Redemptive Suffering

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“The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.” This is the first line in the first reading. I want to meditate on that for a little bit. Does it seem a little strange to you? “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.”

Maybe if we hear that we should stop for a moment and say, “Whoa, God, what are you saying there?” Why is the prophet saying that? The Lord was pleased to crush Jesus in infirmity. In our baptism, we were also baptized (as we hear in the Gospel) into the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Parents and godparents are probably really pleased to have you baptized. God was really pleased to have you baptized. Did you know that your baptism was a baptism into his passion and his death and his resurrection? The same can be said of you. The Lord is pleased to crush you in infirmity. How do you relate to that?

I want to talk a little bit about the mystery of suffering and the reality of suffering. All the saints talk about the importance of suffering and our saintly life and suffering is a great gift from God.  I am going to read to you a few quotes from the saints.

Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska said, “If the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things. One is receiving Holy Communion and the second is suffering.” The angels would envy us because we can suffer.

St. Teresa of Avila, one of the great mystics, would say, “We always find in those who walked closest to Christ were those who had to bear the greatest trials.”

St Ignatius of Loyola, “If God sent you many sufferings, it is a sign that he has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.”

Padre Pio, the great mystic who had the stigmata and suffered so much said, “Suffering no matter how difficult it may be when compared to the good that it is accomplished makes every pain a joy for the soul.”

How can suffering be a joy? How can God delight in us so much that he allows this and actually allows it to be a joyful experience? I want to go back to the first reading – “The Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.” It does not mean that the Lord was happy to crush him.

Think about the wine that we’ll use for mass. The wine comes from grapes that are crushed and then turned into wine. Then infirmity. What does infirmity mean? The opposite of infirmity is strength. “Firme” means strength to firm something up. “Infirme” means weakness. The Lord was pleased to crush us in our weakness.

So, what does that mean? It means that there is a deep and profound mystery and a goodness even to suffering. Suffering, though it is a result of our sin, is a process of our redemption. A process of our goodness. Think about that now. Is there any suffering that you are going through?

Maybe it is physical suffering, or maybe emotional suffering, or maybe a spiritual suffering. Maybe you are just going through a dry time in your spiritual life, or you do not feel God. Maybe you are just stressed out beyond the max with your exams, the tests or studying. Whatever it may be, there are two things we can do with it.

One is we can reject it and say, “I do not want any part of it,” or we can say, “God I accept this suffering, and I join it to you”.  What happens if we do the first one:  I do not want any part of this suffering, and I reject it.  It will lead us away from God and to despair.  Suffering without meaning or purpose leads to despair. Suffering with meaning or purpose leads to joy.

How do we find meaning and purpose in it? First of all, we accept it and say, “God I join this to you.” Even if I do not like this and I do not understand it, I join it to you. Then this happens. “If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord will be accomplished through him.” If we can unite our suffering to Christ, all of a sudden our wills become united with him.

We become like Jesus in the world today. We become like the saints in the world today and as Ignatius said the more sufferings you may have, the more God wants you to be a saint.

Think about your suffering for a moment. John Paul II is a saint now. I got to be at his canonization mass a few years ago. John Paul lived out for me the epitome of someone that suffered until the end of his life. He had Parkinson’s. He was in a great deal of pain. He always insisted on still giving his Wednesday audience. He had himself rolled up into the window and was shown all over the world on television.

I remember the last time he did this he was drooling so badly that he could not even speak. He could not even get the words out of his mouth. John Paul could be a little stubborn at times. He just stood there and tried to get the words out until he finally could not, and they rolled him back. He suffered, and he died and now he rose. He is a saint.

He wrote this beautiful letter when he was pope and the letter was called Salvifeechyay Doloris, which is the Latin word for salvific suffering. When we suffer and join it to Christ, it becomes part of our salvation. It becomes part of our journey in what makes us a saint.

He says in doing this “the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, but it will not deprive him of the meaning of life. Indeed this meaning makes all things working together in God’s love. It means a special call for courage.”

About the Author Fr. Michael Denk

Fr. Michael was ordained into priesthood in the Diocese of Cleveland on May 12, 2007. He is dedicated to helping others encounter Christ through the celebration of the Eucharist, preaching, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, spiritual direction, and prayer.

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I'm Father Michael J. Denk, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland. I am a contributor of content to The Prodigal Father Productions, Inc., a non-profit corporation functioning in accord with the traditions and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The corporation and I are separate, it doesn't speak for me, the parish, or on behalf of the Diocese of Cleveland, and I do not speak for it.