As we enter into Holy Week and meditating on the Passion of our Lord, I’d like to share with you a few reflections on sacrifice.
The Eternal Value of Suffering
How often do we consider the true − eternal − value of suffering in our lives. We all suffer to some degree or another and to varying degrees over the course of our lives. We all experience discomforts, pain, illnesses, sorrows, difficulties … trials of all sorts daily. But are we aware of the veritable fount of grace waiting for us in each of these trials?
Jesus Christ, true God and true man, showed us in His own suffering and death the redemptive value of suffering. He laid down His life through tremendous suffering on behalf of His beloved, His Bride, the Church. And through His death and resurrection He reveals to each of us that suffering is the path that leads to glory.
Our Catholic faith teaches us that all suffering can be offered up in union with Christ’s suffering − with redemptive value − for the salvation of souls. We, the Body of Christ, can share in that which Christ accomplished for us and for our salvation in His own passion. Just stop and think of the significance of this truth of our faith! St. Paul − one who suffered greatly for the sake of Christ and for the love of souls − teaches us this:
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake,
and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body,
which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.
What a privilege it is to be a member of the Body of Christ: sons and daughters of our living God! What an incredible power God bestows upon us, His children! What dignity He gives to us! Truly, we need to pause and reflect on what an opportunity we have to share in God’s very life and love through our own personal suffering! It is a mystery over which saints have pondered and marveled … and so too should we.
St. Padre Pio said this:
The angels envy us one thing only: they cannot suffer for God!
St. Therese of Lisieux said this of suffering:
It is only by suffering that souls can be led to Jesus.
Is it surprising then that we are so richly supplied with it!
Do we value suffering for all that the Lord is offering to us in it? Do we know what a gift we have in suffering? Do we see how through our suffering, God is inviting us to be led to Him … that He actually desires for us to come to Him? God − the creator of heaven and earth − desires for US to come close to Him and share in His very own life and love! And for this, the angels who now share in God’s glory, envy us … that we can share in Christ’s suffering! WOW!
The Lost Art of Suffering
If we look around us, do we see a world that is excited over the value of suffering? Christianity has been around for over 2000 years, so where is the evidence of this tremendous gift, this fount of grace in our culture? Sadly, suffering has become a “lost art” … something that has lost its value in the world and so few people even know of its merits. Even among Catholics this is true!
How has this come about? How can something as powerful as suffering become so overlooked? It has been said that the greatest deception of Satan in our modern world is to have convinced us that He does not exist. And that the second greatest deception on his part is that there is no such thing as sin! Well, I believe the third greatest deception on the part of Satan is to have convinced our world that there is no value in suffering. In doing so, the Deceiver, Satan, the Father of Lies, has successfully turned away many souls not just from suffering and the abundant graces that are available to us through suffering, but from God, the giver of those graces!
A Culture Deceived
Our culture does not embrace suffering … in fact, it teaches us to avoid it − flee from it − at all cost! How many people have bought into the lie that suffering is bad and that there is no merit at all to suffering? We have a culture that is in love with pleasure, leisure, comfort and luxury. These are things that our culture promotes as the ultimate good in life! We lavishly invest ourselves and our resources in the pursuit of these things. Who has time for suffering, we’re too busy being pampered!?!
I’m not saying that these things are necessarily bad … but consider the contrast of how far Christ went to embrace suffering for the salvation of our souls as to how far we go now in the twenty-first century to avoid suffering and embrace pleasure, leisure, comfort and luxury! It should give us pause!
I’m also not saying that if you have a headache you shouldn’t ever take something for it … that’s up to your discretion. Sometimes we do need to take a remedy for pain or get relief from pain through some intervention. That’s not bad! What I’m refering to is how we “wrestle” with our suffering. Do we accept it and offer it up … at least until the pain killer kicks in … or do we complain to the point that everyone else around us ends up with a headache as well? Do we see suffering as an opportunity to offer up sacrifice to our God, or do we get angry with God for allowing suffering in our lives?
When it comes to pampering ourselves … do we invest a disordered amount of our energy, our money, our time? What do we pursue whole-heartedly with the talents and resources the Lord has given us? What are our goals and dreams for this life? Do our priorities reflect those of Christ … those of a follower of Christ?
Jesus, Himself, said:
If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself,
and take up his cross daily and follow Me. (Luke 9:23)
Our Heavenly Father gives to us many good things to enjoy in this life: countless pleasures, the leisure of the Sabbath (to rest from our labors with our God), the comfort of family and friends, shelter and food, the luxury of the bounty of this earth! Worldly goods are gifts from a loving Father. But good can become the enemy of the best when it keeps us from the best. And when pleasure, leisure, comfort and luxury become the goals of our lives, the driving force of our energy, the desires of our hearts, then they have displaced God − WHO IS THE BEST − and at that point they become bad for us. They keep us from drawing close to Christ! They keep us from becoming Christ-like! They turn our hearts away from the ultimate desire of our hearts − union with God − and we then no longer NEED God, because we have replaced Him in our hearts with all these worldly pursuits!
