Giving Our Suffering As Sacrifice

Why is there suffering in this world? The answer to this is much more complicated than most of us can comprehend, let alone answer in a weekly bulletin article. But we definitely all have known suffering, in some way. It is a reality for every person, day in and day out, through big problems and small trials.

I have a hard time suffering well. While I know I should be offering the suffering up so that God may bring good out of it, I don’t often do so. Even very simple trials, like getting up in the middle of the night to help my children, or dusting the multitude of shelves in my home (on the rare occasion it happens), I can’t seem to get through without complaining or feeling sorry for myself. If I can’t be strong for these small trials, how can I have faith through the big ones?

I don’t know about you, but while I’ve had some larger hardships to face, most of my day-to-day suffering doesn’t come close to the kind that Jesus or his followers went through. There is so much suffering in this weekend’s readings. It’s not a very bright and cheery Liturgy of the Word, and rightly so, I suppose, as we prepare for the death of our King. In the first reading, Isaiah says, “I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who tore out my beard; My face I did not hide from insults and spitting” (Is 50:6). In the psalm we hear of “many dogs” and “a pack of evildoers” surrounding David and piercing his body (Ps 22:17-18), and as a congregation we repeat the words of both David and Jesus, “My God, why have you abandoned me?” (Ps 22:2)

And it continues… in the second reading and the Gospel, we hear of Jesus’ last days. Can you imagine going through those? Your friends betray you. You experience physical torture through scourging and crucifixion, not to mention the associated humiliation. And finally: death. Our King, our God, chose to come to earth and die for us.

Jesus did not need to suffer through any of this; he freely chose to become weak in our human form and to take on the same trials that we face. He is a shepherd who will lay down his life for the sake of his sheep. Fr. Robert Barron pointed out in a Lenten reflection last week that it really doesn’t make sense for a shepherd to lose his own life just for a flock of sheep, yet Jesus does exactly that for us. In Fr. Barron’s words, “Imagine the difference between humans and sheep and now multiply that difference infinitely.That would give you some idea of the difference between God and humanity. And yet God is willing to lay down his life for the likes of us.”

As we travel through the story of Jesus’ suffering and death this week, we are also reminded of the hope that is coming, and is now not very far off. Our Lord’s suffering had a purpose, and a very important one: to open up the way to eternal life for us. Like His, our suffering also has purpose, whether we recognize it or not. In light of the difference between the suffering Jesus chose for himself and the trials I face,  I will try to offer up my own small hardships in a more positive way, connecting mine to His, knowing that it can lead me to a deeper trust and faith. I hope you are able to do this as you prepare for the Resurrection, too. May you have a spiritually fruitful Holy Week!

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