By Wiesława Kowalska,
There is an intimate bond between suffering and love. We cannot love if we do not embrace the mystery of the Cross.
If we do not accept suffering we cannot follow Christ. We are called to various tasks in life and the various paths of our earthly pilgrimage lead us to the Father’s house, but there is no path in this journey that is not marked by suffering. Suffering is written into our lives from the moment we are born to the moment we die.
Such is life, and no one can escape this reality. We differ from one another only in the source of our pain and its intensity. We suffer from the sins we commit and bear the consequences of our bad choices. We suffer because someone else wounds us by his sin. In that case we are forced to bear someone else’s cross. We suffer when we decide to follow Christ without compromise. His way is the way of love, which always leads to the Cross: “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (Jn 15:20).
God does not want us to suffer. As Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus puts it, He “averts His gaze as if loath to look at our pain.” Sometimes God wants to stop us “in mid-stride,” to convey something very important to us, to open our hearts to the working of the Holy Spirit, and to prepare them for the reception of His grace. He does this for our own good. Always He brings us to a purification of the heart, to growth in love, to more effective service, to action for the greater glory of God.
There are also the sufferings of the innocent. These hurt us the most. There is no greater pain than watching a child suffer. But precisely this teaches us to suffer with dignity. There are also hidden souls in the world — victims who pray for suffering and so make reparation to God for the sins of others. These are specially chosen souls who renounce their will in order to do the will of God. “Suffering is so great a grace that no one can fully comprehend it. It is greater than working miracles, for through suffering a soul renders to Me that which is most valuable to her — her own will.” These were Jesus’ words to Rozalja Celakowna.
How was the Apostolate of the Offertory of Suffering born?
The Offertory of Suffering was composed in 2005 during the days of John Paul II’s final agony. It arose out of the solidarity of suffering manifested toward the dying Pontiff and the grief experienced by his mourners. Since then it has become one of the new initiatives of the Apostolic Defenders of Life grouped around the Spiritual Adoption Center at the Shrine of Jasna Gora, Poland. The movement was intended for those burdened by illness who, unable to take an active part in the defense of life, wished to help by offering up their sufferings for this intention. The image of Christ crowned with thorns was to be their source of strength in time of suffering. The story of Christ’s extraordinarily beautiful Face (see article on page 3) contains a mystery that draws souls to itself, moves hearts, and stirs them into action. Today thousands of people in Poland and abroad, in local parishes and religious communities, hospitals and hospices, as well as on walking pilgrimages to Jasna Gora, recite the Offertory of Suffering. Beautiful personal testimonies and visible signs of Divine Providence attest to the power of this prayer.
What is the Apostolate of the Offertory of Suffering about?
It is about accepting one’s daily cross and offering up one’s sufferings for the intentions of Holy Mother Church and her apostolate of life. We pray for the souls of the children that are prevented from being born, that they may receive the fullness of eternal life. We pray for families, that they may accept every life and protect it from conception to natural death; for the elderly, that, surrounded by their loved ones, they may depart from this world with dignity; for the souls of our deceased members, that they may attain eternal bliss as quickly as possible. We pray for ourselves, for a new quality of life in fidelity to Christ and His Gospel, and for the dying sinners, that they may reconcile themselves with God and receive the grace of eternal life. The apostolate consists in offering to God all the sufferings we experience in our daily life. This may be an illness and its attendant physical pain, a mental torment, a humiliation, acute loneliness, loss of work, betrayal, malicious criticism, a moral hurt, the death of a loved one, and other painful experiences.
What does offering up pain mean?
Offering up our pain means accepting the Cross. It means saying in time of suffering, “Lord Jesus, I unite my suffering with your suffering. I confide into your hands everything that I find physically painful or mentally distressing, for my healing rests in your hands.” Or we can recite the Offertory of Suffering:
“Jesus, Divine Savior, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you my physical pain and mental suffering for the intentions of Holy Mother Church, her apostolate of life… (other intentions). Grant, we beseech you, the fullness of eternal life to children who are prevented from being born. Surround all families with your loving care, that through your grace they may resist the snares of the Evil One, accept every new life with love and protect it from the moment of conception to natural death. Grant that this cross, which I bear, may become for me a source of courage, freedom, and power, that my sufferings may not deprive me of hope, that my faith may not be extinguished, that my love may never die. And when my life draws to its end, may the consoling angels minister to me and take me into your Kingdom. Amen.”
If circumstances do not allow you to say the prayer, simply gaze on the image of Christ (see article on page 3) and seek solace in Him mentally. It is important that the image be placed in a visible place and thus not only remind us to offer up our sufferings, but also assure us that Christ is present with us in these difficult moments, and that His Heart suffers within our heart. “He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Is 53:4).
Why is an act of offering so important when God already knows we are suffering?
This is true, but it is nevertheless important that we do it consciously. Jesus died for us on the cross. Crucifixion was the most shameful manner of death, but this very death opened up for us the way to the Heavenly Kingdom. United with God’s suffering, our own suffering — be it great or small — has supernatural value. The power of the Cross radiates across immense distances; its reach is boundless. Its grace can touch us at every moment and in every place. By the power of Christ, suffering offered up brings freedom to the addict, hope to the despairing, and a helping hand to the poor.
