The Paschal Mystery Reveals How Christ Transforms Suffering

Earlier this week, I sat across from a long-time friend of mine who has spent months undergoing every kind of agony imaginable as her husband underwent treatment for cancer and then developed complication after complication. As I write, he is still in intensive care after his most recent surgery and as they treat many pulmonary embolisms (blood clots) in his lungs, which have made breathing difficult for him. Despite how hard things are right now, I looked at her and told her that she will come out of this stronger. That the Lord will use it to make her and her husband holier. This illness will be for God’s greater glory, which we were reminded of two Sundays ago with the raising of Lazarus. 

In moments like what she is going through, it is hard to see this truth. The only reason I am able to say it is because I have been there. I have slept in the intensive care unit next to my sick husband wondering if he was going to die. I know the agony of losing five babies. A grief that every time cut me so deeply, I didn’t think I’d recover. My friends are in their early 50s and are experiencing things they thought would come much later in life. 

It is only because I have suffered deeply and over a long period of time that I know the words I told my friend are true. My husband and I both are thankful for his illness. That may sound strange, but it changed our lives. The Lord used it to draw us closer to Himself, to cleanse us of certain sins, and to transform us. We still have a long way to go on the path to holiness, but we wouldn’t be where we are today if we hadn’t suffered as much as we have in our nearly 14 years of marriage. 

Tonight, we begin to celebrate the Sacred Triduum. The highest and holiest season of the year. Throughout these three days, we will witness Christ fulfilling the words I offered to my friend. Suffering is transformed through the Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection. The Paschal Mystery shows us that pain and suffering lead to redemption. In our Fallen state, sin and suffering are a part of our daily lives. Christ entered into sin and death to save us and He also transforms our sufferings when united to His. 

We live in a culture that flees from every suffering possible. Our culture doesn’t want the Cross. It wants the power of the Pharisees, Caesar, Pilate and Herod. The comfort and security the world offers are a lie. True freedom lies in walking the Way of the Cross with Our Lord. We all suffer. How we suffer is ultimately what matters. There is no level of power or comfort that will protect us from the inevitability of suffering. 

We will begin the Sacred Triduum with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. This is my favorite night of the liturgical year. Our Lord institutes the Holy Eucharist and Holy Orders. As we commemorate the Last Supper one of the important lessons to keep in prayer is that He is teaching us how to suffer well and in love. His suffering brings about tremendous good and His glory. The same is true in our own lives if we stay close to Him in our sufferings. How does He suffer well throughout His Paschal Mystery? 

At the Last Supper, the Lord bestows Holy Orders on the 12 Apostles knowing they will abandon him and that Judas will betray Him. He gives His body, blood, soul, and divinity into the hands of weak men who will often be unfaithful to Him, but He does it anyway. The Lord teaches us to love even though the people in our lives will abandon and betray us repeatedly when suffering or worldly opportunity arises.  

The Lord stoops to wash the feet of these same 12 Apostles. He looks into the eyes of each one with His burning gaze of love. He washes the animal dung and dust of the streets from their feet. He lowers Himself to the position of a slave and washes the feet of men who are about to abandon Him. He washes the feet of Judas who will betray Him with a kiss in a few hours.  

The Lord suffers interiorly at this reality. He knows what is to come, and yet, He chooses to suffer in love and endure the abandonment by these men. He shows us how to suffering interior mortifications when we are betrayed, rejected, or abandoned by those closest to us. Our willingness to suffer interiorly can become the means by which the Lord saves people in our lives who are lost. 

How? He always desires the salvation of souls. He knew these men–except for Judas–would repent and were deeply grieved by their own betrayals and abandonment of Him. He knew that His suffering would redeem them and bring about His glorious plan for the world and in their lives. The same is true for us. He knows that our own failures, sins, betrayals, and unfaithfulness to Him will be redeemed and be for His greater glory if we return to Him with repentant hearts. He desires to pour out His mercy upon us, so He willing endures our sins and abandonment in order to draw us more closely to Himself. The same is true for those who hurt us if we unite our sufferings to His on their behalf. Our willingness to suffer may be the means by which the Lord saves them. 

Time and time again throughout the Passion narratives, the Lord shows us how to suffer well and to trust in hope that He will bring about goodness and His glorious plan in our lives. He shows us how to endure these moments of anguish by teaching us to relinquish everything to the Father’s will. To pray for the chalice to pass, but if it cannot to embrace it. We cannot possibly know what good the Lord has in store in the end, but we can trust in His Divine plan. The more we surrender, the greater the work He can do in us and in those around us. 

As He endures betrayal from His own people and stands before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, Herod, and the crowd, He demonstrates the power of silence in the face of injustice, as well as unimaginable bodily, emotional, psychological, and spiritual suffering. He does not retaliate in a show of power and might. He surrenders to knowing His Father’s will is being fulfilled. The same is true in our lives when people misunderstand, betray, reject, persecute, and harm us. It is true when physical illnesses and pain take us to the very limits of our strength. The Lord is glorified when we unite our sufferings to His. 

His crucifixion is His great outpouring of love upon the world. It is when we look upon Him Whom we have pierced. We tend to want to look away from the agony of others, but if we do, we miss the opportunity to see Jesus within them and working in them. I took my friend Holy Communion in the intensive care unit after daily Mass on Tuesday. He is in agony and suffering tremendously, but over these past months I have seen the Lord bringing about His glorious plan in his life and the lives of his wife and kids. Through this brokenness and pain, my friend is being configured to Christ and he now hungers for the Lord in a powerful and profound way. I saw the same thing happen to my husband over the course of his illness. 

The Lord who gives Himself to us as true food and true drink at the Last Supper and who was scourged, beaten, and crucified for us, has come to my friend’s hospital room through his priest and through my husband and I bringing him Holy Communion throughout his months of treatment. In my friend’s crucifixion, the Lord has given Himself to strengthen, nourish, and sanctify him. The Lord loves us so much that He comes to dwell within us as living Tabernacles at each Mass, but in a powerful way in our afflictions when we are deeply united to His sufferings during His Passion and transformed in ways we never thought possible. 

In the moment, it can seem impossible that our sufferings will result in great good. When suffering is at its apex, the words I spoke to my friend will seem foolish to the world. That is because the Cross is folly to a Fallen world lost in sin that avoids suffering at all cost. We know the Cross is power. The Sacred Triduum reminds us each year—and every Mass—that the Lord brings about tremendous good, saves souls, and fulfills His glorious plan precisely by entering into suffering.    

Image by Stig Alenas on Shutterstock


Constance T. Hull is a wife, mother, homeschooler, and a graduate with an M.A. in Theology with an emphasis in philosophy. Her desire is to live the wonder so passionately preached in the works of G.K. Chesterton and to share that with her daughter and others. While you can frequently find her head inside of a great work of theology or philosophy, she considers her husband and daughter to be her greatest teachers. She is passionate about beauty, working towards holiness, the Sacraments, and all things Catholic. She is also published at The Federalist, Public Discourse, and blogs frequently at Swimming the Depths.

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