CATHOLIC VALUES COLUMNIST
One of my favorite words is “compassion” because it means “suffering with.” The concept of suffering touches so deeply into our souls, and the idea of loving someone so much that you are willing to join them in suffering is incredible.
Through these 40 days of Lent, we are currently preparing ourselves for the memorial of Christ’s Passion: his ultimate suffering for our sake. When you were growing up and you whined about something, did your parents ever say to you something along the lines of “Jesus died on a cross; this is nothing compared to that?” Mine certainly did.
This is a topic I have wanted to touch on for a while because it is relevant to us as college students: suffering. Okay, so we are not suffering on a cross, and our troubles are little by comparison, but we still suffer in small ways, nonetheless.
I experienced this especially my freshman year, when I suffered from loneliness and general sadness from being away from my family and everything that I knew and loved. I was literally sick from sadness. One good thing did come from my suffering. I began to spend a great amount of time in the chapel in my dorm. I would go, maybe do homework with my “study buddy,” or maybe bring him my tears. I left wondering if it did any good.
Looking back, I’ve been able to see the abundance of graces I received from spending so much time in the chapel, where I was driven by my own small suffering, but in the moment I could not see it. Around the same time, I began to read about St. Therese and her “Little Way,” and I was intrigued to read that she said God sometimes keeps us little and weak so that we rely on him.
In my suffering, I did end up just relying on God and his grace to get me through things. Even recently, my prayer has been a simple “Jesus, carry me.” But this Lent, I invite you to join me in going deeper.
It is good that my suffering drew me closer to rely on Christ, and maybe you have experienced that too. But in my own life, I feel that it is time for me to move up, to grow more in this area: to suffer with.
Suffering is a unique opportunity. It gives us a minuscule fraction of Christ’s experience on the cross. It is not like sharing in the experience of eating, growing or laughing that Jesus did. No, this is different.
Jesus’ passion on the cross carried the weight of the sins of the whole world – past, present and future – and his suffering is what saved our souls. His suffering was our invitation into heaven. And in our day to day sufferings, we get a taste of that.
So perhaps your sufferings are small compared to his. But they are not necessarily “nothing compared to that.” They in fact can be compared to his passion, but it all depends on how you approach it. In our little sufferings, we have the unique opportunity to unite our suffering to Christ’s. It is like taking a little of the weight off of his back and carrying it on our own.
According to the Catechism, “Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” This is crazy! Jesus takes this ancient evil and makes it into something beautiful, a “gift of uniting himself more closely to Christ’s passion.”
Let me be the first to say, I stink at doing this! I hear people say, “Offer it up,” and I think, “Yeah, I can do that,” but when I am going through some great disappointment or deep sadness, what do I do? Go complain to my friends and family – not only one confidant – act grumpy or any number of things that are far from giving my suffering to Christ.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t really count as uniting my sufferings to Christ’s passion. It is more like me walking up to him on the cross, offering to take some of the burden and getting his hopes up, but then saying “never mind” and leaving him hanging.
This Lent, I invite you to join me in entering deeper into compassion for Christ. He loved us into being, he carries us every step of the way and he saves us when we fall. As we prepare for Christ’s Passion, let us also work on offering every little thing for him, including our sufferings, both big and small, so that when he comes again in triumphant glory at Easter, we may likewise share in his joy.