Antonietta Meo was born in Rome, in the year 1930, the fourth daughter of upright and believing parents. At home she learned the first truths of the faith, while the Catholic atmosphere of Rome at the time also contributed favorably toward her religious formation.
When four years old, due to an inflammation in the knee that didn’t appear worrisome at first, the doctors discovered that she was the victim of a terrible illness: osteosarcoma. The torments that she underwent from that time on would make even the bravest of men shudder: painful and practically useless treatments, including the amputation of her left leg, followed by the steady advance of the disease, which even affected her lungs. The doctors were amazed to see how such a small person could endure such great sufferings.
But the most impressive aspect of the situation was, without a doubt, Antonietta’s attitude toward her ordeal. For, the more she learned of the sufferings of the life of Jesus, the more she identified her own state with that of Christ, discovering in the Passion a true motive for her pain: ‘Dear Crucified Jesus, I really wish You well and I love You so much. I want to be on Calvary with You and I suffer with joy because I know how to be on Calvary. Dear Jesus. Thanks that You have sent me this illness because it’s a way to arrive in Paradise. Dear Jesus, tell God the Father that I love Him so much, Him too. Dear Jesus, I want to be Your lamp and Your Lily dear Jesus, dear Jesus give me the strength necessary to stand the pains that I offer for sinners…’ (Letter no. 162, May 2, 1937)
Antonietta died when she was seven years old, and today her body lies in her parish church, the Basilica of Saint John Lateran. There are many people who hopefully await the recognition of her heroic virtues and elevation to the altar.
In the same city of the Popes, a scene that took place last May reminds us of the example of ‘Nennolina’: the Pope received children affected by grave illnesses accompanied by their parents. These children, whose bodies suffer infirmity, enjoy in their souls the fruits of baptism and the blessings of the Church. They awaited a word of encouragement, hoping that the Pope, as the Father of the Church and especially attentive to all in need, would enlighten them on the significance of their atrocious sufferings.
However, expounding once again on his strange outlook on of the topic of suffering already mentioned in his Apostolic Journey to the Philippines, Francis once again stated that this is a situation that has no explanation, and that the only solution for the children and their parents is to weep.
To top off these perplexing statements, Francis applied an entirely rationalistic sense to the reactions of the Sorrowful Mother and her Divine Son. According to Francis, the Blessed Virgin didn’t comprehend what was happening at Calvary, and her Son didn’t have a clear idea of our troubles until the moment that he wept.
We are at a loss for words …for if the teachings of the Church explain this question, would any other explanation be expected from the Vicar of Christ?
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The Lord always walks with us, he does not want to abandon us. When today
we see so many dark valleys, to many disasters, so many people who die of hunger, of war, so many defenseless children, so many…who ask their parents: What disease does he have? Their answer is: Nobody knows, they call it a rare disease.
That is what we do with our issues: let us consider cancer in Terra dei Fuochi. When you see all of this, where is the Lord? Lord, where are you? Are you walking with me?
This was how Susanna felt, and also how we feel. You see these four sisters of Mother Teresa of Calcutta slain: they served out of love, and they ended up slain out of hatred! When you see that doors are closed to refugees and they are left outside, in the elements, in the cold. Lord, where are you? How can I trust in you, if I see all these things? And when things happen to me, each of us might say: how can I trust in you? And to this question there is only one response: it cannot be explained; I am not capable. Why does a child suffer? I don’t know; it’s a mystery to me.
The only thing that gives me some light — not to the mind, to the soul — is Jesus in Gethsemane: Father, not this cup. But your will be done. Thus, Jesus entrusts himself to the Father’s will; Jesus knows that all does not end with death or with anguish, and his last words on the Cross: Father into your hands I entrust myself! And thus he dies. Entrusting myself to God who walks with me, who walks with my people, who walks with the Church: this is an act of faith! I don’t know why this happens, but I entrust myself: You will know why. (Homily in Santa Marta, March 14, 2016
She [the girl Glyzelle
] today asked the one question that doesn’t have an answer. And she couldn’t say it in words. She had to say it with tears. […] The great question for everybody is: ‘Why do children suffer?’ Why do children suffer?Only when our hearts can ask this question and weep, can we begin to understand
. […] Only when Christ wept, and he was capable of weeping, did he understand our troubles.
