Sarah’s life had taken a tragic turn. Her only son had died the previous year from an excruciatingly painful disease. Sarah had watched him slowly suffer, soothing him with calm words while blood streamed from his eyes and ears.
A year later, Sarah’s husband died suddenly.
In agony, Sarah called Sr. Maria, Servant of Abba, of the Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary, to ask why killing herself would be wrong.
Sarah believed in God but had no formal religion and no knowledge of the redemptive value of suffering. For half an hour, she told Sr. Maria about the darkness and sadness that was overtaking her life.
Then, unexpectedly, Sarah asked, “What religion is it that has the Sacred Heart? Who is it that believes in the Sacred Heart of Jesus?”
Sr. Maria told her that it was a Catholic devotion.
“Well,” Sarah answered, “that’s what I believe in. I can tell that that Heart knows what it is to suffer. I know that Heart knows what I’m going through.”
Sr. Maria had never explained to Sarah what the Sacred Heart represented. Sarah had only seen pictures of the Sacred Heart from time to time in her life. Now, her suffering heart found its echo in His.
The Gift of a Theology of Suffering
I was once reading a book written by a prominent Christian author, when I was taken aback by an offhand comment she made, criticizing the Catholic devotion to the Crucifix. She thought Christians should be focusing on the joy of the Resurrection, not the suffering of the Cross.
Her comment mystified me. The outlook this author expressed wouldn’t have helped Sarah. Nor would it help any of the countless other suffering souls in the world who need a God who understands their agony.
I pray that the author of that book will come to understand that it is impossible to separate the Crucifix from the Resurrection. Thinking of Jesus carrying His Cross gives me strength and grace to bear my own. The Way of the Cross is the path to eternal joy.
The Catholic theology of suffering is not a burden. It is a gift.
Sarah received this gift when the Sacred Heart helped her to know that Jesus understood her pain.
In my own life, I’ve found great consolation in praying the Seven Sorrows Rosary. Meditating on Mary’s sufferings helps tremendously to ease mine.
I’ve also found that during my worst illnesses, I end up staring at the Crucifix on our wall while I wait for the suffering to pass. Silently, the Crucifix assures me that I am not alone, and my suffering is not in vain.
In the divine plan, no cry, no tear, no anguish of the heart is without value. I am deeply grateful that the Catholic faith has given me this understanding.
From Suffering to Grace
Many times, I’ve found myself wondering: Couldn’t God have saved us without suffering Himself?
I cannot attempt to give a full theological explanation to this question. But the answer—or, at least, a part of it—begins to make more sense to me when I follow the thought process through a few more questions:
What is the most difficult, most sacrificial thing anyone can do for love?
If I wanted to show someone my love, what would be the way that would better prove my love—to give a gift that would keep me comfortable, or to give a gift that would make me suffer?
What would it say to my beloved if I watched them suffer, yet spared myself the same suffering? On the other hand, what would it say to my beloved if I entered into their suffering?
These questions always bring me back to the realization that there is no more authentic way to show love than to suffer for (or with) another person. God’s willingness to suffer for us is the ultimate proof of His love.
It is that very love that Sarah saw in the image of the Sacred Heart. It is that very love that offers consolation to all of us who suffer.
“Within Thy wounds, hide me,” St. Ignatius of Loyola prayed in his Anima Christi. Jesus’ wounds are a gift of love, a refuge, from one suffering heart to another. Come, Holy Spirit, and help me to remember to unite every moment of my earthly suffering with His, that He may transform it into never-ending grace.
The author is grateful to Sr. Maria, Servant of Abba, of the Order of the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts of Jesus and Mary (http://heartsofjesusandmary.com/), for her contribution to this story.