CATHOLIC COMMENTARY ON REDEMPTIVE SUFFERING

Everyone suffers.  No need to go in search of a “cross” to bear with Jesus.  Most likely you already carry one especially designed for you.  Will you drag it behind in bitterness and stubbornness only making it more unbearable or will you pick it up and stumble forward in hope of a glorious future one day!

What are we going to do with this suffering, some suffering from chronic illness for decades, some entering into old age maladies, some suffering the premature loss of a loved one. I do know this much from experience, obsessing about it won’t make it go away but only make matters worse by adding stress that likely will diminish the health of my body and mind even more.

There must be some good to be gained because the God that permits suffering since the Fall wills only our good Our God is good and merciful, His mercy endures forever!

Jesus Christ accomplished our redemption once and for all by suffering torture and crucifixion for our sins, Jesus our Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each man is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished.

Redemptive suffering is offering oneself as a holocaust; to suffer the very fires of hell in order for others to obtain heaven. It takes on our sins, the sins of others, acting as a kind of sponge absorbing the evil all around them.  St. Paul writes that we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17).

This form of suffering is so powerful–because love is so powerful–that its arms can span the entire world and has the potential to affect countless souls. Redemptive suffering does not have to take on extreme forms as we might expect. But rather, any suffering, if offered with love, can be given redemptive value, even something as mundane as a toothache.

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE HAVE TO SAY ABOUT SUFFERING?

Isaiah 53:3-12

He was despised and forsaken of men…Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken…pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities… And by His scourging we are healed.

Luke 9:22

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

Letter of St. Paul to Collosians 1:24

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking* in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church,

NOTE (There is nothing lacking in Jesus’ atonement for sin; all that is lacking is our willful participation in the redemptive act)

I Peter 4:13

But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly

Revelation 2:10

Do not be afraid of anything that you are going to suffer…. Remain faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.

WHAT DOES THE CATHOLIC CHURCH HAVE TO SAY ABOUT SUFFERING?

CCC 618 The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men”. But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to “take up [their] cross and follow [him]”, for “Christ also suffered for [us], leaving [us] an example so that [we] should follow in his steps.”In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries

We live in a world that flees from suffering. Since the time of our youth, we have been raised to view suffering as an impediment to happiness. We are taught to believe that the less we suffer, the happier we will be. For many people, suffering is viewed as an evil without value, and thus any means should be taken to avoid even a common cold.

Yet, in the writings of the saints, we find an entirely different reality; that it is precisely suffering that strengthens us, humbles us, and forges us into saints. We all want to be saints, Right!  God made us to know him, serve him, and love him in this world and be happy forever with him in the next!

In fact, the saints teach us that suffering is of such great merit, that it is greater than external works such as preaching, writing, or even working miracles; “You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone.” (Jesus to Saint Faustina).

To illustrate this point, a demon once lamented to Saint John Vianney that hell had lost 80,000 souls due to his prayers and sacrifices alone. Saint John Vianney did not need to travel the world and preach. He was a simple parish priest of a remote village. And yet, he was able to save 80,000 souls through a solitary life of prayer and sacrifice.

As Our Lady told the world at Fatima; “Many souls go to hell because there is no one to sacrifice themselves and pray for them.”  This is what it means to share in a “common priesthood” of Christ.

WHAT SAINTS SAY ABOUT SUFFERING?

Saint Therese of Lisieux, Story of a Soul, p.27

“I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, that there are many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of the Our Lord, to do little or much for Him…My God I choose all!’ I do not want to be a saint by halves. I’m not afraid to suffer for You. I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that You will!”

Jesus to Saint Faustina

“For the sake of your love, I withhold the just chastisements, which mankind has deserved. A single act of pure love pleases Me more than a thousand imperfect prayers. One of your sighs of love atones for many offenses with which the godless overwhelm Me. The smallest act of virtue has unlimited value in My eyes because of your great love for Me.

St. John of the Cross

The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.

Padre Pio

“O what precious moments these are. It is a happiness that the Lord gives me to relish almost always in moments of affliction. At these moments [of affliction], more than ever…I desire nothing other than to love and to suffer. Yes my father, even in the midst of so much suffering I am happy because it seems as if my heart is beating with Jesus’ heart.”

I will conclude these brief reflections with a prayer of St. Faustina: … Jesus, do not leave me alone in suffering. You know, Lord, how weak I am….I am nothingness itself…I am an infant, Lord, so I cannot get along by myself….Do not lessen any of my sufferings, only give me strength to bear them. Do with me as You please, Lord, only give me the grace to be able to love You in every event and circumstance. Lord, do not lessen my cup of bitterness, only give me strength that I may be able to drink it all.”

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