Redemptive Suffering

Several years ago, leading up to Josh Raymond’s 35th birthday, the bass player in his band told him that 35 is the age at which you wake up every morning with some form of pain or ache. Josh laughed and thought to himself that his bandmate must be joking. He asked him if he was serious and if he truly meant every morning. Josh said that he smiled but his eyes showed the truth in his words.

Sure enough, as Josh’s 35th year on this earth went on, he began to notice that more and more frequently he was waking up with some form of minor pain and inconvenience. Not having grown up Catholic, Josh wasn’t exposed to the phrase “offer it up” until he was in his 20’s. At that point, he asked himself, “Offer what up?” Now in his 30’s, Josh had plenty to offer up and this was a big encounter with the concept of redemptive suffering.

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Josh welcomed Father Marcel Taillon onto The Inner Life to discuss this idea of redemptive suffering, its surrounding factors, and how we can turn the hurt in our lives into prayer.

Redemptive suffering is the practice of taking seemingly reasonless pain or agony and transforming it into a way to help others or intentions that we might have. “Every person suffers and loves people that suffer. It’s the one common experience in humanity. Some people don’t experience love, but they all experience suffering. So hopefully suffering will unleash love from Jesus and from each other and it’ll make us bitter or better,” said Father Marcel. He talked about the value that suffering can have if it is internalized and consecrated to God for the sake of something or someone else in the world.

Oftentimes, the phrase “offer it up” is received as advice to just push through the suffering and get through it. While the virtue of fortitude in the face of obstacles and hardship is a virtue on its own, it’s not quite the same as redemptive suffering. By making a conscious effort to give our pain to Our Lord, we are doing so much more than steeling our bodies with physical endurance. We are transforming that physical sensation into a supernatural petition on behalf of a bigger cause.

Josh turned the conversation toward St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians in which he says, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (Colossians 1:24) How could anything be lacking from the sacrifice that Christ made for us in His passion and death?

This passage is sometimes off-putting for a couple of reasons. People may not like what they hear because it says that you are to rejoice in your sufferings. When the world has taught us to rejoice in convenience and comforts, suffering doesn’t seem so attractive. And secondly, it might seem like an error that anything might be “lacking” from the sacrifice. However, Father Marcel clarified, what Paul is saying is that when we are persecuted or endure pain, we are capable of uniting our suffering with Christ. While His sacrifice is perfect, there is always room for ours as well. At our baptism, we are participating in the death of Christ and because of that, we are capable of uniting ourselves to the sacrifices of Our Lord. While they are not ministerial sacrifices like a priest offers, they still signal participation as a layperson.

Josh said that when he’s going through a tough time, his first desire is to go curl up somewhere and be alone. The natural response for most people is not to rejoice in the hardships that befall us. However, when we unite our suffering with other people, with Our Lord, it brings us comfort. In Our Lord’s suffering, we can see the love that He has for us. After all of the torture that he underwent for our sins, simply offering a mortification for our pain is nothing.

“Sacrifice without love is pain. Pain with love is sacrifice. Pain without love is misery. Love without pain is Heaven. Love with pain is purgatory. Pain without love is Hell.” (Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, Wartime Prayer Book)

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John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at relevantradio.com and on the Relevant Radio® app.