For a Christian, trust is a must. In 1 Corinthians 13:12, Paul tells us "At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially, then I shall know fully, as I am fully known."
While we are here, in our fleshy bodies, bombarded and besieged by the world, the flesh and the devil, we cannot possibly see as clearly and as fully as we will when we are united with God in Heaven. Until then our only option is to trust. Trust in Him who created us and is doing everything possible to lead us home safely.
So whatever your struggle may be today - a sickness, a prodigal child, a death of a loved one, a job loss, an addiction, fears, temptation, sin, scandal, depression – trust that our good and gracious God has a remedy for you. Saint Monica and Saint Augustine, pray for us!
Our culture is less able to penetrate the mystery of suffering than likely any culture before us. Ask the people of this culture what is most important to them and you’ll get a variety of similar sounding answers. Money, sex and power are the big three. Perhaps health, making a difference, success, peace might come from others. Rare is the person who will say “living out the will of God in my life is what is most important to me.” And yet isn’t that why we were all created?
From 1 Peter 4:1-2
Therefore, since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same attitude so as not to spend what remains of one's life in the flesh on human desires, but on the will of God. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly.
When a culture or a person puts second things first, and first things last, disorder is the result. Disorder breeds a lack of understanding. The culture we live in has no tolerance for suffering because suffering is not understood. It is seen as a bad, a negative, something to be overcome. As it is perceived as a bad, our culture wants to eliminate it. In attempting to do so, the good that is part of suffering goes with it.
At the bottom of every reason for suffering, even beyond sin, is love. For it was out of love that God gave Adam and Eve the free will to sin or not sin. Love is the fullest answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. Divine love, which is often inscrutable but always perfect, comes to us through suffering. From On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, Pope John Paul II says we come to know, “the truth of love through the truth of suffering.”
It is in carrying and embracing our cross that we come to know about suffering and therefore love. Continuing with On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
Saint Elizabeth Anne Seton expresses the need for this Christological perspective when it comes to suffering. She said, “We must often draw the comparison of time and eternity. That is the remedy for all troubles. How small will the present moment appear when we enter that great ocean! How much we will then wish we had doubled our penance and sufferings while that moment lasted.”
Love, and flowing from that, our redemption, is what allows us to embrace our suffering. Is it any wonder then, why our modern culture does not understand suffering? It does not understand love, how can it grasp suffering?
So suffering that is sanctified is suffering that works for good. Every action that is permitted by God contains within it the seeds of our sanctification. God is waiting to do His part, we only need to do ours.
Offer your suffering back to God – whatever suffering it may be. Allow Him to sanctify it. And watch the love bloom, blossom and burst forth from His heart to yours.
When most people think of sanctification, they don’t usually think of suffering. Prayer, fasting, alms giving, and the sacraments, maybe; but not suffering. But suffering, as it is allowed by God, is a powerful opportunity to grow in sanctification. Ultimately, every action permitted by God is ordained for our sanctification, even suffering.
Suffering cuts across all boundaries; rich or poor, old or young, male or female, Christian or non-Christian. It is an experience that we all know of, we’ve all suffered. But it is only Christianity, and really only Catholicism, that can give meaning and purpose - and even a motive- to suffering.
In Hinduism, suffering is seen as the result of karmic debt owed from a prior incarnation.
To Buddhists, life is suffering because we desire. If we were to achieve non-desire, we would no longer suffer.
In Islam, suffering is seen as the result of Allah's positive will for his slaves.
In Rabbinical Judaism, suffering finds its reason in the order of justice, a result of Jewish disobedience.
For some brands of Evangelical Christianity, suffering is the result of personal sin, a "health and wealth" gospel.
Other Christians are unable to grasp the nature of suffering because of their abandonment of the doctrine of Original Sin and the reality of its effects.
We, as Catholics, believe suffering is never positively willed by God, but is allowed for our benefit in some way. We may not understand God's reasons for allowing our particular suffering, but we can still, by His grace, sanctify it.
In the Catholic view, suffering is to be sanctified. Not because it is by its nature a good or even necessarily part of God’s perfect will, but because it is, at minimum, part of God’s permissive will. Paul tells us in Romans, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.”
So suffering that is sanctified is suffering that works for good. Every action that is permitted by God contains within it the seeds of our sanctification. Intense suffering is a powerful opportunity to grow in holiness because of the difficulty of practicing virtue while suffering.
This sanctification of suffering is called sacrifice. The ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate act of sanctifying suffering is Jesus’ death on the Christ, His laying down of His life for us. His love for us was made manifest by His suffering, but not just His suffering, the sanctification of His suffering. He climbed upon the cross out of obedience to His Father. He stayed there out of love for us. He sanctified His suffering through embracing and loving His cross. Love blooms were suffering is sanctified. How could it not?
The link between suffering and sanctity is love of God. Again, Saint Paul’s verse in Romans tells us “We know that all things work for good for those who love God.” For those who love God. Love God with all your heart, mind, soul, strength; seek to do His will no matter the cost and you will be guaranteed to suffer well.
St. Teresa of Avila repeatedly said, “Let me suffer or let me die.” She saw no use to live without suffering because she knew to suffer was to love and to love was to live in God. Saint Madeleine Sophia Barat said, “We must suffer to go to God. We forget this truth far too often.”
An important distinction needs to be made here. I’ll let Saint Vincent de Paul make it for me. He said, “We can only go to Heaven through suffering, but it is not all that suffer who find salvation. It is only those who suffer readily for the love of Jesus Christ, who first suffered for us.” It is the love of God which animates the suffering, sanctifies it and makes it acceptable to God.
In Part II, we will discuss further sanctification through suffering and the connection to love.