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Where Suffering Meets Sacrifice

May 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Book Club, Vicki Burbach

Where Suffering Meets Sacrifice

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The Sinner's Guide (Week 8 of 16)

The just, knowing that God is their Father and the Physician of their souls, submissively and generously accept as the cure for their infirmities the bitter chalice of suffering. They look on tribulation as a file in the hands of their Maker to remove the rust of sin from their souls, and to restore them to their original purity and brightness.  – The Sinner’s Guide (Chapter 21, Paragraph 1)

Where Suffering Meets Sacrifice

My five-year-old hates baths. I mean HATES baths. He can be black as coal with dirt caked in his hair, mud dripping off the soles of his feet and grime covering both of his hands; but if I suggest a bath, his response is one of sheer desperation – “No, No, NO,” he pleads.  “Not today – I’ll do it tomorrow.”  The very concept of scrubbing himself clean (or worse yet, of my scrubbing him clean) is abhorrent to him – I may as well toss him into a pool of boiling hot lava. The entire process is excruciatingly painful (to say the least) because he feels so completely exploited and victimized.

My three-year-old, on the other hand, LOVES to be clean. She can hear the word B-A-T-H whispered from three rooms away and she has her clothes off, diving into the tub before I even turn on the water! She virtually purrs when I scrub her hair, and she relishes in the swish of the waves she creates in the bubbles as she brushes her hands along the water’s surface. The picture of perfect peace and contentment, she clearly basks in the knowledge that all the dirt will soon be washed away.

Same water. Same process. VERY different attitude.

So do you abhor suffering?  Or do you lovingly accept it as a personal gift from the Divine Physician intended for your purification? Maybe baths aren't the greatest analogy for a discussion on suffering. After all, some of us love to swim, while others hate the water. But there is something to be said for our submission in the face of necessity.  In other words, the bath is going to happen either way – why not accept it? Or better yet – be grateful for it?

Sure, you say. But taking a bath is more of an inconvenience than an actual misfortune. True. But how many of our daily frustrations are mere inconveniences? I mean, most of the problems in my daily life are definitely of the “first world” variety. Much needed sleep interrupted by the cat or an early riser, lack of hot water for a shower, spilled milk, messy kids, busy schedule, grumpy spouse, poor parking spots, long lines,…and the list goes on ad nauseum. Couldn’t I approach each of these situations with rose-colored glasses? Wouldn’t life be much more satisfying if I chose to be grateful for those things that used to make me cringe? Seeing every situation as a God-given opportunity to grow in virtue?

But what about TRUE misfortunes? Illnesses?  Handicaps?  The death of a loved one? Financial difficulties? Persecution? How can I sincerely approach these circumstances with thanksgiving? Can I possibly wrap my mind around the concept that the Divine Physician is purging me of some imperfection? Building in me the antibodies of virtue?

As followers of Christ, we are reminded often of the need to pick up our cross daily and “Follow Him” (Matthew 16:24).  But these words – far from being a trite, overused cliche about “accepting” the trials of life – actually call us to respond to our crosses as Christ responded to His.

Regarding his own life, Christ told Pilot, “No one takes it from Me; but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:18).  He was imprisoned, beaten and forced to carry His cross to His very death on Calvary. BUT…not only did Christ accept His fate, He chose to embrace it as God's will.  This powerful response in the face of unbelievable circumstances is a signal to us, his disciples.

Like Christ, we are called to embrace God's will for our lives, whether it includes mere inconveniences or the great chalice of suffering.  This does not mean that we are called merely to accept our trials, floating down the river of life wherever the current takes us.  Nor are we called to shuffle along like Eeyore, with a fatalistic, if submissive attitude.  As in, “Well, I guess if this is God's Will, I'll just muddle on through…”  Rather, we're called to carry our crosses in a proactive manner, participating in God's will by offering our suffering (great or small) as a sacrifice of love.

Father Walter Ciszek, who endured 23 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps after having been declared a “Vatican spy” during WWII, beautifully demonstrated the power of suffering:

…no matter how harsh the conditions in the camps might be, how cruel and useless the work might seem, it took on new meaning and added value.  It was something of which a man could be proud each day, because it was his to offer back to God.  Each day of labor and hardship, like the grains of wheat ground up to make the host at Mass, could be consecrated to God and be transformed into something of great value in God's sight; it was a sacrifice each man could offer back to God throughout the long, hard days.  The grinding routine of daily labor, even here in Siberia, could have a meaning, did have a value, even as the lives of all men everywhere – no matter how dull or routine or insignificant they might seem to the eyes of men -have value and a meaning in God's providence. – He Leadeth Me, p.141-142

Ciszek did not suffer passively. He offered his afflictions back to God as a sacrifice. What is the difference?  When we accept suffering as something that must be endured, we become victims. On the other hand, when we choose lovingly to accept God’s will, to trust Him with everything that we are and everything that we have – to offer each moment back to Him for our sanctification, or for the sanctification of others – this is sacrifice. This is love.  And this is when suffering actually becomes powerful.


Reading Assignment:

Week 8   Ch. 24-25

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you struggle with the concept of offering your suffering as a sacrifice?  What are some of your greatest challenges in this regard? What helps you to overcome?

2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!

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About Vicki Burbach

Vicki Burbach is a wife and homeschooling mother of six children ages four to sixteen years who relishes the calm inspiration of spiritual reading amidst the roller coaster of life. A passionate convert to the Faith, Vicki is an avid reader who started the book club so she could embark with like-minded bibliophiles on a spiritual journey through some of the greatest Catholic books ever written. She is author of the new book How to Read Your Way to Heaven - A Spiritual Reading Program for the Worst of Sinners, the Greatest of Saints, and Everyone in Between. You can also find her at

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