Most of us, if we are honest, desire to achieve holiness through our daily choices to serve and love others. Our spiritual and corporal works of mercy are likely at the top of our list when we think of the means to greater degrees of sanctity. Christ’s words might be coming to mind as well. “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, you have done it unto me” (Matthew 25: 40). It is true, that these actions do aid us in our journey towards holiness, but in my humble opinion, the most perfect way to achieve sanctification is through suffering–bummer I know!
I remember hearing a story about Pope St. John Paul II once. A priest who was suffering with an ailment was in the company of the late pontiff and he received a nugget of wisdom that I am sure has stayed with this man his entire priestly life. The words the saint spoke were “Don’t waste this!” In other words, your suffering is a great gift and an opportunity to meet Jesus. It is when we suffer that we truly become most like Christ. Christ is the suffering servant (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). He suffered more than any human person will ever suffer. Our suffering is an invitation. An invitation to enter into the mystery of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
Our suffering offers us some insight into the perplexing words of St. Paul in his letter to the Colossians. “Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church” (1:24). Did Christ’s suffering on the cross lack anything? Of course not! His suffering was the perfect offering and expiation for sins and there is nothing lacking in it. I believe that Paul is saying that our suffering is our way of participating in the salvation of souls.
Christ in His infinite generosity, enables us to join in His story of redemption by allowing us to offer up our own suffering for the good of the church. Christ desires to offer us all hope in the midst of our suffering. If we are willing, our suffering can be redemptive and always has a value in God’s plan. We can use it for good if we see that our individual pain has a potentially powerful and transformative purpose. By uniting our suffering with Christ on His cross, we can assist and alleviate others in their own suffering and spiritual journey. What an unbelievable and wonderful opportunity this is for us as we travel the way of sorrows. Sounds great doesn’t it? I know it is easier said than done.
So what is the formula for making up for what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions? Make a prayer and direct your intention this way:
My dear Lord Jesus Christ, I offer you now all that I am suffering for the salvation of souls, in particular for the soul(s) that I now pray…
That’s it! It is not magic. It is just a means of transforming our pain into something beautiful for God. St. Paul teaches, “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). He reminds us that “[Christ] is the head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18). When we unite our suffering to Christ as a lay faithful, we can heal the mystical body of Christ. We share truly in the building of His kingdom here on earth. So never think for a moment that your pain, trials and sufferings are meaningless.
“Don’t empty YOUR cross of its salvific value.”
May God bless you and heal you this day,