by Fr. William Most
1. Suffering is needed to help us rise above the weakness that is found in our nature as a result of original sin. For we are inclined to evil and are like a bent piece of springy metal. Imagine a piece of such metal standing up, the lower part straight, the upper part bent. To make it finally become straight, it is necessary to push it beyond the center position many times. So, suffering helps us regain freedom. Otherwise we can become as it were a slave to these tendencies, in a sort of addiction.
To explain this damage from sin, we notice first, it is not the total corruption of which Luther spoke - then, since St. Paul says we are temples of the Holy Spirit, it would mean the Holy Spirit would dwell in total corruption! The real meaning of the damage is this: It means that our nature is left where it would have been if God had created it without any added gifts. Human body and soul each have many drives or needs - none evil in se, but yet each drive goes for its own object mechanically, automatically, blindly, without regard to the needs of the other drives or of other persons. God gave Adam and Eve a coordinating gift, or, the gift of integrity, which made it easy to keep these in place. By sin they lost that gift and so did not have it to pass on to us. We see this fact since after the fall, God asked Adam: Adam, where are you? - I was naked and I hid myself. - How did you find that out if you did not sin? Before the fall he was naked, but it did not bother him. After it, it did bother him, because of loss of the coordinating gift. To regain the freedom Adam once had, we need self-imposed mortification, or acceptance of suffering sent by God.
Pope John Paul II said in General Audience of Oct 8, 1986: "According to the Church's teaching it is a case of a relative and not an absolute deterioration, not intrinsic to the human faculties... . not of a loss of their essential capacities even in relation to the knowledge and love of God." It is only in this sense that we can speak of our mind as darkened and will weakened.
2. Suffering, whether self-imposed, or providentially sent, has a related aspect: it makes one more open to divine inspirations and guidance. We might start with Mt. 6:21: "Where your treasure is, there is your heart also." In a narrow sense that would mean a box of coins buried under the floor of the house. One who had it would love to think of it, it would be like a magnet to pull his thoughts and his heart. But one can put treasure in almost anything - in huge meals, in gourmet meals, in sex, in travel, in study, even in the study of Scripture. These are all lower than God, in various degrees. In proportion to how much lower they are, they make it that much less easy for thoughts and hearts to rise to God. But there is another, a second factor: how strongly a person lets these things get hold of him. At the mild end of the scale, they pull only far enough to lead him into imperfection, which less than venial sin. The next step would be occasional venial sin - then habitual venial sin - then occasional mortal sin - then habitual mortal sin. When the pulls are very strong, and the thing to which they pull is much lower than God, blindness can result: it will be almost impossible for thoughts and heart to rise to God. We can see this with the help of another comparison, which means the same thing. We think of a galvanometer, which is merely a compass needle on its pivot, surrounded by a coil of wire. We send a current through the coil, and the needle swings, the right direction and the right amount. It will read correctly if there is no competition from outside pulls, such as a 30, 000 volt power line, or a lot of magnetic steel. Then two forces affect the needle, the outside pulls, and the current in the coil. If the current in the coil is mild and the outside pulls strong, the current in the coil may show no effect on the needle. This meter stands for my mind. The current in the coil is grace, which is mild in that it respects my freedom. But the outside pulls do not respect that - if I let them get strong enough, they will make it impossible for the needle to register the effect of grace. If grace cannot do that, the very first step, it cannot do other things either. Then the person is blind. He is eternally lost unless someone would put an extraordinary weight into the scales, as it were, to call for an extraordinary grace. Such a grace is comparable to a miracle, and it can forestall or even cancel out human resistance.
3. Suffering is also needed for reparation for sin. Every sin is a debt, which unbalances the scale of the objective order. The holiness of God loves all that is good, and so wants it rebalanced. Suffering freely accepted will rebalance. However, even one mortal sin means an infinite imbalance so if the Father wanted to fully rebalance - He was not obliged - the only means was the incarnation of a Divine Person. He did that. We can have merit, a claim to reward, in that we become members of the Incarnate Divine Person, Christ, and in as much as we are like Him - like Him in suffering for reparation. This is the true sense of merit.
