Saturday, September 25, 2010


Just about everyone will agree that suffering is in general something to be avoided. We don't want to suffer. Still, there are times that there is nothing we can do to avoid it. It can pretty much be assumed that we will all lose loved ones, we will all be betrayed by those we thought were friends, we will all get sick, etc. At one time or another we will also all be the cause of an other's suffering.

Despite of how we may feel or what others may tell us,


God also doesn't usually deliver us from suffering either. Remember what is recounted in the Gospel of Luke:

After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, "Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done." (And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.) When he rose from prayer and returned to his disciples, he found them sleeping from grief. He said to them, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not undergo the test." While he was still speaking, a crowd approached and in front was one of the Twelve, a man named Judas. He went up to Jesus to kiss him. Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?"  Lk: 22:41-48
In this passage, Jesus suffers not only the pain of knowing he will be crucified, but also the pain of being virtually abandoned by his friends and then betrayed by one of them. The mental anguish was so great that "his sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground". That is a powerful image. This was followed by his farce of a trial and finally a most brutal death through crucifixion. At his crucifixion, after being beaten and forced to carry the wooden beams of the cross for many miles, he had nails hammered through his hands and feet (wrists and ankles). He then hung there bleeding and gasping for breath for three long hours in the hot middle eastern sun. Some may think that Jesus' suffering was lessened because He was God, but many theologians think the opposite was actually the case. His senses were likely sharper than ours and He would have likely felt greater pain.


And about three o'clock Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" which means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Mt 27:46

Isn't that the cry of each of us in the midst of intense suffering? It is such a human reaction to the feeling of total isolation and confusion which suffering can cause. Still, we know, just as Jesus knew we have not been abandoned. We would love for God to come and rescue us and miraculously heal our wounds. Sometimes he does just that, but most of the time, we have to trudge through as best as we can.

Luckily for us, we do not suffer in vain. Because of the suffering Jesus endured for our sins, we can join our suffering to his. Think of this: a few months ago my son wanted a particular toy. He saved up as much money as he could for several months, but hadn't come even close to being able to buy it for himself. I bought it for him, but when we were at the store he handed me the few dollars he had saved up. His share in the purchase of the toy was minuscule, but important because it helped him to value the toy (which was really a gift from me) more, teaches the value of money, and helps him to mature. Ok, I'll admit that it is a poor example of redemptive suffering, but many of the same principles are at work. Salvation is ours with or without suffering. We don't get salvation because of our suffering. Our suffering is minuscule in comparison to the gift of salvation which God gives to us. Our suffering teaches us, matures us, purifies us and allows us to participate in the saving action of Jesus.

Our suffering and the causes of our suffering can also affect others in ways we cannot imagine. For example: This post is the result of the suffering of another person who doesn't even know I have this blog. I don't know who will read this post, what their situations are, or what they will do after reading this post. I hope that at least one person will be positively affected by this. It's for God to sort out, not me. I do know that watching my friend suffer with such faith has positively affected me.

As part of the Mystical Body of Christ, we are united to Christ. This makes redemptive suffering possible. Without Christ, our suffering is without value, but because we are united to Christ, our suffering is given purpose. We cannot sit back and say, "Oh well, Jesus took care of it all for me" and not even offer to do our part when given the opportunity. Instead, we can offer our suffering for our salvation and that of others. I don't know about you, but I am far from perfect. I sin on a regular basis and I confess those sins, but I still have a responsibility to make up for that sin as best as I can. I will do it either here on Earth through penances and redemptive suffering, or I will do it later in Purgatory.

Before you panic, I am not advocating that anyone even consider harming themselves in order to cause suffering. There is also nothing wrong with doing what one can to relieve suffering (within reason). Taking a pain reliever when you have a headache is a good Catholic practice. While you are waiting for the medicine to kick in, offer the pain to God and remember your dependence on Him.

In the meantime, I am going to try to avoid suffering and pray fervently for my friend, and all those who suffer, to be released from the bonds of suffering. Until then, we can each take comfort in the truth that suffering is not useless when united to Christ and His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.