Article on Suffering Draft for submission to


I still need a title. Any help would be appreciated. Also, prayers that it be published would also be helpful.

When my father and I taught three-year olds catechism at my parish, I wondered how we would tell the story of Jesus’ death on the cross when, only a few months earlier, we had been talking about his birth. For several months, we had been telling the children that Jesus was God and man, without sin. We told the children that He loved us. I remember how quiet the room became when my father showed the children the crucifix. He told them how Jesus died for our sins. The question that stood out the most was, “Why?”. These little ones could sense that this cross was terribly wrong. Why should a good man like Jesus die? The answer of course, is that he accepted death so we wouldn’t perish. We explained that to the children. However, as I see those same students grow, I know that the same question will be applied to their own suffering. It will be a question that they’ll seek an answer to for many years to come. Why do I have to suffer? Why do good people suffer and die while the wicked prosper? How do I respond to suffering? Universally, people suffer physically, mentally or spiritually. They respond to this suffering in various ways. A Catholic, who loves being Catholic, will do something totally different from conventional wisdom. Instead of trying to avoid the suffering by drowning it out with various worldly distractions, he will embrace suffering as an opportunity to become holy. The ‘Why’ of suffering finds an answer in the words of St. Paul. “Now, I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church,” (Cor 1:24, RSV)

We are all familiar with suffering in one way or another. There is physical suffering which can be as small as a paper cut or as crippling as a bone disease. Mental suffering at it’s smallest is very connected to spiritual and emotional suffering. For instance, a man who loses his job worries constantly about where he will find work. Mental suffering can also be attached to physical suffering as is the case with diseases like Alzheimer’s, mental retardation or insanity. Emotional suffering can come from any number of things such as a quick insult from somebody or even the death of a close friend or relative. Spiritual suffering might also be called ‘moral suffering’, when a person is in mortal sin or is going through a ‘dark night of the soul’. The all encompassing nature of suffering makes it part of the human experience. Despite our advances in the fields of modern medicine, psychology and numerous ‘self-help’ books, suffering seems not to have lessened in the world, but only increased.
Because suffering affects all aspects of humanity, it is obvious that suffering is important. In John Paul II’s encyclical On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering (Salvifici Doloris) , John Paul observes that while suffering is widespread throughout the animal world, only humans can ask why we suffer (Salvifici Doloris, Paragraph 9). All the saints have suffered in some way or another. St Monica suffered the loss of her husband and the resistance to repentance by her son, St. Augustine. St. Jean Vianney suffered torment from evil spirits. All the apostles except St. John were martyred. The thing that kept them faithful, and ultimately made them into saints was that suffering is an opportunity to become holy. Salvifici Doloris says “Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize the divine mercy in this call to repentance ”(Salvifici Doloris Par 12). If suffering can be used for an opportunity for holiness, then we should seize the opportunity to learn how to make the best of any suffering that we come across.

When I think about prayers for those who are suffering, one in particular comes to mind, the Anima Christi. To those of you not familiar, this is a prayer that goes back so far in Catholic history, nobody has been able to pinpoint it’s origins, but it has been traced as far back as the eighth century. It is often, it is said by people after they receive communion.:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me. Body of Christ, save me.Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus, hear me. Within Thy wounds, hide me. Separated from Thee let me never be. From the malignant enemy, defend me. At the hour of death, call me. To come to Thee, bid me, That I may praise Thee in the company Of Thy Saints, for all eternity. Amen.

This beautiful prayer, at first glance, seems to simply be asking for spiritual cleansing. It seems to be a prayer asking for more strength, more protection. However, if one were to look closer, he would realize that the prayer is actually asking Jesus to make us more like Himself in every way possible. It is a prayer of intimacy, asking to become so close to Jesus that his blood runs through our veins. This is the essence of Christian suffering. Each moment of suffering, be it small or large, is an opportunity to become more like Christ.

St. Paul took great joy in his opportunities to suffer because he knew that he was sharing in Christ’s suffering. The Church, often called the ‘mystical body of Christ’ suffers as well. Those who are members of Christ’s body, who take a part in His suffering are completing ‘…what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the Church.’ In suffering, we become more loving people. The mass, which makes us one with Jesus in such a way that His blood does indeed run through our veins, purifies our suffering and unites it with Christ’s. All mental, physical, and spiritual suffering is no longer ‘meaningless’ as modern wisdom calls the suffering of the ill, the aged and the crippled; rather it becomes a necessary tool in one’s journey to become more Christ like. Like St. Paul, our suffering becomes a source of joy, because it is no small leap to realize that to share in Christ’s suffering is to also share in His glory. As Blessed Andre Bessette once said, “If we knew the value of suffering, we would ask for it.”

There is no more evident sign that anyone is a saint and of the number of the elect, than to see him leading a good life and at the same time a prey to desolation, suffering, and trials.
-- St Aloysius Gonzaga

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This page contains a single entry by Robert Diaz, MI published on January 12, 2004 4:27 PM.

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