Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, we hear from St Irenaeus. He tells us about how the Old and New Testaments relate to each other. And this is important.
But upon pondering this relationship, I realized that one theme we find in both old and new is that of suffering. We read one of the greatest stories of suffering in the world when we read the book of Job. And we read about suffering in the Gospels when we read the beatitudes. Almost all of the "blessed are they who..." statements are about people who are suffering in one way or another.
Here is an article about the redemptive value of suffering. I thought it said some pretty good things on the subject.
A question that came to my mind as I pondered this subject, though, was whether God actually CALLS us to suffer. I mean, we know that life is pain... anyone who tells us differently is selling something. That's from the great high wisdom of the Princess Bride. But seriously, we all suffer at one time or another. Is it something we're called to do?
As I thought about it today, and prayed on the subject, the idea that came to me is that we are all called to experience suffering to some degree. That is to say, suffering is going to come into our lives, and we're called to respond to it with His strength and trusting in His love. And, I think, some of us are going to experience more suffering than others. When God calls us to something, He equips us to handle it. He even, very often, gives us the desire for the thing that we're called to do.
So we read of the Jesuit missionaries to North America, who brought the gospel to Native Americans and in return were tortured horribly and killed for it. Before they came to this continent, they wrote of their desire for martyrdom, and they practiced self-mortification in order to strengthen their bodies so they would be ready when the suffering came.
We also read of The Little Flower, St Therese of Liseux, who suffered very greatly in her short 24 years on this earth. If you listen to her autobiography, which you can do here, you will find that she learned to welcome suffering as part of her participation in Jesus's suffering, and even a cooperation in the redemption of the world. This might be a mystical experience too advanced for the likes of you and me... I don't know. But if you listen to her words as she went through so much pain and welcomed it, smiling as she saw it as a gift for her to cherish, it certainly puts our own meager sufferings into perspective. It teaches us to offer up our pain to Him, to unite it with His suffering, and to see it as the redemptive thing that it is in our lives.
The conclusion I came to today is that we are all called to view our pain as redemptive. We are all called to allow Him to use our pain to make us better people. Some of us are called to preach and so should devote our lives to it, but others of us are not called to it as our primary vocation. We should still be ready to preach if the opportunity presents itself. But that's not our main calling. Some of us are called to be nurses, and so should devote our lives to caring for the poor. But all of us are called to help sick people when we can.
In the same way, I think that some people like the Jesuit martyrs or the Little Flower are called to suffering in a very powerful, redemptive way. But all of us are called to endure suffering in our lives to some extent, and to offer up that pain to Him as our love offering, participating in the redemption that He is performing in our own lives and in the world.
We can also look forward to our eternal lives, when we are promised that suffering will be done. Revelation 21:4 tells us there will be no more crying or death or pain. That is our destination. But we stand united in solidarity with those who suffer in this life.
God, thank You for teaching us the meaning of suffering, and making it a part of our redemption. Help us to face it bravely.