So Many Graces Lost
Consider the victory that we hand over to Satan in our culture in that so many have become convinced that we need not suffer, that we should avoid it in our lives, that there is no merit to suffering. Consider all the graces that are lost because so few people know to embrace suffering and to offer it up to our God, in union with His Son Jesus’ passion! Every day suffering comes to us in some form or other − big and little sufferings and trials − and we have the opportunity to make each of these sufferings a gift to our Lord!
How many souls can be saved, sinners converted, souls released from Purgatory, people healed, families restored, lives renewed in hope by our suffering? Suffering is part of the human condition and it comes to each and everyone of us. How we deal with suffering is what makes the difference: will we flee from it or embrace it and offer it up to our Lord?
Suffering Avoided often Leads to Sins Embraced
Another victory for Satan, in the deception of “no-more-suffering” is how he uses this to draw us into sins. Indeed it is this lost value of suffering that lies at the heart of many sins − especially sins of the flesh! Rather than say no to ourselves, to our sexual desires, and embrace self-discipline which involves patience, self-denial, self-sacrifice and sometimes even suffering, our culture teaches us to indulge in every pleasure and desire of the flesh! Sadly, as a culture we have bought into this lie − hook, line and sinker − and have thus created a culture of death.
- Consider how even Catholics will cling to birth control to avoid suffering the inconvenience of children or the self-denial that comes from Natural Family Planning!
- Think of all the many women deceived into choosing abortion as the solution to the suffering of having a baby and raising an “unwanted child”!
- Think of a society that has embraced premarital sex in order to avoid the suffering of waiting for sexual intimacy in marriage!
- Consider the number of couples who choose co-habitation in place of marriage − or at least as a trial before marriage − in order to avoid the suffering of the “bondage” of commitment!
- Think of the number of young people who engage in romantic relationships well ahead of an appropriate time in their lives, to avoid the suffering of loneliness and the insecurity of being seen as a “loser” by their peers … and then are so often lured into sinful relationships of sexual exploration as they avoid the suffering of saying no to their desires!
- Think of the number of people addicted to pornography − that life-destroying force so widely accepted in our culture − to cling to the fleeting, distorted pleasures it provides!
- Euthenasia is the total avoidance of suffering, on the part of the person who suffers and those who would have to attend to their care!
- Consider how people will lie, cheat, and destroy others in their path to obtain financial wealth, “freedom”, status and power. They believe these things will free them from suffering, but for the temporary pleasures, leisure, comforts and luxuries they are afforded, these people almost always end up enslaved by the very things they thought would set them “free”.
These are all examples of how sin has overgrown in our society, like weeds in a garden that choke out the life of the plants they surround. Sin is promoted in every available channel of the media − television, movies, music, books, magazine, internet. At the heart of all this sin is the lie of avoiding suffering and the enticement to embrace pleasure, leisure, comfort or luxury.
We Change the World One Cross at at Time
Consider now what kind of world it would be if every Catholic were to embrace suffering − not flee from it − and unite it to Christ in His passion! Just one cross at a time is all it takes! We don’t have to go looking for them, either, there are ample opportunities to make offerings, little and big, each and every day! The power of all that suffering offered up by every Catholic would change the world … not just in the sin that is avoided, but in the graces obtained through the suffering united to Christ’s own suffering!
This Holy Week as we reflect on Jesus’s passion − the offering up of Himself at the Last Supper, His suffering, death and resurrection − let us pray for the grace to embrace the suffering that the Lord has permitted in our lives with joy so that we can offer it up freely for the salvation of souls! Let us pour our hearts out in love for souls, as Christ poured His precious blood out for us!
Becoming Christ-Like by Embracing Suffering
Our Lady of Medjugorje (with whom our family was so blessed to journey this Lent) tells us:
The more we resemble Christ in our suffering,
the more we will resemble Him in His glory!
Let us reflect on what it means to suffer like Christ. I asked this of my children the other day − Just how did Christ suffer? − and their answers were right on the mark, because the innocence of children allows them to see so clearly! Jesus suffered with patience, with love, with joy, with purpose, with passion. Perhaps this week, we can look at the sufferings of our lives and ask the Lord to give us hearts to suffer these things with patience, with love, with joy, with purpose and with passion!
Is it true what Our Lady of Medjugorje tells us, that if we share in His sufferings we will also share in His glory? St. Peter tells us:
But to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ,
keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory
you may rejoice with exultation.
(1 Peter 4:13)
I encourage all of us to journey this Holy Week as much as possible with our Blessed Mother.
Who better to guide us to the heart of her Son, than Mary, who shared in His suffering and who now shares in His glory?
As we enter into the mystery of the Easter Triduum, may we all be transformed by the love our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ! And through this, may we all find the strength and courage to embrace each of our sufferings in life for the transformation of our world and the salvation of souls!
In His Passion and Purity and through the love of His Blessed Mother,