Redemptive Suffering: Jesus’ Passion and Our Passion

March 23, 2016

This weekly series of posts is from Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York, a ministry of the Province of St. Joseph centered at St. Catherine of Siena Priory in New York, NY. Untitled Reflections on Ethics, Faith, and Health Care  Redemptive Suffering: Jesus’ Passion and Our Passion by Fr. Jonah Pollock, O.P., Associate Director, Dominican Friars Health Care Ministry of New York Consider the Passion of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Recall the story of his betrayal, arrest, torture, crucifixion, and death that is related to us in all four gospels. It is the most tragic event in human history: human beings conspired to brutally murder the Son of God. Yet, as people of faith, we know that the Passion of Jesus is more than just history. It is not just an event in the past. It is an event in history that touches every time and place. Jesus’ sacrificial self-offering is present now in the Eucharist and the whole sacramental life of the Church. We are also present in that historical event. By our sins, we are present as Jesus’ torturers and executioners; by our charity, we are present, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the good thief, and Simon of Cyrene, as participants in His saving work. Another way we participate in the saving Passion of Jesus is through suffering, that is, through our own passion. This idea that we share in the suffering of Christ though our own suffering occurs frequently in the New Testament. For example, Saint Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Pet 4:12-13). Saint Paul speaks in a similar way: “As Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow” (2 Cor 1:5). And again, “The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:16-17). In these passages and many others, we are told that we are to join our suffering to Christ’s in order that we might join also in his resurrection. The New Testament also tells us that when we join our sufferings with Christ’s, we share in the saving purpose of Jesus’ Passion, which is nothing less than the redemption of the world. This comes across most clearly in a passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Colossians. He says, “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” (Col 1:24). By our suffering, we can share in the suffering of Christ and, in some way, in the redemption Christ’s suffering accomplished. In Christ, therefore, our suffering can be redemptive. It is important to be clear about what redemptive suffering means and what it does not mean. It does not mean that suffering is good. On the contrary, suffering is bad. It is not characteristic of healthy, fully flourishing human life. It is not part of God’s original creative purpose, but rather, it is part of the inheritance of original sin. As such, suffering is part of what Christ came to undo. In the new creation that Christ has already inaugurated and will one day definitively establish, “there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain” (Rev 21:4). Furthermore, to say that Christian suffering can be redemptive does not deny that we should try to avoid suffering or alleviate suffering. We certainly should. We should avoid suffering because it is evil and by combating this evil we cooperate in Jesus’ victory over evil. We should always seek to prevent and alleviate the suffering of others. This is a basic requirement of justice and at the heart of the practice of health care. It’s also a way that we serve Jesus in the persons of his least brothers and sisters, for he has told us, “I was hungry and you gave me food, … ill and you cared for me” (Matt 25:35-36). Ordinarily, we should also seek to avoid and alleviate our own suffering. We should always seek to prevent suffering that is detrimental to our health and we should ordinarily avoid suffering in the form of pain or discomfort. Sometimes we can rightly choose not to avoid of alleviate suffering in order to be more fully united to the suffering Christ. We do this when we fast or undertake other sacrifices or forms of penance. However, our participation through suffering in the redeeming Passion of the Lord comes most often and most profoundly in the suffering we do not choose. Death comes for us all. Illness, in one form or another, comes for us all. We don’t choose to become ill or do die. In fact, we choose to prevent these evils in so far as we reasonably can. Illness and death are not good things. Nevertheless, in the providential love of God, they can lead to great things. They can lead to eternal life in God’s new creation, a life we “inherit” with Jesus in his Resurrection (Rom 8:17). In God’s goodness, our sufferings can also share the eternal meaning of Jesus’ suffering. United to the suffering of Jesus, we are made able, in our suffering, to offer ourselves in love to the Father for the salvation of the world. Jesus suffered and died for us. When we suffer, Jesus is with us and invites us to be with Him, sharing in His glorious and saving cross.

Image: Lawrence Lew, The Fifth Station: Simon Helps Jesus, by Eric Gill

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