[…] This is the first thing I would like to say to you. Let’s learn to weep, the way [Glyzelle] taught us today. Let’s not forget this witness. She asked the big question – why do children suffer? – by weeping; and the big answer which we can give, all of us, is to learn how to weep.
In the Gospel, Jesus wept. He wept for his dead friend. He wept in his heart for the family which lost its daughter. He wept in his heart when he saw the poor widowed mother who was burying her son. He was moved and he wept in his heart when he saw the crowds like sheep without a shepherd. If you don’t learn how to weep, you are not a good Christian. And this is a challenge. Jun Chura and his friend who spoke today posed this challenge. When they ask us: Why do children suffer? Why does this or that tragedy occur in life?, let us respond either by silence or with a word born of tears. Be brave. Don’t be afraid to cry!
(Meeting with young people, Manila, Philippines, January 18, 2015
There is also a question, whose explanation one does not learn in a catechesis.
It is a question I frequently ask myself and many of you, many people ask: ‘Why do children suffer?’. And there are no answers. This too is a mystery
. I just look to God and ask: ‘But why?’. And looking at the Cross: ‘Why is your Son there? Why?’. It is the mystery of the Cross. I often think of Our Lady, when they handed down to her the dead body of her Son, covered with wounds, spat on, bloodied and soiled. And what did Our Lady do? ‘Did she carry him away?’, No, she embraced him, she caressed him. Our Lady, too, did not understand
. Because she, in that moment, remembered what the Angel had said to her: ‘He will be King, he will be great, he will be a prophet…’; and inside, surely, with that wounded body lying in her arms, that body that suffered so before dying, inside surely she wanted to say to the Angel: ‘Liar! I was deceived.’ She, too, had no answers.
[…] Do not be afraid to ask God: ‘Why?’, to challenge him: “Why?”
, may you always have your heart open to receiving his fatherly gaze. The only answer that he could give you will be: “My Son also suffered”. That is the answer. The most important thing is that gaze. And your strength is there: the loving gaze of the Father. […] You might ask, ‘but you, a bishop,’ you have ‘studied so much theology, and you have nothing more to tell us?’. No. The Trinity, the Eucharist, the grace of God, the suffering of children are a mystery
. (Meeting with a group of gravely ill children and their families, May 29, 2015
Teachings of the Magisterium
Enter in the various parts of our study
I – Both innocent people and sinners are subject to suffering. Why?
II – The role of suffering in the sanctification of humans
III – The Virgin Mary offered her Son as a victim of expiation for the sins of humanity
IV – As true God and true Man, Jesus had full knowledge of his Redeeming mission
I – Both innocent people and sinners are subject to suffering. Why?
Christ, innocent, took upon himself the wounds of injured humanity - Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our pain is worthy of faith
Suffering, evil, injustice, death, especially when it strikes the innocent such as children who are victims of war and terrorism, of sickness and hunger, does not all of this put our faith to the test? Paradoxically the disbelief of Thomas is most valuable to us in these cases because it helps to purify all false concepts of God and leads us to discover his true face: the face of a God who, in Christ, has taken upon himself the wounds of injured humanity. Thomas has received from the Lord, and has in turn transmitted to the Church, the gift of a faith put to the test by the passion and death of Jesus and confirmed by meeting him risen. His faith was almost dead but was born again thanks to his touching the wounds of Christ, those wounds that the Risen One did not hide but showed, and continues to point out to us in the trials and sufferings of every human being. […] These wounds that Christ has received for love of us help us to understand who God is and to repeat: ‘My Lord and my God!’ Only a God who loves us to the extent of taking upon himself our wounds and our pain, especially innocent suffering, is worthy of faith. (Benedict XVI. Urbi et Orbi Message, April 8, 2007)
All of those who suffer, especially the innocent, may feel themselves called to participate in the work of redemption, carried out through the cross
