Question about what's lacking in Christ's suffering


Hey, everyone,

I have a quick quesiton aobut Catholic views on suffering and “offering it up”.

My understanding is that we Catholics believe that our suffering can contribute to the perfection of Christ’s suffering since we’re all one body (the Church) and as the Body of Christ, our suffering is a participation in His suffering.

Please help explain this more clearly to make sure I’m following correctly.

This stems from reading the following verse and trying to reconcile that in my mind.

Colossians 1:24
" Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions."

Thanks in advance. God loves you!


filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.

The only thing lacking is our participation in it. There is no need for our participation - Christ’s suffering is infinitely sufficient but He offers us the opportunity to join our suffering with His to make even our suffering a Holy thing and to join more perfectly with Him.


We all know that Christ’s death was sufficient to merit the graces necessary for salvation, but as Col 1:24 shows through St. Paul that we can add to that treasury of merit and direct it to someone. It is like praying for someone and directing that prayer to them. We offer our sufferings by merging them with Christ’s sufferings and ask that Christ consider them as a gift to someone or for something that is His Will.



I’ve never heard that “offer our sufferings” idea suggested before? Any other statements regarding it?


And Jesus even commands it:

and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.***


Also . . .

Matt. 16:24; Mark 8:34 - Jesus said, “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Jesus wants us to empty ourselves so that God can fill us. When we suffer, we can choose to seek consolation in God and become closer to Jesus.

Luke 9:23 - Jesus says we must take up this cross daily. He requires us to join our daily temporal sacrifices (pain, inconvenience, worry) with His eternal sacrifice.

Luke 14:27 - Jesus said, “whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” If we reject God because we suffer, we fail to apply the graces that Jesus won for us by His suffering.


I think of it as similar to when the children were small and I was painting the house. I left a small area for each of them to paint so they could be part of the project. They filled up what was lacking in my painting. As a good Father, God let’s us share in His projects.


Christians seek to do as Christ did.

Christ suffered for us; therefore we suffer for our neighbors.


Excellent way of putting it. Analogies that put us (humans) in the role of small children are usually the most instructive. :slight_smile:


St. Paul is talking about what is lacking in the suffering in the Church, Christ’s Body.

There are temporal effects of sin which include suffering. We all must suffer those effects in this life or in Purgatory. However, since we are all one Body, one member’s suffering can be applicable to other member’s. Thus, St. Paul’s suffering that is more than he deserves is being applied to other members of the Church.

As a side note, an indulgence is the application of this superabundant excess “suffering” or merit earned by the all the Saints and whole Church throughout the ages.


When I teach this to my PSR class, I point out that we put Him on the cross with our sins and He suffered our fate for them. The least we can do is join our suffering with His.


When you read Chapter 11 of Hebrews, you see a litany of all the saints that have gone on before us. Then ch. 12 starts out “since we have been surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…”

This is a reference to the communion of saints, the righteous ones that have gone on before us. since they have laid down their lives for God, they are inspiration for us to also participate in the greatest love we can have, which is to lay down our lives for our brethren. We are then called to " lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." Heb 12:1-2

To endure the cross (embrace suffering) is to participate in the great cloud of witnesses, and participate in the cross of Christ.

Often it is not our own burden we are carrying, but the burden of others. " Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." Gal 6:1-2****


Let me know if I’m out in left field. My understanding is that Jesus’ death was the sacrifice that bought us all the possibiltiy of the permanent get-outa-jail card for free, i.e., heaven. His sacrifice “paid for” our sins insofar as we can get to heaven but there’s still the immediate debt of paying for the sin on earth, “the temporal effects of sin.” Jesus’ death didn’t pay for that. We have to. If there weren’t this, why would anybody behave at all? Actually some Protestants believe it doesn’t matter that they sin on earth, they still get the freebie to heaven without any payment in purgatory. But Catholics believe this temporal sin debt has to be paid, here or in purgatory. Suffering can pay, prayer can pay. Prayer can even pay the debt for others, that is, our prayer can save others’ souls, as I understand it if we dedicate, “offer it up” for that purpose. Isn’t that a a large part of the vocation of Carmelite nuns?

The payment we make on earth is facing and confessing our sins— that’s suffering in itself. Then doing something proactive, prayer or charitable act to pay for the temporal effects of our sin.

I don’t really understand the concept of “joining” Christ’s suffering althought I’ve read John Paul II’s letter on redemptive suffering.

Clarification anyone?


Wow, thanks, everyone. That helps me a lot.


There’s probably MUCH more to it than that. An American Jesuit, Fr. Donald J. Keefe SJ, has a brilliant concept of how our part in Christ’s suffering works. I haven‘t read his work, which is said to be very arcane, but John Kelleher, a layman, has summarized and illustrated his ideas in:

If I have understood right, Fr. Keefe‘s idea is something like this:

In Adam all died. A corpse is just a thing, prey to the forces of causality and chaos, on its way to disintegration. Heredity, environment, brain chemistry, metabolism, entropy, that‘s it. No free will. That‘s what we are as heirs to original sin, and that‘s what the Son of God became – truly and fully became: unfree, then dead.

Why? We, being dead, don‘t have a way out of our meaningless slavery to blind external forces. Christ, being God, has a way in: it‘s called the Eucharist. In the Eucharist, Christ‘s salvific work – his becoming what we are, with all the consequences – is re-presented, made historical in the sense of being our story, unbound from time (2000 years ago) to become eternal (NOT timeless, but „now and here“ for St. Paul in the first century, „now and here“ for you and for me in the twenty-first, „now and here“ for the Saints in heaven and the souls in Purgatory). Humans – all humans – have lives that deserve to be called that because, and only because, Christ‘s work at every valid Mass authors His Covenant with His Bride, the Church. As free partnership is the nature of a covenant, so we stand in free relation even to God – from which follows that we are capable of surprising Him, of bringing something truly our own (our own because Christ‘s deed made us free beings that have something of their own) to the relationship.

Mr. Kelleher, in illustrating Fr. Keefe‘s theology, told as example the medieval legend of the juggler who, having nothing else to give in homage to Our Lady, juggled in front of her statue, and from her statue she – surprised – smiled at him. All that we do, dishwashing and brilliant theology and obeying Church precepts and heroic suffering included, is basically just juggling. In and of itself there may not be much to it, but it‘s our connection to the Covenant, our part in the work – Christ‘s to give us Himself in the Eucharist, ours to receive Communion; Christ‘s to liberate, ours to be liberated, not in the abstract, but in concrete, free, responsive acts in time. Our work is real and effective for the salvation of the world like His – not by condescending fiction („the children helped me paint the house“), but because it takes two to make a covenant, and the Covenant is what saves.


Interesting. But what is the problem with the painting analogy being “condescending”? The incarnation is the ultimate condescension. We are NOT God’s equals. Any participation by us in His work (evangelism, offering our suffering, etc.) is only possible because God graciously condescends to have it work that way. He certainly doesn’t require our help. It doesn’t “take two” to save us-- He could have just as easily saved us by force, without our participation or consent. God loves us enough to set things up so that we participate in His saving work-- but He certainly wasn’t obliged to do so.


Isn’t that more or less what Calvin taught, that our part – if any – is irrelevant? Abraham collapsed leaving God to complete the covenantal vow alone (Gen. 15:12) but he did participate and consent to the extent that he prepared the animal sacrifices.

I agree. I think Fr. Keefe would too. God didn’t have to save us at all, but the way He has done so is in fact covenantal, i.e. spousal. Our part in the painting of the house is not the same as His, but it is not pretended partnership, it is real.


I think we are in agreement, just choosing to emphasize different aspects. I’m definitely not a Calvinist! God loves us enough to give us free will and to respect it. I just think we have to keep in mind how infinitely superior to us He is in every way. The adult-child analogy doesn’t go far enough imo-- man-dog would be a bit closer to the truth, or man-brine shrimp. This just makes the fact that He has in fact chosen to relate to us in a covenantal/spousal way all the more wonderful. :slight_smile:


My understanding here is that there must needs be suffering in the case of the Apostles as well as other Christians in order to bring to fruition the salvation of the elect…they must hear the gospel…

(Romans 10:13-17) for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!” However, they did not all heed the good news; for Isaiah says, “LORD, WHO HAS BELIEVED OUR REPORT?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.

To go out and preach the gospel in that time and place required the endurnace of much suffering in the form of various persecutions…that suffering is necessary…

(Colossians 1:23-26) if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, was made a minister. Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints…

The suffering of the servants is necessary so that the suffering of Christ can be communcated for the sake of the hearers…this is the lacking that he is speaking of…



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