me conclude with some further words from Edel’s private notes. She writes ‘when we unite our sufferings with His and offer them up for His glory, those sufferings become sweet and bring us very close to Him and will be the source of real happiness. Rejoice to imitate Our Lord in joyful acceptance of suffering. Difficulties of health, daily upsets are His choicest gifts.’ Let us pray to Edel often to help us when the time for carrying the Cross for the salvation of souls is given to us.