Ever since Christ chose the cross and died at Golgotha, all of those who suffer, particularly those who suffer without fault, may find themselves faced by ‘the Holy One who suffers’ and encounter in his passion the total truth about suffering, its full meaning, its importance. In light of this truth, all of those who suffer may feel themselves called to participate in the work of redemption carried out through the cross. To participate in the cross of Christ means to believe in the salvific power of the sacrifice that every believer can offer together with the Redeemer. Then suffering is liberated from the shadow of the absurd, that seems to cover it, and acquires a profound dimension, it reveals its significance and creative value. One could say, then, that there is a change in the scene of existence, from which is distanced increasingly the destructive power of evil, precisely because suffering produces copious fruits. Jesus himself revealed and promised us this, when he said: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Amen, amen, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit’ (Jn 12:23-24). (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 6-7, November 9, 1988)
The suffering of the innocent is especially valuable in the eyes of the Lord
In the eyes of the Lord, the suffering of the just and the innocent is especially valuable, more than that of the sinner, because the latter, really, suffers only for himself, through an auto-expiation, whereas the innocent person makes of his pain the capital for the redemption of others. (John Paul II. Address to 500 disabled children and their assistants, September 24, 1979)
Even when the darkness is deepest, faith points to a trusting acknowledgment: ‘I know that you can do all things’
The problem of suffering attacks above all faith and puts it to the test. How can we hear the universal anguish of man when we meditate on the Book of Job? The innocent man overwhelmed by suffering understandably asks himself: ‘Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to the bitter in soul, who long for death, but it comes not, and dig for it more than for hid treasures?’ (3:20-21). But even when the darkness is deepest, faith points to a trusting and adoring acknowledgment of the ‘mystery’: ‘I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted’ (Job 42:2). (John Paul II. Encyclical Evangelium vitae, no. 31, March 25, 1995)
Why does the suffering of innocents exist? In the mysterious designs of Providence, God draws a greater good even from evil
If God is supremely good and wise, why do evil and the suffering of innocents exist? And the Saints themselves asked this very question. Illumined by faith, they give an answer that opens our hearts to trust and hope: in the mysterious designs of Providence, God can draw a greater good even from evil. (Benedict XVI. General Audience, December 1, 2010)
Through the wounds of Christ, we are able to see the evils that afflict humanity with eyes of hope
Dear sick and suffering, it is precisely through the wounds of Christ that we are able to see, with eyes of hope, all the evils that afflict humanity. In rising again, the Lord did not remove suffering and evil from the world, but he defeated them at their root. […] St. Bernard observed: ‘God cannot suffer but He can suffer with’. God, who is Truth and Love in person, wanted to suffer for us and with us; He became man so that He could suffer with man, in a real way, in flesh and blood. (Benedict XVI. Message for the Nineteenth World Day of the Sick, November 21, 2010)
Is it not logical that we accept suffering?
We accept good things from God; and should we not accept evil? (Job 2:10)
Taking up the cross is the obligation of whoever follows Jesus
Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. (Mk 8:34)
The sufferings of Christ are a cause of rejoicing
Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. (1Pet 4:12-13)
The future glory surpasses all suffering
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. (Rom 8:18)
Death and all consequent bodily defects are punishments of original sin
One thing is the cause of another if it causes it by removing an obstacle: thus it is stated in Phys. viii, text. 32, that ‘by displacing a pillar a man moves accidentally the stone resting thereon.’ In this way the sin of our first parent is the cause of death and all such like defects in human nature […] Wherefore, original justice being forfeited through the sin of our first parent; just as human nature was stricken in the soul by the disorder among the powers […] so also it became subject to corruption, by reason of disorder in the body. Now the withdrawal of original justice has the character of punishment, even as the withdrawal of grace has. Consequently, death and all consequent bodily defects are punishments of original sin. And although the defects are not intended by the sinner, nevertheless they are ordered according to the justice of God Who inflicts them as punishments. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 85, a. 2)
Original sin subjected all human nature to suffering
In consequence of original sin human nature, without being totally corrupted, is wounded in its natural powers. It is subject to ignorance, to suffering, and to the dominion of death and is inclined toward sin. This inclination is called concupiscence. (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 77)
Sufferings: a means of cooperating with God
How do we collaborate with divine Providence?
