Don’t Let Your Suffering Go to Waste

“With Christ I am nailed to the cross,” wrote St. Paul. “And I live, now, not only I; but Christ lives in me.”

Annibale Carracci, “Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way,” 1602
Annibale Carracci, “Christ Appearing to Saint Peter on the Appian Way,” 1602 )

A wise priest-friend once told me that when I’m facing a particular suffering, pain, inconvenience, trouble or sorrow I should pause, take a deep breath, and ask Jesus, “Who should I offer this for?” He explained that suffering of any kind is of great value not only to ourselves but also to others. Suffering should never be let go to waste because we can do great good by offering it up for someone else. This is what the Catholic Church calls redemptive suffering.

When we offer our personal sacrifices in union with Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, it becomes redemptive in that it atones for sin and calls down God’s blessing upon humanity. As St. Paul taught, Christ sees crosses that are borne with him as an extension of his Cross. “With Christ I am nailed to the cross. And I live, now, not only I; but Christ lives in me,” he wrote to the Christian community in Galatia. (See Galatians 2:19-20.)

By virtue of our Baptism, we participate in Christ’s priesthood as St. Peter taught. “Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ,” he wrote in his First Letter. (See 1 Peter 2:5.) We are called as Christians to mingle our drops of blood, sweat, and tears with those shed by Christ. “I Paul... Now rejoice in my sufferings for you and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the Church,” Paul wrote to the Colossians. (See Colossians 1:23-24.)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that all pain, toil, and sorrow united to Christ’s passion “can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others.” It also explains, “Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own... By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering; it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion” (CCC 1502, 1505). It also tells us that suffering in “union with the passion of Christ acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus” (CCC 1521).

In addition to the catechetical reasons for offering our sufferings for someone else, there are personal reasons that can be a great help to us in our spiritual growth. By training myself to stop each time I face any kind of suffering and asking Jesus who should offer it for, I’ve given myself a means of motivation to not only endure, but to embrace suffering as I never did before. Doing this immediately takes my focus off myself and places it on someone else — someone who is in real need of my sacrifice. This is particularly of value when I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. At first, a situation like that would sorely distress me. Now, I take it with a grain of salt, so to speak, assuming that I’ve been awakened by my Guardian Angel because there’s someone in desperate need of my prayers. Often, I discover at a later time that someone I know was badly in need of those prayers right about then. 

My friend Father John had promised that if I stopped and asked that question of our Lord, he would most certainly answer me. He has indeed because each time I’ve asked him, within seconds or sometimes minutes, someone pops into my head and I know that’s the person for who I should offer my suffering. Sometimes it just comes in a name that floats through my head or other times it’s a memory or image of that person. Either way, this has become a valuable instrument for me in making good use of any cross — big or small — that I’m asked to carry for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. It makes any kind of suffering easier to bear and gives it not only meaning, but fruitfulness. Even if I never get to see the results myself, I know that the other person will benefit from my sacrificial offering. And that gives me great hope and consolation.