Have you ever wondered why faithful Catholics suffer?
The Catholic Church has a mystical teaching that states that what is done to the Head of the Church is also done to the body of the Church. This teaching is illustrated in the following papal encyclical:
[T]he expiatory passion of Christ is renewed and in a manner continued and fulfilled in His mystical body, which is the Church. For, to use once more the words of St. Augustine, “Christ suffered whatever it behoved Him to suffer; now nothing is wanting of the measure of the sufferings. Therefore the sufferings were fulfilled, but in the head; there were yet remaining the sufferings of Christ in His body” (In Psalm lxxxvi). This, indeed, Our Lord Jesus Himself vouchsafed to explain when, speaking to Saul, “as yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter” (Acts ix, 1), He said, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts ix, 5), clearly signifying that when persecutions are stirred up against the Church, the Divine Head of the Church is Himself attacked and troubled. Rightly, therefore, does Christ, still suffering in His mystical body, desire to have us partakers of His expiation, and this is also demanded by our intimate union with Him, for since we are “the body of Christ and members of member” (1 Corinthians xii, 27), whatever the head suffers, all the members must suffer with it (Cf. 1 Corinthians xii, 26). (Miserentissimus Redemptor, 14)
Another papal encyclical confirms this teaching. “From the outset it should be noted that the society established by the Redeemer of the human race resembles its divine Founder, who was persecuted, calumniated and tortured by those very men whom He had undertaken to save” (Mystici Corporis Christi, 3).
In other words, since the Head of the Church suffered on the Cross for the sins of the world, the body of the Church will suffer the same. For this reason, it is fitting that in all places, and in every age, the body of Christ suffer as its Head suffered. This suffering can be caused by many different things, but today it is especially through the crisis taking place in the Church.
Is there a purpose for the sufferings the faithful endure? In order to understand the value of suffering, another mystical doctrine must be understood: the doctrine that the sufferings of the faithful are meritorious in the eyes of God when they are united to the sufferings of Christ. Apart from Christ, the faithful cannot merit anything in the eyes of God, but if their sufferings are united to the sufferings of Christ, then they become meritorious. In fact, the Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms this: “Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” This mystery, known as redemptive suffering, is also elaborated by St. Pope John Paul II:
Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. . . . Christ has accomplished the world’s redemption through his own suffering. For, at the same time, this redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ’s suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. . . . Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ’s saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ. The answer that comes through this sharing, by way of the interior encounter with the Master, is in itself something more than the mere abstract answer to the question about the meaning of suffering. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: “Follow me!” Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. (Salvifici Doloris, 14, 26)
When the sufferings of the faithful are united with Christ’s meritorious sufferings, the sufferings become meritorious for others, in particular for the salvation of souls. Thus, in Christ, suffering takes on a whole new meaning for the Church. Instead of suffering being something the faithful should lament, it becomes something they should joyfully embrace for the salvation of others.