By Carmina M. Chapp
Special to The CS&T
Suffering is utter aloneness. If we stub our toe, no one can feel that pain for us. Sure, our friends may be sympathetic, or have had a similar pain and so understand what we are experiencing, but they cannot feel the pain. It is ours. In it, we are utterly alone. Ultimately, we die alone.
As we meditate on the Stations of the Cross, we can only imagine the physical and emotional pain that Jesus endured. We cannot feel it for Him. And it is extraordinary. A close-up view of the back side of the Shroud of Turin shows markings covering every inch of the body it had held, from the top of the head to the bottom of the feet. Not an inch had been spared the cruel whips. Likewise, a Eucharistic miracle in Buenos Aires, Argentina claims scientific lab results of the examination of a consecrated host reporting the substance to be heart muscle from a man who had been terribly tortured.
At the end of the way of the cross, Jesus is stripped of his garments, nailed to the cross, and dies. More humiliation. More pain. Death. This is the just punishment for sin. This is where sin leads. This is the human condition after the fall – life without life, human existence without meaning. Utter aloneness.
Jesus suffers for one reason only – our sin. He embraces His suffering for one reason only – our redemption. His embracing of His suffering is an act of love, the same self-sacrificial love He pours forth to the Father and the Holy Spirit within the Trinitarian life. With that love, the power of suffering is conquered and the meaning of suffering is transformed.
In Christ, suffering is no longer utter aloneness. As it is embraced by and brought into the Trinitarian love, it is transformed from a source of alienation to a source of unity. It has become a form of love. Real compassion is now possible.
The Way of the Cross gives salvific meaning to all human suffering, and transforms it into love. By embracing His human suffering, Jesus embraces all human suffering. It is no longer only His suffering, but ours, too. Our suffering is not only ours, but His, too. We can unite our suffering to His. United to Jesus’ suffering, our suffering has the power to save souls. We can now say that in our pain, we feel the pain of Jesus on the way of the cross, for it has the same saving effect. Suffering has become a means of meeting God.
This new meaning of suffering is for all people for all time. Whereas we would prefer to forget our own suffering once it passes, Jesus remembers His suffering always. In fact, He commands his disciples to remember it, to make it present at every sacrifice of the Mass. In this way, generation upon generation can unite their present-day sufferings to that of the Way of the Cross, and have them transformed into acts of redemptive love.
Many saints have attested to this power of suffering for the salvation of souls, not the least of which are the martyrs. To be aware of our ability to offer our suffering to God for the salvation of souls is a great grace. As we approach the altar during these last weeks of Lent, we must do so with a humble and contrite heart. It is only in repentance for our sins that our sufferings can be united to those of Jesus. Let us remember the suffering of the sacrifice that is made present there, and as we unite the sacrifice of ourselves to that of Christ, let us unite also all our suffering for the salvation of souls. Let us strive to be able to say with St. Paul “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake.” (Col. 1:24)
Dr. Carmina M. Chapp is a former director of the Religious Studies spanision of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.