The Suffering that Saves
Fr. Ed Benioff - Added on Thursday, July 24, 2014

What’s more universal than suffering? What’s more inevitable?


We spend so much of our life trying to maximize our pleasure and minimize our pain — and yet we suffer anyway. Pain comes even to those who have all the money and fame they can wish for. It comes to those who achieve their dreams of stardom.


People suffer in many ways. Some are troubled in their thoughts and emotions. Some live with constant bodily pain. Some suffer from their memories. Some have no hope for the future.


Suffering is inevitable and universal, but it need not destroy us. We can prevail over it, as long as we struggle with Jesus Christ.


Think about it. Jesus himself lived a life full of suffering. He was misunderstood and maligned. He was wrongly accused. He went hungry and without sleep. He was homeless — he had no place to rest his head. Yet he lived a constant serenity and union with God the Father.


As he did so, he modeled the life that we too can live. But he did more than just give us an example. He shared that life with us by giving us his Holy Spirit. Now we, too, can live as children of God. It doesn’t mean we won’t suffer. But we won’t suffer alone. And all our suffering will have profound meaning.


Saint Paul said that “those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God” and can even call God “Daddy” — that’s Abba, in the Aramaic language.


But Saint Paul goes on to add something very important — a condition on being a child of God. If we are God’s children, he says, then we are his heirs, “joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (see Romans 8:14-17).


We’re God’s children now — but only if we live like the Son of God. Only if we suffer with the Son of God! No suffering, no glory — or, as high-school coaches like to say to their players: no pain, no gain.


Jesus suffered on our behalf, not only on Calvary, but all through his life. Everything he did was for our sake, and everything he did was redemptive.


Still we suffer. He did not simply eliminate that dimension from human life. Instead he empowered us to suffer as he suffered — to redeem with him and be his “co-workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 6:1).


Saint Paul even came to rejoice in his suffering, because he knew it was redemptive. He knew that it would win grace for others: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,” he said, “and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Colossians 1:24).


What could be lacking in Jesus’ suffering on the cross? Only what Jesus willed to be lacking, so that we could share his life completely.


This is the meaning of the traditional Catholic phrase “offer it up!” We offer our small daily annoyances (and even our life-changing pains) together with the afflictions of Jesus — and they take on his saving power. (Pope Benedict spoke of this practice in chapter 40 of his letter Spe Salvi.)


Mother Teresa of Calcutta said that the true founder of her religious order, the Missionaries of Charity, was Jacqueline de Decker, a severely disabled Belgian woman, who was bedridden in a body cast and needed countless surgeries and bone grafts. She simply “offered it up” for Mother Teresa’s intention.


People who suffer sometimes suffer the temptation to despair. Their life seems wholly taken up by pain, and their pain seems meaningless.


Redemptive suffering is the key to understanding pain, and the secret to meaningful endurance and serenity.


What can you offer up today? And for whom?


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