Who hasn’t suffered? Suffering may stab us periodically, like a toothache or a friend’s betrayal. Or we may be awash in it constantly, as when we have a chronic illness. The mystery of suffering has always tormented us—in particular, why do the innocent suffer? No answer satisfies. But we take comfort in the fact that as Jesus, God experienced suffering, both physical pain and mental anguish. He cried over Jerusalem. And Jesus infused suffering with meaning. By his agony and death, Jesus redeemed the world. When we unite our suffering with his and offer it to the Father, we share his cross, we participate in the act of redemption.
Sometimes it helps to endure suffering by clinging to the thought “This too shall pass.” For Catholics there is an additional dimension to suffering. When I was writing high school textbooks and living at our provincial center, one of our young sisters was dying of cancer in our Health Care Center. I would visit her during my lunch break. One day she asked a favor: would I find out if the Church still taught that suffering could be offered for others. I researched the topic and told her yes. That day as I was leaving her room, she said, “Kathleen, I offer my sufferings today for you.” What a beautiful gift!
Because of Jesus, although we don’t understand suffering, we can turn it into something holy. And we can make it useful. It is rather like transforming coal into diamonds. The Catholic attitude toward suffering helps us live through it with peace, patience, and hope. We know that beyond suffering lies new life.
When we meet with suffering we can always “kiss it up” to God. When have you put your suffering to good use?