The problem with pain
As a child, I was always looking for ways to get out of my chores, and in my teen years, I didn’t get much better at ducking my responsibilities. My brother Andrew and I — the oldest sons in a family of nine children — grudgingly accepted our duties. But our attitude gave rise to one of my father’s favorite sayings: “You boys are allergic to two things — work and pain!” As a teenager, I didn’t see much difference between the two!
When I got a little older and started earning a paycheck, I began to appreciate work for more than just its economic benefits. But I have never come to embrace pain wholeheartedly. After all, pain hurts!
In Mel Gibson’s brilliant depiction of Christ’s final hours, The Passion of The Christ, Jesus does something very subtle when he’s given his cross: He kisses and embraces it. In fact, one of the thieves being crucified with Christ chides him for it: “Why do you embrace your cross, you fool?” His only response to this reproach was to pray, “Father, my heart is ready.” As he had made clear prior to his passion, no one would take his life; his kiss demonstrated that he laid it down willingly.
The Church has always taught that Christ’s suffering was more than adequate to atone for our sins. However, in his great love for us, Jesus calls us to be “partners … in the paschal mystery” by taking up our cross and following him (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 618).
Saint Paul took this call seriously when he wrote, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the Church” (Col 1: 24).
Paul fully understood what it meant to be Christlike. He was ready to empty himself spiritually and physically, sacrificing everything for the Gospel. He traveled at least 6,000 miles spreading the Good News, most of it on foot. In the end, Roman Emperor Nero had him beheaded.
Few of us will be called to make the ultimate sacrifice for our faith. However, one great lesson we can learn from St. Paul is to “rejoice in our sufferings” — not because suffering in and of itself is good, but because Christ allows us to join our sufferings to his and turn it into a “good.”
At this point in my life, I don’t have very many crosses to bear. However, by God’s grace, I am embracing those I do have and “offering them up” for the salvation of souls. I fully expect that as the years go by, the Lord will allow me a greater share in his suffering. Perhaps by then, I will have surrendered enough to say, like Jesus, “Father, my heart is ready.”
Patrick Novecosky is the editor of Legatus Magazine.