Whether we like it or not, suffering is our lot. We all inherited this from our first parents, Adam and Eve. Suffering can make us either better or bitter! It all depends upon one thing: learning to offer it up or failing to offer it up.
The only religion that really gives a positive value to the reality of human suffering is Catholicism. Suffering in and of itself is neither good nor bad; it is neutral! It all depends on what we do with the suffering that God allows to knock at our door.
WASTED SUFFERING. As a priest for more than 30 years I have visited many hospitals in different countries and one of the saddest experiences is the fact that while we all suffer, and of course in hospitals most especially, so much of this suffering is simply wasted. Moaning and groaning, cursing and reviling, and worse yet, giving in to despair are all too common issuing from the mouths and hearts of the sick and suffering. For many, the reality of suffering is the worst thing that can befall them. How sad! If they only knew the positive value of suffering! If they only knew!
SALVATION AND SUFFERING. God could have chosen many means by which the human person could have been saved, as a result of Original Sin. However, in His infinite wisdom and love, God chose to send into the world His only begotten Son, Jesus the Lord, born of the Virgin Mary. Teacher, Master, Healer, Wonderful Counselor, Friend, Lamb of God, the Way, Truth, and Life, Alpha and Omega, Bread of Life—all of these are titles given to describe the multifaceted richness of Jesus, the Son of the living God.
SAVIOR THROUGH SUFFERING. However, Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen hones in on the most important title that we can give to Jesus. This title expresses the essence and purpose of His coming and it is SAVIOR!!! But how did He save us? It was essentially by means of His suffering, most specifically what Jesus suffered for us in His Passion and death, which occurred Holy Thursday night and of course Good Friday.
JESUS THE MODEL OF SUFFERING. We must have models upon which to form our own life-patterns. By far the best model we have is JESUS. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But with respect to suffering, He is our most sublime and splendid example. Even though innocent, even though sinless, even though the splendor of God the Father and the essence of perfection as the God-man, born of the Immaculate one, Jesus chose the path of suffering as the means by which all of us can be saved. We often suffer due to our bad conduct, our personal sins. Not so with Jesus. He suffered as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, the innocent one. Jesus never complained, nor did He pursue a path by which He could escape suffering, run away from the cross, avoid His passion and death. On the contrary, He submitted His will to the will of the Heavenly Father: Father, not my will but your will be done.
WHAT CAN WE DO? SALVIFICI DOLORIS! Saint Pope John Paul II portrayed to the world a splendid example of the positive value of suffering. He did it by uniting his many sufferings to Jesus’ sufferings. He even wrote a spiritual masterpiece with the title SALVIFICI DOLORIS explaining the positive value of suffering when it is united to the sufferings of Jesus.
THE ESSENCE OF THE MESSAGE! The essence of the message on suffering is the following. All of humanity is destined to suffer in one way or another; this is inevitable! Believer or unbeliever, Christian or atheist, male or female, young or desperately old—there is one common-ground: the reality of suffering. The key is this: either suffering is not accepted and leads to bitterness, resentment, anger, and even despair, or on the other hand, suffering is seen as a blessing. Yes, a blessing. Why a blessing? Jesus sanctified all of human existence. By being born into the human condition, Jesus sanctified humanity and all their actions, but under this all-important condition: all of our actions must be united to Jesus and His Mystical Body!
FORMS OF SUFFERING AND ITS VALUE. Suffering manifests itself in many ways. Physical suffering, such as having to deal with an operation and its after effects—this causes pain. The emotional upheaval of fears and anxieties about the future—another form of suffering. Sons or daughters who fail to live up to their potential and manifest no gratitude for all they have received—how dreadfully painful. Economic straits that seem to have no remedy, painful indeed. Spiritual suffering such as dryness in prayer and long periods of desolation, as experienced by Saint John of the Cross and Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta—only God knows how much interior pain and suffering a soul in this state can experience! A key for us is to first identify our suffering and its various manifestations, then unite our suffering to the sufferings of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. If this is done, then our suffering has infinite value!
UNITING THE SUFFERING TO JESUS. The most efficacious and powerful way to derive fruit from our suffering and sanctify ourselves through suffering is to unite any form of suffering we have to Jesus. How you might ask. The response is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. Every time a Catholic priest celebrates Holy Mass, then Calvary becomes present in a mystical but very real way. The fruits of Jesus’ death on Calvary are present at the moment of Consecration. Our most noble task is to come early before Holy Mass and to deposit on the altar all of our life, but most especially our sufferings: moral, spiritual, mental, emotional, physical, social, etc. Then as the priest lifts up the Host and lifts up the Chalice, at the same time the priest is offering to God the Father our sufferings. Even though they may appear to be insignificant in the eyes of the world, in the eyes of God your sufferings take on infinite value. Why? Because God the Father is looking at you and your sufferings through the Sacred wounds of Jesus who died to save all. For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us, and on the whole world.
OUR LADY OF SORROWS AND OUR SUFFERINGS. One last but very important note: Our Lady and our sufferings. We are never alone when we suffer; Our Lady is very close to us, especially when we suffer most. Just as she stood at the foot of the cross during the bitter agony of Jesus, those last three hours of His most bitter Passion, so she desires to stay very close to us in our PASSION! However, it is important that we remember her loving and maternal presence. She will be there to console us and teach each one of us to Offer It Up!!! Indeed, if we learn to OFFER IT UP then we can work with Our Lady and collaborate with Jesus in the redemption of the world! We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.
Father Ed Broom, OMV, is Associate Pastor of St. Peter Chanel Church in Hawaiian Gardens, California. He is a member of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary and was ordained by Saint John Paul II on May 25, 1986. Fr. Ed teaches Catholic Ignatian Marian Spirituality through articles, podcasts, a radio show, retreats and spiritual direction.