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The Gospel of Suffering

Christ retains in His risen body the marks of the wounds of the Cross in His hands, feet and side. Through the Resurrection, He manifests “the victorious power of suffering”’ and He wishes to imbue with the conviction of this power the hearts of those whom He chose as Apostles and those whom He continually chooses and sends forth. The Apostle Paul will say: “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12).

While the first great chapter of the Gospel of suffering is written down, as the generations pass, by those who suffer persecutions for Christ’s sake, simultaneously another great chapter of this Gospel unfolds through the course of history. This chapter is written by all those “who suffer together with Christ”, uniting their human sufferings to His salvific suffering. In these people there is fulfilled what the first witnesses of the Passion and Resurrection said and wrote about sharing in the sufferings of Christ.

Therefore in those people there is fulfilled the Gospel of suffering, and, at the same time, each of them continues in a certain sense to write it: they write it and proclaim it to the world, they announce it to the world in which they live and to the people of their time.

Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that “in suffering there is concealed” a particular “power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ”, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He discovers a new dimension, as it were, of “his entire life and vocation”. This discovery is a particular confirmation of the spiritual greatness which in man surpasses the body in a way that is completely beyond compare. When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior “maturity and spiritual greatness” become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.

This interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the “result” of a particular “conversion” and cooperation with the grace of the Crucified Redeemer. It is He Himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through His Spirit of truth, through the consoling Spirit. It is He who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to himself. “It is He” – as the interior Master and Guide – “who reveals” to the suffering brother and sister this “wonderful interchange”, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption.

A Lenten reflection from Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, The Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, February 11, 1984.