While respecting our freedom, God asks us to cooperate with him and gives us the ability to do so through actions, prayers and sufferings, thus awakening in us the desire ‘to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil 2:13). (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 56)
From the greatest of all moral evils, God has brought forth the greatest of all goods
To this question, as painful and mysterious as it is, only the whole of Christian faith can constitute a response. God is not in any way – directly or indirectly – the cause of evil. He illuminates the mystery of evil in his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose in order to vanquish that great moral evil, human sin, which is at the root of all other evils. […] Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil. This was realized in a wondrous way by God in the death and resurrection of Christ. In fact, from the greatest of all moral evils (the murder of his Son) he has brought forth the greatest of all goods (the glorification of Christ and our redemption). (Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 57-58)
A new meaning for suffering - participation in the saving work of Jesus
Suffering, a consequence of original sin, acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1521)
Makes a person more mature, helping to discern what is not essential
Illness and suffering have always been among the gravest problems confronted in human life. In illness, man experiences his powerlessness, his limitations, and his finitude. Every illness can make us glimpse death. Illness can lead to anguish, self-absorption, sometimes even despair and revolt against God. It can also make a person more mature, helping him discern in his life what is not essential so that he can turn toward that which is. Very often illness provokes a search for God and a return to him. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1500-1501)
The remedy against pride; the power of God in weak men
Suffering in the present life is the remedy against pride, which would turn us astray, against vainglory and ambition. Through suffering the power of God shines forth in weak men, who without His grace would not be able to bear their afflictions. Suffering, patience, manifests the goodness of him who is persecuted. By this road he is led to desire eternal life. Memory of the great sufferings of the saints leads us to support our own, by imitating the saints. Finally, pain teaches us to distinguish false goods which pass away from true goods which last eternally. (Saint John Chrysostom. Consolationes ad Stagir. L. III, quoted by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, Life Everlasting and the Immensity of the Soul, Ch. VI)
Sorrow or pain cannot be the greatest evil
Now pain or sorrow for that which is truly evil cannot be the greatest evil: for there is something worse, namely, either not to reckon as evil that which is really evil, or not to reject it. Again, sorrow or pain, for that which is apparently evil, but really good, cannot be the greatest evil, for it would be worse to be altogether separated from that which is truly good. Hence it is impossible for any sorrow or pain to be man’s greatest evil. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica, I-II, q. 39, a. 4)
Suffering conceals a particular power that draws person interiorly to Christ
Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that he becomes a completely new person. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, no. 26, February 11, 1984)
Suffering clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls
In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ’s sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world’s salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the Redemption. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris, no. 27, February 11, 1984)
We can try to limit suffering but we cannot eliminate it
Like action, suffering is a part of our human existence. Suffering stems partly from our finitude, and partly from the mass of sin which has accumulated over the course of history, and continues to grow unabated today. […] Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power. This is simply because we are unable to shake off our finitude and because none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil, of sin which, as we plainly see, is a constant source of suffering. Only God is able to do this: only a God who personally enters history by making himself man and suffering within history. We know that this God exists, and hence that this power to “take away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29) is present in the world. […] We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Spe salvi, no. 36, November 30, 2007)
What heals us is not fleeing from suffering, but our capacity for accepting it
It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love. (Benedict XVI. Encyclical Spe salvi, no. 37, November 30, 2007)
In my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church. (Col 1:24)
The cross of Christ gives meaning to human suffering
The Redemption undertaken by Christ at the price of his passion and death on the cross, is a decisive and definitive happening in the history of humanity, not only because it fulfills the supreme divine plan of justice and mercy, but also because it reveals to the conscience of man a new significance of suffering. […] The cross of Christ —the passion— sheds a completely new light over this problem, giving another meaning to human suffering in general […] All human suffering, united to that of Christ, completes ‘what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body’ (cf. Col 1:24): and the Body is the Church as a universal salvific community. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 1-2, November 9, 1988)
