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Does Christ Suffer With Me When I Suffer?

February 1, 2010 by  
Filed under Compassion, Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Direction, Suffering

does Christ suffer with me when I suffer?Dear Father John, I pray quite a bit…mostly because I have had some suffering in my life that has drained me, even spiritually. I pray for many things, but mostly, I pray for my own faith. One day, as I was praying, I said to Christ, “I feel like I'm alone in my suffering, yet I am asked to reflect and meditate on Your suffering.” After I prayed and asked that question, I had a sort of internal answer to it. I heard, or felt Christ say to me, “I suffer when you suffer. Why wouldn't I? We're in this together. We are one body.” I thought about that and, actually couldn't believe that Christ suffers with me. The question is, was that internal answer correct? I had never thought in all my life that Christ suffers with me, so it came as a shock. Then, I looked it up on the Internet and found out that, while we are asked to suffer for Christ, He also feels our suffering and actually feels bad for us. That notion has helped me a great deal, because I feel more connected to Christ as being a real person with real feelings.

Well, you have answered your own question, and you have answered correctly. Yes, Jesus suffers with us. Jesus, the second Person of the Blessed Trinity, truly became man not only so that he could atone for our disobedience (i.e., our sin) by his obedience, but also because he wanted to convince us of his unconditional love for us. Try to think of a better way to show someone that you love them than by sharing in their suffering. Just try to… impossible. Our commitment to another person is partial and conditional if we refuse to share in their sufferings, if we abandon them in difficulty. But God’s commitment to us is total, absolute, wildly and infinitely faithful. It’s hard for us to believe this. That’s why he chose to save us through suffering for us. By his suffering, he united himself to our suffering, voluntarily. And so, in a tour de force of ingenuity, suffering, the fruit of original sin, has become the very currency of salvation, the very path of deeper union with God.

An Uncanny Connection

Jesus suffers with us, because he has united himself to us. This occurs in two ways.

Simply because of his incarnation, he has taken upon himself human nature. And so, every human being is his brother or sister. This is why he told us that “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40). An even deeper union with Christ occurs at baptism. When we receive sanctifying grace through that sacrament, the Holy Trinity actually comes to dwell within us: “If anyone loves me he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we shall come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:24).

This is actually the deeper meaning of the word “compassion.” It comes from a Latin phrase meaning “to suffer with.” Jesus, by taking on our nature and uniting himself to us, has shown a brand of compassion that no other religion ever even dreamed of. This is why the cross is the central symbol of Christianity. The vertical and horizontal bars meet and become inextricably linked, just as our suffering and Christ’s suffering meet and become, together, the path of redemption. Suffering entered the world because of sin – it was our own fault. Jesus came to save us not by eliminating suffering (which would have eliminated our freedom), but by transforming suffering, making it the privileged meeting place between fallen man and the God of all-powerful love. You have already experienced this – you mentioned that you are someone who prays, because your own sufferings have brought you to your knees. That’s how you discovered that you are never alone.

Being Like Christ

This truth is also at the root of Christian virtue. We are all called to love our neighbors as Christ has loved us – coming to meet them in their suffering, being compassionate and merciful with them, not giving up on them, not letting them suffer alone. Wasn’t this the genius of Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta? Isn’t it precisely this message of divine compassion that she and her sisters (and all the saints, really) broadcast to the world?

Once Mother Teresa was staying with a community of her sisters who worked among the Aborigines in Australia. She visited an elderly man who lived in total isolation, ignored by everyone. His home was a filthy wreck. She told him, “Please let me clean your house, wash your clothes and make your bed.” He answered, “I'm OK like this. Let it be.” She said, “You will be still better if you allow me to do it.” He finally agreed. While she was cleaning, she discovered a beautiful lamp, covered with dust; it looked like it hadn't been used in years. “Don't you light that lamp?” she said, “Don't you ever use it?” He answered, “No. No one comes to see me. I have no need to light it. Who would I do it for?” Mother Teresa asked, “Would you light it every night if the sisters came?” He replied, “Of course.” From that day on, the sisters committed themselves to visiting him every evening. Mother Theresa left Australia. Two years passed. She had completely forgotten about that encounter. Then she received a message from him: “Tell my friend that the light she lit in my life still continues to shine.”

