Catholic Teaching

Redemptive Suffering

A Summary:
Redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment for one's sins or for the sins of another. Like an indulgence, redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, which cannot be earned. After one's sins are forgiven, the individual's suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.

We believe God loves mankind so much that He made Himself human in Jesus in order to redeem mankind. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (Jn 3:16)

We believe our suffering can be united to that of Christ and so in union with His Passion. "As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross." (Matthew 27:32)

Why Suffering: (1)
Everyone asks the question (in some form or another), Why suffering? Each religion has a different answer. In Hinduism, suffering is seen as the result of karmic debt owed from a prior incarnation. Buddhists believe they suffer in life because of their desires that can be relieved by good meditation and prayers. In Judaism, suffering is seen as everything from senseless to positively willed by God as a result of Jewish disobedience. In Islam, suffering is seen as the result of Allah's positive will. For some brands of Protestantism, suffering is always the result of personal sin.

Every human being undergoes pain, and we all want it to have meaning (and so not despair). Amidst this, always remember: there are two kinds of suffering-redemptive suffering and wasted suffering…Which one will you choose?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church encourages and reminds us of our vocation: "By His passion and death on the Cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to Him and unite us with His redemptive passion" (#1505).

The Value and Meaning of Redemptive Suffering: (1)
Redemptive suffering is any trial or tribulation (physical or mental) we offer up and UNITE to Jesus- as a "gift" to Him to express our love thru a costly way, in exchange for some other good. Notice the key elements: we consciously choose embrace suffering; it is precious (a "gift") because it is painful (not fun or "easy"); it brings us closer to Jesus in an intimate and intense way; and the suffering may "spiritually repair" my own soul or others-and thereby help in the work of redemption (Christ's allowing me to help Him save souls).

Other names/descriptions of this phenomenon include: vicarious atonement (Jesus, Who alone can atone the sins of the world, chooses others to "vicariously assist Him" and thereby weave more people into the plan of salvation; victim souls (a person whose primary call as a disciple in life is to especially suffer for the saving of other souls); and co-redemption.

Ask yourself these questions: How can I intensely merge my sufferings with Christ (i.e., more deeply)? How can I more readily blend my trials with Him (i.e. not hesitating in offering suffering to Him)? How can I consistently entwine my difficulties with Him (less sporadically)?

The Bible and Suffering:
There are many versus in the Bible referring to redemptive suffering. The following verses are a few of those most quoted:
"Whoever follows me must take up his cross..." (Mt 10: 38).

"So they departed from the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus." (Acts 5:41) "

"Therefore we are not discouraged, rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. (II Cor 4: 16). "

"With Christ I am nailed to the cross. It is now no longer I that live but Christ Who lives in me" (Gal 2:19-20).

"Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for I fill up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ." (Col:24).

“This indeed is a grace, if for consciousness of God anyone endures sorrows, suffering. unjustly." (I Pt 2: 19).

“For the Spirit Himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.” (Rm 8:16-18)

“What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed in us...We know that all things work for good for those who love God...For I am convinced that neither life nor death...nor future things, nor powers nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus" (Rm 8:18, 28,38).

Offering it Up: (2)
Offering it Up (or "Making a Good Intention") is done in both formal and informal ways.

Formally, many Catholics make the Morning Offering to give to Our Lord that day's efforts, works, joys, sufferings, and intentions. At the Mass, we consciously, silently, and privately offer ourselves up, along with the Son, to the Father during the Offertory.

Informally, we "offer it up" by simply asking God in our own words to use a suffering as it occurs; we often do this for specific intentions (ex., "Use this pain, Lord, for the salvation of my brother..."). We might follow the example of the young St. Thérèse of Lisieux and make use of Sacrifice Beads, or the extraordinary among us might make the Heroic Act of Charity for the souls in Purgatory.

It's quite a discipline to react to suffering this way! In mental or physical pain? Drop something on your toe? Putting up with a co-worker who is making your life a living Hell? Enduring the constant ache of arthritis? Standing in line at the grocery and hating every minute of it? Spill the milk? Accept these things in peace, and ask God to use them for the good of the Church or for a more specific intention close to your heart.

You'll find that it is not uncommon to hear one Catholic tell another who is suffering to "offer it up" as a way of dealing with his suffering. It should be remembered, though, that while it is most definitely good to tell someone to "offer it up," it is also easy -- and that we are called, too, to comfort those who are suffering, to feed the hungry, to give drink to the thirsty, to care for the sick, etc. Telling someone to offer it up without also helping him to deal with the temporal and emotional effects of whatever he is going through is not the fully Christian response. Even Our Lord was helped while carrying His Cross: St. Veronica wiped the sweat and Blood from His Holy Face, and St. Simon of Cyrene helped Him bear the Cross itself.

And always help the suffering to retain (or regain) hope that his suffering is not in vain. Assure him that he will partake of "the consolation":

The Ultimate in "Offering it up": Victim Souls (2)
A victim soul is someone who has been chosen by God to participate in Christ's Passion in a very special way by manifesting the signs of His sufferings, often in their very own bodies. Suffering for the sake of love is their vocation, and such suffering is willingly accepted for the benefit of the Church. The attitude and plea of the victim soul is summed up by this prayer of St. Catherine of Siena, “The only cause of my death is my zeal for the Church of God, which devours and consumes me. Accept, O Lord, the sacrifice of my life for the Mystical Body of Thy holy Church. “

St. Lydwine of Schiedam, the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich, and St. Pio of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio) were three other such souls, and there have been many more. Often, but not necessarily, these souls receive the stigmata on the palms of their hands or on their feet, the wounds left by the crown of thorns, wounds in their sides as if made by a lance, stripes on their bodies as if caused by scourging, and other bodily phenomena that recall His Passion.

In conclusion:
"It is in suffering that we are withdrawn from the bright superficial film of existence, from the sway of time and mere things and find ourselves in the presence of profounder truth." + Fr. Yves Conger, French priest-theologian.

Jim Fritz

Notes:
(1) http://www.emmitsburg.net/grotto/father_jack/2002/why_do_people_suffer.htm
(2) http://www.fisheaters.com

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