God Gave Burdens, Also Shoulders: A Yiddish Proverb | Sister Joseph Andrew Bogdanowicz, O.P. | HPR
In all of our lives, there are times when encouragement makes or breaks our stamina. Even when all is well, we know a deeper happiness if our efforts find appreciation.
Recently, I came across a publication of the Mayo Clinic and was surprised to find therein an article referring to a dear friend, Tim Ruettiger, with whom I had taught in an Illinois high school some years ago. I had heard the story but was elated that this prestigious clinic also thought it newsworthy. Why did they? It seems doctors are now validating the amazing healing properties of virtues like “encouragement” and “consolation.”
The story focused on Ron, a fourteen-year-old, four-feet-six-inch lad who had enrolled in Tim’s physical education class. Coach Rudy (brother of “Rudy” of the 1993 American sports film) treated this young man with the same respect and expectations as all the other students, though Ron had a rare genetic cancer. Throughout Ron’s teens, the effects of the disease would increase but Coach never allowed the young man to say “I can’t”; rather, his faith completed all such reasoning with “You will!” Coach joined Ron in shooting hoops (kneeling to allow for differences in physical abilities) even as he challenged him to play sports to the best of his ability. It was Coach’s example that encouraged the other students to pick Ron for teams, with pride.
Years passed, and one evening in August of 2013, Coach received a phone call from the Mayo Clinic informing him of the approaching death of a young man whose mantra had become “Coach Rudy would be proud of me.” Hearing about Ron’s nine episodes of bone cancer and his multiple amputations, Rudy immediately flew to Mayo. His coaching wasn’t over; encouragement was needed for his friend’s last challenge—to die well. Coach found himself once again kneeling beside his student, this time in deepest prayer.
On the Feast of Christ the King (November 24, 2013), our Holy Father, Pope Francis, issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel). In it he writes: “To be evangelizers of souls, we need to develop a spiritual taste for being close to people’s lives and to discover that this is itself a source of greater joy. Mission is at once a passion for Jesus and a passion for his people” (§268). It is this passion which moves us to “spill over and refresh others” (§272) through the gift of encouragement.
In all of our lives, there are times when encouragement makes or breaks our stamina.