The Gift of Suffering

I came that you may have life and have it more abundantly. – John 10:10

“I’ve reflected on this Scripture a lot because to me, it seems that abundant life wouldn’t include suffering—that it would free us from pain. But that isn’t the reality … God didn’t even spare His own Son from suffering. So if Jesus suffered, I guess abundant life means more than getting the ‘get-out-of-pain-free card’ in life,” said Sister Brittany Harrison, “Sister B”, Campus Minster and Chair of the Theology Department at Mary Help of Christians Academy in North Haledon, New Jersey. She spoke about suffering to over 1,700 women at the Archdiocese of Newark Women’s Day of Reflection.

Some people think that by being a faithful Christian—maybe by praying often, being kind and generous, and following the Commandments—we’ll be blessed with good health, wealth, and be free of suffering. We see the suffering of a good, faithful, or generous person as a great injustice. The reality is that none of us are immune to suffering—all of us are dealing with some kind of trial. But what should we do with it?

Society tells us that we should avoid suffering at all costs. “Growing up without the Catholic Faith, I was trained to think of suffering as the ultimate evil. And it really set me up for a lot of struggle when I was younger because I couldn’t understand why I had to face these difficulties in my life,” said Sister B.

Suffering can be a gift if we respond in the right way. The Catechism of the Catholic Church addresses illness and suffering in paragraphs 1500-1501. “It talks about the fact that suffering could go one of two ways in our life: it could either make us bitter or it could make us better,” said Sister B. “It could make us somebody who’s self-absorbed and we roll into ourselves like a little hedgehog with our little spines out, like don’t touch me! Or it could expand us to the pain of other people and make us compassionate and help us grow in maturity. And what we do with that suffering, according to the Catechism, is up to us. We choose our attitude when we face it.”

If you need hope, look no further than Easter. “Jesus took death—He transformed it into life. He took suffering and transformed it into peace and joy. And He can do that in our own lives and He does if we let Him. That’s why the sorrow of the crucifixion and the joy of the Resurrection are intimately married. And whatever suffering we go through, it always comes to an end. Every suffering ends eventually, but the joy of God never ends, it will only be greater and increase more. And heaven will be that new unfolding of even new depths of joy and peace. Suffering is temporary, but joy is everlasting.”

Hear Sister B as a regular contributor on Morning Air®, weekdays 6-9am ET/3-6am PT.