By Barry Schoedel
In 1984 as a reflection on the Redemption Bl. Pope John Paul II wrote a letter, titled Salvifici Doloris, or, On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering. In this letter the soon to be canonized pope wrote about suffering, and what it means to suffer with faith in Christ, in the communion of the Church. It is a profound meditation, particularly as we approach our celebration of the resurrection of Christ, having as one people united ourselves more closely to His death through the penances of Lent.
The late Pope wrote, “if one becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened His suffering to man, because He Himself in His redemptive suffering has become, in a certain sense, a sharer in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive sufferings of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings, he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched in content and new meaning.” St. Paul beautifully articulates this truth that he discovered within himself through Christ, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” Each one of us is invited to discover Christ in this same way, within ourselves, in the deepest recesses of our experience of suffering. Through faith we find light there, God is there, with us.
When we recognize this truth what might have begun as the experience of suffering detached from meaning, detached from Christian hope and love, takes on the quality of the Redemption. This union between Christ and each baptized person is real, and the call to holiness is to respond to this union accepting fully the mystery of the Cross in our immediate experience of suffering. We deepen our participation in this union through meditating upon the truths of Christian faith, participating in and receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation frequently, adoring God in Divine Worship, sacrificially uniting ourselves to Christ – the moral life, and steeping ourselves in the practice of Christian prayer. We can be assured that this life of devotion will assist us to grow in the vision of Christian faith in the context of our own experience of suffering – our faith will be nurtured precisely where we most need it. The great Pope explains, “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of redemption” – this is our faith, our suffering is raised in Christ.
He goes on, “the eloquence of the cross and death is… completed by the eloquence of the resurrection. Man finds in the resurrection a completely new light, which helps him go forward through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness and persecution.” It is eloquent because it is God’s word, and the glory of divine beauty shines forth. This eloquence is communicated in and through the “thick darkness.” We ‘boast in the Cross’ because of the Resurrection and we see in Christ’s suffering on the Cross, and in our own personal suffering united to Him, ‘the glory of the future age.’ As we celebrate Easter, the feast of feasts, may we follow the footsteps of the great Pope, who allowed Christ so deeply into his own suffering that he became a window unto our future glory.
Barry Schoedel is the Assistant for Evangelization and Technology for the Diocese of Juneau. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org