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How Do We Fill Up What is Lacking in Christ's Sufferings?

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 12/15/10 at 3:00 AM

 

A reader writes:

Your article at insidecatholic, “Little Systems of Order” was great. Every point you made resonated with me.

Something you wrote was particularly pertinent to something I’m struggling with now. Wonderful how the Holy Spirit works.

For instance, as an Evangelical, my eyes fell, for years, on passages like, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (Col 1:24). I didn’t “reject” such passages. I simply . . . didn’t see them. It was one of those weird things St. Paul said. Nobody knows why. If I read similar words in any other context (i.e., from a Catholic writer), then there was a place in my scheme of reality for it. It was “Romish works salvation adding to the finished work of Jesus.” But when I read it in Paul, it was simply a blank.
It wasn’t until some Catholic writer pointed out that Paul’s remark actually fit into the Catholic understanding of our sharing in the work of Christ by uniting our sufferings to His in penance that I actually began to incorporate it into my thinking and “see” it.


Would you please tell me the name of the author you are referring to who helped you with this question? Although I am a cradle catholic there is a lot I don’t understand. For example, all my life I have heard of “offering up our sufferings” but could never reconcile how the ultimate sacrifice of my Lord could be “lacking” in anyway and needs my help. I’m nothing.  Have you heard of so called suffering souls or seraphic souls. Souls whose special mission, to suffer. Why would the Lord need their sufferings? He is God and gave His blood for us. Wasn’t that enough? What do you think? I know that this was not the point of your article but like I mentioned above it would help me deepen my understanding of our faith and to begin to “see” what I was missing before. I want the whole truth, the complete faith, the whole enchilada.
Be assured that you are always in our prayers. God bless and sustain you always.

I honestly couldn’t tell you where I read it.  It’s one of those things I picked up somewhere along the way and it fell into place.

Of course, God doesn’t *need* our sufferings any more than he needs our money.  He’s complete and overflows with life.  The universe was not made out of need, but out of gift.  Our sufferings are therefore part of the gift he makes to us, weird as that sounds.  As to “lack”, the term doesn’t refer to God lacking anything, nor to some inadequacy on Christ’s part but to our lack.  For instance, God is the giver of all things and intends us to have all we need.  Yet, in this world, people experience lack everyday.  Why?  In no small part because we (who are entrusted with the task of distributing what is needed for the common good) don’t supply the lack.  So people starve or go thirsty.  Is that because there is a lack on the part of the author of Being?  No.

In the same way, Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient.  But since he has made us participants in that sacrifice, our acts of sacrifice *matter* too.  Had the apostles failed to proclaim the gospel, we would not have heard about it.  We would lack.  If somebody had not told me about Jesus, I would lack.  If I don’t make the sacrifice of time to (for instance) reply to your note, you don’t get an answer to your question.  You lack, not because Christ is insufficient, but because I don’t discharge my duty of trying to help.  I don’t “offer my body a living sacrifice”, you therefore don’t receive the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice in the form of a letter from a brother in Christ who might have helped, but didn’t.  You lack, not because of Jesus’ inadequacy, but because of mine.

I’m hoping that makes sense.  The bottom line is: Christ mediates his grace to us through creatures, especially other people.  We have nothing to offer God by ourselves.  Even our ability to say yes is a gift of grace.  But God has so willed that we can indeed make that offering—or not.  When we do, it is joined to Christ’s offering and becomes part of the gift he makes of himself to the Church.  The same is true of the mysterious sufferings of those who, seemingly, have nothing to offer *but* suffering.  From a practical and utilitarian viewpoint, a bedridden victim of some disease appears to have “nothing to offer”.  But then, so did Jesus when he hung on the cross and, to utilitarian eyes, accomplished nothing useful for six hours.  In fact, of course, he accomplished the redemption of the world.  A suffering soul likewise can join his or her sufferings to Jesus and, in his mysterious exchange of love, do great and wonderful things for others.

Thank you for your prayers!  May God bless you and yours always through Christ our Lord.