Revolutionary Doctrine

This is the revolution of Christianity: that every single human life is infinitely valued by God, valued so much that God himself accompanies each one, in good times and bad, and desires us all to dwell with him forever in heaven. It is this truth that gives the Church its vision of human dignity and undergirds its moral teaching on issues like cloning, abortion, and artificial reproduction. Only the Christian worldview contains this insight, which God has so beautifully and graciously whispered to your heart.

And just to make sure that we would never doubt this reality, never think that it’s too good to be true, Jesus gave us the Eucharist. When he comes to us in Holy Communion, whether amidst the joys of life’s triumphs or the sorrows of life’s tragedies, he is telling us once again: You matter so much to me that I can’t hold myself back; I must share in all that you suffer, so that you can share in all that I promise.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

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  • Marie

    Wow….beautiful and true!
    Those are the exact reasons why i pray and try to love Him in every way possible 🙂

  • Cathy

    Thank you!! I needed that too… I am relieved to know that in our suffering we are not alone, that He is there too, suffering with us.

  • Guest

    Oh, how many times shall I keep on telling you this, Fr. John!!! You shall never begin to realise just how much your Articles help me in my Spiritiual Journey. The author of to-day’s question has touched the very depth of my heart. When I look back and realise the days remaining for me on this earth are actually a tiny fraction of the years I have lived, I am compelled to go on my knees and thank God that I found you and this Website. Walking with you through your Articles Fr. John is so illuminative and nourshing beyond words.

    God bless you Father

    • lindamiddleton

      GOD BLESS YOU FATHER JOHN

      LINDA

  • glennbouthuthillette

    Dear Fr. John,

    Your reply made me drop to my knees, weep and pray. Thank you for reminding me know how much we matter to God.

    Peace,

    Glenn

  • underhermantle

    A question we all struggle with!

  • underhermantle

    The mystery of suffering!

  • anthony donato

    to know not just in the head but in the heart the everyday reality of Christs love for us personally in health or in suffering was a point i am glad u helped me to remember to remember.

  • Kell Brigan

    (Got here through a Google search.) “Try to think of a better way to show someone that you love them than by sharing in their suffering. Just try to… impossible.” Pardon my boldness, Father, but I think stopping someone’s suffering can be a great a way to show love for someone. Isn’t that what the healings were/are about? And, I’m clinging to this hope because I have daily migraines and jerking attacks, and my hearing is constantly painful, and I can’t even get anywhere near thinking of “offering anything up” without praying first that it will all stop. (And, even then, if I can’t “use” the pain to make my pain stop, I can only sincerely offer it for the welfare of other migraineurs, so that their pain might stop.) Isn’t the first duty, before “offering up suffering” to make sure that everything possible’s been done to mitigate or stop the suffering?

    • Dear Kell in Christ,

      Knowing Father John, he would have no issue with your comments. It is impossible in short-blog posts to capture every angle of an issue. So, we have to pick and choose. Over time, the topics are usually covered well.

      Jesus wept over the loss of Lazarus. He felt compassion for those who were sick and suffering and relieved some through miraculous healing. He lifted Peter out of the water and then loved him with correction. For me, I continue to suffer with life-long illness that medical treatment can only slightly mitigate. So, the rest, I offer up knowing that the God of compassion will turn the results of the suffering of our fallen world into spiritual benefit both now and in eternity. In the mean time, when we relieve the sufferings of humanity, we actually are loving Christ himself, “As you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

      Pax Christi – Dan

    • Dear Kell in Christ – yes of course. That is why Catholics build hospitals and provide assistance to millions. It is impossible to cover every angle in a short blog post format. Pax Christi

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