Dictionaries say that suffering is something we undergo or are subjected to.
Though the dictionary may not suggest that suffering is necessarily a negative experience, we can be certain that suffering is inevitable and whether it be physical, psychological or spiritual, our suffering is often an individual personal experience that strikes right to the heart of our being.
In The Gospel of Life Pope John Paul II said that our personal struggles are “Aggravated by a culture climate which fails to perceive any meaning or value in suffering, but rather considers suffering the epitome of evil, to be eliminated at all costs” Coupled with this failure to consider the value of suffering is a growing emphasis on the importance of autonomy and individualism.
The result of these attitudes is that we begin to lose sight of the importance of solidarity and charity. The demand for choice is increasingly overriding more fundamental principles such as the sanctity and dignity of all human life.
However, in Christ suffering is transformed and takes on a new and beautiful meaning.
In the original plan of God there was complete unity with humanity. But this original justice was ruptured. With the sin of Adam and Eve, humanity separated itself from God. We entered darkness when the goodness of creation was wounded by sin and we needed the light of God’s elevating grace.
This is today seen as hopelessness of those who suffer. Because God wanted us to be in communion with Him again, in the fullness of time He allowed His only Son to be sacrificed for us. In this sacrifice Jesus experienced all the pain that the human being could suffer emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. When Jesus rose from the dead, he dispelled the darkness of our suffering through the light of the resurrection, the paschal mystery.
Why was this necessary? In God’s plan for the salvation of all, He sent His Son, born of a woman, to suffer and die for us so that from Jesus’ example we better understand this mystery. God wants us to experience this glory in our darkness. Jesus calls us to embrace our personal crosses and follow Him.
As we learn to do so, we find a fountain of grace and love that God is waiting to flood our hearts with. Our trust in God increases; we are purified and we grow more fully conformed to Christ (Phil 3:10, 1Pet 2:21.)
In growing closer to Christ in our suffering, we discover ourselves more and more fully and we rediscover the soul which we thought we had lost because of suffering.
We are not the only ones who benefit when we embrace our cross. As members of the same ‘Body of Christ” when one member of the body is suffering the whole body suffers in solidarity (1 Cor 12:26)
When we ‘suffer with’ others we participate in Jesus’ sacrifice which results in an outpouring of grace not just for ourselves but for others.
Therefore my headache accepted out of love for God could help a starving Child in Africa. This is why St Paul said “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake” (Col 1:24) in this sense, those that are suffering sick and dying are a great treasure, of the Church.
Bronia Karniewicz is executive officer of the Perth Archdiocesan Respect Life Office.