There’s a beautiful old tradition in the Catholic Church of offering your sufferings in union with the sufferings of Christ.
Many people put this into practice by starting their day with a morning prayer like this one: “O Jesus ... I offer you my prayers, works, joys and sufferings of this day for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart, in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, in reparation for my sins and the sins of the whole world ... .” This tradition has its roots in scripture as we see in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians in which he says, “Now 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” (1:24).
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Although Jesus completed the work of redemption on the cross, the church, his body on earth, still suffers. We know from our own experience that suffering is part of life. As Christians, we are called to take up the cross and suffer with Christ.
It’s a hard teaching, one that even the Apostles shrank from believing.
Anytime you are facing a difficult path — pain, illness, grief, troubles of any kind — turn to God. He is with you and he knows what you’re going through.
In the Gospel of Matthew (16:13-27), there is an interesting exchange between Peter and Jesus. After Peter proclaims his belief that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus praises him, declaring, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father ... you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.”
In the very next passage, Jesus predicts the suffering and death he will soon face, and Peter protests, saying, “God forbid ... such a thing shall ever happen to you.” I think most of us would react the same way to hear someone we love making such terrible predictions. But Jesus rebukes Peter sternly, reminding him that there is much he has yet to understand about the ways of God.
Recently, my husband was diagnosed with cancer. When I heard the doctor describe the pain that his treatment would cause, like Peter, I wanted to say, “God forbid that he should have to go through such suffering!” Yet the promised cure for his cancer will only come through the pain of surgery, the burns of radiation, and the sickness caused by the chemo drugs. But despite the suffering, this treatment will ultimately be life-giving, and I would not want him to refuse it.
In the same way, Jesus tells Peter that there is no other path to life but the cross. Jesus shows us the way, willingly suffering the pain of the scourging, the feeling of abandonment, the piercing thorns and the nails, the unquenchable thirst, and finally death on the cross, all so that our healing could be won, and our lives saved.
Anytime you are facing a difficult path — pain, illness, grief, troubles of any kind — turn to God. He is with you and he knows what you’re going through. He does not want you to suffer, yet because sin and death have entered into the world, there is suffering in this life. By passing through it himself, Jesus opened the way to eternal life.
Do not be afraid; Jesus is with you. Take up your cross and follow him. Together, you can get through anything.
Trust Jesus to lead you on the narrow and difficult path to life, and always be willing to offer your sufferings in union with his, for the sake of his body, the church
Nancy Murray is a freelance writer, Catholic catechist, retreat facilitator and attends Christ the King Church in Richland. She blogs at www.CatholicEthicblogspot.com. Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.