On Suffering

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All of the great saints seem to desire to suffer. Well, perhaps not all, but a great many make a point of desiring to suffer for Jesus. This has long been disconcerting and nearly incomprehensible to me.

But yesterday, as I continued to think about this matter, it seemed a light slowly began to dawn. I'll start with the straightforward ideas before I launch into the theological speculation which may have no validity at all.

Just as any good parent would take upon themselves any of the suffering that faces their children--from physical, suffering a cold or broken bone, to mental, making incorrect decisions--so we desire to shield those we love from suffering. Desiring to share in Christ's suffering is an expression of the desire to offer some comfort, to take away part of the agony of the Passion.

Now, I speculate. God honors that intention. The suffering of the saints may, in some odd way, help to alleviate the suffering on the cross. That is not to say that it makes it more pleasant, but rather that the offering of suffering throughout all of time even made it possible. We all know the story--the scourging, the crowning with thorns, carrying the Cross to Golgotha, and three hours upon the Cross. Christ was fully human and fully divine. Being fully human, it is unlikely that he could have survived even the scourging much less the rest of the ordeal on mere human strength. That goes without saying. He was strengthened by supernatural grace. But perhaps the channels of that grace were tapped into the suffering of Saints throughout the ages and this served in some way to be allied to the sufferings on the cross and allow Jesus to run the entire course.

I've always been a little mystified by Paul's declaration that he made up in his own body what was lacking in the sacrifices of Christ. What could possibly be lacking in that sacrifice. Perhaps what was "lacking" was not atonement or redemption, but rather the human strength to endure the whole ordeal. Perhaps the sufferings of his own body in some way made Christ's own sufferings possible.

Mere speculation, I hope not blasphemous, and I renounce them if against some teaching of the church I do not know. But mysteriously, they provide for me the key to understanding suffering. If I can really believe that my sufferings, little and big are truly united with those of Jesus on the Cross, that they express not just some strange notion of an almost Manichean nature, but rather true and passionate love; then, perhaps I can grow to be like the Saints. Perhaps I can come to understand the necessity of suffering and the beauty of suffering united with Christ. God will undoubtedly continue to work on me, but I humbly offer these speculations and respectfully request correction from those who know better than I do.

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Dear Steven, Thanks for the beautiful reflection. What you have written points up what so many Catholic authors have described as "the mystery of suffering". For it is a great mystery - a thing to be avoided and to be sought, a thing from which to seek escape and a thing for which to give thanks...!


Teresa of Avila taught us that our hands are Christ's, now. So, when we suffer for another person, we suffer for Christ. I think this application less than the direct one you discuss but nonetheless valid. Yes, for love, we choose suffering.



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 7, 2004 7:40 AM.

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