No one wants suffering, yet Jesus clearly states it is a condition of his discipleship,
Jesus summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me,” (Mark 8:34).
Why is this?
I believe it can only be because to suffer must be for our good for God only allows and wills everything for our good. St. Faustina gives insight into the importance of suffering in her Divine Mercy Diary,
“If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering, (1804.)”
I have given this much thought and have come up with 3 reasons so far that experiences of suffering can be transformed for our good:
- Jesus, who is all good, chose suffering. Jesus chose to suffer and by inviting us to follow him through suffering witnesses to the reality that God, through Jesus, has divinized suffering transforming it into a good. What once was for our destruction is now for our exaltation. The why will only be fully understood in the next life, but the best understanding offered to us now can be found in the apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, written by Pope John Paul II.
- Suffering tells us something is wrong. When we hurt, we know something is wrong. There are those who do not experience pain. They do not know when they have broken an arm, for instance, or injured themselves internally, and this can lead to serious illness and even death. This world is full of sin. If sin did not hurt, would we pursue Jesus and his promise of Eternal Happiness in God? Would we have compassion for others and a zeal for justice for the wrong done in the world if we did not share in its suffering?
- Suffering is God’s Invitation into his Divine Life. The best explanation I have for this reason is the story of my aunt. She died recently at the age of 91. For several years she lived as the last in the family from my parents’ generation. She was a life-long practicing Catholic with most of years spent suffering both physically and emotionally. She lost her father when she was a teenager and suffered grief and lived with her mom in near poverty until she married. Her husband, though financially successful, was unfaithful, an alcoholic, verbally abusive, and cruel to her to his end. Two of her children became addicted to alcohol and drugs resulting in one becoming estranged and the other dying too young. My aunt was a breast cancer survivor, suffered many years with back pain, and at the end stomach pains and the onset of dementia. She always believed in God, but I would say saw Jesus more as her frenemy. She could not understand all the suffering she endured. Yet to everyone, be friend, family or stranger, my aunt was kind, funny, and always encouraging through her every present smile, infectious laugh and uplifting words. Though she did not recognize Jesus’ closeness, her long suffering, steadfast faith in God and loving disposition gave testimony that our Lord was always near her.
A Sign of Redemptive Suffering?
Why God allowed so much suffering in the life of my aunt perhaps can be glimpsed as she approached death. Her son, my cousin, told me that toward the end she often called out to Jesus as though she was expecting him. She said she saw many people standing in a light. One of them was her son who died from a life of addiction lived outside the faith. She feared for his salvation yet there he was standing in the light. Her husband was called her beloved at the funeral. Later my cousin mentioned that the priest offering the funeral Mass did not know his dad nor the sad state of their marriage. I told him perhaps his being called her beloved was a sign for us. I wonder if her long suffering secured her son’s and husband’s salvation and earned my aunt God’s exaltation in Heaven.
I wonder if our suffering is God trusting us with a participation in his salvation plan; a special invitation into a profound intimacy shared in his suffering for both our salvation and for others who do not follow him. Saint Andre said,
“If we knew the value of suffering, we would ask for it on our knees with joined hands.”
These are all wonders, I cannot be sure, but considering how Jesus also endured physical pain and the emotional hurt through the many taunts, mocking, blasphemies, and abandonment of the ones for whom he secured salvation, I have hope. My dear aunt is still encouraging me!
I do not want to suffer as my aunt did, but if God invites me, I pray for the grace to pick up my cross and follow him. With my aunt as inspiration, I may not understand my pain, but I will to smile, laugh, encourage others and trust in Jesus and in His promises to us.
Nan Balfour is a grateful Catholic whose greatest desire is to make our Lord Jesus more loved. She seeks to accomplish this through her vocation to womanhood, marriage, and motherhood, as a writer, Missionary of Hope, Prayer Intercessor, Speaker Team member, and Volunteer for Pilgrim Center of Hope.
Answering Christ’s call, Pilgrim Center of Hope guides people to encounter Him so as to live in hope, as pilgrims in daily life. See what’s happening & let us journey with you! Visit PilgrimCenterOfHope.org.