It is the Lenten season; a time of fasting and penance in an effort to draw nearer to the Lord who suffered all things for love of His people. And though the time to consciously strive to join one’s sufferings to the Cross of Christ is always in season, during Lent it is especially so.
With this in mind, I would like to share with you excerpts from a personal letter (with the permission of its writer who has asked to remain nameless) that speaks to what it means to join one’s suffering to the sufferings of Christ. Perhaps you too will find its insights as useful in your own Lenten journey as I have in mine.
In prayer after Holy Communion as I related to the Lord the spiritual anguish that I endure at the awareness that our worship is not nearly what it ought to be, while seeking to join that particular suffering to His own, He gave me to know that the physical sufferings of His passion pales in comparison to the spiritual anguish that He Himself suffered as a result of a similar awareness; namely, that His Father was not being worshipped in truth by His very chosen ones.
Jesus in His merciful condescension further gave me to know that His anguish at this awareness was infinitely greater at every turn than my own, because unlike me, He could read the hearts of men who so often give appearance of right worship when in truth their hearts are corrupted with self love.
This small ray of light, imparted to me in only an instant, brought with it a degree of comfort in that it gave me a greater awareness of just how intimately the Lord is truly aware of my pain. This served in some way to make more tangible the act of joining this particular suffering to the Cross of Christ.
At this, the anguish itself was no less, yet somehow the burden of carrying it was. This was a great and encouraging gift, and I immediately realized that I must use what the Lord had given me in order to find comfort in other areas of my life as well.
The following day during Holy Mass as the aforementioned anguish once again set in, I called to mind the insight the Lord had given to me, and just as before, the act of joining this particular suffering to the Cross became more tangible and the burden somehow grew lighter.
After receiving Holy Communion, I contemplated the enormity of this unmerited gift. I felt in my heart a heretofore never experienced solidarity with Jesus on the Via Crucis… It seemed to me as though we were walking side by side. It was tangible and real and my heart cried out in thanksgiving!
Placing my intentions before the Father, I glanced up to the image of Christ crucified behind the altar and whispered, “I love You.” At that, my heart was moved to ask Jesus to help me to love more as I was filled with an awareness of just how truly pathetic I am in this regard.
The lesson of the previous Sunday came to mind once more, and I considered that my inability to love as fully as I ought is a need that Jesus did not personally suffer, and in my heart I pondered how it is that He might have experienced intimately, within Himself, the lack of which I am so keenly aware.
In His unfathomable goodness He came to me once again with His light, giving me to know that all of our shortcomings are in fact a form of suffering, even when we are unaware that this is exactly what they are.
For instance, the fact that we lack in some virtue, and all of us do in varying degree, this is suffering because the soul longs for its proper end; perfection in God. Any shortcoming, therefore, renders suffering. This is often a “hidden suffering,” the Lord told me, in that it is hidden even from he who suffers it.
For example, a man who lacks in love need not necessarily comprehend that he is lacking in a conscious way, and often he does not, yet the very fact of his deficiency creates suffering. In this case the suffering is “hidden” from his awareness, but it is no less real.
I had always thought of the present intention in which I had asked the Lord to help me to love more fully as simply a desire for good, one that I recognized as a hunger that He Himself had given to me as a gift, but I hadn’t previously considered that it is truly a matter of suffering and so therefore I never considered joining this to the Cross of Christ.
Jesus let me know, however, that because it truly is suffering it is right to join it to the Cross; it is a suffering that He intimately carried along the Via Crucis in the spiritual anguish that He taught to me the previous day.
Part of that spiritual anguish in the Lord came from His awareness of our every imperfection, and He took that anguish upon Himself as a function of His perfect love for us. Just as we truly suffer when our loved ones suffer, so too does the Lord, yet, as in all things, His is infinitely greater due to the perfection of His love for us, as well as His perfect understanding of how much we suffer imperfection.
All of this filled my mind in a moment, and it seemed to me that I was literally in conversation with the Divine Teacher! I asked Him, “How does this apply to our many temporal needs and the heartache we suffer when our families are struggling economically; lacking in food, shelter, even college tuition for a child or whatever else it may be that we desire out of sincere love for others?”
Once again, the Lord in His goodness answered by imparting light in a moment, and He gave me to know that all of our lack – even our lack of temporal things – even these are the result of our imperfections due to sin. We were not created to lack anything, and our woundedness is the reason we so often do.
While He Himself was never at a loss for meeting the temporal needs of others, always having perfect trust in the Father who provides food and shelter for the birds of the air and thus never entertained within Himself the anguish that we so often experience at not being able to provide for the ones we love, He did however take even that anguish of humankind into Himself (and it truly is our anguish willingly taken; not an anguish that was generated from within Himself) and He carried it to the Cross.
All of this was given to me today just as I recounted here, after Holy Communion.
Now, as I reflect on all that Jesus condescended to teach me today, it occurs to me that there isn’t one solitary suffering that the Lord Himself did not truly suffer, and all of it is a function of His perfect love. Yes, even the things we bring upon ourselves through sin; even these He willingly suffered in the most intimate of ways.
What a revelation! To this point in my life I had only given passing thought to the idea that Jesus suffered literally all that we suffer, personally, intimately, in His sacred humanity.
This is a far easier concept to embrace when it comes to things like physical pain (we see it in the Passion) grief at the failing of our children or the death of a loved one (“Jesus wept”), but when it comes to those things in which Jesus in His humanity was truly perfect; e.g. He never worried about where His next meal would come from, He never had a sleepless night wondering how the mortgage would get paid, etc., it is far more difficult to comprehend how He really did suffer these as well.
We can say this, I now understand, because our every worry and heartache is a manifestation of the wound of sin as we are striving in ourselves to attain to the end for which we were created — life in God. We often do not know that this is what is happening, but all of it is a spiritual agony that the Lord chose, in perfect love, to take into Himself that it may be nailed to the Cross, that it may be overcome, that it may become redemptive in Him.
Yes, He truly did experience every last drop of every conceivable suffering!
This is what it means to say, “Like us in all things but sin.” No, He never sinned, yet even so, He took within Himself all of the agony that comes along with it such that in His sacred humanity He experienced exactly what I experience.
Seems so simple as I write, but until this very day, I really didn’t understand just how much the Lord endured for love of humankind.