Posted On February 27, 2022

The Hidden Potential of Suffering

Lent is right around the corner — have you thought about what you might give up for Lent? Chocolate, coffee, your favorite TV series? Have you ever considered giving up your suffering? I mean the suffering that you have already: the pain in your knees or your back, your emotional instability, your financial worries, your kids and their decisions, etc. We already have a thousand small and large sufferings that we could give to the Lord without having to come up with new ones.  We usually prefer to decide our own resolutions, because even if giving up something like coffee is hard, it’s easier than other things because we’re the ones who decided to do it. Deciding our offering gives us a sense of efficacy and control. Giving up the suffering we already have is harder because it requires us to first acknowledge it and then accept it. Often we tend to run away from our suffering, pretending that it’s not really there. When we do acknowledge it, we often try to take care of it ourselves through some form of self-medication (chocolate, coffee, social media and TV are common forms of self-help). Other times we may hold tight to our suffering because it’s familiar and we don’t know how we’d live without it. Also playing the part of the sick and needy one may result it getting us the attention, care and love that we seek. These possible reactions to suffering: avoidance, self-medication and playing the part of the victim, are all very different from the example Jesus has given us with his own suffering.

Jesus freely and willfully accepted his suffering. He could have easily avoided being arrested by the Roman soldiers and condemned by the Jewish authorities: all he would have had to do was change his story and say he wasn’t God. When on the cross, Jesus could have accepted the vinegar offered to him that would have numbed his consciousness and the pain, but he wanted to be fully aware and feel everything. Jesus could have attracted the attention and care of his friends by showing his need, but he let them run away. Jesus accepted whole-heartedly his suffering, offering it to the Father for us.

This is how and why Jesus suffered: offering it TO the Father, FOR our good.

Suffering is not good in and of itself and our human nature rightly rebels against it. God also doesn’t will suffering in itself, neither for us or Jesus, but he allows it as a MEANS to reach a greater END. The end that God desires is our relationship with him.

In Isaiah 52-53, Scripture offers us a remarkable prophecy of Jesus as the suffering servant. It describes the servant, Jesus, who took upon himself our sins and sorrows in order to make us whole:

Is 53:4-5

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.

By the offering of himself to the Father on the cross, Jesus has obtained for us the greatest of gifts: the forgiveness of sins, healing, union with God and eternal life. Jesus’ sacrifice for us on Calvary was complete and definitive, lacking in nothing. However, St. Paul dares to say:

“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” (Col 1:24).

With this passage, St. Paul introduces us to the theological concept of redemptive suffering. It is Jesus’ self-sacrifice alone that has won for us our salvation, and yet, he gives us the opportunity to collaborate with him for the good of others. In Salvifici Doloris, a letter on the Christian meaning of human suffering, St. John Paul II writes, “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ” (SD, 19). If we offer up and unite our suffering to the sacrifice of Jesus to the Father we can “complete in our flesh that what is lacking for the sake of his body, the church.” Nothing is lacking in Jesus’ offering except our participation in it.

How do we “offer up” our suffering? It’s simple: just acknowledge it and add the intention of uniting it Jesus’ sacrifice. For example, I have a stomach ache that’s really bothering me. Instead of wasting its potential, I can make it into an offering: “Lord, I offer you my stomach ache. Unite it to your sacrifice for the good of _______.” I can say a specific person who is dear to me or who needs prayers or I can let Jesus direct the good of my offering to whoever needs it most.

Our suffering contains an enormous potential for fruitfulness, if we but unite it to that of Jesus. St. John Paul II affirms,

“Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others” (SD, 27).

Don’t waste the potential, share the treasure!

Suggestions for a concrete resolution:

  • Meditate on the 4th Canticle of the Suffering Servant: Isaiah 42:13-43:12.
  • Contemplate Jesus who freely chose to be wounded and crucified so that we may have life. Gaze upon a Crucifix or a sacred imagine and ask the grace to understand more deeply the gift of Jesus’ suffering.
  • Acknowledge a physical pain or an interior suffering that you are experiencing in this moment. Offer it to Jesus, in union with his sacrifice in the Mass, for the good of a specific person that you know.
  • Pray the morning offering prayer below:

O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world, for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunion of all Christians, and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.

This month’s meditation (March 2022) is written by Sr. Janel Olberding.

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