In his apostolic letter to the sick, Servant of God John Paul II writes: “That same divine power, which was revealed by Christ on the Cross, can penetrate the frailty of all our sufferings” (Salvifici doloris, 23).
What good is suffering and what can it teach us?
Suffering is a test of faith. It is a verification of our love. This applies as much to the suffering person as to those who participate in that person’s experience of the cross. Suffering is a humiliation. It crushes us with the weight of painful experiences, and inspires fear. Suffering people are difficult to live with. They undergo periods of crisis and rebellion, which sap the will. They experience moments of helplessness, terror, discouragement, and loneliness. A suffering person requires from us a great deal of patience, gentleness, and sensitivity, and these qualities are not always easy to muster. The suffering we witness lays bare our own frailties, our selfishness, our mean-spiritedness, and lack of considerateness. It bares the truth about ourselves. In our helplessness, we call on God to change our hearts, that we may help the sufferer, assure him or her that neither physical pain nor mental torment is unavailing and that it is precisely during these painful hours that the soul is amassing her greatest treasure. The sick are a gift to us. They make us aware of the grace of health and stir us to gratitude. They also arouse in us a desire to make the best use of our time. People say “Time is money,” but Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski used to say, “Time is love.” Suffering, therefore, invites us to make a profound appraisal of the time that God allots to us.
Is the Apostolate only for the chronically sick?
Everyone can join the apostolate, be he sick or healthy, young or old. No one is spared painful moments in his life. The point is to make these moments spiritually useful. “Nothing enriches a person more than the unselfish gift of suffering,” observed John Paul II. Every suffering can be offered up. It can be a single act (because the suffering is short-lived) or it can be a prolonged one. The point is to make this act of will. There is a mysterious bond between suffering offered up and the gift of life. If people understood that painful experiences can be a creative force and a source of life for others, they would chose other values. There would be no violence, abortion, or euthanasia. In a wiser age the sick and the disabled would be treated with love and respect.
Why does the world today not speak about suffering?
Today’s world promotes other values. Professional success, fame, wealth, and eternal youth rank highest on its list of priorities. Suffering is an unrewarding subject. People are afraid even to mention it. And so the subject goes unmentioned in the press and other media. Every frailty is swept under the carpet. In its place stands the cult of strength, power, and utility. One can speak eloquently about relieving suffering, but it is harder to accept it. People flee from the sick as if fearing to be “infected” by their suffering. Better not to get involved in it, not to look at it, not experience it — in short, get rid of the problem as quickly as possible. That is why there are more and more people living in acute loneliness, fearing for their future, dreading to find themselves in a hospice or home for the aged. Many people today are “sick” from lack of love. A sick person feels useless, overwhelmed by a sense of being a burden on others. Sometimes, weighed down by this sense of guilt, deserted by his family and friends, he agrees to be euthanised, when all he is really doing is uttering a cry from the heart for love.
Can we suffer uselessly?
Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mk 8:34). To accept suffering, just as to reject it, is an act of human free will. If we reject the cross, we cannot avail ourselves of its redemptive value. In every situation we can choose the fate of a good person or a rebellious scoundrel. We can curse God and our fate, thus rendering our suffering useless, or else we can offer it up to God. “What is most important is not the character of our suffering, but the manner in which we accept it,” says Saint Augustine of Hippo. God never abandons us to our own devices. He is always there to grant us His grace and strength that we may triumph over our hardship. What is more, He always gives us the courage to declare our fiat — our yes to His will. Amid the darkness He illuminates our path and leads us to the light, from death to resurrection and life.
Can we always accept suffering with love?
Everyone writes his own gospel of suffering. Suffering is alien to our nature. It is hard to accept. It often comes to us unbidden, and when physical pain and mental suffering strike us, we desire but one thing — for the pain to cease. For this reason we often add to our suffering by bearing it badly. But here we may draw consolation from the words of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus: “We would like to reconcile ourselves with suffering magnanimously and never break down. This is an illusion.” All of us need the power of the Holy Spirit and a great measure of humility to accept suffering and make a gift of it to God. This is what the saints and children teach us. The Servant of God John Paul II showed us how to deal with suffering by the example of his entire life. And when he departed to the Father, the world construed his message rightly, since for a brief moment it fell still and buried itself in tears and silent prayer.
What to do so as not to fear the cross?
Blessed Theresa of Calcutta gave us a beautiful answer to this question: “Look at the cross and you will see the head of Jesus bending down to kiss you; His arms stretched out to embrace you; His heart opened to receive you and enclose you in its love. Since we know the cross is the sign of Christ’s greatest love for you and me, let us accept His cross in everything He desires to give us and give Him back with joy everything He desires to take from us. If we conduct ourselves in this way, the world will know that we are his disciples, that we belong to Jesus, that the deeds we do — you and I, and all our brothers and sisters — represent nothing more than our love made flesh in our lives” (Conversations for Every Day).
The above article was published with permission from Miłujcie się! in November 2010