Monday’s reading this week was interesting. In it, we see the value of redemptive suffering.
Brothers and sisters:
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,
of which I am a minister
in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me
to bring to completion for you the word of God,
the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past.
But now it has been manifested to his holy ones,
to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory
of this mystery among the Gentiles;
it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
It is he whom we proclaim,
admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom,
that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.
For this I labor and struggle,
in accord with the exercise of his power working within me.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I am having for you
and for those in Laodicea
and all who have not seen me face to face,
that their hearts may be encouraged
as they are brought together in love,
to have all the richness of assured understanding,
for the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ,
in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
We often hear from people of some branches of Christianity that we should not suffer. Some take it to the extreme, saying that if we have faith God will give us whatever we ask, so if you suffer it means you are faithless. This philosophy, frequently referred to as the “prosperity gospel” is a popular one on TV. It attracts viewers, in part, because they are hungry for hope and the hope for material success and physical comfort is the easiest hope to appeal to.
However, it doesn’t work. When a person finds that God does not bless him the way that he has demanded, he may feel frustrated, even altogether hopeless, thinking that it means his faith is not real. Or he may feel that God has let him down. But as we see in Colossians, this “promise” is not a genuine Biblical understanding of Christ’s promises. The promise of the Beatitudes, in fact, is rather the opposite. Those who suffer in this life receive their reward in Heaven.
A less extreme view of suffering is that it is unnecessary and not redemptive. Many is the time I’ve heard people say that suffering cannot be redemptive because Christ’s sacrifice was complete. As we see in this writing of St. Paul, though, redemptive suffering is helpful to others. By offering suffering and sacrifice on behalf of others, we are “filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church…” In other words, we are not completing Christ’s sacrifice, but completing the suffering of others in the Church, and of the Church herself.
We do not attempt to “complete” the sacrifice of Jesus, which was, and is, perfect. Rather, we join in it in order to be a part of it. We begin this journey by baptism, through which we die and rise again with Him. Our joining in His death and resurrection are not for His sake, but to unite us with Him for our own sake.
Finally, we see in this reading that suffering for others is not an act of misery or to “buy” salvation, but rather an act of love.
Today is a good day to offer a sacrifice for someone you love.