Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Redemptive Suffering Q and A

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up my flesh what is lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, that is the church. Col 1: 24

I didn't learn about Redemptive Suffering until after I had children.  This is partly due to living in the Bible belt (largely Protestant area) where the subject almost never comes up.  I couldn't explain why.  And it's also partly due to poor catechisis.  I could pin the blame of that on my parents, but they are poorly catechized themselves.  I informed my dad during his visit that animals don't have souls so they don't go to heaven.  This is sorta true.  They don't have immortal souls like angels or people.  But everything alive has a soul.  And Yes, Fluffy doesn't go to heaven.  Their souls die with their bodies.  Sorry to bust the bubble.  My mother is a convert so maybe my dad's parents should have taught him?  Anyway, I digress.

Point is I didn't learn a lot of about Catholicism at least the more mystical parts until later in life.  I knew things like no, birthcontrol but the reasons why never was taught to me.  I had to go find that out for myself.

Needless to say, when it comes to redemptive suffering and offering it up, it does not come natural to me.  I don't say a morning offering because I was not taught the prayer.  I don't have it memorized.  Usually my mornings involve something along the lines of "Jesus help me get through this day."  I don't think about sharing my pain for those in purgatory.  It's something that I'm learning to grow into. 

Side note:  My husband says my posts sound like I'm the most perfect person on earth.  So I'm trying to be more realistic about subject to prove the point that I'm flawed.  I hope that you glean that from the above part.

I recently discussed this subject and have been meaning to write a better post.  So here are some of the most common questions I've run into.

Why do we suffer?

Suffering is a part of the fall.  It came along with death and disease.  It's only temporary too.  After Christ's return and the Final Judgement, if we make it into heaven, our immoral souls will be put into our bodies only this time they will be immoral and disease free.  Suffering will end.

When Christ conquered death, he also conquered suffering.  But just like death we go through suffering still.  Lots of people speculate as to why God allowed suffering to continue (just like death) rather than stopping it.  But we'll never know completely only that we can learn from it.  Just keep in mind that suffering is temporary.  And that God takes things and makes good come out of them.  This is how redemptive suffering works.  He's not giving you a piece of wood when you ask for bread.  Suffering has positive qualities to it.

What's redemptive suffering?

Is simply offering up or uniting ones suffering to Christ's suffering on the cross.  This can be an physical or mental suffering.  Examples like stubbing your toe or enduring a terrible boss come to mind.  You can offer your suffering to help aid someone else, yourself in the next life, or a person in purgatory. 

But didn't Christ die only once?  How can you unite your suffering with his?

Christ's death on the cross redeemed all of mankind including those in the past, his present, and in the future.  It continues to cover and redeem us all.  In that sense his death, his sacrifice has never ended.  It transcends space and time.  Thus you can most certainly unite your own suffering with his Passion.

Okay.  But you sound like Christ's death was not sufficient alone.  Why do we need to offer up anything?

Christ's death was sufficient for salvation.  He doesn't need us to do anything to complete it.  Offering it up does not save anyone's soul because apart from Christ we can do nothing.  Christ's made suffering valuable by allowing us to unite with his.  It's a gift.  Let me explain it a couple of different ways using other examples in areas that God has allowed us to share.

People have sex to create babies, but apart from God it's impossible to create new life.  God created the act of sex to share in the mysterious bond of creation.  He didn't have to do it that way, but he gave us that gift.

Handing out pamphlets, knocking on doors, and pouring water on a person's head do not save souls.  Only the Holy Spirit can do that.  But we are called to aid the Holy Spirit in the salvation of souls.  It is a gift to be able to take part in the mystical process that is accepting Christ and his Church.

Likewise we can share in the second person of the Trinity by uniting our suffering with that of Christ's. 

How does it work?

Well, you pray/speak about wanting to offer your suffering up and why.  That's it.  We're not sure completely what happens to achieve this.  That's the mystical part.  We just know that we can do this.

Is it Biblical?

Yes, the Bible frequently talks about sharing with Christ.  But it is most telling in the Passion story and in St. Paul's letter to the Colossians.  I've quoted the bit in Colossians above.  So I'll remind you that during the Passion account that Christ did not carry the cross alone.  He was aided by one Simon of Cyrene.  And as I said before, Christ's sacrifice is timeless.  We can also pick up that cross and carry it a bit for the good of others as well.  We can be St. Simon's if you will.

So can one voluntarily suffer?

Voluntarily suffering or mortification is common and part of Catholic life.  Practicing fasting and abstinence are the most common ones.  The stuff you see in the movies such as whipping and cilices are extreme and should not be considered without guidance from a spiritual director.  Members of Opus Dei are said to practice these extreme forms of mortification.  One does not need to practice these forms of mortification in order to participate in redemptive suffering.  You find suffering everywhere.

I hope that helps.  If you have any other questions, fire away in the com box.


  1. Thank you so, SO much for this clarification. It really helps a lot to demystify the whole thing.

    I still don't get the bit about Christ's suffering being outside time though...

  2. Its a Catholic/Orthodox teaching. God exists outside of time and space. It's what makes him omnipotent and everywhere all the time. Only humans are bound by time. In Christ's death his sacrifice occured both temporarily and infinitly. In otherwords he died on the cross under Pontious Pilot. But he also continues that sacrifice today in order that we may be saved.

    Its mysterious how it all works because we only have a human understanding of it. It's also why Catholics and the Orthodox are not simply recreating Christ's sacrifice during Mass or believe that he's sacrificed repeatedly. It was one time for all time.

    Some Protestant groups find this difficult to understand. Hence the split. And Catholics admit its difficult to get. I can find some resources if you'd like. Biblical references that sort of thing.


I love to read your thoughts. Thanks for sharing!