I was just reading “The Story of a Soul” by St. Thérèse of Lisieux. That woman is a warrior! Patrick Coffin rightly pointed out that she shouldn’t be called a “little flower,” but an “iron will.”
At one point in the book, St. Thérèse writes: “You alone, God, knew what I suffered.”
You alone, God. We tend to trivialize our suffering because, we say, “there’s someone who’s going through worse.” And so we feel embarrassed to acknowledge that we’re suffering. St. Thérèse could have said, “Okay, maybe I’m dealing with a bout of depression, but look what all these other people are going through.” But she had the courage to say, “You alone, God, know what I suffered.”
I think it’s important to look back on our lives and not trivialize our suffering or embarrassments.
Pope St. John Paul II says that there are two types of suffering. If you’ve got a cold, you experience physical suffering. Then there’s what he calls moral suffering. This is the suffering of the heart. It includes betrayal, the anxiety of life, depression — you know, this deep aching in your heart. The pope said that most people would rather have physical suffering than moral suffering. As for me, I’d rather have a broken leg than a broken heart any day.
The pope identifies two other kinds of suffering. There’s temporal suffering, and there’s unlimited suffering (aka Hell) — suffering without God, without love, and without everything that is good. He calls it definitive suffering forever. (George Carlin pointed out that forever is a long time, especially as you get towards the end.)
But Jesus used physical suffering and moral suffering to deal with that definitive suffering. And so we find the meaning of our suffering in His suffering. You have the opportunity in your physical or moral suffering to unite yourself to Jesus. John Paul II points out how Christ came to redeem you, even your suffering. Your suffering is like heavenly cash. And you can even apply this “heavenly cash” to loved ones!
In Colossians 1:24, St. Paul says his suffering fills in what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. People get startled by that. What does he mean? That Jesus ascended to the Father only to realize He suffered for only 98% of the human race?
John Paul II explains this passage by saying that nothing is lacking in Christ’s suffering, but Christ made room for us to participate in His salvific mission.
St. Peter talks about this in the Bible too. He actually makes a big deal out of it. If you wanna share in Christ’s glory, you’re going to have to share in His suffering.
So you have a choice: Do you share or run away?
Bishop Fulton Sheen pointed out that the man who fears suffering the most is the man who only dies once at the end of his life. The way you have to prepare for death is to practice for it. To die daily.
What does it mean to unite your sufferings with Christ? That sounds like one of those theological niceties. Does it mean you purposely seek out suffering? No. It means being well-equipped with the grace Jesus gives us. It means saying, like the saints, “Jesus, you love me so much that you allow me to suffer!”
That’s tough to do, right? I’m certainly not there yet.
We’re so familiar with Christian language and the writings of the saints that sometimes you just say exactly what they say. But do you really mean it, or are you regurgitating things?
Christ has given us an invitation. He said that we didn’t choose Him, but He chose us. He tells us “Come, follow me. I’m inviting you to live with me, to be with me.”
It’s an adventure that’s so big, so captivating, that all the trivial things fall by the wayside.
You and I are His disciples. We’re people on a mission. We said yes to it. And that means suffering — even dying if need be, to be Christ to this world.