On Redemptive Suffering

Christina Chase

A friend told me fairly recently that she thinks of me when she reads Colossians 1:24.

Yes, I admit, I had to look it up…

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…”.

Ah, yes, I am familiar with this one, as well as its association with redemptive suffering.  But… I can’t say that I understand it.  Because I don’t.  I don’t really get the concept of redemptive suffering… but, I am trying.

My mother is a lifelong Catholic and, so, I do know about “offering it up”.  That is, she has told me to simply offer up my day and all of my pains and sufferings to God, suggesting to do this with a simple prayer first thing in the morning.  Okay.  I didn’t do that when I was younger, but, after my long spiritual journey and upon rediscovering Christ (perhaps, more accurately, upon discovering him for the first time) I wanted to give it a go.  And I have been.  But… I still don’t get it.

What Is Lacking in Christ?

Sometime during this year’s adventure in health, I thought again about this enigmatic phrase from Sacred Scripture, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ,” and a new thought was given to me.  Well, a new angle or perspective…

Cross

Jesus took on the sufferings of humankind with his sacrifice upon the Cross.  He was fully united with us in our pain, suffering with us.  But (and please forgive me if this sounds sacrilegious, I do not mean it to be, and if I am speaking incorrectly of Church teaching, please correct me) Jesus was one human, with one human body.  He could not, in his one human lifetime, suffer every suffering that is known to humankind.

There are billions of ways to suffer in this life.  Jesus suffered his particular suffering and, being fully divine as well as fully human, in his particular suffering he took on all of suffering – but… he did not himself physically suffer leprosy, or lifelong disability, or cancer, or, of course, menstrual pains and the pain of childbirth.  We do that as individuals.  However (and this is a big however) when we offer these trials and sufferings of ours up to God, when we seek to suffer them in union with Jesus on the Cross, then Jesus was and is able (the Mystery of the Eternal Now) to suffer them himself up there, once and for all, for the Salvation of the World.

Why Am I “Offering It up”?

Does this make any sense?  Well, not completely, but that’s partly because it’s a Mystery.  There are some things in this life that we can never understand because we are limited.  Jesus asks us to offer our sufferings up to him so that he may unite them with his Sacrifice on the Cross for redemption.  He suffers everything with us and for us when we turn to him in our sorrows and needs and, thus, saves humankind.

So, I have come a tiny bit closer to understanding “offering it up” and the reason that my friend thinks of me when hearing St. Paul’s words.  It is, after all, quite obvious, upon looking at me, that I suffer in my body.  And also rather obvious, upon knowing me, that I rejoice in being alive – if not exactly in my sufferings.  (I’m definitely not a saint yet!)

I don’t know what sufferings await me in the future – of course, no one does – but mine were feeling palpably close and real when I came to this understanding.  When I was thinking about offering it up during my cancer scare, Carrie Underwood’s song would come into my head: “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”  I don’t really know the words of the song or what it is about, but the sentiment of wanting God to take control and take over – because I know that I can’t do it on my own – I get… And I’m hoping that this is part of “offering it up”, too….  Yes.  It is.  For I am not alone.  None of us are.  And it’s good to know that.

Why Redemption through Suffering?

All of this does beg the question, however – “Why redemption through suffering?”  What is so good about pain that it has eternal benefit?  I’m sure there are many theologians that have tackled this question, but I’m just going to answer with this:

Why are lush, green islands dependent upon volcanic eruptions?  Why do the bodies of furry creatures need to decompose upon the forest floor and, thus, feed the forest?  Why rain?  Why childbirth to bring new life?

This is life, this is how this life works.  I don’t know precisely why because I didn’t create it.  But, I do trust the Creator and I am willing (God, help me) to live fully and love deeply this terribly beautiful life that He has given to me.  There are people who are suffering so much worse than I am, so much worse than I ever can.  My heart goes out to them… Can you imagine how much more so with Jesus?  His heart not only goes out to me, it is beating for me, it is being pierced for me.  For you.  I am not alone.  You are not alone.

May I truly offer my sufferings up to Christ for the Glory of God, for the Kingdom and the Salvation of Souls.

