Years ago a Catholic I knew said to me, “What is this whole ‘binding our sufferings to Christ’ thing about? I mean, I just don’t get it.” I don’t blame her for not understanding, or for not wanting to understand. We call it redemptive suffering and it is not something that can be understood in a world that values gratification as the ideal. In order to be able to understand redemptive suffering, we need to be able to separate ourselves out of that mindset; we need to choose to experience suffering a different way.
I loathe the thought of anyone thinking that redemptive suffering is easy. Christ was counter-cultural in his time, the exact same way he is counter-cultural right now. We are trained from our youth against suffering of any kind and some of us (even me, a cradle Catholic!) do not know how to approach this concept. What tools are we even given to begin to comprehend and embrace redemptive suffering?
St. Paul tells the Colossian church, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, 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 (1:24). Let us not forget that we are baptised into Christ’s death with the hope of resurrection. We have been signed up to suffer!
The saints before us give us significant insight into the role of suffering. Here are a few things that the saints Theresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Calcutta, and Pio of Pietrelcina have taught me that redemptive suffering can accomplish:
- Others are converted to Jesus and/or brought into deeper relationship with him through our suffering (public effect)
- Our suffering becomes attached to Jesus’ suffering and enables grace to affect those in purgatory as well as those who have no one to pray for them (private effect)
- Jesus is closest to us when we suffer (personal effect)
So how do we go about this redemptive suffering? Most of us have enough suffering in our lives already that we do not (necessarily) need to seek it out. St. Therese of Lisieux perhaps shows us the most achievable way of offering redemptive suffering – through our everyday lives in the smallness of everyday tasks. When we hate doing the dishes, we can be intentional and offer our suffering to Jesus. It does us no good to try to suffocate our true feelings about it either, so even saying something along the lines of ‘Well, Jesus, I hate doing the dishes. But if someone can benefit from my suffering to do this, I gladly accept.’ Or ‘Lord, I feel I might die if I have to get up out of bed for that child one more time, but if there is someone who needs this grace, I offer it all to you.’ The saints guarantee it is not wasted!
Through Jesus we can take our suffering – yes, even our grudging attitude! – and turn it to an opportunity to redeem it. I see this happen with those within my home communities and even right here with our CatholicMom readers and writers. It becomes insanely ironic that when we are at our most vulnerable, Christ can do the best work in us, and this is inherent in redemptive suffering.
We are called by God, clothed by God, and sent by God. We have every reason to believe that God can be relied on and will give us the strength we need to enter into redemptive suffering. It will at times feel insurmountable and suffocating. Trusting that God will support us will likely feel like the last thing we can possibly do, and yet, as the lives of the saints before us reveal, when we can choose Jesus in those moments, we are not weak but strong. In those moments, Jesus is so close he can embrace us and give us a kiss. In those moments, we become the saints we are called to be.
If there is one small act you can offer for someone, who would you offer it for? Let us come together in prayer and build up the community of saints!
Copyright 2016 Jane Korvemaker.