What is the purpose of suffering?

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2017 ended on a high. We attended Christmas Eve mass with friends (our first family mass where children enacted the Nativity scene). On Christmas day, we partied with close friends. Soon after, my sister and niece visited and it is always a blessing to have family over :’). On New Year’s Eve, my friends threw a countdown party which doubled up as a surprise birthday party for me! To top it off, I attended a midnight candlelit mass on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

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The first week into 2018 couldn’t be more different. In the last eight days, I experienced a sore throat, fever, bloody mucous, coughing fits, nausea, migraines, near voicelessness, heavy periods etc. To make things worse, my husband and child are all afflicted with the same virus, so we are just trying to make it through each day…

I could not even make it to Epiphany Mass :(. Defeated, I started re-reading Father Ripperger’s, Lincoln and Omaha Sermons. 

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I experienced an epiphany regarding the value of suffering while reading his sermon on a True Devotion to Mary:

We merely give to [Mary] everything that we have and then we ask Her, if it be Her will, to apply our sufferings and good works to whatever we need. We must never forget that Our Lady will not be outdone in generosity and therefore, she will give to us more benefits and more graces when we, in our generosity, give to her everything. 

Our Lady is then able to take the offerings we give her, to sanctify them, purify them, and strip them of our imperfections and sinfulness, to present them to her Son (who denies her nothing), as a perfect sacrifice. Therefore, our prayers become more efficacious and more powerful, because they now involve someone more pleasing to Our Lord.

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In Father Ripperger’s sermon on Purgatory and Indulgences; he shares that “Pope Paul VI reissued the Enchiridion of Indulgences which explains that one of the greatest acts of charity that can be performed by the Church Militant, i.e. us on this side of God’s Judgement throne, is to offer up indulgences for those who are part of the Church Suffering, i.e. poor souls of Purgatory. 

If you offer up plenary and partial indulgences for the souls in Purgatory, when it comes to your time, they will do the same for you. And God will have greater mercy on you when He renders His judgment of you since you had great mercy and compassion for the holy souls who needs our prayers and sacrifices.

Putting these two sermons together, it struck me that I was wasting my suffering! And henceforth whenever I was in the throes of pain, I would offer up my sufferings to Mother Mary, and for the souls in purgatory.

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For a rich Catholic understanding of suffering, I highly recommend listening to Father Ripperger regarding the “Horror of Suffering“.

He talks about how the desire for pleasure is an obstacle to sanctification. He quotes Saint John of the Cross who believes that a love for suffering helps make amends for sin and sanctifies the soul.

As humans, it is instinctive to fear an undertaking that has pain attached to it. However, as Christians, we are called to embrace the suffering (sickness, humiliation, disappointment, and calumny) that God sends us.

In Saint Paul to the Corinthians, Jesus expounds that only by depriving our body of what it desires can we reverse the order and make our flesh subdued to our soul. Suffering is thus good as it produces spiritual perfection and a purification of our faculties and merits graces. 

Father Ripperger has practical advice regarding how to suffer:

1) Acceptance of duties according to our state in life

2) Resignation of crosses: we enter marriage to deny ourselves. For instance, we put aside our bodily comfort to have children. We put aside everything we care about to be frugal. We essentially deny ourselves for God’s sake, for our husband and children.

3) Voluntary mortification: following the Church’ fasting rules on Friday is a start.

4) Choose to prefer suffering to pleasure, and to desire spiritual goods: Saint John of the Cross advised us “to endure always, to incline oneself to that which is most difficult, to the bitter, to the less pleasing, that which demands effort, that which is a source of sorrow, that which is less, to the lowly and despicable, to be nothing, the worst in temporal things, through all poverty“.

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Father Ripperger shares in another excellent talk, “Virtue of Mortification“:

Saints are happy when they are suffering. They are happy because they have cultivated a virtue, which helps them to accept and offer up their suffering.

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When God gives us suffering, God will give us the concomitant grace to bear the suffering. God sends us suffering and tailors it to us so that we can attain a level of virtue such that in heaven, everyone can see the sanctifying grace and virtue in our soul so that others can praise God.

The key is to ask God what virtue He wants us to obtain through this suffering.

Our Lady is the queen of martyrs and inspiration for us when we are suffering. She bore the knowledge of Jesus’ passion throughout her life, from the time of Simeon’s prophecy. She became Our Lady of Sorrows to merit the fortitude and mortification that others did not.

Interiorly, she died to herself when she became the mother of Jesus and when the prophecy was revealed. She died with Christ interiorly when she stood at the Cross. She was so focused on Jesus that Her dying interiorly was complete when Jesus died.

As such, she merited the reward of being the Mediatrix of all grace, the Queen of Heaven and Earth, and dominion over the totality of God’s creation.

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Jonathan Boyd writes an excellent piece on suffering and how we need to attain patience as a virtue through meditating on Christ’ passion which should inspire imitation. Saint Paul tells us to consider Christ “who endured such opposition from sinners against Himself, so that you may not grow weary and lose heart.

 

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