By Fr Marius O’Reilly
Suffering in the world today is often seen as useless. We are encouraged to avoid it at all costs. This can however make us brittle. People often say how previous generations were hardier, had a greater capacity to endure, as they just got on with things.
Nobody escapes suffering of one kind or another – not even Our Lord or the Blessed Virgin Mary. We suffer in many different ways: physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. Humans suffer more than other creatures because of our intelligence. We can torture ourselves by over thinking, over analysing and worrying. The animal doesn’t do this as it does not have the capacity to rationalise.
Suffering however can be of great value and transformative. How many times have you heard someone say, “you know what, that was the best thing that ever happened to me.” Suffering helps us to gain perspective, it forms us, builds character, helps us to endure, and helps us to be empathetic towards others. The great C.S. Lewis put it beautifully when he said: “we’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of his chisel, which hurt us so much, are what make us perfect. The suffering in the world is not the failure of God’s love for us; it is that love in action.“
I once heard a lady tell a story. She spoke about a time when she saw a caterpillar in a cocoon in the corner of her window. It seemed to be desperately struggling and trying to get out of the cocoon. She said she could clearly see its great distress. She felt sorry for the caterpillar, and wanted to stop its suffering, so she went into the kitchen to get a scissors to cut it free. Someone later explained to her that she shouldn’t have done this, as this intense struggle, was a necessary part of the caterpillar’s transformation, into a beautiful butterfly.
Suffering also has an immense spiritual benefit. St Faustina said that “if the angels were capable of envy, they would envy us for two things: one is the receiving of Holy Communion, and the other is suffering” (diary 1805). What does she mean by this in the case of suffering? Put simply, we don’t like to suffer. It must be the most disagreeable thing to our human nature. Therefore when we offer our suffering to God, it becomes the most beautiful prayer we could make – a great sacrifice of love. This was how Jesus showed His love for the Father, and for us. We see in the Garden, the night before He died, that Jesus’ humanity did not want to suffer, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matt 26,39). However, then in an act of incredible self-emptying love, and trust in His Father’s goodness, He accepts the Father’s will “nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
St Faustina was also told: “you will save more souls through prayer and suffering than will a missionary through his teachings and sermons” (diary 1767). When we join our sufferings to Christ’s infinite merits, we help to save others. Our Lady of Fatima also explained this. As St Therese of Lisieux taught us with her little way, the smallest thing offered in union with Christ’s sufferings becomes great in the eyes of God. Remember the example given to us by the Apostles, who rejoiced in their persecutions (see Acts 5:41, 14:21, Rom 8:18, 2 Corinthians 12:10). As Christians we are called to trod the same path as Our Lord, not for sufferings sake, as suffering isn’t good in itself, but for love’s sake.
There was a great saying in Ireland: “offer it up”, but you rarely hear it nowadays. Maybe we can begin to do this again and offer up our annoyances, inconveniences and difficulties for our country, at this crucial time in our history. Suffering that comes our way, which we offer up, can become our great intercessory prayer.