There are some passages from Scripture that are so familiar, so useful, so important both in themselves and to us personally that when we come across them, we feel like we’re meeting an old friend. One of those occurs in letter of Saint Paul to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 24. Here is what Saint Paul says to the Colossians and to us: “It makes me happy to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church.”
Let’s look at that surprising statement on the part of the great Apostle to the Gentiles. First, he says he is happy to suffer. Does that make him a masochist or some kind of a nut? Not at all. Our Divine Lord himself told us that he had a baptism (in his own blood) with which to be baptized, and he was eager for it to be accomplished. It means that Saint Paul grasped the redemptive value of suffering—in atonement for sin and to restore the balance of justice which is disturbed by human offenses against the will of God. And just as his beloved Master had suffered, so does Paul see the value of his own sufferings to conform him to the image of Christ.
Is he saying that Jesus didn’t suffer enough? Not at all. He is saying that as the head of the human race suffered, so the members of the race must suffer in conformity with him. Not all men and women realize the value of their sufferings or the reason for them. Some of them become angry and embittered by them and ask “Why ME?” I hope that God can take even these sufferings that are not understood nor welcomed nor even accepted with patience and resignation, and bring some good of them. I suspect that he can and will. Look at the child born into this world with little or no mentality. He might live for many years as a profoundly retarded person. Can God bring good out of that life, not only from the deprivations of the individual himself but also from the care given to him by his parents, relatives, and other care-givers? I think so.
In any case, Saint Paul saw the value of suffering and was happy to bear it in union with the sufferings of his and our Lord. Some fourteen centuries later, the great Spanish Carmelite mystic, Saint John of the Cross, said in one of his books, “If I were to spend a single day without suffering, I would consider it a day wasted.” Strong language! But very much in keeping with the life of Jesus and his salvation of the world. Thank you for seeking God’s truth. God bless you. Father Victor Brown, O.P.
Note: This message was composed some years ago.