The Apostolate of Suffering
by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.
WHEN did Christ redeem the world? When He died on Good Friday. How did Christ redeem the world? By His Passion and Death on Calvary. Why do we make the Sign of the Cross? To remind ourselves we have been redeemed by the Cross.
Of course we know that Christ, the First Apostle, was sent by the Father to save mankind by every word and action He performed during His visible stay on earth. But it was especially by His sufferings that we were delivered from sin and mainly by His Cross that we were saved.
We need to recall these truths in our day, when activism is being honored far beyond what it deserves. Some people feel “useless” because they are no longer as “active” in the service of others as they formerly were or as they would like to be.
They may suffer in a variety of ways: with some draining disease or crippling disability; with a natural, but no less painful, weakening of their bodily powers as they advance in years; with the awful sense of being no longer needed after decades of active service in the priesthood, religious life, single state or in rearing a family. Or the Lord may touch them early and they are disabled or confined or gravely handicapped in the prime of life.
No matter. The number of such persons in our society is large, and larger than most people would ever suppose. What they need to be told is that they can actually do more for others now than they ever could before.
Why should this be so? Because we serve others best when we do most for their souls. And we do most for their souls when we obtain graces from God for their numerous spiritual needs. If this means prayer, and it does, there is no more effective prayer than one that is joined with sacrifice, which in practice means prayer that is animated by the cheerful acceptance of the Cross.
The apostolate of suffering is not some exotic enterprise for only mystics or what we sometimes call “victim souls.” It is open to everyone who has faith, and love, and zeal for souls. Faith assures us that suffering must be noble, seeing that God became man in order to suffer and thereby save the world. Love enables us to make of every pain a willing sacrifice, seeing that it costs us so much. And zeal for souls urges us to actually rejoice as we are privileged to suffer something for the myriad souls redeemed by the blood of Christ.
He did His part to reconcile this sinful world with the Father. But the mercy that He merited by His Cross will remain sterile unless sinners cooperate with the graces He won for mankind. We must unite our cross with the Savior’s to help sinners respond to God’s mercy.
With St. Paul we can say to others what he told the Christians of his day: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that is still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church.” (Colossians 1:24). Christ is still redeeming the world, with our cooperation.