Talk about "preaching to the choir"! Today I spoke about the "apostolate of suffering" to a group comprised, for the most part, of our senior sisters, women whose days of vigorous active ministry are long behind them; women who may very well specialize in the apostolate of arthritis; the apostolate of patience; the apostolate of suffering (nobody's favorite mission field, unless you're maybe St Therese of Lisieux). As active as our seniors try to be (they now have a little workshop going, where they put out handmade rosaries for our bookstores), they know that their real contribution to the mission of the Church is now completely on the supernatural order. Maybe that is why they paid so much attention to the reflections I offered them today.
Here's a sample:
From Carryl Houselander:
By making our humanity one with his, by making our suffering his own, [Jesus] has literally given himself to us, made his suffering ours, so that we now have as our own his power of love. His sacrifice offered for the world is irresistible to the Father. Because it is real reparation for sin it lightens the heavy burden that is bending the back of humanity, and man can lift himself up. In it the world's healing begins.
It is this power of his own love that Christ has given to us. Because of it our own personal share in the world's suffering is never useless, always potent. It is the most effective gift we have for the good of our fellow men.
The meaning of life is not to be found in or identified with the successful avoidance of pain, suffering, sorrow or discomfort. We can definitely try, but you know what starts to happen... we end up living in tighter and tighter confines. Our comfort zone shrinks to the extent that we focus on staying in it.
But the Gospel transforms our attitude toward suffering--as well as our attitude in suffering. This is what the saints, starting with St. Paul, called "the wisdom of the Cross." On the feast of St. Rita of Cascia (just last week), the opening prayer asked this grace:
Bestow on us, we pray, O Lord,
the wisdom and strength of the Cross,
with which you were pleased to endow Saint Rita,
so that, suffering in every tribulation with Christ,
we may participate ever more deeply in his Paschal Mystery.
Alert readers will spot several of St Paul's key words in that prayer: wisdom of the Cross; strength; tribulation; participation.
Jesus changed the meaning of that universal human experience of suffering. Before Jesus, and apart from Jesus, the cross--any suffering--is foolishness, waste, stupidity. From now on, every suffering can be a form of communion with him--never truly isolating--and because of that union with Jesus, it can have apostolic potential ("bringing many children to glory").
And you can bet that the person who declared "It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me" will have something to teach us about the apostolate of suffering, a ministrythat was as familiar to him as preaching the Gospel in synagogues and street corners.
Even in his earliest preaching, in his very first letter (1st Thess 3:34), we find Paul saying very matter-of-factly: "You know very well that we told you that it is to be our lot...that we were to suffer affliction." We must share Christ's sufferings; his afflictions are prior to ours, and ours are "contained" in his and become only and always participating in something that is more his than ours, because God loved us first, taking on himself what had befallen us, even to death on a cross.
The apostolate of suffering is built on the foundation of Christ's resurrection: if Christ is not raised...we're in big trouble. Our faith is in vain. If Christ is not raised, suffering really is meaningless and absurd. But Christ is risen; he reveals--in himself, in his risen body with its nail marks and pierced side--that nothing we go through in life is wasted or worthless.
Here's the situation as Paul sees it: "We are afflicted in every way, but not constrained; perplexed but not driven to despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..."
Now here's comes the apostolic meaning and power and fruit in what could be a very depressing set of circumstances:
"...ALWAYS CARRYING ABOUT IN THE BODY THE DYING OF JESUS so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. Death is at work in us, but life in you!" (2 Cor 4:8-12)
That's what the apostolate is all about. Manifesting Jesus and communicating his life to others. It it no longer simply "I" who live, it is Christ who lives in me, making his dying present and available to others through em; making ME his presence in the world.