Recently, a friend told me that he was studying the life of Blessed Alexandrina Maria da Costa. Blessed Alexandrina was chosen by God to be a “victim soul” – one who offers up her suffering for the sake of others in union with the cross of Christ.
She suffered tremendously, experiencing near paralysis, great misunderstandings from family and friends, and even lived out the last 13 years of her life consuming nothing other than the Holy Eucharist. For nearly four years, she mystically experienced the three-hour “passion” of Jesus every Friday, having received the mystical grace to live in her body and soul the suffering of Christ in his final hours. From her deeply contemplative life, she commented that she had received from God “an even greater grace: first, abandonment; then, complete conformity to God’s will; finally, the thirst for suffering.”
My friend was struck by the fact that Blessed Alexandrina took up a vocation of suffering for the salvation of sinners. Even more, Christ spoke to her about allowing suffering to take place to such an extreme extent. My friend found it difficult to reconcile love and suffering, particularly if it is inflicted on the innocent faithful.
His reaction is frequently expressed in our society. Suffering seems to be such an absurdity. The perennial question goes, “If God is so good, how can He allow such suffering? Doesn’t He love us? Has God abandoned us?”
Believing suffering to be pointless, many spend their years trying to avoid any type of suffering. People pursue pleasure like it’s going out of style. In our technologically-driven fast-paced society even the slightest inconvenience, like waiting two minutes for a web page to load, is distressing for some people.
A close cousin of suffering – death – is also viewed as something to be avoided. We play word games and dress up death and other realities to make them palatable. We call divorce “parting ways,” trying to sugarcoat over the destruction of a profound image of God’s love for humanity and the heartbreak of countless children. We call abortion “reproductive choice,” making the killing of millions of little ones appear as a necessary element of modern health care. We call euthanasia “dying on one’s own terms,” because we can’t bear the thought of watching grandma fall apart physically and mentally.
The truth is, while suffering and death is difficult to comprehend and often not easy to bear, it’s not the greatest evil. The worst thing in the world is sin. Ironically, it is sin that causes suffering. This suffering comes about when we say “no” to what God desires for our lives.
When we choose to be selfish, it hurts our relationship with God, others, and ourselves. All misfortune in the world can be traced to the selfishness people choose to pursue rather than follow God’s great design for their lives. We are also tempted to live our lives and avoid every possible inconvenience much like Adam and Eve who grasped at the gift wanting to be God without Him
Let’s try to view sin and suffering from God’s perspective for a moment: Because God is righteous, He can’t be with sin. Someone has to pay the price of humanity’s disobedience to bring us back to Him.
That “someone” is Jesus Christ.
Through His passion, He gives recompense for every act of selfishness that has occurred or will ever occur. God has not abandoned us and is surely with us, because in taking on human flesh, He has born the weight of all sin and suffering for all time. All we have to do is open our hearts and receive it.
This is the hope we as Christians have and proclaim boldly. If Christ can overcome the power of death, He can help us to overcome any grave in which we dwell. Through Baptism, we are given the power to make all things new (cf. Rev. 5:1).
This resurrection can only come through the willing and joyful embracing of our daily cross. Yet why do this? Why willingly suffer? Love.
The cross and all human sufferings are comprehensible in light of love. Christ, who is Love, shows us that if we’re going to love in this fallen world, we’re going to suffer. Or as Blessed Mother Teresa taught, “If you’re going to love, you’re going to suffer.”
When we’re in love with someone, we make vast claims of how we would make any sacrifices for that person. We long to be heroic, to take the bullet. Blessed Alexandrina was so on fire with the love of her Divine Bridegroom that she was willing to undergo such profound suffering. She knew such suffering was not the end, but the means to bring herself and countless others to salvation through her witness.
We in turn will only able to do this if we form ourselves by doing small acts of renunciation every day. This means the slow downloads, disagreements with our spouse, acts of kindness toward our children when they’re being disagreeable, all of them are opportunities to grow in grace, patience, charity, and ultimately holiness.
If God calls us to make the ultimate sacrifice of surrendering our lives for His sake, it will only be made possible by continuously practicing of such countless, selfless acts. By learning these virtues, we will have the internal fortitude to say “yes” to yield this earthly life so as to gain our eternal reward.
Don’t be afraid of sacrificing for Christ’s sake! Don’t be afraid to stay up on the cross when everyone seems to be saying to come down and save yourself!
It’s only through this path we discover true joy and love. Carrying our cross is not fun, and certainly not easy, but by surrendering our will to God’s will we find peace. This is the hidden secret all the Saints know, and if we’re honest, the only way to live a life that has profound meaning and worth.