Growing up in the post-Vatican II era, I missed this line entirely. When we whined about this or that suffering, we just whined . . . without any understanding that our sufferings -- both the trivial and the soul-wrenching -- could bring about a spiritual good in ourselves and in others.
I have been thinking about what it means to suffer and what it means to offer up these sufferings. Before Mass yesterday, I picked up a pamphlet produced by the Diocese of Savannah. It addresses this very issue -- offering up our sufferings.
Colossians 1:24 reads, "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church."
I was once mystified by Paul's words to the Colossians -- what could be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? While attending a Bible study about ten years ago, we discussed this scripture. Jesus was betrayed. He was abandoned by his friends. He was beaten, ridiculed, crucified.
What was lacking in his afflictions? The answer, I think, lies in the How not in the How Much.
Jesus never buried a child, never endured a loveless marriage, never faced the trials of old age. Jesus most likely never faced unemployment or cancer or surgery.
Throughout the centuries, thinking men and women have pondered the seemingly unanswerable question: Why do bad things happen to good people? Some choose to beg the question entirely. Some Christians embrace "The Prosperity Gospel" and preach that true believers will receive blessing after blessing. Twenty years ago, friends of our lost their child to a fast-moving infection that attacked her brain. They attended a church well versed in the tenets of the prosperity gospel and their fellow church goers simply did not know how to take this tragedy. It didn't fit the paradigm, and my friends were left both bereft and somewhat abandoned.
On the other end of the spectrum you have New Age thinkers who, in a similar vein but for different reasons, think we choose our burdens. I had a boss who would routinely come up to a sniffling, sneezing co-worker and ask, "Why are you choosing to be sick?" I always wanted to ask her, "Why do you choose to need glasses?"
Suffering is part and parcel with life here on planet earth. It rains on the just and the unjust. How can we embrace this suffering and use it as a channel of grace for ourselves and for others?
The pamphlet I picked up suggested the following:
1. Start the day with the morning offeringThe morning offering I remember well from my days working with the Missionaries of Charity:
2. If possible, comfort others who are suffering
3. Accept the services of others with patience and love
4. Recognize and appreciate God's gift of suffering to you
5. Refuse to give in to complaing self pity, bitterness, or hopelessness
6. In times of great pain, unite your sufferings to Christ's *
O my Jesus, I adore and I love you. Source of all mercy, look upon me with compassion. Through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I unite my cross with yours and offer you all of my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this days for the intentions of your Sacred Heart. Amen.
Finally, this gem of a pamphlet includes a quote from Saint Francis de Sales -- hopeful, comforting words that made me cry:
Your God in His divine wisdom
Has from all eternity beheld the cross
He bestows upon you -
His precious gift
from His heart.
He contemplated this cross
With His all-knowing eye
Before bestowing it upn you.
He pndered over it
With His divine mind; He examined it
With His all-wise justice
With His loving mercy
He warmed it through and through.
And with both His hands
He weighed it
To determine if it be
One ounce too heavy for you.
He blessed it with His all-holy Name
With His grace he annointed it.
And with His consolation He perfumed it.
And then once more
He considered you
And your courage.
Finally, it comes from heaven
As a special message of God
To you: an alms
Of the all-merciful love of God for you.
I don't suffer well; I never have. If there's one sliver of wisdom I can share it's this: It all begins with our knowledge of God. He is all good, all knowing, all merciful, all just. Nothing -- nothing -- that we do with our eyes fixed on Him is for naught.
* Excerpted from: Vocation Prayer Apostolate. Diocese of Savvanah Vocation Office. www.savannahpriest.com