One of the most common questions asked of people of faith is this – why does God allow suffering? And this leads to a second question – since there clearly is suffering in the world, does it have any value?
Looking at the first question, suffering is part of the human condition – the fallen human condition resulting from Original Sin, not the perfect condition originally designed by the Eternal Father. In the same way that we chose to sin, so do those sins have consequences – and our suffering in this life is part of those consequences. So that answers the ‘why’.
When the Lord took human form, He choose not only to live but also to die; and the Gospels make it very plain that He most assuredly saw value in His death, the ultimate Sacrifice, paying the price of the sins of all mankind in all ages. His Passion and Death was the price of our Redemption. So with regard to the Lord, there is the greatest possible value to suffering.
But how does that apply to our own sufferings?
The Gospels give us the answer – ‘we preach Christ crucified’. Only through the Cross can we reach the Resurrection. And St Paul reminds us that ‘in our own bodies we make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ, for the sake of His Body, which is the Church’.
Now, Christ’s sacrifice is perfect and complete so how can we add to it? We do this by virtue of our baptism, when we die with Christ – and in baptism, we are made ‘Priest, Prophet and King’. Part of that priestly role is about sharing in His Passion and Death – we do this through redemptive suffering, by uniting our little sufferings to those of Christ on the Cross; and in this way, they take on His merits when we offer them with love of Him.
Beginning with the Apostles, martyred for love of the Lord, this idea of suffering with Christ is consistent in the lives of every single one of the Saints who have gone before us, and who now pray for us before the Lord.
In our own day, the Diary of Saint Faustina continually looks to the idea of redemptive suffering, of our power to help the Lord save souls by offering our sufferings in union with His, regardless of whether those sufferings are big or small – so long as they are offered with love in union with those of the Lord.
The Gospels give us one other consideration, too. Beneath the Cross stood the Blessed Virgin, Her own suffering perfectly united to those of Her Son in His Passion and Death. Mary is the perfect disciple, the first follower of the Lord, Her will perfectly submissive to the will of the Eternal Father. We can have no better example of how to follow Him and to love Him perfectly. This was very much Her message at Fatima in 1917 – the salvation of souls through prayer, sacrifice and sufferings united to those of Christ.
For the longest time, it was the practice of Catholics to make a ‘Morning Offering’, but that is a practice we have perhaps fallen away from these days. And yet, that Offering perfectly united everything to the Crucified One, through a simple intention made at the start of each day. Perhaps this might be a good time to re-establish that practice.