Today’s culture has lost a sense of what it means to suffer and persevere. We spend our days finding ways to make work easier, erase pain, and enjoy the modern conveniences of 1st world luxuries. The atheistic message reverberating through society is that happiness is directly proportional to the level of comfort. Suffering, therefore, is meaningless and should be avoided or remedied at all costs. Life is not worth living if it’s not lived in comfort; and if that’s not possible… well… it’s no wonder assisted suicide is the next best thing.
But let’s face it… everyone suffers – and most of the time it’s something that is out of our control. Every once in a while, I look around and just realize how much suffering others experience. To see a family, short one member (again), because she has an unexplainable chronic illness. A young man praying earnestly for relatives fallen away from the Church. Someone else might be crippled with anxiety or overwhelmed after losing their job. A husband and wife shuffle their kids back and forth, their tired eyes giving away how little sleep they get, and the couple behind them who are longing for such a blessing. An elderly man diagnosed with a terminal illness. The priest who skipped lunch to visit a parishioner and is still answering e-mails at 2am because his duties for us never end. The folks for whom nothing just seems to go right.
Sometimes, it just seems like we are handed crosses that really weigh us down – close to pinning us on the ground. No denying it. How do we deal with it all? Society will tell us that suffering is meaningless. The work of the devil. The result of our sinful nature. That a life suffered is a life worthless. However, they only despair because they don’t understand the meritorious power behind using suffering for good. God allows suffering and sin in our world; but, being Perfection Himself, is capable of using all things (both good and bad) to draw people closer to Heaven.
St. Faustina writes in her diary: “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering.” Holy Communion is easy to see, as it is the closest union with Christ we can have on this earth; but why would the angels envy our ability to suffer?
“We are pilgrims on our way to the Holy of Holies: A sanctuary of joy and happiness. If we truly understood Heaven, we would understand the price of our daily crosses. We would even steal crosses from one another; for we know how they lead us to Heaven to be with Jesus for eternity.” – Canon Commins
The angels understand the glories which await us in the eternal adoration of God as heavenly saints! Since there are only saints in heaven, they also understand the need for suffering to purify ourselves in preparation for heaven. In taking our sufferings, whether big or small, and offering them to God to use for His goodness, we make acts of self-sacrifice, humility, and love. And love is what makes offering up these sacrifices possible and even joyful.
One can only love to the degree which they are willing to suffer. The greater the sacrifice involved, the greater the act of love. When a parent sees their child suffering, they would do anything to bear that suffering, if only to spare their child. They eagerly deny themselves in order to choose their child. This reveals their great capacity to love, by which they are able to make great acts of love. However, it may be said that when you don’t necessarily see the fruit of your suffering, or the suffering is not as pleasurable, your suffering is actually worth more. It is easy to suffer being cold if you gave your coat to your friend, as you see that your suffering is worth easing the suffering of someone you love; but it is not as easy to suffer cold simply because you just have no coat. Remember that love is not a “feeling”, it is an action of the will; and acting in void of feeling is an even more perfect love, because it is a true self-denial.
“If you really want to learn to love Jesus, learn to suffer; because suffering teaches us to love.” – St. Gemma Galgani
“Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like our Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystalised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.” – St. Faustina
We too can make these acts of love by accepting and offering our suffering, trials, and sorrows to God in penance and prayer. Uniting our suffering to prayer gives it a supernatural merit and puts us in a very powerful position to receive supernatural reward. For in suffering, our prayers are most closely united to Christ crucified. The reason the Holy Mass is the most powerful form of prayer is because it is the suffering and sacrifice of Christ Himself! By uniting our sufferings to His in prayer and in the Holy Eucharist, the ultimate sacrificial act of love, our prayers will bestow countless graces. Use your suffering to pray for a particular intention, for the conversion of sinners, to contemplate the suffering of our Redeemer Himself, for priests in these perilous times, to practice a particular virtue, for a suffering soul in purgatory… the opportunities are endless! While it is most necessary to pray for those who suffer so that they may have the strength and courage to persevere until relieved, I am always eager to ask those who suffer for just a small prayer in return – for their prayers are far more powerful than mine.
“Jesus possesses my heart, and being in possession of Jesus I find that I can smile. Even in the midst of so many tears. I feel, yes, I feel that I am happy, even in the midst of so many sufferings.” – St. Gemma Galgani
“Suffering is a sign that you have come so close to Him that he can kiss you.” St. Teresa of Calcutta
The greater your sacrifice, the greater the act of love; and the greater your love, the more joyful the sacrifice can be. Offering our sufferings will help us grow in holy charity; and, in turn, charity (this lens of love) will sweeten the bitterness of our trials. Suffering can be beautiful if offered with Christ. Do we look upon our beloved Saviour, stripped and hanging on the Cross with disgust? No! It is a beautiful sight to behold because it represents Christ’s perfect love for us.
So whether you are offering up another sleepless night, an extra dirty dish, the stress of chronic pain, a skipped meal, or your lenten penance of giving up coffee (oh – you brave, brave souls) – reject the fallacy of modern society, kiss your cross, and remember suffering does have a purpose: Sanctity.
What a tragedy to avoid a chance to pursue it.
All you suffering souls, pray for me! I’ll pray for you.
St. Gemma Galgani, St. Faustina, St. Francis de Sales – orate pro nobis!