But it need not be wasted—as a profound mystery, it can be offered up with the sufferings of Christ
Deacon Bob Hunt
Redemptive suffering. Can purpose be given to the sufferings we endure over the course of our lives? Is suffering simply a part of life we must put up with, hoping that it lasts as briefly as possible, and causes few or no long-term effects? The reality is, to be human is to suffer. There is no escaping suffering. If we love others, our hearts will be broken. If we are well today, we may be ill tomorrow. If we are true to ourselves and to our faith, we may be called on to suffer consequences for taking a stand.
Our culture sees little purpose in suffering. It regards all suffering as all bad and to be avoided at all costs. This is ridiculous. Suffering cannot be avoided forever. Ultimately, we either suffer or we die. Our Catholic faith does not despair in this, however. Rather, we realize that, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive passion” (CCC, 1505).
Our sufferings can configure us to Christ. We are called to live the life of Christ, and the life of Christ was a life of redemptive suffering. Jesus did not come to this earth to live the good life. He came to live a life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father. This led Him, inevitably, to the cross because the world would not tolerate such a life. When Jesus faced the cross, He remained obedient, even unto death (Philippians 2:8).
But that is not the end of the story! It was because of His perfect obedience, even to death on a cross, that God exalted Him, raising Him up on the third day, and bestowing on Him the name above every other name (Philippians 2:9). Just so, when we live the life of Christ, the life of obedience to the will of the Father, we, too, will be called to suffer for our faithfulness (1 Peter 4:12-16). If we remain faithful, God will raise us up just as He raised up Jesus. Jesus’ suffering was suffering unto glory. If we follow Christ in suffering, we will share in His glory (Romans 8:17).
Our suffering can unite us with Christ’s redemptive passion. Jesus’ life of perfect obedience to the will of the Father even unto death was not a mere demonstration, an exercise to show that it could be done, that Jesus could succeed where Adam had failed. No. Jesus’ life was a life lived for others. Because of Adam’s disobedience, we all became sinners. Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience, we all can become righteous (Romans 5). Jesus’ life of perfect obedience and the sufferings He endured for living such a life were for the sake of our salvation, to free us from our slavery to sin and death and raise us to new life. Just so, our sufferings can be united with those of Christ for the redemption of ourselves and others.
We can offer our sufferings, such as they are, with those of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and those of others, in penance for our sins and those of others, for our continued conversion and for that of others (2 Corinthians 1:6-7; Colossians 1:24).
Suffering cannot be wholly avoided, but it need not be wasted. The heartaches we endure, the illnesses, both acute and chronic, that bedevil us, the setbacks we encounter, the disappointments we experience—all of these, even the slightest thing, can be offered up with the sufferings of Christ for the sake of ourselves and others.
Not only that, but we can offer sacrifices we choose, penances we practice, and devotions we adopt of a redemptive nature. Every Mass is a participation in the one sacrifice Jesus Christ offered on the cross for the whole world. It is especially efficacious to offer our participation in the holy sacrifice of the Mass for the sake of others. Redemptive suffering is not only the work of priests, sisters, or monks. It is for all of us.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus, each man, in his sufferings, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (Salvifici Doloris, 1984).
Suffering for its own sake is not a Christian virtue. Suffering united with the suffering of Christ for the sake of others, for the sake of the redemption of the world, is a Christian mystery so profound that it causes heaven and earth to be still for a moment before a wonder so great.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.
Deacon Bob Hunt is a husband, father, grandfather, and parishioner at All Saints Church in Knoxville.