The Value of Suffering
Today in the Gospel we hear St Luke’s version of the Beatitudes in which the topic is happiness. But Our Lord seems to reverse how we would normally think of happiness, and instead associates it with struggle, hardship, opposition and persecution as opposed to prosperity, popularity and pleasure. This doesn’t mean the good things in life are bad (we are allowed to enjoy ourselves!) but these earthly pleasures can never really satisfy or fulfil us. And so Our Lord teaches that the path to true happiness will involve hardships and sufferings.
The main reason atheists give for not believing in God is because of suffering in the world. “If God is all good, all powerful and all loving, how can He permit all the terrible things that happen in the world?” Suffering is a mystery of our Faith but in God’s plan it has a special mission. Firstly it helps us keep our minds fixed on Heaven. When everything is going well and we are enjoying the many pleasures of life, it’s easy to forget God. But when we are in pain, either physically, mentally or both, we can more easily detach ourselves from the things of this life and turn to God. So suffering is very much for our spiritual welfare.
However, the root cause of all suffering is sin. There was no suffering in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were created perfect, but as a result of their sin, disorder came into the world, and being their descendants, this is why we suffer. Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen (1895-1979) often said the chief maxim of Christianity is that the innocent must pay for the guilty. Our Lord was innocent and He paid for the guilty. By our Baptism we were incorporated into Christ’s Body, and so we are called to be co-redeemers with Him by uniting our sufferings with His, not only to atone for our own sins but also to expiate the sins of others, and if necessary obtain their conversion. For this reason in August 1917 Our Lady of Fatima told the children, “Pray much and make sacrifices for sinners, for many souls go to Hell because there is no one to make sacrifices for them.” This is also why St Paul wrote, “I 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” (Colossians 1:24). In other words, we, through our sufferings can take part in Christ’s redemptive work of saving souls by uniting our sufferings with His.
So if you are suffering right now, try to remember this. Although it won’t take your suffering away, it does give it meaning and purpose. Only God knows how many souls we can bring to Him in this way.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC