One of the important and more meaningful parts of Catholic doctrine that is often neglected or not so well developed in some Christian denominations is the incredible value of suffering. Many Christians believe that Jesus suffered and died for us so that we will not have to suffer at all. This is only partially true. When we go through the gospel, we see that Jesus never shies away from reminding his disciples the challenge of following him, and this includes suffering. He declared in the gospel: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me."
Whenever we enter into a Catholic church we are immediately confronted with the crucifix, that visualization presents us with the truth that it is not only Christ who suffers but also all of humanity writhes crucified in pain. It tells us that our humanity is nailed to crosses of pain. Everywhere around us, we see and hear tales of woes and pain. The media reports are filled with stories of human suffering, pain, and loss. These stories sometimes make us bitter and resentful. Many people have used the tragedies of human suffering as an excuse for rejecting God. But the truth remains that when pain and suffering come upon us, we discover that we were not only in control of our lives but that we never were. Suffering awakens us out of our sleep of self-sufficiency into a serious search for the divine.
The Prophet Jeremiah in our first reading was confronted with the problem of human pain and suffering because of the persecution he suffered on account of the word of God. He was so distressed that he felt like giving up. But in the end, Jeremiah acknowledged his total dependence on God. He realized how weak he was in front of an all-powerful God. When we read further we would see that Jeremiah's despair turned to joy, his defeated attitude turned to triumph, his dismay to courage and he proclaimed "Sing to the LORD, praise the LORD!" In his pains and discouragement, he found the courage to hold on, because he believed God was with him.
In today's Gospel, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must suffer greatly and be put to death but on the third day be raised. Peter, who in the gospel last Sunday responded correctly to the question who Jesus was, tried to dissuade Jesus from talking in that manner. But Jesus sternly rebuked him for thinking in human terms. Peter could not understand why the Messiah, the Son of God should suffer. What he did not realize was that the suffering and death of Christ would have infinite value. Jesus Christ accepted suffering purposefully, he saw value in his suffering and did not passively submit to it. Christ's suffering was infinitely meaningful because in His suffering He defeated the power of evil and opened for us the way to heaven. Our sufferings can have infinite meaning and purpose when we offer them as part of Christ's redemptive sacrifice. St. Paul in our second reading enjoined us to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. By becoming Incarnate to suffer with us, Jesus has forever redeemed our human suffering. Therefore, suffering always teaches us about God, about ourselves, and about our relationship with him. If we "offer it up", we surrender all the pain to the redeeming power of the cross of Christ.
Finally, speaking of the value of suffering, St. John Marie Vianney, the famous cure of Ars and patron saint of priests, in his catechism on suffering wrote: "There are two ways of suffering – to suffer with love, and to suffer without love. The Saints suffered everything with joy, patience, and perseverance because they loved. As for us, we suffer with anger, vexation, and weariness, because we do not love. If we loved God, we should love crosses, we should wish for them, we should take pleasure in them. . . . We should be happy to be able to suffer for the love of Him who lovingly suffered for us…The Cross gave peace to the world, and it must bring peace to our hearts. All our miseries come from not loving it and the fear of crossesincreases them."
So when it comes to dealing with suffering, do we face it with passive acceptance, or do we accept it with a purpose? That question is always before us. But we are one with Christ and His victory is ours to claim.
Father RaymondBACK TO LIST