Unraveling The Mystery Of Suffering
Published: March 29, 2012
In church I kneel down and stare at the big crucifix over the altar and see Christ with his arms outstretched. He looks so peaceful there, but he was in unimaginable agony. And I know some people flinch from the cross, saying it is too brutal and terrible.
But the cross is a powerful way to unravel the mystery of suffering.
Secularists rage at suffering, shaking their fists and saying it proves that no God exists. But the cross is the answer they refuse to see. The cross tells us that God is not a stranger to our pain—and our suffering is never meaningless.
There are so many varieties of agony, ranging from the ravages of cancer to the slow decline of old age. And there is mental suffering—depression, regret, grief and loneliness.
Jesus experienced intense physical pain from the nails and beatings, and he also knew mental agony. After all, one friend betrayed him, another denied knowing him—and the rest abandoned him. He also knew the sting of being dressed in kingly robes and cruelly mocked.
But the cross teaches us a powerful lesson: We can turn our suffering into prayer. As bestselling author Anthony Destefano writes in “The Invisible World,” when Christ used suffering to save the world, “He transformed it into a weapon to combat evil.” And now we can follow his example.
This means a bedridden person in great pain can change the world by attaching their agony to the cross—and giving it to Christ: “Dear Lord, please take my suffering and use it to help … my daughter, my husband, my son, my friend.”
Who can say how many quiet miracles happen when people give God their suffering? Who can say how many hospital rooms and hospice beds contain people who are saving countless souls? Destefano writes in his book about his grandmother, whose life was filled with terrible events. Her husband left her, and two of her 11 children died very young. Then her oldest son died of leukemia at 22, and she would travel every Sunday on the bus to pray at his gravesite. Her death at 55 devastated the rest of the children, and many lost their faith. One grew up to become the author’s father who raised his five children with no knowledge of Christianity.
And then, out of the blue one day, one of the girls began praying and reading the Bible. Soon all the children became Christian—and one even became a priest. The author believes that his grandmother in her lifetime offered up her suffering for future generations.
Although her whole life was a “slow, grueling crucifixion,” which she faithfully endured, her pain had great spiritual power for the family. In God’s eyes there is no present, past and future, so he will answer prayers we say even for future generations.
On Easter Sunday the deepest message about suffering will be revealed. Christ showed by his resurrection that our agony never has the final word. The cross is the doorway to another life beyond this one—but we don’t go unscathed into the kingdom. Many struggle with a long illness or the loss of faculties from aging. We all say goodbye to people we dearly love, whether it is a spouse or child or parent.
As St. Paul said, in this life we see through a glass darkly, which means there are many abiding mysteries. But with an understanding of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we no longer have to shout to heaven that our agony is meaningless. We can take our pain, whether it is unbearably intense or simply a tiny ache, and turn it to good.
This is a miracle of course—but as Catholics we embrace miracles. We believe that God became man, and bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood. And with God’s help suffering can become a prayer to transform the world.
Christ’s cross opened heaven to us. Our own crosses can help convert souls, heal hearts and turn lives around. The miracle of the resurrection assures us that with God all things really are possible.