Suffering — What for?

Suffering is redemptive and salvific. It’s all about what we do with our suffering. 

By Br. Eliott, MIC

One of my favorite things about being a consecrated religious brother is sharing in the sufferings of God’s people. Oftentimes, when people see me wearing a clerical shirt, they feel comfortable and open up to me about their personal struggles. Over time, I have come to realize that these encounters are an incredible gift from God, a kind of sharing in Christ’s merciful love from the Cross.  

Where the need is greatest
I have encountered people who suffer from drug and alcohol addiction; others, from sexual, emotional, and physical abuse. I have encountered people who have lost loved ones from suicide or euthanasia. I have encountered people who suffer from loneliness, diseases/cancer, war, homelessness, and relational difficulties. I have encountered people who have mental illnesses and disabilities of all sorts. I have encountered people who struggle with their identity. I have encountered people who regret having had abortions and premarital sex.

I have encountered people who are mad at the Church for various reasons. I have encountered people whose loved ones have fallen away from the Church. I have met people who don’t understand or accept Church teachings for different reasons. I have encountered people who are rightly confused about their suffering. I have met people who blame God for their sufferings or don’t believe there is a God because of the suffering they experience. 

Why do I appreciate this gloomy picture as a gift from God?

Because in the midst of such darkness lies the immense power of redemption!

What do I mean? I mean that suffering is redemptive and salvific! It’s all about what we do with our suffering. There are also people who have allowed their sufferings to transform their lives for the better. Many Christians find meaning, purpose, and even goodness amidst their storms. These individuals don’t allow their hearts to become hard from trials, but draw closer to God because of their pain.

Many of these individuals come to learn an ironic paradox — God can bring good even out of evil (because God is all powerful and goodness itself). This paradox is rooted in the mystery of the Cross. 

Why suffer? 
What is the purpose and meaning of suffering? Everyone experiences hardships in life, but not everyone understands the immense power of suffering.

Pope St. John Paul II wrote brilliantly about the Christian meaning of human suffering and its relationship to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. In Salvifici Doloris (On the Meaning of Human Suffering), he wrote:

On this Cross is the "Redeemer of man," the Man of Sorrows, who has taken upon himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all of their questions (31)

Catholics understand suffering as a consequence of moral or physical evil due to humanity’s free choice in choosing sin. Suffering is the result of the sin of others, our own personal sin, or a mixture of both. 

Exaltation of the Holy Cross
The Catholic Church celebrates liturgically the “Exaltation of the Holy Cross” on Sept. 14. This celebration recalls the culmination of the revelation of God’s merciful love for mankind.

All of mankind is exalted with Christ on the Cross. "In bringing about the Redemption through suffering," St. John Paul II continued, "Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ" (19).

As Christians, we can unite our suffering to Christ’s suffering on the Cross. We can ask the Lord to save souls through the sufferings we endure (even small things, like doing our daily tasks well). We can find strength, perseverance, and fortitude in contemplating Christ’s sorrowful agony on the Cross. Before we know it, we begin to have a heart like Christ’s, one that is self-sacrificial, merciful, and compassionate.

Through redemptive suffering, we can merit an eternal reward in Heaven for our cooperation in the redemption of the world. 

Brother Eliott, MIC, is a seminarian for the Marian Fathers currently serving in Argentina.

Photo by Neal E. Johnson on Unsplash
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