The Positive Value of Suffering

Author: Pope Paul VI


Pope Paul VI

The Pope celebrated Mass in St. Peter's on Sunday May 26th for more than 1,500 sick people belonging to the "Centro della Sofferenza", who came from all over Italy and the "Ticino" Canton for the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the centre. There were great numbers of pilgrims also from abroad, and from Salerno, Benevento, Como and Gorizia. This is the Holy Father's speech.

"We reserve Our first greeting to a particular section of this great and varied assembly gathered around the Altar of St. Peter; it is made up of the numerous and moving ranks of the 'Volontari della Sofferenza', (the Volunteers of Suffering), this unusual and admirable association of the faithful, marked by pain, and countersigned by love. We greet you, dearest children, the sick and infirm who surround Us, and who represent so many of your fellows absent in the flesh, but present in spirit at this singular and spiritual meeting. We greet you with the esteem, the predilection, the compassion which your trials deserve from Us, minister and representative as We are of Jesus whose mysterious destiny and incomparable glory it was to be called "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief" (Is. 53, 3). We greet you one by one, regretting that We cannot draw near to each one of you, because of your great numbers and the time granted for this meeting. But We are fortunate to have and to feel you near Us, to pray with you and for you, to console you in so far as We can, to bless you all with a full heart.

The Dignity of Suffering

Dear sick brethren, you are doubly Our brothers both because of the charity We owe to all, and also because of your special claim upon Our spiritual office to consider you, more than others, participants in the mystery of the Cross and Redemption. Dear children, pain confers on you a dignity that earns you greater charity and affection from Us. Dear treasures of Holy Church, which benefits from your example of patience and piety, which is consoled by the gift of your sufferings, and which is edified by your union with the crucified Christ. Dear pilgrims on the hard road to heaven, not with the slow and tired paces that your condition of physical disability might make one expect, but with a swift and exemplary step on the rough and bitter way that leads to paradise. We welcome you all in the name of the Lord, and in his name We bless you.

"Volunteers of Suffering"

We ought to make you a long and original speech: one that a penetrating reflection on the Christian life might suggest about human pain, especially if this pain, like yours is not rejected as a useless enemy of our human life, but is strangely, heroically welcomed as a factor in the attainment of moral perfection, and as having a value of mystical significance. Since you call yourselves 'Volunteers of Suffering' not only do you already, know this speech, you live it. So We may dispense with speaking at length on the theme that you offer to all whom you meet, to all who help you. While it is difficult to speak of it, it is Our duty to mention it. 'Volunteers of Suffering'! It is an expression overflowing with meaning! It may be regarded as the conclusion of a long meditation, not obvious to everyone, on the positive value of Christian Suffering. Shall We remind you of the bond that Christian suffering forges between the sufferer and the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who by the extreme suffering of his Passion "has taken away the sin of the world" (John 1, 29)? Moreover, the Christian, by his suffering, contributes to the mysterious completion "of what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ" (Col. 1, 24).

Suffering not in Vain

You have certainly walked the way of the Cross many times. (We Ourself heard the songs of. your pious exercise yesterday evening in St. Peter's Square). You know the depths of' this assimilation to Christ through the acceptance and sublimation of suffering. We will say nothing of the ascetic riches that it hides and reveals to courageous souls who use it to gain moral power, self-control, and to expiate their own sins. Nor shall We speak of the beauty that a soul, wedded to Christ in the union of his Passion, may acquire through the ardour and transparency of love tried in the fire of great and silent suffering. Nor indeed of the wisdom reserved for those who suffer, knowing what human wisdom perceives only with great difficulty, that suffering is not in vain, that it does not degrade but raises one to a condition of life dedicated to the sacrifice and the offering of oneself to the secret, painful, but always good and fruitful designs of. the Divine will. Dearest children, Volunteers of Suffering, you know these humble but radiant truths. It only remains for Us to exhort you to persevere in your exercise of patience and oblation, and to make your hearts, in their physical and moral suffering, into silent sanctuaries of prayer and goodness.

So great is the value that We must recognise in physical infirmity transformed into spiritual efficacy, that We Ourself think of profiting by it, by asking you, sons and daughters of Christian suffering, to let Us participate in your merits, so that the Lord may make Us less unworthy than We are of the task with which He has entrusted Us; so that the great needs of the Church and the world—which are the subject of Our constant prayers—may be equally present in your prayers, and so receive the prodigious help of the prayerful offering of your sanctified afflictions. You can well understand how We are weighed down by the disorders, the conflicts, the wars, the competition and the hates that disturb the peace of the world, and seem to render the attainment of peace more difficult, almost as if it were not sincerely desired. Pray, Volunteers of Suffering, pray for peace, for true peace, in sincerity, justice, freedom and brotherhood.

Your Suffering Our Treasure

Perhaps you can do what the powerful and the wise fail to accomplish. Then, offer your sufferings to the Lord for the Church. While so many new and good energies are awakening and renewing her, there is so much restlessness that shakes and troubles her. We are deeply anxious, and await from the Lord what so many children of the Church seem to refuse to this 'Mother and Teacher' of our salvation; We mean the sense of adherence to the truth which she guards and teaches, and the filial joy of following her precepts and advice. Faith and obedience need to be revived in so many children of Holy Church, who at times appear ingenious in undermining both of them. They forget what sacrosanct and vital commitments bind us to her, and what example is expected from us by Our separated Christian brothers before they will approach us trustingly, to enter the joyful communion that Christ desires.

Volunteers of Suffering, now We widen the horizons of your generosity; do not refuse Us the precious gift of your prayers and sacrifices. We will make them a treasure before the Lord, and We are sure that you yourselves will be the first to receive their merit and reward. As a pledge of which We grant you Our Apostolic Blessing.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 June 1968, page 3

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