I was speaking with a friend who is a devout Catholic about her upcoming surgery to remove cancer from her breasts. It will be a very scary and painful experience, and she is terrified about it. She proceeded to describe other horrific situations of suffering in her family, all of which have come about since the beginning of Lent. After she went through the grizzly details of their injuries and illnesses of the past two weeks, my first reaction was, “wow, what a Lent for your family.” We then went on to discuss the valuable and consistent Catholic theme of redemptive suffering which you find mentioned below. In short, this means that God is allowing her and her family to share in the suffering of Christ which brings redemption to the world.
Continuing with the meditations on the Stations of the Cross which are below and were written by Michael R. Heinlein at www.simplycatholic.com, we reflect on the suffering of our Lord and our own suffering. When I say that redemptive suffering is consistent, I mean that we experience on a regular basis opportunities to “offer it (suffering) up” for the salvation of others as Christ did. When we meditate on the Stations of the Cross, we reflect on the scary and painful agony that Christ endured for us and the similar afflictions that we now have to endure for him.
May you know the peace of Christ,
Suffering with Christ
On his way to Calvary, Christ experienced the sufferings ordinary men and women experience every day throughout the world. He showed not only how to deal with them, but through the power of love how to transform suffering’s destructive power into
something life-giving. In Christ’s passion and death, St. John Paul II wrote that Jesus “has taken upon himself the physical and moral sufferings of the people of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all of their questions” (Salvifici Doloris, No. 31).
Meditating on the Stations of the Cross exposes Christ’s suffering heart — “sorrowful even to death” (Mk 14:34). In his condemnation to death, Christ teaches that we have the freedom to accept life’s sorrows. He does not let condemnation be levied upon him, but rather he chooses it out of love. Taking up his cross, Christ models how to accept suffering as an act of love in obedience to God’s will.
Christ falls three times on the way to Calvary. The sufferings due to sin in our lives continually cause failure. In falling himself, Christ shows that, despite suffering’s tendency to bring us down, discouragement can be overcome by dependence on God’s grace. Christ teaches us how to persevere through the failure and exhaustion through which our suffering inevitably leads and be of one heart and mind in pursuit of the Father’s will. Such is redemptive suffering — as the old saying goes, “no pain, no gain.”
Christ’s way to Calvary illustrates, too, how God graces us with models of love in the midst of our suffering. But like Christ, we must be attentive and receptive to them. The compassion, cooperation and generosity of others — such as Christ experienced in the fourth, fifth and sixth stations — are examples of how love is returned to love. And when unburdened by our own sufferings, through love, each of us can be channels of God’s love through service, like Mary, Simon and Veronica. “In the face of evil, suffering and sin, the only response possible for a disciple of Jesus is the gift of self, even of one’s own life, in imitation of Christ; it is the attitude of service,” Pope Francis said during World Youth Day in Poland in 2016.
Since life’s road must pass by way of Calvary, this journey of love ultimately entails that we strip ourselves of all that keeps us from God and his will. At the end of his road to Calvary, Christ shows that abandoning ourselves to the hands of providence comes with detachment from all earthly power, pleasure, wealth and honor. The Christian must be unhesitant to cast aside anything necessary to advance the kingdom of God. In this way suffering is a gift that enables us to focus on the new life in Christ that awaits believers. Through the pain of suffering we gain the joy of heaven itself — eternal happiness with God — the gates to which Christ opened for “the many.”
Rooted in Love
In meditating on Christ’s passion and death, through devotions like the Stations of the Cross, comes the realization that life’s sufferings can be joined to Christ’s — by which one learns that love forms suffering’s foundation. “The road is narrow,” St. John of the Cross said. “He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.”
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, weeks before he was elected pope following the death of Pope John Paul II, referenced this when he said that Jesus not only taught us how to pray the Stations of the Cross, but also their meaning. “The Way of the Cross is the path of losing ourselves,” he said, “the path of true love.” Suffering expresses love’s total self-emptying required of the disciple. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:24).