Today’s readings involve some of the most difficult to understand but, at the same time, some of the most encouraging words one could hear in times of suffering.
Why do we suffer? Shouldn’t our faith and prayers shield us from pain? The simple answer is, no. As you know Jesus Christ didn’t suffer and die to save us from suffering, He suffered and died to save us from the loss of Heaven. In fact, Jesus Himself said that “If anyone wishes to come after [Him}, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow [Him]” (Luke 9:23). We are to pick it up every day in an ongoing process. What He HAS promised us however is that nothing we experience is beyond our capabilities since He will be with us always, until the end of time (Mat 28:20) and that He would not leave us as orphans (John 14:18). Jesus is our strength, our faith in Him is what strengthens us.
The faithful Christian will suffer, by the cross, no matter how much faith one may have. That faith, though, is what gives an individual the strength to persevere. Paul himself suffered even while he prayed for it to go away. He said: “I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me” (2 Cor 12:7-8). The Lord didn’t grant his prayer because He had better plans. We know this because God spoke to Paul in response to his plea and told him: ““My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9). Paul rejoiced in his suffering because it had a purpose in his life for the building up of the Church (Col 1:24). Isn’t it wonderful that whatever suffering one is going through we know that it can be redemptive and help build up the Church?
But how can this be? How can our sufferings help ‘build up the Church’? Well we know that the Church includes all the individual members as a whole and so we can infer that our sufferings can help individual members of our community of believers. How we suffer through what God has deemed necessary for our good without complaint can give others strength in persevering in their sufferings. It can also help others who are suffering in Purgatory while they await entrance into heaven.
At Catholic.com a staff member answered the question of anothers need for redemptive suffering by referencing the Colossians passage, Paul said in Colossians 1:24: "Now I [Paul] 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."
The Catholic.com employee continued: “Paul doesn’t mean that Christ’s death is insufficient for universal redemption. He is simply saying that his own incorporation into the mystical body of Christ (the Church) means that his sufferings can be helpful for other members of the body (the Colossian Christians to whom he is writing). They are helpful only because Paul is united to Christ in his Church and is offering his sufferings to Christ for the sake of the Church.”
In the same way, suffering souls can similarly offer up their sufferings for the benefit of others. That is, we just need to ‘offer it up’ through prayer. It truly is wonderful that whatever suffering we may have, it can be of use in helping others. There is a purpose to our suffering, a purpose for us as well as for others.
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