The individual’s personal response to God
Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man’s level and becomes, in a sense, the individual’s personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter, Salvifici doloris, no. 26, February 11, 1984)
The Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering
The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings—in any part of the world and at any time in history—to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world. Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. (John Paul II. Apostolic Letter, Salvifici doloris, no. 24, February 11, 1984)
II – The role of suffering in the sanctification of humans
There is no holiness without the Cross
The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle. Spiritual progress entails the ascesis and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2015)
There is no virtue that did not have its example on the Cross
There is no virtue that did not have its example on the Cross. So if you seek an example of charity, then, ‘greater love than this no one has, than to lay down his life for his friends’ (Jn 15:13). And this Christ did upon the Cross. If, therefore, He gave His life or us, we ought to endure any and all evils for Him: ‘What shall I render to the Lord for all the things that He has done for me?’ (Ps 15:12). If you seek an example of patience, you will find it in its highest degree upon the Cross. Great patience is exemplified in two ways: either when one suffers intensely in all patience, or when one suffers that which he could avoid if he so wished. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum, The Apostles Creed. Article 4)
He who wills not to suffer has not yet begun to be a Christian
Let whatsoever holy men therefore that are suffering pressing from those that have been put afar off from the saints, give heed to this Psalm, let them perceive here themselves, let them speak what here is spoken, that suffer what here is spoken of.… […] Let no one say to himself, There have been troubles in our fathers’ time, in our time there are not. If thou supposest thyself not to have troubles, not yet hast thou begun to be a Christian. And where is the voice of the Apostle, ‘But even all that will live godly in Christ, persecutions shall suffer.’ If therefore thou sufferest not any persecution for Christ, take heed lest not yet thou hast begun godly to live in Christ. But when thou hast begun godly to live in Christ, thou hast entered into the winepress; make ready thyself for pressings: but be not thou dry, lest from the pressing nothing go forth. (Saint Augustine of Hippo. Exposition on the Psalms, Psalm LVI)
He that humbles himself under tribulations is wheat for paradise; he that grows enraged is chaff for hell
This earth is the place for meriting, and therefore it is a place for suffering. Our true country, where God has prepared for us repose in everlasting joy, is paradise. […] We must suffer, and all must suffer; be they just, or be they sinners, each one must carry his cross. He that carries it with patience is saved; he that carries it with impatience is lost. St. Augustine says, the same miseries send some to paradise and some to hell: ‘One and the same blow lifts the good to glory, and reduces the bad to ashes.’ The same saint observes, that by the test of suffering the chaff in the Church of God is distinguished from the wheat: he that humbles himself under tribulations, and is resigned to the will of God, is wheat for paradise; he that grows haughty and is enraged, and so forsakes God, is chaff for hell. (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. The Practice of the Love of Jesus Christ, Ch. 1, p. 45)
Tribulation for the love of Christ precedes glory together with him
My brothers, glory is hidden for us in tribulation […] Let us hasten to buy this field; this treasure that is hidden in it. Let us make an object of all our joy the misfortunes that befall us. […] ‘I am with him in his tribulation’ says God. And shall I seek anything but tribulation? My joy will be to remain with God. […] It is better for me, Lord, to suffer tribulations if you are with me, than to reign without you, eat splendidly without you, and receive glory without you. It is much better, Lord, for me to embrace You in tribulation, have you with me in the fire, even than to be with You in heaven, because ‘what is there in heaven for me, and what have I desired on earth outside of You? The furnace purifies the gold, and the temptation of tribulation just men.’ (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Sermon 17 on the Psalm ‘He who dwells’, p. 430-431 – French)
If we knew how beneficial suffering is, we would not wish for comfort
O souls who in spiritual matters desire to walk in security and consolation! If you but knew how much it behooves you to suffer in order to reach this security and consolation, and how without suffering you cannot attain to your desire but rather turn back, in no way would you look for comfort either from God or from creatures. You would instead carry the cross and, placed on it, desire to drink the pure gall and vinegar. You would consider it good fortune that, dying to this world and to yourselves, you would live to God in the delights of the spirit, and patiently and faithfully suffering exterior trials, which are small, you would merit that God fix his eyes on you and purge you more profoundly through deeper spiritual trials in order to give you more interior blessings. (Saint John of the Cross. Living Flame of Love, Stanza 2, 28)
How happy are the souls that drink of the chalice of suffering with Our Lord!