So mysterious… So fleeting this life… So lovely….  Please help us, our Lord and God…

© 2017 Christina Chase


Photo credits:

  1. At the Altar, © 2017 Dan Chase
  2. Aaron Burden, free to use through Unsplash.com

Redemptive Suffering

The womb that cannot bear new life

is, instead, bearing pain.

Seemingly meaningless and devoid of promise,

for the hard grip – twisted deformed rocks –

makes it unrecognized as gift…

The fruit of love conceived

in union with the Pierced Heart

shedding blood, suffering,

giving of oneself for the other…

The womb that cannot carry

feels the weight of souls.

© 2017 Christina Chase

quote on suffering Saint Faustina

Expire

Now, breathe out…

 

“His body is letting him down.”

We say this about a person who is getting old or becoming sick with an incurable disease.  Why?  Isn’t the end of life death?  Are we not all born to die?  We know that death is inevitable – so why do we treat it like it’s not?  Why do we act like our bodies are supposed to remain young and healthy forever – and then, when they begin to age or weaken through illness, why do we act as though we have been betrayed?  Betrayed by whom?

Nobody is promised endless youth and health.  Nobody is promised a life that won’t end with physical death.  Nobody.

It’s like we’re all delusional, in a way.  Some say that religious people suffer from wishful thinking – but, it seems to me that almost everyone in mainstream culture is suffering from that.  In my experience, religious people know that suffering happens.  Death is coming.  Catholics are certainly reminded of this quite often, invited every day to contemplate the suffering and death of Christ, uniting our sufferings with his, gazing upon the crucifix.  And every year, when the Lenten season begins, we (and other Christians) have ashes put on our foreheads and are told “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Suffering happens.  Death will come.  Not even God Incarnate lived a human life without it.  Continue reading

God Is Good

Hearts, hands, Sunset, Love, God

My father had open heart surgery this past Monday because of blocked coronary arteries.  He had a septuple bypass – I didn’t even know one could have that many!  We were all very surprised that he needed this and also very grateful that he had never had a heart attack.  He works so hard and with his circulatory system the way it was… I believe that God was definitely watching over him.  The surgeons were very confident that he would get through the surgery well and that it would be successful because he is in good shape, not overweight, doesn’t drink and doesn’t smoke.  Still… It was major surgery and we know that things can happen…

Thankfully, he did get through the surgery well and, so far, he is recovering successfully.  Someone told me that there are so many people praying for a good result for him that God wouldn’t dare to disappoint them.  But, I don’t think it really works that way.  First of all, God is pretty daring.  Second of all, God’s will is God’s will.  We know that God hears all prayers and answers all of the prayers of the faithful.  What that answer is, however, is hidden in the mind of God until it is revealed.  And it isn’t always the answer that had been sought. Continue reading

The God of Silence

What does God’s love feel like? Is it warm and fuzzy? In opening our hearts to let God love us, do we experience pleasant sensations, like an encouraging embrace?

I don’t think so.

We are creatures of flesh and what we understand most easily are physical sensations. If something feels good, then we are inclined to do it. If something is painful, then we tend to avoid it. Although the knowledge/experience of divine love is so deeply wonderful that we desire it always once we know/experience it, getting to that place, coming to that state of being where we are peacefully joyful in God’s love… well, that isn’t always a pleasant journey. In fact, I would venture to say that opening ourselves up to let God love us is hardly ever a pleasant journey.

But, oh, what a destination.

God’s invitation to receive the endless bounty of His love is an invitation to walk through fire. Like in the song, Holy Darkness, God declares to us:

“I have tried you in fires of affliction; I have taught your soul to grieve.
In the barren soil of your loneliness, there I will plant my seed.
I have taught you the price of compassion; you have stood before the grave.
Though my love can seem like a raging storm, this is the love that saves.”[1]

This is the love that saves us from failing as human beings. This is the love that heals the soul, brightens the mind, satisfies the heart, leads the will to eternal destiny, and emboldens loving action. But, it cannot be known through the surface things of the world. We cannot see God’s love with our eyes, hear it with our ears, smell it, taste it, or touch it with our skins. We don’t physically sense Divine love, but we can know/experience what it does. God’s love, agape, transforms burdens into blessings, difficulties into opportunities, disappointments into fulfillment, sorrows into joys, and death into life. If only we would let God love us…

It is this “letting” that is the most trying and painful part of salvation. How are we to receive God’s love? Christ’s human arms are opened widest to Divine Love when they are stretched apart and nailed to the Cross. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he tells us.

