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The Gospel of Suffering - March 2018

posted Mar 26, 2018, 4:07 AM by RSO The Fenwick Review

By Stefi Raymond '18

Wars, earthquakes, cancer, famine, mass shootings. A simple survey of the news will testify to its omnipresence in our lives. Suffering is inescapable.

From birth to death, suffering is part of human existence.  In this world of suffering, there naturally emerges the question: why? Why does suffering exist? It is a question asked by those who endure chronic illness, by those who experience the tragedy of natural disasters, and by those who mourn the loss of a loved one. It is a question that expresses the pain of those who suffer individually as well as those who suffer in communion with others. And it is a question that reveals the inner anguish and torment caused by the presence of evil.

Yet it is also a question that can find special meaning during these final days of Lent, particularly as we contemplate God’s divine love made present on the Cross. On the Cross, we find the fullest source of love and the meaning of suffering. Far from being an abstract or trite response, the answer we find on the Cross is concrete. It is a Person, Jesus Christ. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Through this love, we are not only redeemed, but, according to Saint Pope John Paul II in Salvifici Doloris, “we also find ourselves...faced with a completely new dimension of our theme [of suffering].” This love for mankind, this love which moved the Father to send His only begotten Son to save us, is revealed to us in the these words spoken by Jesus to Nicodemus. It is a love bound to our salvation. It is salvific love.

This salvific love expresses to us a new dimension—the dimension of redemption—to the world of suffering. Sent to us by the Father, Jesus willingly embraced His messianic mission and took on the entirety of human suffering upon His shoulders. As portrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He freely went towards His own suffering, His own “cup” that He was to drink in the Passion of the Cross, aware of its saving power (cite?). In His Passion, Christ transformed suffering. On the Cross, He used it to “strike at the roots of evil” and to save us (SD 16). He redeemed suffering, and made it the means of something good.

As evidenced by our daily experiences, however, Christ’s victory on the Cross did not eradicate temporal suffering. Rather, it gave us a certain “gospel of suffering.” According to Saint Pope John Paul II, it is a gospel that not only recognizes the presence of suffering, but maintains it as one of the themes of good news. Through His life, death, and resurrection, Christ invites us to share in His agonies, offering us new strength and hope to endure life’s trials. In light of the Resurrection, we know the victorious power of suffering. We know that know that evil does not have the final say. Assured by this, St. Paul speaks of such hope in his letter to the Romans, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us” (Romans 8:18).

What does all this mean for us? The gospel of suffering reveals that the cross is not to be feared. Christ did not attempt to address the reasons for suffering in the abstract, but rather said to us, “follow Me.” As Christ told His followers, “If any man would come after me...let him take up his cross daily,” for it is this cross that leads to our redemption (Luke 9:23). More than simply calling us to follow Him, He also invites us to share in His suffering. In this accompaniment on the “hard and narrow” path, we are comforted and strengthened by the knowledge that we neither suffer alone nor in vain. Christ and the hope of the resurrection are always with us. Moreover, the transformative power of suffering draws us closer to Christ, conforms us to Him, and makes us sharers in our redemption.

The experience of suffering is real, complex, and personal. Ultimately, human suffering is a mystery, but its meaning can be found in Jesus, particularly within the context of the Paschal Mystery. As we conclude these forty days of Lent and the Easter Triduum, let us reflect on what these events reveal to us. Christ’s Passion and Resurrection show us that suffering can be transformed. It shows us that even in the midst of illness, tragedy, and death, there is hope. A hope rooted in faith and found in God’s salvific love for us. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn, while the world rejoices; you will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (John 16:20).