WHAT SUFFERING MEANS FOR A CHRISTIAN – Participants in the Redemption of Christ

Miguel Augusto (*)

The most difficult question of a believer, to bear and to understand, is the cause of human suffering, which in certain cases, is taken and lived to the extreme and, in others, taken as unjust or incomprehensible.

When we have to carry a cross, we look up and ask: “Why me? How can I endure it? Does God listen to my prayers? How can I live and, what is the reason for my suffering, my life in God’s plan?”

This suffering sometimes becomes a form of rapprochement and surrender to God, but in some cases, it causes an abandonment of faith, through incomprehensible pain, caused by the feeling of abandonment and despair. The sufferings and calamities in the world mirror the face of the enemy of God, since the fall of Adam and Eve.

How to live with these sufferings? How to cope with adversity? How can a Christian deal with these issues by standing firm in his faith and, in the calling he received? How can we look at the redemptive suffering of Our Lord Jesus Christ, all the violence and cruel torture inflicted on his body and soul, carried to the extreme of derision and humiliation, before the Father, a God of love? The Encyclical Salvifici Doloris of the Holy Father John Paul II gives us many insights and is a catechesis, so that, not only by faith, we can understand our suffering, like that of humanity, uniting our suffering to the body of the Church, which is the body of Christ, “completing” the salvific value of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

Following are excerpts from that Encyclical.

“In my flesh,” says the Apostle Paul, “I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24).

In Christ “every man becomes the way for the Church.” It can be said that man in a special fashion becomes the way for the Church when suffering enters his life.

At the basis of the whole world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? Man does not put this question to the world, even though it is from the world that suffering often comes to him, but he puts it to God as the Creator and Lord of the world. And it is well known that concerning this question there not only arise many frustrations and conflicts in the relations of man with God, but it also happens that people reach the point of actually denying God.

John, the beloved Apostle, seems to sum up the “central message” of the Gospels when he writes: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). God gives his Son to “the world” to free man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by His obedience unto death, and He overcomes death by His Resurrection.

Christ was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities, three times he restored the dead to life. But Christ approached the world of human suffering, especially because He Himself had taken upon Himself this suffering. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows (…) But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities. (…) All we like sheep have gone astray we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:4-5).

Paul also mentions in the Letter to the Galatians: “He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal 1:4); and in the first Letter to the Corinthians: “You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).

Each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ. Those who share in Christ’s sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection. Christ’s Resurrection has revealed “the glory of the future age” and, at the same time, has confirmed “the boast of the Cross”: the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man’s spiritual greatness.

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul writes: “I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:9-10).

Christ has definitely conquered the world with His Resurrection; yet because His Resurrection is bound up with His Passion and death, He overcame this world at the same time with His suffering on the Cross, where Christ attained the very roots of evil: the roots of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator.

Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!” (Mt 9:9; Mt 16:24).

Christ retains in His risen body the marks of the wounds of the Cross. Through the Resurrection, He manifests the victorious power of suffering, and He wishes to imbue with the conviction of this power the hearts of those whom He chose as Apostles and those whom he continually chooses and sends forth. The Apostle Paul will say: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

It is especially consoling to note, that at the side of Christ, there is always His Most Holy Mother, through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering. In Mary, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakeable faith but also a contribution to the redemption of all. In reality, from the time of her secret conversation with the angel, she began to see in her mission as a mother her “destiny” to share, in a singular and unrepeatable way, in the very mission of her Son. With Mary, Mother of Christ, who stood beneath the Cross, we pause beside all the crosses of contemporary man.

Let us surrender ourselves into the hands of God, spiritually uniting our crosses to the Cross of Christ in the work of the Salvation of the World, elevating the salvific sense of suffering.

Each of us, through faith, longs to go from corruptibility to incorruptibility in the promise of Christ living in the Gospels: “… It is sown corruptible; it is raised incorruptible” (1 Cor 15:42). Jesus in the Sermon of the Mount comforts all who love him and unites his suffering to His suffering: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. (…) Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. (…) Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt., 5: 1-10).

Jesus did not promise a life without pain, but He gave us the confidence that our suffering in this world, united with Him, will be a victory: “I have told you this so that you might have peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world” (Jn 16:33).

FEATURED IMAGED: Christ bearing the cross (1574), by Niccolò Frangipane (1555-1600), Carmen Tyssen Museum

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