Those moments in our lives when we are suffering in the world, when we feel that God has abandoned us – those are the times that we are being crucified with Christ.

Will we fight these moments of suffering and receive nothing from them, nothing but frustration, anger, agony, and misery? Or will we accept these moments on the Cross, even lovingly embrace them, and receive from them the endless goodness, courage, healing, and peaceful joy of God’s love?

“In your deepest hour of darkness I will give you wealth untold. When the silence stills your spirit, will my riches fill your soul.”[2]

When we suffer, with “Heaven’s answer hidden from our sight”, we are on the brink of glory. There will be no fanfare, no fireworks, no parades, no exciting revelry when we are opened and receive God’s love – just as there were none on the first Easter. The glory will be beyond what we can think, what we can imagine, and what we can experience through our physical senses. God loving us does not feel warm and fuzzy, but, rather, deeply abiding, never ending, pure, and truly and fully good.

It isn’t all happy, happy, roses and sunshine all of the time. For, every glorious rose has a thorn and every sun that rises must also set. Let us not fear the dark nights of the soul. Rather, may we remember that, although everything else will fall away, God’s love is eternal. Let us allow Him to embrace us in the Holy Darkness.

In the season of Lent, when we more profoundly examine ourselves and our relationship with God, I will be taking this song and the truth that it expresses as my faith facilitator for this First Friday of March.

Prayer:

Oh, Sacred Heart of Jesus,

you bear the burden of my sorrows

and take my pain as your own;

Break open my heart with yours

so that it will not be merely aching,

but rather flooded by your grace,

with the sacred strength of weakness.

Then, may I,

broken and battered in this world,

in the stillness and silence of the night,

receive the gift of your everlasting love,

lifted up in your everlasting life.

Amen.

© 2015 Christina Chase

[This is part of the Faith Facilitators series. For more, click here.]


[1] Holy Darkness, © 1988, 1993, Daniel L Schutte. Published by OCP Publications, 5536 NE Hassalo, Portland, OR 97213

[2] ibid.

Job’s Christmas

“And you beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms are bending low,

who toil along the climbing way with painful steps and slow…”

There is so much suffering in the world. War, disease, starvation, abuse, murder… the heartache of billions of human beings. And we naturally question life, the universe, the powers that be, wondering why – why?????

I sit in the dark turmoil of my own brokenness and limitations with Job. Job, who not only lost his wealth, security, health and strength, but also his family – all of his loved ones dead. And, after all of that, he was supposed to still love God. But, how??? If this is what can happen to a good person who is loved by God, then what good is that supposed love?

Job questioned, too. His questions, in the divine light, were “words without knowledge”, merely obfuscating divine reason. The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, and, so, the answer for Job’s WHY began like this:

lightning

God thunders forth marvels with his voice;

he does great things beyond our knowing.

He says to the snow, “Fall to the earth”;

likewise to his heavy, drenching rain…

Out of its chamber the tempest comes forth;

from the north winds, the cold.

With his breath God brings the frost,

and the broad waters congeal.

The clouds too are laden with moisture,

the storm-cloud scatters its light.

He it is who changes their rounds, according to his plans,

to do all that he commands them

across the inhabited world.[1]

Across the inhabited world, the Unmoved Mover has unquestionable power, unlimited might. We are but creatures, who, like the grass, may fall dead with the first breath of winter. Who are we to question God? As intelligent and imaginative as we are, human beings are dependent upon Creation and the Creator behind it all. Helplessly and hopelessly limited are we, at the mercy of the Almighty One, who makes and rules the universe and beyond.

It is only reasonable that we suffer Continue reading