Awhile ago, a Facebook friend posted about a friend who has just discovered that she has stage 4 cancer – truly sad news, and I immediately said some prayers for her.
In her post, she asked the question, “Why can’t all the evil people in the world get cancer? Why it is always the kind gentle souls who suffer?” (Actually, cancer doesn’t make distinctions between good and bad people, but that’s not what encouraged me to write this post.)
What prompted me to jot down a few thoughts was that her words brought to mind an illustration given by Bishop Sheen, the point of which has really stuck with me throughout the years. It was very short and it went something like this”
There is a hospital that I have occasion to drive by quite often, and whenever I do, I feel a great sadness because within those walls there is so much wasted suffering.
The operative word here is “wasted“.
What Bishop Sheen is referring to is the lost opportunity for redemptive suffering – the chance to join our suffering with the suffering of Jesus Christ.
Jesus tells us that we are to take up our crosses daily:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me”” (Luke 9:23)
This was not a suggestion but an admonition – “If you want to follow me, you have to do this.” We are to be imitators of Christ in every way, and this includes taking up our own crosses and following him.
And as Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians:
“Now I [Paul] rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” – (Col 1:24)
Why did Paul rejoice in his suffering? Because he understood the value and the concept of joining his suffering to that of Jesus, his (and our) Savior. For Paul, it was an act of love.
Why did Jesus embrace his suffering in the first place? He did it out of Love for all of mankind. He performed the the most perfect act of love in the history of all of creation, and he did it through the greatest infliction of suffering on one human being in the history of all of mankind.
We are reminded of this every time we see a crucifix. (This, by the way, is a great reason to have the Corpus on the crucifix, and not simply an empty cross, in our churches – the crucifix is the symbol of the greatest act of love ever performed. Why would we not want to be reminded of His love for us?)
We are called to take up our crosses on a daily basis and follow Jesus.
We are called to imitate Jesus.
Jesus suffered mightily because He loves us. We have the opportunity to turn our own suffering into an act of love by offering it up for the conversion of sinners, the salvation of souls and in penance for our own failures if we will but follow Paul’s example and join it with Jesus’ suffering.
Love. More than anything else, we are called to love.
“So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13)
What made Bishop Sheen sad is the fact that many, if not most, people inside hospital walls (or any place else) do not avail themselves of the opportunity to turn their suffering into an act of love.
It occurs to me that if there weren’t people turning their suffering into acts of love, there might be even more suffering than what already exists. It also occurs to me that, perhaps, ‘good’ people are allowed to suffer because ‘evil’ people don’t know what to do with it.
Here is a link to an absolutely splendid Apostolic Letter on the subject of suffering.
OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF
JOHN PAUL II
TO THE BISHOPS, TO THE PRIESTS,
TO THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES
AND TO THE FAITHFUL
OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING
OF HUMAN SUFFERING