I’ve been thinking about suffering a lot lately. My father-in-law has been going through a stem cell transplant while battling Multiple Myeloma. Another very close family member went without work for four months. Then the Lord presented an opportunity of a once-in-a-life-time type of job on the east coast. After much prayer, he and his wife decided to make the cross country move. Much has been required. The house they were selling fell out of escrow. It didn’t make sense to move all their belongings so they sold everything. Right before the move his wife was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of skin cancer. And, in the face of all of this, their one and only son left for college in the north-west. A family following God, doing His will. A family broken, battered, and hurting.
In the Protestant faith where I grew up as a pastor’s kid, there is no real understanding of suffering. It’s something that comes and you muster your faith and you pray it away with all the power and authority of Jesus Christ in you. (Well meaning folk pray even louder if you don’t seem to get any initial results.) When all the prayers are said and you’re still looking in the face of a giant that doesn’t seem to budge, you sort of resign yourself to either “your prayers just aren’t getting through to Heaven,” or “God’s answer for you is being held up.” And then you wait often wondering what you got wrong. I’ve never understood this way of suffering.
As I have walked the path of becoming Catholic I have encountered a much deeper meaning to suffering. Redemptive suffering. When suffering comes we can offer it up. Saint Paul said, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24).
If you have never seen this before Paul’s words seem presumptuous and even blasphemous. How could he possibly suggest that he, a mere mortal, could make up for a lack of Christ’s work on the cross? Didn’t Jesus suffer enough?
“What Paul is asserting is that Jesus did not die so that humans would never have to suffer, but so that they would know how to suffer. The Passion of Christ removed the threat of eternal suffering while revealing the power of temporal suffering. In becoming man, Christ redeemed all things human: human labor, human love, human suffering, and so on. Each part of man’s existence can take on a supernatural significance if only one has the eyes to see. In the case of suffering, through his Passion, death, and Resurrection, Jesus sufficiently merited all the graces necessary for the redemption of mankind. And if individuals suffer with him, they can participate in the distribution of these graces to mankind. It does not matter if the suffering is a bloody martyrdom, a toothache, unemployment, a rebellious child, or an alcoholic spouse. All things can be offered up as a prayer, and the intensity of suffering is not as important as the degree of love with which one embraces each cross.”
“When human suffering is understood in its deepest meaning, it ceases to be something negative that is experienced in a passive manner. Rather, one becomes free to meet suffering with courage, seeing it as an opportunity for active and positive collaboration in the work of human redemption. Through God’s grace, it can be transformed into an irreplaceable service for souls, and is no longer wasted. For this reason, (Saint) John Paul (II) exclaimed, “Prayer joined to sacrifice constitutes the most powerful force in human history.”” (Saint John Paul the Great, His Five Loves by Jason Evert)
I’m learning when suffering comes to not panic and try to push it away, but rather look at these moments as opportunities to directly participate with Christ. A quiet strength built from carrying my cross daily.
Behold me, my beloved Jesus,
weighed down under the burden of my trials and sufferings,
I cast myself at Your feet,
that You may renew my strength and my courage,
while I rest here in Your Presence.
Permit me to lay down my cross in Your Sacred Heart,
for only Your infinite goodness can sustain me;
only Your love can help me bear my cross;
only Your powerful hand can lighten its weight.
O Divine King, Jesus,
whose heart is so compassionate to the afflicted,
I wish to live in You;
suffer and die in You.
During my life be to me my model and my support;
At the hour of my death,
be my hope and my refuge.
I’ve been thinking about suffering a lot lately. My father-in-law has been going through a stem cell transplant while battling Multiple Myeloma. Another very close family member went without work for four months. Then the Lord presented an opportunity of a once-in-a-life-time type of job on the east coast. After much prayer, he and his […]