The Salvific Meaning of Suffering

I am new to Catholicism, joining RCIA in a few weeks here, from a devout Protestant background, but I have read quite a lot in waiting for RCIA to begin, and I have a particular interest in the Catholic understanding of suffering. I am finishing John Paul II’s encyclical Salvifici Dolores, and have read a couple other books on this topic.

I still feel like I don’t quite get what is meant by the “Salvific meaning of suffering.” What I have understood, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that a) suffering is universal, b) suffering can be a punishment, but also happens to innocents, c) when Christ suffered the Passion he redeemed suffering in the sense that he made it possible for us to attach meaning to suffering. I think it’s the meaning attached to suffering that I still don’t quite understand.

Is it just that we can more closely identify with Christ because he too suffered? Can someone please explain the meaning of phrases like “uniting our sufferings to Christ’s” , “take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world” or “offering up my suffering in union with Christ’s”? Also, how is this accomplished? Is it just that we rest in the knowledge that our suffering has meaning, or must we actually explicitly pray to unite our sufferings with Christ’s each time we suffer?

Thanks in advance!

Knowing what you know now, if you found yourself on the Way of the Cross, would you help Jesus carry the cross?

As I understand it, in “uniting our suffering’s to Christ’s” etc., we are in effect helping Jesus carry His cross and providing some ease during His crucifixion. This union MUST be voluntary, i.e., you’re doing this willingly as an act of love, knowing that in some mystical way we are helping others be saved.

In answer to the first part of your last question (“Is it just that we rest in the knowledge that our suffering has meaning, …”), while recognizing that our suffering is in some way helping G_D in the spiritual warfare (which is constantly going on), our patient acceptance helps by recognizing G_D’s Love even in the midst of our suffering. This is best summed up by the optional closing prayer of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy:

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.

In answer to the second part of that question ("…must we actually explicitly pray to unite our sufferings with Christ’s each time we suffer?"), this is an active union (as opposed to the type I just mentioned, which is passive/patient), so you must explicitly pray to unite your sufferings with Christ’s. This, in effect, makes you put some skin in the game.

There is an incident that happened to Francisco Marto, the youngest of the three seers at Fatima. As he lay in the hospital dying from the side effects of influenza, Mary appeared to him and gave him the choice of coming to be with Her soon, or staying alive in great suffering, knowing that the suffering would save souls. Francisco said he would stay as long as She wanted. Three months later, She appeared to him again and told him that thanks to his suffering and offering that suffering for the conversion of sinners, a man in China had converted and would be saved.

Hope this helps.

I think of it simply as Jesus giving us the gift of actually doing what he did–suffering for the salvation of ourselves and others.

It’s astounding to think about; he loves us so much he makes us able to to do his greatest work with him. Our suffering, when we accept it and wish to unite it with his, actually has the effect of saving, healing, or helping in other ways.

He doesn’t need us to do this, obviously, but makes some of his saving love OURS.

What does it mean to say that we are helping Jesus carry his cross or providing him ease during his crucifixion? Isn’t his crucifixion over and his work on the cross completed? I remember reading in the encyclical something about how when we suffer in this life, Jesus also suffers since we are his body. Is that idea somehow connected to what you are getting at here?

WRT the seer at Fatima, Jesus is the only one who can truly save a sinner from hell, no? So what does it mean to say that the boy’s suffering saved this other person? I understand that by our prayers or good deeds (or by our sufferings, maybe?) we can effect change in the world and when we touch people’s lives, they in turn could be more open to the salvation message. Is that what Mary is trying to communicate here?

Praying for good answers because it’s a great question…
Sometimes things happen to us in our lives that are hard to deal with. Sometimes we may feel trapped for example and we don’t know what to do. We can draw the image of Jesus nailed to the cross to our minds and talk to Him in this scene. “Jesus, I feel like I’m in a situation and there is no way out. I see you also know the feeling as you have been nailed to the cross and cannot move. Help me to find a solution and if the solution is to bear it, then let me unite my suffering with yours for the salvation of the whole world. Thank you, Jesus, for my life that every beat of my heart can beat for you.”

Today’s second reading perfectly applies to your question.

How can Paul say, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ”?

That’s scripture, and it says Jesus deliberately gives part of the work of salvation to us, if we’ll accept it. It almost sounds like he didn’t do enough–didn’t do it all. But actually ALL the love and grace that accomplishes the salvation of the world originates with him. If we do part of the work “for him,” it’s only because he makes us able to do it.

Again, he doesn’t need our help, he lets us help.

Read again that Scripture–we are effectively adding to the work of Christ, but only because He set it up that way.

Part of the confusion may relate to how we define the communion of saints and the church.

We believe the church on earth and in heaven can pray for each other.

We also believe, as shown in the bible, that God can use people as His instruments.

