The Gift of Redemptive Suffering
Life of Christ (Week 26 of 27)
After the Ascension these scars would become as oratorical mouths of intercession before the Heavenly Father; scars that He would bear on the last day to judge the living and the dead. In an old legend it is said that Satan appeared to a saint and said: “I am the Christ”; the saint confounded him by asking: “Where are the marks of nails?” – Life of Christ (Chapter 55, Paragraph 7)
Reading this passage calls to mind the very Catholic notion of Redemptive Suffering. And I suppose the thought of satan avoiding any semblance of suffering hit me with some concern for those of us who do what we can to avoid suffering at all costs, rather than take advantage of the amazing opportunity we’ve been given to participate with Our Lord in His work of Redemption.
When we stand before the Pearly Gates, do we, too, risk being asked, “Where are the marks of nails?” For shouldn’t we have our share of nails? Aren’t our scars akin to Christ’s? Aren’t our crosses nothing if not a participation in THE Cross?
As Christians, weren’t we given a very specific directive to carry the cross?
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. – Matthew 16:24-25.
Yes. We are all called to carry the cross. But despite the depressing picture that idea conjures in the eyes of many – that of solemn, suffering stooges, hunched over and depressed, dragging along extraordinarily heavy loads like shackles and chains destined to weigh us down as we heave, ho our way to the Promised Land – in truth, this picture should call to mind the joy of Christ, His love and concern for the peace of others and the great sacrifice He offered in our stead, peacefully, willingly, and with abundant hope, followed by the wonder, awe and unbelievable triumph of the Resurrection.
Saint Paul understood this. And he instructed us over and over again about the virtues of the cross:
For the message of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. — 1 Corinthians 1:18
According to Saint Paul, the fact that we’ve been given the opportunity to share in the cross is something about which we should rejoice:
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…” — Colossians 1:24
But Why? Why should we rejoice in suffering? Is this some twisted call for masochism or self-destruction?
On the Contrary.
What is Redemptive Suffering?
We rejoice in our sufferings because through our union with Christ on the cross, we’ve been given the opportunity to participate in the redemption of man. This is the highest form of suffering – Redemptive Suffering.
Yes, Christ has redeemed us; but as part of His Body, our participation in the cross allows us to participate also in the expiation His redemption provides. In the reparation that it offers.
To be able to suffer with Christ is an extraordinary blessing. According to Saint Teresa of Calcutta,
“Pain and suffering have come into your life, but remember pain, sorrow, suffering are but the kiss of Jesus – a sign that you have come so close to Him that He can kiss you.”
To suffer with Christ is indeed a gift. But to offer that suffering to Christ for the salvation of souls – that is the ultimate in charity.
Many who do not understand laugh when they hear the old saying “Offer it up.” They roll their eyes, Those Catholics, thinking they can earn their way to heaven!
But this is NOT the case!
Through His own sacrifice, Christ gave new meaning to our suffering:
On the cross Christ took upon himself the whole weight of evil and took away the “sin of the world,” of which illness is only a consequence. By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given new meaning to suffering; it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion. (CCC 1505)
In our own pain, we have The sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick to enable us through the grace of God to unite our sufferings more intimately with the cross:
By the grace of this sacrament the sick person receives the strength and the gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s Passion: in a certain way he is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Savior’s redemptive Passion. Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus. (CCC 1521)
There is no earning here. There is only cooperation. There is participation. This is not about achieving salvation as an accomplishment. Offering our suffering to God is about participating with God in the very act of salvation.
We are taught to love. And to love as God loves means sacrifice. Christ taught us,
Greater love has no many than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13
Bringing Meaning to our Pain
Sacrifice by its very nature has meaning and purpose. As Christians, we are given the great honor and privilege to offer our sacrifices, out of love for God and for our fellow man. Such sacrifices are about giving of self, not about taking. Redemptive suffering is not about seeking salvation through acts of selfishness, but about offering our greatest suffering as a gift – a sacrifice. And the more willingly and joyfully we offer it, the greater the gift we have to give.
