Human suffering, still-born births, tragic fatal accidents, terrorism attacks and loss of the innocent, children suffering and dying due to malnutrition(thousands every day), healthy, dynamic, intelligent persons suffering from Parkinson's and Alzheimer's and sometimes both at the same time--- is there any meaning to this human predicament called "Suffering?"
In and of itself, suffering is neutral-- meaning, that it has neither positive nor negative moral value! However, if one understands suffering in the light of the life of Jesus, especially in the light of His Passion, suffering and death on the cross that first Good Friday, then indeed suffering has not only value, but infinite value!
However, the key is this! Our suffering must be united to the suffering and death of Jesus. How true the pithy saying: "Suffering either makes you better or bitter!" If your suffering is united to Jesus' suffering on the cross and connected sacramentally to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, then you indeed have discovered the key to holiness, the secret of the saints! In sum, suffering sanctifies or crushes us. If we unite our cross to the cross of Christ and invite Him to help us to carry our cross then every step we walk with Jesus we become more holy!
What then are some positive fruits that blossom in our souls by suffering in union with Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?
1. PRAYER GROWTH! Suffering often forces us to our knees for the simple reason that we become keenly aware of how fragile and weak we are and how very little we can do of our own accord! How true the saying: "No atheists in foxholes!"
2. HUMILITY. Once again, in suffering our forces are depleted-- often physically, emotionally, intellectually. Therefore, we must rely on God's strength. "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth."
3. COMPASSION. If you have suffered intensely, excruciating pains, and someone approaches you with similar pain, then you can commiserate and have compassion on him/her, having gone through a similar dolorous plight. For example, a woman who has suffered through and survived "Breast-cancer" can certainly shed tears with a friend who reveals to her the detection of the"Spot on the breast". Compassion! What a beautiful virtue that means, a willingness to suffer with others. Fr Bruno Lanteri affirmed that the suffering sinners should come to the priest who should be willing to shed and share and unite trears together! Archbishop Fulton Sheen defines the priest as "The victim who offers the Victim!"
4. PATIENCE. Suffering is hard, draining, depleting, but if accepted willingly and united to Jesus, then the beautiful-- all so necessary virtue -- that of patience is acquiered. How important! Jesus said that by your patience you will save your souls!
5. SAVE SOULS! Our Lady of Fatima and Our Lady of Lourdes both exhorted the world to pray but also to offer up sacrifices. Suffering and sacrifice are synonymous! By suffering with supernatural motives for love of God and for the salvation of souls, we can actually collaborate with the Lord in saving immortal souls for all eternity.
6. LOVE. Jesus once said to St. Faustina Kowalska that the best way to measure love is the measure that one is willing to suffer for the loved one. Best example! Good Friday and all that Jesus suffered for you and for me! St Francis de Sales chimes in with, "The measure to love God is to love God without measure."
7. DETACHMENT. We all have the tendency to cling to persons, places, things, and even our own opinions (often quite superficial!). Confronted with our mortality, a near death experience, or a dangerous operation looming in the near future, our disordered attachments, our clinging to our little "toys" can manifest itself as ridiculous. "Vanity of vanities", all is vanity if not related to our final end: the Honor and Glory of God and our eternal salvation! Why cling to dust and ashes? The more we empty our hearts of self, the more room for the Lord, His values and His Kingdom!
8. PURIFIES. As gold is purified by fire, so is the soul of the follower of the Crucified Lord by the crucible of suffering. Debtors indeed we all are! We all have our quota of sins! Better to pay now than to pay later. Suffering willingly accepted, can be utilized to shorten our Purgatory after we die; who knows, maybe eliminate it totally, if the suffering results in perfect love!
9. VICTIM SOUL AND SUFFERING! Among the most admirable individuals who have ever walked the face of the earth are the very few, but highly noble and deeply charitable, "Victim Souls". Padre Pio, St Therese of Lisieux, Blessed Jacinta Marto--- just to mention a few, burned with a consuming love for God, a desire to repair for sins, and a hunger for the salvation of souls. For that reason, little Jacinta would deprive herself of food, water, comfort, honor, luscious grapes(her favorite) and even dance! Why? This suffering would console the Heart of Jesus, but result in the conversion of sinners and the salvation of souls! Don't forget! Jacinta was only a small child! Sanctity is for all; it transcends time, culture, one's past life and circumstances! Every sunrise God gives a new a bright future!
10. CONSOLES THE HEARTS OF JESUS AND MARY. In Fatima, a later vision was that of the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary. The Heart of Mary was surrounded, encircled and penetrated by sharp thorns. We have all been pricked by a thorn in our garden: ouch!!! Can you imagine your heart pierced by a thorn!!! Let us unite our sufferings to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary, and by holy lives extricate those piercing thorns and crown Jesus and Mary as King and Queen of our hearts!
In conclusion, suffering has meaning only inasmuch as it is united to the cross, passion, death, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Either suffering makes us better or bitter! Unite your physical, emotional, social, professional, moral sufferings to Jesus! Place them on the altar, on the paten, and Jesus' suffering and yours will be united and produce an infinite outpouring of grace. Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!