Therefore, in a mystical way, if I prayerfully unite my suffering to Jesus, I can become closer to Jesus in His suffering. This concept came from the diaries of Saint Faustina. Although she is a canonized Saint, this is not a Catholic requirement. Yet, it does not conflict with Catholic theology. I consider it a devotional practice.

I have also heard it put another way- we can offer out suffering to God as a pennance for sinners or souls in purgatory. In other words, God can distribute graces from our pennance. If we accept our cross, suffering can be a pennance.

Yet, this does not mean we should not pray for help or mercy.

Congrats on the RCIA enrollment. It’s a good experience.

Redemptive suffering was a big red flag for me as a protestant. I thought there goes those crazy Catholics again, trying to work their way into heaven lol

But the way it’s been explained to me, salvation is a process. We get cleaned up here and sometimes need to finish the cleansing process in purgatory. Either way, the Mother Teresa route or the regular sinner in purgatory route, it happens.

So when sickness comes upon us we pray for healing, but if God says no, take it as a blessing and “offer it up” use it to your advantage and understanding God is working on your soul. The Spirit is a divine artist and a great artist can work with marble or clay. Many of us are marble, unfortunately.

Bad things happen to the just and unjust like you said, but all of us are sinners and need to be cleaned up at least a little bit.

So the important thing to remember is, we aren’t saving ourselves, it’s God doing the saving. But we are cooperating and, as scripture says, working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.(( Philippians 2:12) Humbly accepting whatever cross has been handed to us.

And BTW, I like this explanation much better than the WOF movement who says if your prayer isn’t answered you just lacked true faith.


Here are some thoughts:

*]God loves us more than we can imagine.
*]Everything that happens to us has either been allowed by God, or directly caused by God.
*]Everything that happens to us is somehow related to our salvation.
*]Everyone suffers. So suffering is somehow related to our salvation.
*]We suffer directly because of our own sins, indirectly because of the sins of others, or “no apparent reason.”
*]Regardless of the cause, God allows our suffering to happen, for our salvation, because he loves us.
*]Therefore there must be some use for suffering/opportunity which God wants us to take advantage of.
*]Jesus’ greatest love for us was to suffer for our sakes, even unto death.
*]Jesus says take up our crosses and follow him…love as he loved, give as he gave.
*]When we suffer - accept it and offer it to God the Father in union with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, at Mass (if possible) which is the continuation of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
*]This joins our suffering to Jesus’ suffering, and gives our suffering some redemptive value for ourselves or others.
*]Offering it up for others is exactly what Jesus did out of love. When we offer up suffering, especially for others, we are loving as Jesus loved. When we love as Jesus loved, we become more like Jesus. Which, BTW, is really helpful in getting into Heaven.

Well, that’s how I see it IMHO.

“Isn’t his crucifixion over and his work on the cross completed?”
Short answer: yes. Long answer: no.

This has to do with the nature of time, so please bear with me. During the Consecration at the Mass, the priest repeats what Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” The thing is, the Jewish understanding of the word that gets translated as “remembrance” is NOT the same as remembering an anniversary or a birthday. In the Jewish understanding of the Passover meal, it is not each individual family celebrating in their own house. The celebration is actually linked to every Passover that has been – or will be – celebrated. The Passover at the Last Supper was being held “contemporaneous” with the first Passover celebrated by Moses. It was contemporaneous with His death on the cross – a future event. It is contemporaneous with every Sacrifice of the Mass ever held or ever will be held. Some Protestants accuse Catholics of crucifying Christ over and over, but no – Catholics are simply participating in the Last Supper/First Passover in some mystical way we can’t comprehend, because it is happening outside of time.

So, is Jesus’ crucifixion over and His work on the cross completed? Yes, but because Heaven exists outside of time, the crucifixion is present to us with every prayer (since all pray rises to G_D, who exists outside of time) and every bit of suffering that we endure for Love of Jesus and the Cross.

WRT the seer at Fatima, Jesus is the only one who can truly save a sinner from hell, no? So what does it mean to say that the boy’s suffering saved this other person? I understand that by our prayers or good deeds (or by our sufferings, maybe?) we can effect change in the world and when we touch people’s lives, they in turn could be more open to the salvation message. Is that what Mary is trying to communicate here?

Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross has saved ALL sinners. We just need to have the courage to accept that Sacrifice, accept that the debt HAS been paid, and live in a way that shows that acceptance, by trying to live like Jesus. In offering up our sufferings, be it pancreatic cancer or a hurtful remark on the street, we are trying to live like Jesus. The graces from our acceptance of our suffering can be applied to those who do not yet know/recognize/accept the gift of the Sacrifice of Jesus, to move their spirits closer to acceptance of Salvation. In accepting his suffering with joy and love, Francisco merited graces which were applied to this person that he didn’t know and would never meet, which allowed this person to be open to Salvation.

Hope this helps.

This is beautifully explained… beautiful! :thumbsup:

I agree with your thoughts… :slight_smile:

Thank you!!! :slight_smile:

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