It is hard to suffer, none of us really like to suffer, nor do we look forward to suffering! Nonetheless, being human, suffering is both inevitable and unpredictable, as well as unavoidable! Young or old, man or woman, poor or rich, in season and out of season—there is a constant: the difficult and demanding reality of human suffering!
According to both Aristotle and Saint Thomas Aquinas—the greatest Greek philosopher and the greatest Catholic Theologian and thinker—suffering is neither good nor bad; it is neutral, you might say. It all depends upon the way we perceive suffering and react to it. In a word, suffering can make us either better or bitter. Suffering can either crush us or it can sanctify us!
THE POSITIVE VALUE AND MEANING OF SUFFERING. If we suffer apart from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, then beyond the shadow of a doubt, suffering will make us bitter, resentful, angry, and lead eventually to depression. However, on the other side of the coin, if we look at Jesus and His suffering, especially as we contemplate Jesus nailed and hanging on the cross, then our perspective and reality changes immediately and dramatically. Jesus Himself chose to save and redeem the world by means of suffering, by means of His Passion, by means of His crucifixion, by means of His slow and excruciating death that first Good Friday! In other words, it was through Jesus’ suffering and the profuse shedding of His Precious Blood that Jesus willed to save the whole world from damnation and open up the gates of Heaven. For that reason, the great Saint Francis of Assisi prayed the short but fervent prayer: “We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
JESUS’ SUFFERING AND US. The reality of Jesus’ suffering must be applied to you and to me. As said earlier, we all have to suffer; that is part of the human plight and condition as a result of the sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve, and the Original Sin. However, the key is this: we must learn how to sanctify our suffering by union with the suffering of Jesus. Yes! It is only inasmuch as we unite our life and suffering with Jesus’ suffering that our suffering has true salvific and redeeming value. “Suffering can make us either better or bitter.”
HOW TO SUFFER WITH JESUS? The next question that necessarily follows is HOW can we suffer with Jesus? This is not an easy task. We must beg for the grace; we need urgently the grace of God. Not to be overly simplistic, we would like to offer a relatively short path. These are the steps.
1. KNOWLEDGE AND AWARENESS. The first step is that we have to be cognizant or aware of the reality of suffering in the world in which we live, but even more important of the suffering that we go through on a personal and individual plane.
2. BEG FOR THE GRACE. The next step in sanctifying our suffering is that of becoming a beggar. The great Saint Augustine asserts: “We are all beggars before God.” That means that we are constantly in need of God’s grace, His supernatural help. Without God we can do nothing, but with God all things are possible. Therefore, we must beg the Lord—like the blind beggar Bartimaeus—for the grace to recognize our suffering and the grace to suffer in a way that is pleasing to God.
3. DO NOT COMPLAIN OR REJECT. When you are visited by suffering, avoid complaining and getting angry over the prospect of this suffering in your life. In visiting Hospitals, Nursing Homes and the homes of the elderly and sick, we see how much suffering is actually wasted! What a shame and disgrace that so much suffering is wasted!
4. ACCEPT. What must follow suffering is the reality of ACCEPTING the suffering. Upon awareness of a cross, of some form of suffering, it is incumbent upon us to recognize the suffering as soon as possible and accept it. This is key to the victory—recognizing the suffering and accepting it quickly! Beg for the grace and be open to the Holy Spirit.
5. OFFER IT UP. In the past, many of us were brought up with a good Catholic education from our parents and from the Sisters who taught us in Catholic school this three word spiritual axiom: OFFER IT UP! It might sound like a cliché or even a pious platitude, but if truly understood, it is anything but a cliché, platitude, or hackneyed and overused pious saying!
6. OFFER IT UP—THE CROSS. The real meaning and interpretation of this axiom OFFER IT UP is related to the cross and the Person who suffered on the cross—Our Lord and our God, our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. In sum, we are called to offer our suffering to Jesus, to unite our suffering to Jesus on the cross. If done quickly and with purity of intention, the suffering that we are undergoing has infinite value!
7. HOW? Simply look to the cross, and as you contemplate the gaping wounds of Jesus in His hands, feet, and open side, say to Jesus: “Lord Jesus, as I contemplate your suffering for love of me, I offer my suffering for love of you and for the salvation of souls.” Using these or similar words, your suffering transforms you, and others who do this, into little Victim Souls—souls that suffer with Jesus for the reason why He came to earth, the salvation of poor sinners.
8. THE PASSION OF JESUS AND YOURS. Saint Paul states: “I fill up what is lacking in the Passion of Christ.” (Col 1:24) How can this Pauline verse be understood and applied? Quite simply by recognizing, accepting, offering, and uniting your suffering to the suffering Jesus on the cross. It is more than true to say that Jesus is the only Savior of the world. However, Jesus wants generous souls to collaborate with Him, to pray, work, and suffer with Him for the salvation of as many souls as possible. Remember the motto of Saint John Bosco: “Give me souls and take all the rest away.”
9. THE CROSS, CALVARY, AND THE HOLY SACRIFICE OF THE MASS. However, it must be stated with utmost clarity that our most efficacious union with Jesus is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As Venerable Fulton J. Sheen points out, in every Mass the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary is present. Of course this is an invisible reality, but indeed a reality. In every Mass, the sacrifice of Good Friday, the Passion, suffering, and death of Jesus is present. Jesus is offering His Precious Blood to God the Father for the salvation of humanity, as well as every soul individually. This being said, we must unite our suffering to the cross and the Passion of Jesus present in every Holy Mass, so He can offer our sufferings with His to the Father! Indeed, in every Mass, Calvary and the fruits of Calvary are present and available to all!
10. OUR LADY AND OUR SUFFERING. Our essay on suffering would be incomplete if we did not introduce Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, into the scene. Give your sufferings to Mary. Place them in her hands and in her Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart. Let Mary place them on the altar during the Mass. When the Consecrated Host is elevated, Jesus truly present—Mary offers your sufferings to the suffering Jesus on the cross, Jesus in turn presents your sufferings to the Eternal Father, and as a result your suffering has infinite value!!!
In conclusion suffering will either make you better or bitter! If you can learn to suffer with Jesus and Mary, unite your sufferings to the cross, unite your sufferings to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, your sufferings will have infinite value and with Saint Paul you will truly fill up what is lacking in the Passion of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Let us pray with the great mystic, stigmatic, and lover of the cross, Saint Francis of Assisi: We adore you, O Christ, and we praise you, because by your cross you have redeemed the world.”