Catholics have a realistic view of suffering as part of our human existence. While we do our best to alleviate our pain and that of others, sometimes we are forced to face our own powerless. There is nothing to do but accept it. Our acceptance is not a fatalistic surrender. It is given a deeper meaning and purpose through our belief in the redemptive power of suffering.
We believe that the ultimate act of redemption was the passion and death of Jesus. We display and wear crosses, a hated symbol of execution in Roman times, as a sign of our belief. We speak of Good Friday, not Dark Friday. It was through suffering and death that we are freed from sin and given a promise of eternal life. It’s the ultimate paradox.
We are taught that we, too, can unite our own suffering with that of Jesus. By doing so, our suffering becomes a prayer and a sacrifice – for ourselves and for others. Suffering is no longer meaningless, but is offered up in faith and hope. We are able to tap into the potentiality for good in the midst of evil.
Some persons of faith believe so strongly in the redemptive power of suffering that they impose it upon themselves. I cringed at the penitential excesses portrayed so graphically in The Da Vinci Code. Yes these excesses exist, but please don’t associate all Catholics with a disturbed, fictional albino monk!
Penitential acts, done within reason, are part of our Catholic faith. But I don’t believe we need to seek out suffering or intentionally impose it upon ourselves. Our human condition guarantees that suffering will be a part of our lives, in one degree or another. Freedom from suffering is called heaven. Until we get there, may we all have the spiritual courage and strength we need on the journey.