I feel sorry for those Protestants and poorly catechized Catholics that do not understand our concept of redemptive suffering. There are those who teach that suffering is only the result of evil or that God is punishing us for some evil we have done. Both can at times be true but it needn’t be only that. Just as Christ’s suffering on the Holy Cross was due to the sins of mankind and the evil which abides in us (through no fault of His own), ironically, His suffering on the Cross became our soul’s redemption. Our evil was made by Christ to be transformed into our only Good.
That is the mystery and the beauty of that which Christ has shown us; taking objective evil and transforming it into love, grace and goodness. Evil was turned into resplendent Good! Think of it! His example gave us the ultimate instruction as He lovingly embraced His Cross. And it is by His example that we have found that we too may take our sufferings and transform them into redemptive and beautiful acts of goodness and grace. We can offer them up for ourselves and our sins and for others as well, in union with the sufferings of Christ. We become united with Him at His moment of greatest Mercy! Was there ever a more powerful moment in salvation history than this? “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”
The evil that was done was inconceivable and incomprehensible. It was Deicide, plain and simple. We killed God, our Creator and our source of all happiness and joy; the wellspring of life and life eternal. What a callous insult to Him Who loved us more than is imaginable. Christ willed to let Himself, the pure and spotless Lamb of God, to become sin itself, the Sacrifice of sacrifice, thereby redeeming us from our constant sinfulness and disordered lust for those things that simply perish; as dust into the wind.
Catholics had this understanding for ages and the Church has left us numerous role models in our saints and among ordinary faithful Catholics who show us the immense value of redemptive suffering. As a Catholic, I have come to embrace the grace, this unmerited gift, to participate in the Sacrifice of our Lord and Savior.
In times of suffering we become aware that Christ is beckoning us to rely on Him and heed His call to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.” It is not an easy task but a glorious task. Though it may be a spiritual, mental, emotional or actual martyrdom in which we participate, we hear Christ as He asked the sons of Zebedee, “Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?” In this way, He invited us, as it were, to join Him and participate not only in our individual salvation but in that of others. Following those words He exhorted them to serve one another: “he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.”
And so this is the Christian life as Christ revealed it. Denying our selves, carrying our crosses, drinking from the chalice of suffering and serving one another through sacrificial love. It is a radical call to a vocation of selfless service to Christ and to one another without regard for own needs but for the needs of others. Understood in this way our lives have meaning even if we are not capable of work in this world due to childhood, old age, injury or sickness. Through our quiet suffering we can effect great change in the world and do monumental good. Redemptive suffering is the key to combating our eventual agony at the time of death. We can then leave this world as did our Lord before us, offering all we have left to give: our sufferings – and that in itself may be sufficient to gain a glorious crown in heaven.