"Redemptive Suffering!" Surely a title likely to make us furious! It seems to suggest that suffering is good for us. For most of us suffering is seen to be something evil, something to avoid. If not, why doctors! We do our utmost to bring it to an end. And so did Jesus. He lived, died and rose from the grave to banish suffering!
In a remarkable Encyclical, entitled, ‘Salvifici Doloris’ – ‘Redemptive Suffering’ -Pope John Paul II tackled the never-ending problem of evil. He stressed the central part the Cross of Jesus played in its defeat. This is not a question of abstract theorising, but of our personal survival, as we try to cope with suffering.
The Pope certainly knew what he was talking about! His homeland had been occupied by communist rule. An assassin’s bullet had seriously wounded him. In trying to make sense, not only of his personal suffering, but that of the world, the Pope wrote, not only from the head, but from the heart.
In the face of suffering we instinctively ask, ‘Why?’ Jesus, our redeemer, doesn’t answer the question with words, but through His own suffering. Through His Passion the very instrument of death becomes the way to eternal life. The crucified Christ was not victorious in spite of His pain, but through His suffering and death.
This anguish only had value because it was freely chosen as God’s deepest expression of His love for us. Paul tells, ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us...For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life,’ [Rom 5:8, 10]. By freely accepting the suffering of the cross Jesus expressed His love, not only for His Heavenly Father, but also for the human race. Through the love shown in accepting the pain of the cross, Jesus has made our peace with God. The suffering of Christ has become redemptive, the means to our salvation!
In a telling sentence the Pope then says, ‘In the cross of Christ not only is the redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering is itself redeemed,’ ( para. 19 ). In our pain we can identify with the crucified Christ, and He with us. With Christ we can become living, loving sacrifices freely offered to the Father for the salvation of the world. For Christ and for us the cross becomes the way to the glory of the resurrection. Our suffering is now given a positive value. It becomes redemptive. With Jesus we can generously offer ourselves to God for the salvation of the world.
Paul writes, ‘I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,’ [Col. 1:24]. Not that Christ failed to do sufficient to save us, but the whole Church must become Christ-like in His Passion if she is to share in His glorious resurrection. St. Paul wrote, “by our baptism into His death we were buried with Him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life,” (Rom.6.4)
Pope John Paul’s concludes this encyclical magnificently, ‘Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says, ‘Follow me!’ Come take part through your suffering in the work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross…The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly with the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who share in the suffering of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world’s Redemption, and can share this treasure with others,’ ( 26-27 ).
Isidore Clarke O.P.