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.
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
If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men. Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.
“The Descent of the Holy Ghost Upon the Apostles. Many have wished that Our Blessed Lord had remained on earth, that we might have heard His voice, seen His compassionate eyes, and brought our children to be blessed by His hands. But He said ‘I can say truly that it is better for you I should go away; He who is to befriend you will not come to you unless I do go, but if only I make my way there, I will send Him to you.’ If our Lord remained on earth, He would have been only a symbol to be copied – not a life to be lived. By returning to his heavenly Father, He could then send both from the Father and Himself the Holy Spirit that would make Him live on earth in His new Body, which is the Church. The human body is made up of millions of cells, and yet is one because vivified by one soul, presided over by a visible head, and governed by an invisible mind. So on Pentecost, the Apostles, who were like the cells of a body, became Christ’s Mystical Body, because vivified by His Holy Spirit, governed by one visible head, Peter, and presided over by one invisible head, Christ in heaven. Our glorious Church is not an organization, but an organism. As our Lord once thought, governed, and sanctified through a human body, which He took from the womb of His blessed Mother, so now he teaches, governs, and sanctifies through his Mystical Body, the Church, which He took from the womb of humanity overshadowed by His Holy Spirit. Christ was infallible when He talked through a human body; He is still infallible when he teaches through a mystical Body. Christ sanctified when he forgave sins with human lips; He sanctifies still when he forgives sins through the power of His priests. Christ governed through His human Body, and he governs still. ‘He that heareth you, heareth Me.’ As a drop of blood can live in the body, but the drop of blood cannot live apart from the body, so neither can any of us live the fullness of the Christ Life except in His Mystical Body, the Church.” – Archbishop Fulton Sheen (The Fifteen Mysteries)
“The Cross had asked the questions; the Resurrection had answered them….The Cross had asked: why does God permit evil and sin to nail Justice to a tree? The Resurrection answered: That sin having done its worst might exhaust itself and thus be overcome by Love that is stronger than either sin or death. Thus there emerges the Easter lesson that the power of evil and the chaos of any one moment can be defied and conquered for the basis of our hope is not in any construct of human power but in the power of God who has given to the evil of this earth its one mortal wound – an open tomb, a gaping sepulcher, and empty grave.” Archbishop Fulton Sheen (Cross-Ways)