Why Must I Suffer?
Suffering came into the world through sin. If it were not for Original Sin (Adam and Eve eating the fruit of the forbidden tree), suffering would be unknown to us. St Paul tells us this in the Second Reading today. “Sin entered the world through one man, [Adam] and through sin death, and thus death has spread through the whole human race because everyone has sinned” (Romans 5:12). God created Adam in a state of perfection – he had no defects. But being the head of the human race, the effects of that Original Sin have passed down to us. But why must we suffer for the sin of Adam? Imagine a father who is a multi-millionaire. He has a wife and several children and they want for nothing. When he dies each child will receive their part of the inheritance. But in the meantime the father becomes a drunk and a gambler and he loses everything and is forced to beg. Now his bad conduct has affected not only him, but his wife and children too who are entirely innocent. Now they have lost their inheritance. Once they were happy and enjoyed their wealth and now they are reduced to poverty and suffering as if they had sinned. In much the same way we are subject to the loss of our spiritual inheritance in which Adam involved us by disobeying God. This is the principle reason why suffering comes into everyone’s life.
But instead of eliminating suffering, Christ has transformed it. The sufferings of this life can increase our glory in Heaven. God has drawn good out of a great evil. In the Exsultet at the Easter Vigil the priest sings, “O felix culpa.” “O happy fault.” Why happy? Because Our Lord, by suffering and dying on the Cross has made sufficient atonement for Adam’s sin, and the grace He now offers us more than compensates for what we lost. It doesn’t remove the evils and miseries of this life, but it enables us to endure all sufferings with patience and resignation and to make them holy by uniting them with the Passion and Death of Our Lord. If we do this our sufferings receive great supernatural merit and we will have a much higher place in Heaven than if we had not fallen in Adam from the state of our original perfection. All the saints suffered – some enormously.
Pope Benedict XVI gave us some good advice about this in his Encyclical Letter “Spe salvi” (Saved in Hope) written in 2007. He suggested we revive the good Catholic practice of “offering up” the small trials of each day, those little sufferings, pains, and inconveniences that annoy us, whether it’s being caught up in traffic, or now in many instances not being able to see members of our family, and indeed the many and varied sufferings of lockdown which we’re all enduring together. We spiritually unite our sufferings with that of Christ on the Cross, and then we share in His redeeming mission. You can offer these sufferings up for any intention you like: to atone for your own sins, for the conversion of someone to the Faith, for someone to recover from an illness, or for someone to receive a priestly or religious vocation. And doing this helps us grow in grace and holiness. These sufferings may also shorten our Purgatory since every sin we commit on earth has to be atoned for. So let us try to accept our trials with humility so we cancel out our debt of sin in this life as much as we can. A soul in Purgatory cannot obtain a higher degree of glory, but we can increase it in this life by accepting our trials patiently. Believe me, I know how challenging this is, but the supernatural reward is great. So let us strive to cultivate the habit of not complaining when trials and afflictions come our way and offer them up instead. Remember, it is because of His infinite love for us and for our eternal glory that God gives us these crosses.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC