Suffering like the Saints


#1

It really freaks me out to read these autobiographies of Saints that suffer as if God and Jesus love to see pain…sounds like He is some kind of sadist…no disrespect meant, just trying to wrap myself around it.

Take St. Gemma for example…a holy person, pure virgin, etc…but is suffering from a horrible disease and says she is a cesspit of sin and for God to pour on the pain…make it hurt…make it hurt bad…punish me hard for my sinfulness…and almost like God is approving of this and loves to see her suffer with no compassion.

If she was that sinful and was in need of that level of purification, I have no chance of heaven, my friends, and most of the people I know don’t either.

This really creeps me out.


#2

Some saints have a special calling to unite themselves more intimately with the sufferings of Christ, for the salvation of souls. God permits them to suffer and uses their offering to further the salvation of souls. Some suffer from illness, some from the stigmata, others from emotional difficulties or rejection by the people around them, etc. (Some saints also suffered from scrupulosity, seeing their own sins as more serious than they really were. I don’t know whether this was true in Gemma’s case. Or perhaps she was taking upon herself some of the responsibility for the sinfulness of humanity, as Christ did.)

This seems foreign to most of us who think of suffering as something to be completely avoided. Think of those who choose euthanasia in order to avoid suffering. Think of those who can’t tolerate a mild headache without resorting to drugs.

The best we can do is to try to accept the sufferings that come our way that we are unable to alleviate by normal means (medical care, etc.) and offer them to God in union with the sufferings of Christ. God will not give us more than we can handle; if we rely upon Him, He will assist us in bearing whatever sufferings come our way.


#3

It’s only a problem if you think of God or Jesus (or the saints) loving suffering for its own sake in a masochistic fashion. Of course they don’t.

Our sufferings, when offered to Him, become His own sufferings (since we are His body), and all goes towards His purpose of suffering for the sake of saving souls. That’s certainly an objective that makes suffering seem at least worthwhile.

Remember too, as St Gemma realised, we can work out the temporal punishment for our sins, that we otherwise would suffer in purgatory, right here on earth through accepting suffering, and thus possibly end up going straight to heaven :heaven: :thumbsup: That’s another purpose suffering achieves that may be a good reason, not to love it, but to at least feel called to suffer.

Doesn’t mean St Gemma was (nor that we are) especially bad or particularly unlikely to reach heaven. It just means that compared to God’s utter purity and perfection we certainly most all have a long ways and a lot of purification to go to get out of purgatory and through those pearly gates! And remember that this purity and perfection is what we need to achieve to enter heaven, where nothing impure or imperfect can enter, so most of us will perforce suffer a lot in purgatory if we don’t here. :shrug:


#4

I’ve been suffering from a rather embarassing but very painful medical condition over the course of the past four months. In many ways, the suffering caused by the condition has been an immense stumbling block in my relationship with Christ. I’ve become impatient on a number of occassions, and I’ve committed sins in order to experience some amount of pleasure.

I’ve prayed to God *a lot *asking him to relieve me of these sufferings, but they won’t. And therein lies the source of my impatience. However, it wasn’t until a few days ago that I *finally *realized that God doesn’t want me to suffer, but unfortunately suffering is just one of those things that happens due to who we are, what we are, and why we are. As such, I might as well “grin and bear it,” as the saying goes, rather than commiserating not only myself but those around me since commisersation does not alleviate the pain in the least.

I, for one, am hardly in any spiritual state to undergo something like “redemptive suffering.” I barely even understand the concept! And I don’t know about St. Gemma, but I’m semi-confident that she didn’t have much choice then – and, if she did, then perhaps by that point she had become such a true mystic, uniting her suffering to those of Christ, that to *not *suffer as her Lord suffered would be more painful than actual bodily sickness.

Such states of mind are hard for us to comprehend because not only do we not think like God but we barely even think like the saints.


#5

Everyone would do well to read our Holy Father John Paul’s letter on suffering.

vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_letters/documents/hf_jp-ii_apl_11021984_salvifici-doloris_en.html

In Mystical Theology we have examined the place of suffering in holiness. What we find is that it is indespensible for holiness. The truly holy soul seeks only one thing, perfect union with Christ for love of Christ.

Christ does not avoid suffering, he embraces it. Christ does not see suffering as something good. We know this by the fact that he healed many who came to him with different ailments of body, mind and soul.

But in every case, Christ always makes the same statement about the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of souls. In Lk 8, 40, Christ speaks to Jairus about his sick daughter. He says to him, “Do not be afraid.”

This is the crux of suffering. The acceptance of suffering requires courage. We live in a world that avoids suffering, a world that’s afraid of suffering. Just observe our obsession with fitness. Is it not an obsession with suffering in disguise?

God certainly wants us to be healthy in mind, soul and body. On the other hand, God wants us to embrace our humanity as Christ embraced his. There is suffering that is part of being human. We need not go looking for suffering. We need not take a passive response to suffering. But, when our effort to avoid suffering or to heal suffering fails, our greatest act of humility is to accept what is part of our identity as human beings.

Christ embraces the suffering of the cross not because it was good, but because it was necessary. Without it, his identity would have changed. Saints are men and women who like Christ accept what is part of who they are. This is true humility. Our holy father St. Francis always said, “I am what I am before God, nothing else.”

To avoid any suffering that changes our identity, changes who we are before God. To deliberately seek out suffering contrary to our identity also changes who we are before God.

Finally, let us not confuse suffering with sacrifice. Sacrifice can bring on suffering, but in that case suffering is a secondary effect, not the goal of the sacrifice.

Fraternally,

JR :slight_smile:


#6

I guess what gets me, is I view God as Father. If my kids were suffering, I’d do all I can to keep them from suffering, as those that were healed in the Gospels did…they were healed and suffered no longer. But reading these biographies, it’s like Christ wanted to see them suffer and was pleased for the suffering. This give me more pain, for I am unworthy thing. I just find it very hard to swallow.

Supposedly, we are not all called to suffer in this manner…but the conversations they have with God…it seems that God is not happy unless everyone is suffering like these saints are, for reparations of sins.

This goes against the merciful father I have always learned about.


#7

I’m glad that you introduced the reality that God is father into the thread. It is true. God is a loving Father. In fact, he is the perfect Father. That is probably one difference between he and us.

We love our children and are willing to give our lives for our children We want to protect them from every harm. Now we have to look at this from God’s perspective.

God knows what is good for us and God not only wants us to be safe and healthy, but he wants us to be eternally safe and healthy. There times when taking away someone’s suffering may do more harm than good. God must always choose the good, even if the good is painful. As parents we know this too. Sometimes we have to force our children to do things or accept situations that are painful, but are necessary.

Nothing is more painful to a parent than a child with a broken heart. Being the parent of two adult children, I have seen my fare share of broken hearts and suffering. My daughter was engaged to a man whom she loved, but was not in love with. After realizing this, the engagement was terminated. It was hear wrenching for her. There was nothing that I could do, but encourage her to proceed and terminate the engagement, no matter how much it hurt. Because an unhappy marriage is not a good to be chosen when one knows ahead of time.

Like this, God always chooses the good for us, even if we have to suffer pain in the short-term.

Hope this helps.

Fraternally,

JR :slight_smile:


#8

What’s wrong with making reparation for sins? God is just as well as merciful, and His justice requires reparation.

Would you, as a father, not be proud if your child, having broken your window, got a job and worked to pay you back the money you’ve spent to repair it, instead of sitting on their butt and doing nothing?

Would you not be the more proud of that child the harder they worked to pay you back?

Would you not be even more proud if they selflessly worked to pay for damage that their kid brother or sister had done as well as their own? (I suspect St Gemma wasn’t just talking about reparation for her own sins - many of the great saints went well beyond that).


#9

God does not want to see anyone suffer. Suffering is the consequence of sin; it entered the world through original sin, and has been exacerbated by our personal sin. (That is not to say that everyone who has great suffering is a great sinner; sin has consequences that reach far beyond the person committing it.)

Saints who willingly bear suffering do it to take upon themselves some of the burden of other people’s sins. They unite their sufferings to the sufferings of Christ, and consider it a privilege to do so. They are, in essence, voluntarily helping to lift someone else’s load. Just think, if saints like Gemma did not do so, many of us sinners might never reach heaven. I guess those saints consider it a good “trade”: accept some temporary suffering in this world, to avoid eternal suffering for someone else. I think that’s very generous!

Saints who are victim souls have a good example in Saint Paul, who wrote:

“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church …” (Colossians 1:24)


#10

Here is an analogy I like to use in thinking about the issues of God’s love and mercy and how they relate to suffering:

Most parents believe in vaccinating their children against serious diseases such as polio, diphtheria, etc. The process makes perfect sense to us, as we are adults who have a basic understanding of biology. Look at it from the child’s perspective, however: he has absolutely no understanding of how the immune system functions, all he knows is that mom (or dad) has handed him over to this person who STICKS HIM WITH A SHARP NEEDLE … and mom and dad just stand there and watch … doing nothing to defend him from this terrible person! :eek:

Of course, once the child grows up and gains his own understanding of biology and immunology, it will make perfect sense to him, and he’ll certainly forgive his parents for the moments of pain and fear that he suffered at the hands of the “mean ol’ doctor with the big needle.”

We, too, will surely understand more someday: “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. (1 Cor 13:12)” Even now, in our imperfect form on earth, we can look back on some painful times in our life and discover that we grew in some way from them … ways in which we couldn’t have grown if life were just “a bed of roses.”

Here’s something I saw the other day along the same lines … hope you’ll enjoy it:

e-water.net/viewflash.php?flash=irishblessing_en

:shamrock:


#11

Suffering severe physical or emotional pain for God, in my view, is rather similar in its spiritual merits to fasting or “giving things up” for God that we really want to keep.

My view on it is this: It is not the suffering that God loves. It is the faith that shines out so purely and so exquisitely gloriously in the people who suffer for Him.

I’d recommend dwelling more on the indescribable beauty of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice for us. For that is what our suffering for God resembles. Jesus Christ’s suffering for us shows those who believe in Him the fullness and indescribable depth of God’s love for us. It shows us just how much he loves us. Thus his suffering, even as it makes me grieve as I meditate on it, also is a constant, wondrous expression of love.

That is what our suffering for Christ is. God can see how we are suffering on His behalf, and that intensifies His love for us in the same way that His suffering on our behalf intensifies our love for Him. It makes us more purely united with His identity too, for those who suffer for God (Love) are united more fully with the wounds Jesus suffered out of love for us.

I’ve experienced this a little myself . . . when I was Protestant in the process of converting to Catholicism, I got some verbal flak over my new beliefs. I am the only one in my family (that I know of) who is Catholic. One time, when receiving that flak, I had this sudden, overwhelming and instantaneous sense of bliss, a feeling of love cascading down upon me. I was filled with joy. I felt spiritually as though a crown of love was being set on my head.

That was the result of the culmination of some experiences of suffering and emotional pain over conversion that I’d been having for quite some time. The Lord just suddenly sent the feeling of His love washing all over and throughout me, because I was going through it for Him.

A smaller scale example: I love to fence (the swordplay). One time, a student who was new at it was being put through drills she didn’t know about, so she asked me how to do them. We were all standing in a straight line, in formation, about to start the drills. I asked the instructor to demonstrate the drill, and he said no because he thought I was joking and didn’t have a real reason for asking. So I demonstrated the drill for this student in front of the class myself, breaking formation and just doing the thing so she could see how it was done. Which of course drew eyes. So after that the student came to really really like me, because I’d done something potentially embarrassing to help her.

That’s the same principle occurring on a really really small scale. When someone suffers for you or inconveniences himself for you, you like them a lot more as a consequence. Jesus’ Passion is central to why we love Him. So our suffering for Christ, which reveals our faith, can dramatically enhance our unity with the Love we are laying ourselves aside for.


#12

I’d like to add to what everyone is saying something that happened not long ago. As Pope John Paul II got older and his health became more delicate there was a great deal of speculation as to why he did not resign and retire. The thought was a charitable one. People believed that if he retired he would be better able to care for his health and would live longer too. I believe that it was a common feeling that he had done his duty to the Church over his long life as a Catholic and later as a priest.

One of the beautiful things that John Paul said during his lifetime was that suffering has a dignity all its own. It is painful to suffer. It is more painful to see a loved one suffer. But the pain of those who suffer has value.

We must resist the social temptation to negate the value of suffering. We must never impose suffering on anyone, not even on us. We must never tolerate injustice that produces suffering. That is contrary to the Gospel. If we remember the story of the woman caught in adultery about to be stoned, Jesus interviened. According to the law, she was guilty. But according to Jesus, the suffering that was going to be imposed on her was a violation of justice. “Let him who has not sin throw the first stone.” The point is that there is suffering that is the product of injustice.

That being said, even when suffering is produced by injustice, the suffering itself can have great merit for the person who lives with it. Regardless of the source of the suffering, John Paul taught us that suffering is part of the human condition and it is part of the Christian journey. To villify suffering raises an important question about how we appreciate the cross of Christ.

Can we say that Christ’s suffering had merit because it was for our benefit and that all other forms of suffering have no merit? That makes little sense in the great scheme of Christian spirituality.

Can we say that Christ’s suffering had no merit because it was cruel and unjust? That makes less sense in light of redemptive suffering.

Therefore, Pope John Paul II was right. All suffering that is united to the cross of Christ has merit. All suffering that is tolerated with the belief that we are not perfect beings and that suffering is part of our imperfect nature is a sign of true humility, because we’re acknowledging a simple truth about us.

I believe this is what made the saints unique Christians and heroic. They accepted suffering as part of the human condition. They also believed that there were times when suffering could not be avoided, but could be tolerated in union with Christ’s sufferings on the cross. Their mindset regarding suffering was very healthy.

Even when their sacrifices brought along suffering, they accepted the suffering as a consequence of their sacrifices. One saint who comes to mind is Maximilian Kolbe. Friar Maximilian did not have to die. He was not chosen to die. He freely sacrificed his life so that another man who was a husband and father could have a chance to live. He did not choose to suffer. St. Maximilian chose to save a life. His suffering and death were the consequences of an act of charity.

Christians must always choose to do good, even is the consequence is suffering.

Fraternally,

JR :slight_smile:


#13

I understand it to a point. Like my grandfather who has Alzhimers…I pray that his suffering be meritorious and for God to have mercy on him, but I also pray that he regain use of his mental facilities.

Likewise, if I have cancer, I am going to pray for healing, and not say ‘Thank you Lord for this pain. Can I have some more, please? I want to atone for someone else’, which is the gist of what I understand some Saints did. That seems to take away from what Jesus accomplished.

On the other hand, I would take the place of suffering for someone, as in fighting off the bad guy to save others, even if it means I would be paralyzed or killed. That is heroic sacrifice and suffering. That I can see and understand would be redemptive.

Asking God to ‘turn up the pain’ on a physical ailment that affects no one physically but myself so I can be punished…and to suffer for someone else ‘by proxy’ just seems so out of whack! It seems as though Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough, and I want to add to it. It’s not the same as dying for your faith as our early forefathers did. Asking for punishment sounds just way wierd. Esp if you were a fairly good person.

Can you imagine one of your kids saying, Dad, please punish me. I didn’t eat all my supper. I want you to punish me extra hard because my friend told a lie today at school. Make it hurt bad because I am just the most awful person in the world, and I want to take the punishment for my friend. How in the world would you grant that request? Jesus did just that for us so we wouldn’t have to, right? It just seems like an extreme mental issue.


#14

I understand it to a point. Like my grandfather who has Alzhimers…I pray that his suffering be meritorious and for God to have mercy on him, but I also pray that he regain use of his mental facilities.

That is a perfectly good approach to take.

Likewise, if I have cancer, I am going to pray for healing, and not say ‘Thank you Lord for this pain. Can I have some more, please? I want to atone for someone else’, which is the gist of what I understand some Saints did.

That’s OK. Perhaps you are not called to do what some of the saints did (at least not now). But that does not diminish the importance of what they did. Keep in mind that the saints did what they did because, through a deep prayer life, they discerned that God was calling them to do so. And they usually did it under the guidance of a wise spiritual director who would help them keep what they did within the bounds of prudence.

The wisest thing for most of us to do is not to ask God for more suffering, but rather to entrust ourselves entirely to God, giving Him permission to act according to His will in us, and trusting that He will give us the strength to bear whatever suffering He either causes or permits to come our way.

Jesus did just that for us so we wouldn’t have to, right?

That seems to take away from what Jesus accomplished.

Absolutely not. We are part of the mystical Body of Christ. As part of His Body, we share in His sufferings. Some of what He accomplishes, He chooses to accomplish through us. He doesn’t have to do it that way; He could have done it without our help. But in His infinite wisdom (which is sometimes beyond our understanding), He chose to let us participate in His redemptive suffering.

On the other hand, I would take the place of suffering for someone, as in fighting off the bad guy to save others, even if it means I would be paralyzed or killed. That is heroic sacrifice and suffering. That I can see and understand would be redemptive.

What you would be willing to bravely suffer for others to save them physically for a limited time (and I admire you for that), the saints we are talking about are willing to do to help save others spiritually for all eternity.

Asking God to ‘turn up the pain’ on a physical ailment that affects no one physically but myself so I can be punished…and to suffer for someone else ‘by proxy’ just seems so out of whack!

But don’t you see, the saints were trying to benefit others spiritually, not physically. That’s so much more important.

It’s not the same as dying for your faith as our early forefathers did.

And why is it so different? We are all members of the Body of Christ, and as such are called to share in His suffering. We just do it in different ways.

It just seems like an extreme mental issue.

When you get to heaven and discover that you got there partly due to the voluntary prayers and sufferings of some courageous soul who offered their sufferings for you, you will thank them for their “extreme mental issue.”


#15

Asking God to ‘turn up the pain’ on a physical ailment that affects no one physically but myself so I can be punished…and to suffer for someone else ‘by proxy’ just seems so out of whack! It seems as though Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough, and I want to add to it. It’s not the same as dying for your faith as our early forefathers did. Asking for punishment sounds just way wierd. Esp if you were a fairly good person.

Can you imagine one of your kids saying, Dad, please punish me. I didn’t eat all my supper. I want you to punish me extra hard because my friend told a lie today at school. Make it hurt bad because I am just the most awful person in the world, and I want to take the punishment for my friend. How in the world would you grant that request? Jesus did just that for us so we wouldn’t have to, right? It just seems like an extreme mental issue.

I once discussed a similar topic with a priest. He said if a non-believer is told that our faith is only to suffer, want to suffer, no one would ever want to get into it.

We have to be careful not to appear being so holy by what we say, and scaring away people by the extremity. We should honestly ask ourselves – “ Do I want to be the victim soul?” God does not call everyone to be a victim soul. If one honestly wants to be a victim soul, like some Saints, I believe God may fulfill his or her desire. But we ought not to make it sound as a generality to cause misconception.

When suffering comes, by all means we should pray for God’s deliverance and healing. Don’t automatically take any calamity as God’s will for us to suffer. Do we forget about the devil? Do we forget about living a victorious and abundant life as the result of Jesus’ resurrection?

During suffering, by all means we should offer up our pain for whatever purpose that fits God’s will. But we should never willingly become the victim of the evil one. There is an important discernment between God’s will and the devil’s will.

God is a good God. He is a loving Father. God never want His children to suffer. Suffering comes from the consequence of sins.While all things work together for good for those who love God, there is a difference between willingly conform with the devil’s harm and willing surrender to God’s will.


#16

The subscript is mine.

I underlined that sentence because this is where the Catholic Church’s spirituality is much more positive than that of ther faiths. The Church knows that suffering is the product of original sin and some sins that are not so original too. But we can use the result of sin as a form of penance. It can become for us a way of making restitution to God for our sins and the sins of the world.

This is what makes Catholic spirituality different from others. It takes that which is the consequence of sin and turns it into a gift of love. Our holy father St. Francis suffered a great deal before his death. He had an eye disease that left him practically blind. To cure him the doctors of his time decided to use red hot iron pokers to burn the infection in the eyes. God protect us all from those opthamologists. :frowning:

He also had a very painful disease of the bones, possibly TB, and liver disease. But he prayed that Christ would make him more like himself and he was blessed with the Stigmata, the first case ever recorded. St. Bonaventure tells us that he literally had nails of dead flesh that penetrated his hands and feet, making it impossible for him to walk or hold objects because of the excruciating pain.

Bonaventure tells us that “he who had already been perfected by Christ’s grace and did not need such suffering for his own salvation, allowed himself to be used for the salvation of the world, as Christ had.” His only reason for doing so was his love for Christ.

It was not because there was anything lacking in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that led Francis to accept suffering and pray for more. It was his love for Christ that led him to pray to be more like Christ and to endure what Christ endured. The lover sought to be perfectly identified with the Beloved.

Fraternally,

JR :slight_smile:


#17

Again, if you ask for punishment because you ENJOY punishment FOR ITS OWN SAKE that’s wrong.

As a parent, would you not willingly take upon yourself your child’s suffering? If you see them weak and ill and sick would you not willingly take that sickness upon yourself if only it would relieve them?

That’s what Saints such as Gemma did - they took upon themselves the suffering of others, in order to relieve those others of their suffering. It seems easy for those who truly see - as God sees - the whole of mankind as their spiritual children, their blood relatives in Christ. Not that it’s something we’re all called to, at least not to the extent of saints like Gemma and Pio.

And I know you wouldn’t say ‘God has taken all my child’s suffering upon Himself, so it doesn’t make sense for me to want to suffer in my child’s place’. Obviously in a sense He hasn’t, otherwise none of us would ever suffer, so the sentiment of wanting to take your child’s suffering upon yourself is a perfectly correct one

Paul says ‘I rejoice to make up in my flesh what is LACKING in Christ’s sufferings’. What is lacking? Precisely this - our co-operation with them. It is this, in part - our willingness today to suffer along with those sufferings of His 2,000 years ago - that makes His sacrifice just as effective today as it was then.


#18

If you look at someone like Gemma, you see love that’s even stronger than that of a parent. Any parent would take on the suffering of their child. But people like Gemma, Francis, John Paul II took on the suffering of the world. That kind of love surpasses the love of a parent. Only Christ can love that way. Therefore, they loved as Christ loved.

JR :slight_smile:


#19

Having suffered only minorly in my own life and failed miserably at doing so, it shows me personally how much work needs to be done within my spiritual life before I can truly love Christ so much as to suffer (willingly) like him!


#20

If that’s your situation, you’re in good company. There are millions of us who ae working to reach that goal.

One thing that I have come to understand about suffering is that suffering sometimes includes accepting our failed attempts. I have often found that I have tried and failed. Then I remember that accepting that I have failed and recognizing that this is part of who I am can be an act of humility.

I’ve come to the conclusion that god teaches me humility through my failure to achieve holiness at the rate that I want and how I want to do it.

JR :slight_smile:


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