Does Pain Make Sense? The Indispensable Role of Suffering

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Jesus expects from those who are closest to Him a complete intimacy which leads them to a radical disposition to suffer everything with Him.

Newsdesk (03/08/2022 09:35 AM, Gaudium Press) “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Mt 16:24-25).

In this passage of Scripture, Our Lord establishes suffering as a necessary element to accompany Him and attain his friendship. To carry the cross means not only to be ready to accept pain and setbacks, but to do so out of love.

Jesus expects complete intimacy from those closest to him, an intimacy which leads them to discern His divine desires and designs, and to suffer everything with Him, for Him and in Him.

Yet already among the Apostles we find different degrees of response to this invitation. On hearing the first announcement of the Passion, St. Peter rebuked the Master and earned this severe rebuke from Him: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mk 8:33).

Saint John, on the other hand, had a perfect attitude when, reclining on Jesus’ breast during the Last Supper, he asked Him who would betray Him (cf. Jn 13:23-25). Rather than listening to the reply coming from the lips of the Redeemer, he sought to listen to the desires of the Sacred Heart and loved the unfathomable plans of God, without putting obstacles in the way of all the sufferings of his Lord. The unconditional love of this Apostle led him, united to Mary Most Holy, to say fiat to the will of the Eternal Father and to the work of the Redemption, making him worthy to stand beside the Cross of Christ (cf. Jn 19:26).

The Diversity of Reactions in the Face of Suffering

Now, not only the Apostles, but all men and women, good and bad, inevitably go through that “divine challenge” of saying fiat to the sufferings which appear before them in this valley of tears.

And also among us there are different ways of reacting to this reality. Some people, accommodated to the situation in which they find themselves, do everything to avoid any discomfort or worry, preferring to believe in the sad illusion of a “perfect” world, without difficulties or anxieties. They resemble St. Peter when he drew upon himself the Saviour’s reproach: “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Others, thirsting for advantages, mediocre pleasures and fleeting joys, can be counted among the great number of the selfish who, even though they know it is not possible to banish suffering from their lives completely, “live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.” (Phil 3:18-19).

Unfortunately, few are those who, faced with the inevitable afflictions of this earth, face them with serenity, resignation and joy.

Men and Women Configured to Christ

But God does not abandon the world to the follies of sin, nor does he fail to raise up souls to show humanity the path of rectitude, detachment and true charity. These souls are called to be nailed to the Cross together with Christ (cf. Gal 2:19) and to embrace suffering in whatever way Providence wishes to send it, for suffering configures them to Our Lord in a most perfect way.

In the lives of the saints we find innumerable facts that illustrate this sublime reality, so often manifested in their own bodies by the presence of the sacred stigmata and by other supernatural phenomena.

St. Francis of Assisi gave us a great example of love for the Cross. A man filled with God, he attained such a high degree of union with Christ that after an ecstasy he merited becoming physically similar to the Crucified One, bearing in his flesh the wounds of Jesus.

As St Bonaventure, his biographer and spiritual son, explains, “just as he had imitated Christ in the actions of his life, in the same way he was to be conformed to Him in the afflictions and pains of the Passion, before departing this world”.

What can be said, then, of Saint Teresa of Jesus, whose heart was often pierced by an Angel with a flaming arrow, which left her ablaze with love for God? The pain caused by the piercing caused her loud groans and laments! But the peace and consolation she felt in those moments were such that she in no way wished to avoid or lessen that suffering.

We should also remember St. Gemma Galgani, chosen by Providence to live intensely the glory of the Cross. This chosen girl also had the immense grace of bearing the sacred stigmata on her body, as a proof of the great love and predilection that the Redeemer and his Blessed Mother had for her.

Let us Follow her Example!

All of us baptized are called to holiness, and therefore to suffer, for love of God, whatever sufferings He wishes to send us, secure in the knowledge that the strength to face them will come to us from Him.

So, when we embrace our cross and feel our weakness crying out within us, let us look beyond the hardness and blackness of the simple wood. Let us fix our gaze on the one nailed to it and let us throw ourselves into His arms, who invites us to live with Him in this supreme hour!

And, following her example, in the most terrible moments let us seek help from Her who not only suffered and faced the entire Passion with Him, but was also, through her love and adamantine fidelity, His greatest consolation, adorning the Redemptive Sacrifice with shining tears.

Text extracted from the magazine Heralds of the Gospel n. 212, August 2019. By Carolina Amorim Zandoná.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan

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