The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.
— St. John of the Cross
Every single one of us encounters suffering in our lives, and no matter how hard we attempt to evade it, it remains inevitable. Even the Son of Man experienced the most profound suffering. We seldom desire or request that the Lord gifts us with suffering, but whether we ask for it or not, without a doubt we will find ourselves time and time again sharing in Christ’s Agony in the Garden. As Catholics, we are called to look at suffering as a sweet kiss from the Cross, a wonderful and splendid grace to be able to participate in the Passion of Christ. Suffering brings us more and more into an intimate relationship with our Lord because he draws us ever so close to His Sacred Heart.
As the Mother of Jesus, the Blessed Virgin Mary, stood at the foot of the Cross, bearing witness to the immense suffering of her Son at the Crucifixion, and sharing in His suffering herself. She bore the unimaginable pain of watching her child unjustly condemned, brutally scourged, and ultimately crucified on the cross for the sins of humanity. Our Lady of Sorrows by her complete and total cooperation with God’s Divine plan shows us that when we place our trust in God even in the midst of suffering He never abandons us and offers us solace and peace. St. John Paul II in his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord in 1987, said:
And now, standing at the foot of the Cross, Mary is the witness, humanly speaking, of the complete negation of these words. On that wood of the Cross her Son hangs in agony as one condemned. “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows…he was despised, and we esteemed him not”: as one destroyed (cf. Is. 53:3- 5). How great, how heroic then is the obedience of faith shown by Mary in the face of God’s “unsearchable judgments”! How completely she “abandons herself to God” without reserve, offering the full assent of the intellect and the will”39 to him whose “ways are inscrutable” (cf. Rom. 11:33)! And how powerful too is the action of grace in her soul, how all-pervading is the influence of the Holy Spirit and of his light and power!
Throughout her life our Lady experienced immense anguish and so do we experience suffering as a recurring theme in our lives. It is a sip from the same cup of agony over and over again. But why does our Lord continuously lead us to endure suffering? Because God is Love, and He desires for the whole of humanity to spend eternity with Him in Paradise. It is by our suffering here on earth that we can offer up all for Christ; emptying our hearts completely of the self and filling them wholly with Christ.
The hardships we face daily test us in our faith. Do we walk away from the truth or remain faithful like Job? When adversity befalls us, do we reject Him and His love, or do we run toward our Heavenly Father with open arms, ready to accept healing and comfort from His Divine embrace? If we continue to follow Christ on the path He has laid out for us and place our trust in Him, and Him alone our faith in Him can only deepen our relationship. Even if we simply cannot see it at the time when we cooperate with the inner workings of the Holy Spirit there will be the bearing of fruit from our suffering.
It is no easy task to be able to recognize that there is beauty in suffering and to see it as a blessing. But the truth is that suffering is indeed a precious gift because our Lord is permitting us to experience a taste of His suffering. It is only by His grace that we can repeatedly carry our cross, the cross that Christ specifically chose for us.
I recall during a homily a priest sharing the familiar story about the man who was unhappy with all of the suffering in his life and pleaded with God to have a different cross. The Lord allowed him to try out different crosses in order to choose a new one, and his final decision resulted in the same cross that God had given Him in the first place. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus tells us, “And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” (9:23) We are taught to accept the cross uniquely given to us, and I for one would never wish to exchange my cross for another one. I embrace the lifetime of challenges that come with the carrying of my cross because it is in this suffering that I will be led to encounter the Son of God finally in all of His glory.