This suffering as reparation should be joined to the offering of Christ on the altar. So it is a major component of what calls "spiritual sacrifices". In LG 10: "The baptized through their rebirth and the anointing by the Holy Spirit are consecrated into a spiritual house and holy priesthood, so that through all the works of the christian man, they may offer spiritual sacrifices... ." In LG 34: "For all their works, prayers, apostolic undertakings, living in marriage and family, daily work, relaxation of mind and body, if they are done in the Spirit-- in fact the troubles of life if they are patiently endured - become spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ, which are most devotedly offered to the Father in the celebration of the Eucharist along with the offering of the Lord's body." The theological framework in regard to their offering in the Mass was expressed precisely by Pius XII, in : (1) "It is clear that the faithful offer the sacrifice through the hands of the priest from the fact that the priest at the altar in offering a sacrifice in the name of all His members, does so in the person of Christ, the Head [of the Mystical Body]" (2) "The statement that the people offer the sacrifice with the priest does not mean that... they perform a visible liturgical rite... instead, it is based on the fact that the people join their hearts in praise, , petition, expiation, and thanksgiving with the prayers or intention of the priest, in fact, of the High Priest Himself, so that in one and same offering of the Victim... they may be presented to God the Father." The presentation of the "spiritual sacrifices" is expressed in the second part-- and suffering is a specially important part of it, as a special likeness to Christ Himself. So someone who is a shut-in and who suffers chronically can accomplish more by this means than those who labor in apostolic work.
Our sufferings if considered apart from Christ have no power to bring about an effect - we are saved and made holy not as individuals, but to the extent that we are members of Christ and like Him. Then we get in on the claim, the sacrifice, the merit that He generates.
What if we are inclined to worry about our health or other things? Does that mean a lack of confidence in God? Not necessarily. God has not made a promise anywhere that we will not run into cancer or some other serious suffering. We should try to realize that even worry, understood properly, can make us more like Christ, and so be of immense value. For He Himself, as the Church teaches us, from the first instant of His human conception, saw in His human soul the vision of God, in which all knowledge is present. Pope Pius XII, in his great Encyclical on the Mystical Body, told us that by this means He knew and loved each one of us individually, as clearly as a mother would have her child on her lap. But then it is also evident that He also knew, in terrible detail, everything He was to suffer. When we face some trouble or suffering we can say: Perhaps it will not come... perhaps it will not be that bad. But such a refuge was not possible to Him, for by that vision He knew infallibly, and in merciless detail, all He had to suffer. Imagine living a whole lifetime with that! He accepted it all gladly as the will of His Father.
Twice during His public life He let us as it were look inside Him. In Luke 12. 50 He said: "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished"-that is: I know I must be plunged into deep suffering. I am as it were in a tight place, I cannot get comfortable until I get it over with. Again in John 12. 27, about a week before His death, He allowed Himself to break into a speech to say: "Now my heart is troubled. What shall I say? Father, save me from this hour!" Yet for love of His Father and for love of us, He did not pull back. He accepted. It all cam e to a head in Gethsemani, when the interior tension was so severe that it ruptured the blood vessels near the sweat glands, and sent that red tide out through them.
So if we find we cannot avoid worrying -- we can unite even that with His, and thus it will be of immense value.
4. It is important to remember that Our Lady still has a role in each Mass - this is to be expected, since she had such a role in the original bloody sacrifice. For Vatican II, on Liturgy 10, said the Mass is the renewal of the New Covenant. The Council of Trent said that the Mass is the same as Calvary,"only the manner of offering being changed". If that is the only change, she must be involved. Hence John Paul II, in an address of Feb. 12, 1984, said: "Every liturgical action... is an occasion of communion... and in a particular way with Mary... . Because the Liturgy is the action of Christ and of the Church... she is inseparable from one and the other... . Mary is present in the memorial - the liturgical action - because she was present at the saving event... . She is at every altar where the memorial of the Passion and Resurrection is celebrated, because she was present, faithful with her whole being, to the Father's plan, at the historic salvific occasion of Christ's death."- To be specific: (1) as to the external sign: the body and blood on the altar still came from her - (2) as to the interior dispositions: her interior union of dispositions with His is still the same as that which she had on Calvary. - Therefore, the more fully one is united with Christ on the altar, the more fully, ipso facto, with her - and the more fully one is united with her, the more fully with Christ.
5. In passing we can see why Our Lady at Fatima asked for prayers and sacrifices for many who would be lost unless someone does it for them. They are blind, and only an extraordinary grace can rescue them. To get that, an extraordinary weight needs to be put into the scales of the objective order.
2 Cor. 4:17: "That which is light and momentary in our tribulations, is working (producing) for us beyond all measure and eternal weight of glory."- If this is true of what is light and momentary - what of something that is not light but heavy, and not momentary but long running!
Rom 8. 17-18: "If we are sons, we are heirs, heirs indeed of God, fellow heirs with Christ - if only we suffer with Him, so we may be glorified with Him. I judge that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us."
Many fine theologians, beginning with the ancient Rabbis and extending even to modern Catholic theologians, think it probable that if at the end of life a person has long and difficult suffering, and yet he/she accepts it as the will of the Father, he/she may escape purgatory altogether. Surely a great prize to strive for! Acceptance means not merely refraining from complaining, but positively saying thanks to the Father for giving us a share in the sufferings of His Son.
For further data, cf. Wm. G. Most, , Chapters 3-11 and 19-20.