It seems strange to say that suffering could be seen as a gift. Indeed, viewing suffering as anything but something to be avoided at all costs is completely countercultural. In today’s world, pleasure is often treated as the ultimate good: something to be sought above all else. But, as is often the case, our Church has something different to say. Suffering, the Church tells us, is one of the most beautiful favors that God could bestow on us. To suffer well is to become like Christ.
Suffering benefits us several ways. It purifies our souls, strengthens our spirits, and teaches us to love more deeply. Also of importance, is that it allows us to participate in Christ’s redemptive work. By prayerfully accepting our own suffering and offering it to God, we can make reparation for our own sins, or even the sins of others.
“If you really want to love Jesus, first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love.”Saint Gemma Galgani
Not sure where to start? Here are a few ways you can draw closer to Christ and embrace suffering this Lent:
1. Reflect on your personal relationship to suffering
Spend some time reflecting on suffering and your reaction to it. Where is there suffering in your life? Do you bear your crosses well, or do you complain about them to everyone who will listen? In what ways could you bear your sufferings more gracefully this Lent?
“When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.”Saint Sebastian Valfre
2. Offering your suffering
It is definitely possible to waste suffering. In fact, many saints have said that suffering that is not intentionally offered to God and patiently borne has little to no merit. This means that we need to be intentional about treating suffering as a prayer. In Lent, consider adopting a morning offering prayer to say each day, in which you offer to God any suffering you may experience. It can also be helpful to find a short prayer you can recite in the moment if you encounter any particularly difficult trials. Another great practice to get into is to identify people in your life (living or deceased) for whom you would like to offer your suffering.
“A sacrifice, to be real, must cost, must hurt, must empty ourselves.”Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta
3. Reflect on the Passion
Have you ever sat down and truly thought about what Jesus went through during his Passion? Consider praying the Sorrowful Mysteries this Lent, or doing the Stations of the Cross. You can also read quotes from the Saints about Jesus’s suffering or watch the 2004 film “The Passion of the Christ.”
“The most beautiful creed is the one we pronounce in our hour of darkness.”Saint Padre Pio
4. Thank God for the trials he has given you
It can be difficult to feel gratitude for the suffering in our lives. After all, our first reaction to pain—whether physical or emotional—is often to ask God why. Accepting the pain and thanking God for it probably won’t come naturally, but it can be an incredible act of faith and trust.
“If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.”Saint Ignatius Loyola
5. Read some literature on redemptive suffering
The theology behind redemptive suffering is deep, and it is really only possible to just scratch the surface in a single article. Fortunately, a lot has been written on the subject. A great place to start would be to read “On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering,” an encyclical by Saint Pope John Paul II. While it is by no means an easy read, it is only thirty pages long and contains some beautiful insights. If you are looking for something a little easier to digest, try C.S. Lewis’s book, “The Problem of Pain.”
It is a very human reaction to fear suffering. Even Christ himself asked for the cup of his Passion to pass him by. While we may never be able to fully understand the trials God asks us to bear during this life, we can resolve to submit ourselves to them. This doesn’t make the suffering any easier, of course. Pain, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual, is still painful. But when we accept God’s will and accept the trials he gives us with open hands, the difficulties we experience take on new meaning. And it is then, at that moment, when we will draw closest to Christ.
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