Woah, looks like we have a super fun, happy topic today! (That’s sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch it.)
Suffering. It’s one of the most difficult mysteries of our Faith to understand. Why do we suffer? Why would a God who loves us bring us such pain? Why do bad things happen to good people? Just in this past year, we have all witnessed true suffering. The Newtown and Aurora massacres. The ridiculously high unemployment rate. The political turmoil among nations around the world.
You may be asking, as I often do, “Why God?”
When my grandpa passed away last semester, I thought my world was crashing down around me. I had become really close to my grandpa last year, and I couldn’t understand why God would take away someone who brought me such happiness in way that was so sudden and unexpected. God left my grandma, who depended so much on my grandpa, to fend for herself.
Nothing made any sense to me. My grades began to fall, I didn’t want to talk to anybody, I felt depressed all the time and I quickly became overwhelmed by life. I asked God again and again why He would do this to me and my family. Of course, as the faithful God He is, He showed me the answer.
Even though nothing seemed to be going right, I found that in this time of turmoil, as with all trials of life, I found that all God wants is for me, and for all of His children, to come running back to Him with open arms.
What does the Bible say about Suffering?
Ok, get ready, ‘cause I’m about to hit you with some theology.
Let’s first reflect on this verse: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church,” (Colossians 1:24). I know, the first time you read this verse it doesn’t really make any sense. That’s ok though, because it’s even confused theologians for a really long time. However, in this verse, St. Paul isn’t saying that there was anything lacking in Christ’s sufferings. What St. Paul is saying is that the Church’s (that’s us) sufferings are lacking.
If we want to become one with Christ, we must love as Christ loved. The way in which He showed us His undying love for the whole of humanity is through suffering to the point of death on a cross, which fulfilled the New Covenant and brought us eternal life. Therefore, what St. Paul is means is that what is lacking isn’t Christ’s suffering for the sake of humanity, but our suffering for the sake of humanity.
Christ calls us to (joyfully) unite our pain and anguish with His. Paradox, much? Essentially, we are taking up our own crosses, just like Christ did. The more we become like Christ, the less we become like ourselves. It’s a process that isn’t easy or painless.
Remember that we as Christians are saved, but the whole world is not. So if you’re going through something right now, consider it as a sacrifice for the whole of humanity. As St. Gemma Galgani said, “If you really want to love Jesus, first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love.” Christians are kind of masochists in that sense.
I think another way God teaches us about suffering is through the Beatitudes:
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
Blesses are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.
Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake: Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven.
Obviously, this Earth isn’t meant for us. Our home is not on this Earth, but in Heaven. This Earth is imperfect, so our lives will always be imperfect. That being said, all of our sufferings equal the joys we’ll experience in Heaven, but multiplied. It’s a pretty good deal on our part if you think about it.
The Beatitudes show us that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. All we have to do is to have faith that God will pull us through to one day be reunited with Him in Heaven.
The way I see it, suffering is kind of like learning to be an artist. In high school, I was a big band and choir nerd. I remember spending hours upon hours practicing. Was it fun? No. Was it necessary to become a better musician? Sure was.
I mean, look at Michelangelo. It took him over four years to paint the Sistene Chapel Ceiling. Four years! That means that in the time it took him to paint that one ceiling, you could go to college, graduate and be making six figures. That’s crazy!
The Sistene Chapel ceiling, which depicts the story of God’s creation, the fall of man, Noah’s ark and the Prophets, glorifies God in every sense. It displays God’s glorious creation in the greatest way. It’s beautiful, awe-inspiring and recognized all around the world.
The thing about Michelangelo, though, is that he wasn’t a painter, he was a sculptor. He had little painting experience when he took on the Sistene Chapel project. He had to learn really advanced techniques that only painting masters use as he painted the ceiling.
On top of that, Michelangelo often had to bend backwards and paint over his head, which, as you can imagine, made his arms burn and his neck and back ache. Ugh, doesn’t sound very fun, does it? But, through all the pain that he had to endure, Michelangelo became a world-renowned painter and created a work of art that immortalized him as an artist.
This brings me to the point I’m trying to make (ya, I wasn’t just going off on an art history tangent there). Michelangelo wasn’t born a painter and we aren’t born saints. Like Michelangelo, who, through his pain and suffering, learned how to become a painter, we, through our pain and suffering, can learn to become what God has called us to be: one with Him eternally in our Heavenly home.
“Don’t be afraid. There must be the cross, there must be suffering, a clear sign that Jesus has drawn you so close to His heart that He can share His suffering with you.” – Mother Theresa of Calcutta
Laurelin Ontai is a media intern for Campus Renewal Ministries. She is currently a junior at the University of Texas at Austin and active in her ministry at the University Catholic Center. If you have any questions or comments, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org