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So much could be written on redemptive suffering and how God calls us to participate in the cross of Christ, but the idea of redemptive suffering would not be complete without addressing Paul’s word in Colossians 1:24: “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.” How many of us have struggled with that verse?! What could possibly be lacking in Christ’s afflictions?
What is lacking?
St. John Paul II wrote,
“The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering.”
And Saint Alphonsus Liguori asked,
“Was Christ’s Passion not sufficient in itself to save? Nothing was lacking in the value of his Passion; it was more than sufficient for the salvation of all men. And yet, to have the merits of Christ’s Passion applied to us, we need to cooperate, suffering patiently the toils and tribulations God may wish to send us, so as to liken us more closely to his Son Jesus.”
So what is lacking? Nothing on Christ’s part—only our cooperation.
Conformed to Christ
Through our suffering, we are conformed to Christ—that is, if we embrace it. That seems impossible. How does one embrace suffering? We must remember, the sacraments are channels of grace that make what is humanly impossible possible. That is why we must receive the Eucharist as often as possible and make it a point to go to the sacrament of Confession regularly. It is grace that enables us to be conformed to Christ, and when we are conformed to Christ, then our sufferings become redemptive because his suffering was redemptive. It is the grace of the sacraments that enables us to embrace our suffering. Grace transforms our sufferings into something meritorious.
Francis Fernandez writes, “Pain offered up to our Lord…makes us co-redeemers with Christ. What was useless and destructive becomes something of incalculable value.” He goes on to say, “physical sufferings—pain, illness tiredness—if borne for Christ become true treasures for man.”
St. Josemaría Escrivá wrote, “I will tell you which are man’s treasures on earth, so you won’t let them go to waste: hunger, thirst, heat, cold, pain, dishonor, poverty, loneliness, betrayal, slander, prison…” I think it’s important to remember that even minor inconveniences, when borne for Christ, have redemptive value.
I believe very often we focus on the mystery of the Resurrection and what awaits us in heaven, but we must remember that Calvary preceded the Resurrection. In Paul’s letter to the Romans he says, “it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-17). We all will suffer in this life, the question is: what will we do with it?
Last week I quoted Francis Fernandez, but it bears repeating: “God frequently blesses his friends by making them share in his Cross and making them co-redeemers with him.” St. Teresa of Avila said, “To suppose that He would admit to his close friendship pleasure-loving people who want to be free from all trials is ridiculous.” I smile every time I read that quote by St. Teresa. It is so true, and I must say it flies in the face of our culture’s view of suffering as something evil to be avoided.
We often shrink back in fear and revulsion at the prospect of suffering. But as members of his Body, what Christ has done we all must do. There is a lot of wasted suffering in the world when people fail to unite their sufferings to the cross of Christ. If we want to be united to Christ as fully as possible then we must learn to embrace our crosses. It is a great blessing to actually participate in God’s work of salvation.
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