To begin to understand why I found this Apostolic letter so exciting I first have to admit that up to now I had a very childish understanding of redemptive suffering. I also had a skewed idea of suffering in general and what suffering I was suppose to offer up and what I was suppose to just suck up. From Scripture I got the idea that the only suffering Jesus wanted me to offer up was my persecutions ‘for His sake’ or ‘for the Kingdom’ and there really wasn’t a whole lot of that type of suffering going on here in Canada so there was not a lot of opportunity to offer up ‘suffering’. The suffering I thought I was suppose to suck up was the suffering from punishment, which in general was all my physical suffering. It wasn’t even really on my radar that suffering included mental suffering, or what John Paul called ‘moral suffering’, the suffering of the soul because to me my mental suffering generally came from not getting my own way and if I wasn’t being so selfish or self-centered I wouldn’t be suffering from it.
Bottom line, I had very little ‘suffering’ to be “in union with Christ”.
The first thing I read that helped me with the idea that most of my physical suffering was not necessarily a ‘punishment’ was when John Paul II explained the book of Job. “The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, as they are set forth by the whole of Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. While it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment.”
The second thing that I truly will treasure from this letter is the forth chapter where John Paul II introduces readers to ‘the suffering Jesus’ and explains all that Jesus accomplished with His Pascal Mystery. I confess that my understanding of our redemption was very limited but John Paul II gives such an amazing explanation that it is like hearing about our redemption and the extent of God’s love for us for the first time with new ears and a new heart. Also to hear that Jesus not only redeemed us but He redeemed all our suffering.
In chapter five is the answer that gives meaning of human suffering, of my suffering – being sharers in the sufferings of Christ: “The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the Redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also, become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.”
One of my favorite lines is that our suffering is a call, a vocation. “Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else He says: ‘Follow Me! Come! Take part through your sufferings in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through My sufferings! Through My Cross.”
The last chapter reminded me too of my call to take care of those who suffer and that the words of the “Final Judgment” pertain to suffering as well. “Whenever you did this (cared for those who suffer) to the least of My brothers you did it to Me.”
I am finding it extremely difficult to capture even the essence of John Paul II’s letter, it really needs to be read and meditated on in its entirety.
I guess the bottom line for me at this time, if such a letter can be rendered down to one line (which it can’t) is that Bernadette’s suffering was taking part in saving world! It was not in vain. It was not meaningless. It had incredible value! Catherine’s ongoing suffering, which continually causes me such grief, is taking part in the work of saving the world! My suffering in watching her suffer is taking part in the work of saving the world! The suffering our entire family (friends and community) is experiencing losing Bernadette is taking part in saving the world. So much suffering but all with eternal value and all uniting us closely with Jesus who suffered the ultimate suffering for us because He loves us.
For me suffering is no longer something to be feared or thought of strictly as a punishment, it is an invitation to join Jesus in His work of saving the world. And not just certain sufferings, but ALL my sufferings, whether physical, moral, or even the sufferings needed for repentance and conversion. ALL can be joined with Jesus’ to save the world. “His salvific suffering has been opened once and for all to every human suffering”. What an amazing invitation.
“At one and the same time Christ taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect He has completely revealed the meaning of suffering.”
Is it any wonder that John Paul II claims that salvific suffering is the definitive answer to the meaning of human suffering? I can’t help but wonder if Peter Kreeft will come to the same conclusion. Guess I’ll have to finish reading his book to find out.
A link to the Pope’s Apostolic letter: http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/apost_letters/1984/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salv…
Thanks for the deep thought today!