And that suffering that we offer is not in any way limited to our physical suffering. Our spiritual suffering can also produce great fruit. Long-suffering in the wake of small inconveniences and frustrations is one of the most available gifts to give for most of us, but perhaps also the most difficult. To offer those everyday challenges is perhaps even more laudable than acts of great heroism admired in the public square. Think about how much more difficult it would be to give of ourselves in kindness and patience, day in and day out, regardless of the annoyances and petty issues handed us by family, friends or co-workers, than to jump in front of a bullet in effort to save a life. The latter is a momentary decision, most likely causing momentary pain, followed by an eternity of joy. The former requires a lifetime of exercising the fruits of the spirit. We must spend each moment calling upon the Holy Spirit to help us practice the virtues of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23) (CCC 736). But in the process, our loving gifts may help save more souls than taking a bullet ever could.
And think about it. If we do not offer our suffering to Christ, can we avoid it altogether? Of course not. suffering will find us, whether we avoid it or not. In truth, we cannot avoid the nails. But in offering our unbearable pain, our losses, our grief, our fears, we give them meaning. This is one of the spectacular truths that other faiths just don’t understand. Christ has given us an amazing gift and a great opportunity. Almost like a superhero’s special weapon. When in pain, offer it up. Turn bad into good. Evil into Virtue. Dark into light. Through uniting our pain to the cross, we are raised up, not pushed down. We are actually made more powerful in our weakness, provided we offer our pain in love – particularly for the good of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
What Does Redemptive Suffering do for Me?
Just as perfect contrition is always most desirable, a perfect gift of love is the more preferable and meritorious. Nonetheless, considering the benefits which abound when we offer our suffering for the salvation of souls might just validate for us the awesome paradox of our Faith quoted above:
…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. Matthew 16:25
For the more we give of ourselves, the more we receive in return – and this holds true even in this life:
- Hope. Regardless of how painful, how permanent how hopeless our suffering can seem in its own right, redemptive suffering turns all that sadness into joy, in that we can know it is not needless or senseless. Instead, our suffering can have tremendous purpose.
- At a time when we are most tempted to turn inward toward ourselves, to wrap ourselves in pity for our wretched state, to feed off our pain, becoming self-absorbed and sullen, redemptive suffering offers us an opportunity to turn toward others; toward Our Heavenly Father, toward our neighbor. It offers an opportunity to give.
- In suffering, there are times when we can do nothing for ourselves. We must humbly accept the service of others in even the most basic matters of our lives. But redemptive suffering allows us to do something even when we can, seemingly, do nothing. It gives us an opportunity to serve even in the face of perhaps physical and emotional barriers to service inherent in suffering.
- It is an answer to all those who say that suffering should be avoided at all costs. On the contrary, suffering may bring about the most good in the natural world, when it is offered in love for the salvation of souls.
Saints have held tight to the promise that our sacrificial union with Christ will produce much fruit:
“…every suffering they bear from any source at all, in spirit or in body, is of infinite worth, and so satisfies for the offense that deserved an infinite penalty…[even though]…these are finite deeds in finite time. […] Then she must love her neighbors with such affection that she would bear any pain of torment to win them the life of grace, ready to die a thousand deaths, if that were possible, for their salvation.” — Saint Catherine of Siena
And private revelation has verified the sentiment:
You will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons alone. — Jesus to Saint Faustina
Consider the amazing gift we’ve been given in redemptive suffering when you next have the opportunity to unite your cross to Christ. Rather than avoid at all cost those painful nails in your life, embrace them. You will do more than render your own salvation per Christ’s directive to carry your cross. Through the grace of God, your sacrifices may just merit the salvation of those souls in most need of His Mercy. Particularly that soul that concerns you most.
- Have you witnessed the joy of redemptive suffering? In what way?
- Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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