A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Monday, September 05, 2005

The sufferings of Christ

In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking
in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body,
which is the Church...

Today, when so many of us have been reflecting on the incredible human suffering of the past week, the Lectionary presents us in the first reading (Col. 1:24-2:3) with this classic verse about Christian suffering.

First, one must be careful with Paul’s choice of the word translated here as “lacking.” Having just proclaimed a few verses previously the power of Christ’s blood on the cross to reconcile all things in heaven and earth, Paul does NOT mean here that Christ’s suffering is in any way insufficient for our salvation. On the contrary, Christ’s suffering is infinitely sufficient.

That being said, Christ also makes it possible for us to share from his cup of suffering, as he said to two of his disciples:

“Can you drink the cup that I am going to drink?"

They said to him, "We can."

He replied, "My cup you will indeed drink.”

Matthew 20:22b-23a

Christ makes available to his followers, to his Church, a share in his own sufferings - not to share his load, but as a channel to share of his grace, as St. Paul says elsewhere:

For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

2 Corinthians 1:5

What is "lacking" in the sufferings of Christ are not his sufferings for our salvation. What is "lacking" in the sufferings of Christ is the portion of his sufferings designated for his followers to share as a channel of his grace, the sufferings of his body which is the Church.

This designated portion of suffering is indeed not yet fully accomplished, not yet fully shared: it remains lacking, for more opportunities to share in Christ’s suffering (and thus to share in a special way in his grace) still remain and will remain until the end of time.

Thus we see so often in the lives of the saints, from the beating of the Apostles in Jerusalem to the sufferings of the saintly today, how they can receive suffering with joy, for they know what wonderful graces may be found by personally sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

* * * * *

Most of us, unfortunately, are not as well attuned to this mystery, and so suffering remains for us a cause for grief and complaint rather than a cause for joy.

It is therefore part of our ongoing spiritual journey, our continuing to be conformed to Christ, that each of us come to understand more fully – not just in our head, but in our heart - the precious gift to be found in suffering with and through Christ.

Thus we have the continuing task of evangelizing ourselves, as well as evangelizing others, so that we may all fully and truly realize how the inevitable suffering we endure becomes a channel of grace and joy through the infinite merits of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and his suffering on the cross.

This is a very deep level of evangelization and therefore we need to be very careful not to take shallow approaches.

First of all, the redemptive power of suffering does NOT excuse us from prudence or from our obligation to help and protect others.

Secondly, when suffering presents itself, we may too often just throw around the words “Offer it up” or some other pat answer and leave it at that, thus respecting neither the reality of the suffering nor the sacredness and the intimacy of sharing that suffering in Christ.

Note that Paul generally addresses the sufferings of others from the perspective of his own sufferings.

For we know that as you share in our sufferings,
you will also share in our comfort.

2 Corinthians 1:7

To evangelize most effectively about sharing in the sufferings of Christ means that we ourselves share somehow in the suffering of those we evangelize, if only through sincere and heartfelt empathy.

Furthermore, for people to appreciate fully the grace that comes from sharing the sufferings of Christ, it is necessary for them to have an intimate connection in their own heart, mind, and soul with Christ’s passion and death.

Some find this intimate connection through some devotional practices (from the Stations of the Cross to the Litany of the Precious Blood), some through works of art such as the film The Passion of the Christ. No matter what path is followed, however, a personal, intimate connection with the sufferings of Christ is first and last a gift of God’s own grace.

Helping people to recognize their sharing in the suffering of Christ is truly a proclamation of “good news” – evangelization in its truest sense – for it brings people out of the darkness of hopeless suffering into Christ’s wonderful light of grace.

And there are many, many, many people who need that light, who need that good news.

* * * * *

As we work in these days to alleviate the sufferings of the hundreds of thousands devastated by Hurricane Katrina, it is important for us to help those affected by that suffering (including ourselves) to be filled with the good news of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who suffered and rose for us and whose grace overflows for all who intimately share in his sufferings.

Blessed be the God and Father
of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
who comforts us in all our affliction,
so that we may be able to comfort
those who are in any affliction,
with the comfort
with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings,
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.

If we are afflicted,
it is for your comfort and salvation;
and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort,
which you experience
when you patiently endure
the same sufferings that we suffer.

Our hope for you is unshaken;
for we know that as you share in our sufferings,
you will also share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7