“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Rom 8:18). Romans 8, as a whole, discusses a beautiful, but very difficult to accept and much misunderstood teaching of the Catholic Faith — salvific suffering.
Anyone who has ever been addicted to something, no matter whether it be drugs, alcohol, pornography, nicotine, caffeine, or whatever, anyone who has ever been addicted to something knows how hard and painful it is to be freed from that addiction, knows how much suffering is required to be freed from that addiction. It is usually not until we have reached rock bottom that we start seeking help for our addiction, that we start seeking freedom again.
When someone loses his job because he is coming to work drunk, when he is homeless because he has gambled his money away, when his wife leaves him because he is committing adultery, when he contracts a life-threatening disease because of his licentiousness — he may think that God is finally punishing him for all his sins. But in reality, it is God's mercy that has brought about this wake-up call to repentance and conversion before these temporal losses — the loss of things — becomes an eternal loss — the loss of his soul. Calling someone to repentance is an act of mercy, not a punishment.
In His love, God has given man free will and respected his choices. Man's suffering is a product of those choices, which God must also allow if He is going to respect that free will. But in His mercy, God has transformed that suffering into a share in Christ's redemptive Passion. He has transformed our suffering into the path to salvation. But unless we realize that God made us to be happy with Him forever in Heaven, unless we realize that this world is transitory and not permanent, unless we realize that sin enslaves us and separates us from our true happiness — we shall never understand this doctrine of salvific suffering. And until we understand it and accept it — that is, until we take up our cross and follow Him — we shall never find the happiness and peace which we are seeking, either in this life or in the next.
Again, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.”
© Copyright 2003 Catholic Exchange
(Fr Augustine H.T. Tran attended seminary at the North American College in Rome, Italy and was ordained to the priesthood in 1998. He serves in the Archdiocese of Atlanta, and is currently in residence at St. John Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, while he completes a Canon Law Degree at Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. He may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com.)
It is a modern tendency to take Our Lord off the cross, or to replace His crucified body with a resurrected one. Actually, that is no longer allowed in our Catholic churches, but I am sure you have all seen what I am talking about.
Modern man has great difficulty in meditating upon pain and suffering, and yet, Our Blessed Lord tells us to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him (Lk 9:23). In other words, suffering can have a meaningful purpose in our life. Pain is not always something bad. If we did not feel pain, then we should not know that we need to go to the doctor; we should not know that something in our body is not working properly and needs to be fixed. So, just as pain has a useful purpose — one that could ultimately save our life — so, too, does suffering have a purpose in the spiritual life. It unites us with Our Lord and Savior on the cross. We often want to pull Him down to us, that is, to be united to Him on our terms, to love Him conditionally; but He is calling us to an unconditional love; He is calling us to come up to Him, to be united with Him on the cross, for it is the instrument of our salvation.
The message of the cross of Christ, the message of His Passion, Death, and Resurrection is that suffering is salvific — the path to eternal salvation. Christ's suffering redeemed us. As Dr. Scott Hahn is so fond of saying, “He paid a debt He didn't owe, because we owed a debt we couldn't pay” — the debt for our sins. But that does not mean that we do not have to suffer with Him.
If someone buys me a book, that book is mine. I own it. But I still have to read that book to make the knowledge that is within it truly my own. So, while, in a sense, I own the knowledge in that book, there is still work that I have to do. I still have to participate in the learning process.
The same is true of Christ's suffering on the cross. He paid the price. Salvation is ours. But St Paul reminds us that “all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [I]t 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” (Rom 8:14.16-17). Provided we suffer with Him!
Christ did not suffer so that we should not have to. He suffered to give meaning to our suffering. When we suffer, we are participating in that redemptive act of Christ, which means that our suffering unites us with Him — provided we are willing to accept it as a gift from God. If we do not accept that gift willingly, if we reject it or get angry about it, then it becomes a weapon for Satan, a weapon that he uses to draw us away from God, to lead us into despair and infidelity. This is why the primary effect of the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is an increase in Hope. Hope is the virtue opposed to the sin of despair.
Because of our human weakness, when we are suffering from a serious illness, we are prone to despair. In the words of the psalmist, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Ps 23:1). Is that not what most people begin to think when they are suffering? Hence, the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick gives us the grace of Hope to fight that despair.
Suffering is a gift from our heavenly Father because — if we accept it willingly — it helps us to grow closer to Him through union with the sufferings of His only-begotten Son. When two people suffer together, there is an immediate bond formed between them. In this case, that bond is with Christ, Our Lord.
Suffering is not God's punishment for our sinfulness. His punishment for our sinfulness is pleasure, because pleasure is what enslaves us to sin. Pleasure is what draws us deeper and deeper into the pit — making it harder and harder to come out — because our desire for it becomes disordered.
To our modern, post-enlightenment way of thinking, this makes very little sense because — as St Paul reminds us in Philippians 3:19 — the modern mind is occupied with earthly things, earthly pleasures and satisfaction. It does not recognize that our citizenship is in Heaven, that God made us to be happy with Him forever in Heaven — not on earth. And the modern mind is occupied with earthly things because it is a product of a culture in which God is dead, in which God does not exist and cannot be talked about in the public square. Recent Supreme Court rulings remind us how far we have fallen. But without God, there is no Heaven, because Heaven is, by definition, spending eternity with God. And without Heaven, there is no hope.
But fortunately for us, Nietzsche is the one who is dead. God is very much still alive. And in His love and mercy for us, He allows us a share in Christ's redemptive suffering to wake us up from our sinfulness and bring us closer to Himself.
You see, the punishment that God gives to the gluttonous man is more and more food to eat, more and more pleasure to satisfy his gluttony. The punishment that God gives to the vain man is more and more compliments, more and more pleasure to satisfy his vanity. The punishment that God gives to the lustful man is more and more pornography, more and more pleasure to satisfy his lust. The punishment that God gives to the avaricious man is more and more material wealth, more and more pleasure to satisfy his avarice.
But what does all that pleasure do to us? It increases our pride and disorders our passions. It reduces the charity that is within us, destroying sanctifying grace. It makes us more and more worldly, more and more occupied with creation, to the point where we no longer focus on the Creator. Hence, we no longer recognize just how far we have removed ourselves from eternal happiness. Just think of how these disordered passions have affected the judgments of our society. Contrary to the warnings of the prophet Isaiah, the world now calls evil good and good evil. It calls what is sexy, good and fashionable — while it calls modesty, bad and unfashionable. It calls cohabitation, good, fun — while it calls marriage bad, a sacrifice of fun. It calls contraception, good, a license to enjoy pleasure and it disdains abstinence as bad and despises self-control.
But the worst thing that all that pleasure does to us is to turn us into addicts. And addiction is slavery. It is a willful giving up of our freedom. When we lose our freedom, we cease to be men. That which separates men from animals is our free will, so when we give that up, we become like animals. We lose our inherent dignity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God. That is what sin does to us. That is why sin is slavery. And that is why pleasure is God's punishment for sin.