O how happy are the souls that valiantly drink of the chalice of suffering with Our Lord! That mortify themselves carrying their cross; that lovingly suffer and receive from His divine hand all sorts of happenings with submission according to His good willing. But, my God, how few are they who do such things! (Saint Francis de Sales. Sermon for the Feast of Saint John of the Latin Gate, p. 279)
Path that leads us directly to God
We should do this, my dear sisters: the path of the cross and afflictions is the sure path, and one that leads us directly to God and to the perfection of his love. If we are faithful in valiantly drinking of his chalice, crucifying ourselves with him in this life, his divine goodness will not be deficient in glorifying us eternally in the next. (Saint Francis de Sales. Sermon for the Feast of Saint John of the Latin Gate, p. 279)
Holiness consists in suffering everything
Holiness does not consist in saying beautiful things, it does not even consist in thinking them, in feeling them! … It consists in suffering and in suffering everything. ‘Holiness! It has to be conquered at the point of the sword, one has to suffer… one has to agonize! A day will come when the shadows will disappear, and then there will remain only joy, inebriation. Let us profit from our one moment of suffering!…Let us see only each moment!…A moment is a treasure…one act of love will make us know Jesus better…it will bring us closer to Him during the whole of eternity! (Saint Therese of Lisieux. Letter 89 to Celine)
In order to become a Saint one must suffer much
Later on, when the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love–in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest.’ (Saint Therese of Lisieux. Story of a Soul, Manuscript A, Ch. 1)
It is entirely just that we suffer for the sake of Jesus Christ
The saints accepted as treasures infirmities, persecutions, the loss of property, and the most painful and desolate deaths
This has been the one chief and dearest endeavor of all saints, — to desire with their whole heart to endure every toil, all contempt, every pain, in order to please God, and thus to please that divine heart, which so much deserves to be loved, and loves us so much […] And what greater honor, what greater comfort, can a soul have than to go through some fatigue, or to accept some labor, believing it to be acceptable to God? […] In a word, in order to give pleasure to God, the saints have stripped themselves of their possessions, have renounced the greatest earthly dignities, and have accepted as treasures infirmities, persecutions, the loss of property, and the most painful and desolate deaths. (Saint Alphonsus Liguori. The Way of Salvation and Perfection, Pious Reflections, Part II. Ch. 37, pg. 282-283)
III – The Virgin Mary offered her Son as a victim of expiation for the sins of humanity
In accepting the words of the Angel Gabriel, Mary began her participation in the drama of Redemption
In accepting with complete availability the words of the Angel Gabriel, who announced to her that she would become the Mother of the Messiah, Mary began her participation in the drama of Redemption. Her involvement in her Son’s sacrifice, revealed by Simeon during the presentation in the Temple, continues not only in the episode of the losing and finding of the 12-year-old Jesus, but also throughout his public life. However, the Blessed Virgin’s association with Christ’s mission reaches its culmination in Jerusalem, at the time of the Redeemer’s Passion and Death. […] The Council stresses the profound dimension of the Blessed Virgin’s presence on Calvary, recalling that she “faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross” (Lumen gentium, n. 58), and points out that this union ‘in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to his death’ (ibid., n. 57). (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 1-2, April 2, 1997)
Perfect model of all of those who accept to associate themselves without reserve to the redemptive offering
Saint John in his Gospel remembers that “standing by the cross of Jesus was his mother’ (Jn 19:25). It was the presence of a woman ―already a widow for some years, as all leads us to believe― who was to lose also her Son. All of the fibers of her being were shaken by all that which she had seen in the days culminating in the passion, and that which she felt and saw now at the scaffold. How could one impede that she suffer and cry? Christian tradition has perceived the dramatic experience of that Woman full of dignity and honor, but with her heart pierced, and has paused to contemplate her, participating profoundly in her sorrow: ‘Stabat Mater dolorosa, iuxta Crucem lacrimosa/ dum pendebat Filius’. […] The presence of Mary next to the cross shows her commitment of total participation in the redeeming Sacrifice of her Son. Mary wished to entirely participate in the sufferings of Jesus, since she had not rejected the sword announced by Simeon (cf. Lk 2:35), but rather accepted, with Christ, the mysterious plan of the Father. She was the first participant in that sacrifice, and would remain forever as a perfect model of all of those who would accept to associate themselves without reserve to the redemptive offering. On the other hand, the maternal compassion that was expressed in this presence, contributed to make more charged with meaning and profound the drama of that death on the cross. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 1-2, November 23, 1988)
Mary freely cooperated in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience
Rightly therefore the holy Fathers see her [Mary] as used by God not merely in a passive way, but as freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience. […] This union of the Mother with the Son in the work of salvation is made manifest from the time of Christ’s virginal conception up to His death […] (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen gentium, no. 56-57, November 21, 1964)
Lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim, her only begotten Son
The Blessed Virgin […] faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. Finally, she was given by the same Christ Jesus dying on the cross as a mother to His disciple with these words: ‘Woman, behold thy son’ (Jn 19: 26-27). (Vatican Council II. Dogmatic Constitution, Lumen gentium, no. 58, November 21, 1964)
Mary’s consent to Jesus’ immolation is a genuine act of love
The Council reminds us of ‘Mary’s compassion’; in her heart reverberates all that Jesus suffers in body and soul, emphasizing her willingness to share in her Son’s redeeming sacrifice and to join her own maternal suffering to his priestly offering. The Council text also stresses that her consent to Jesus’ immolation is not passive acceptance but a genuine act of love, by which she offers her Son as a ‘victim’ of expiation for the sins of all humanity. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 2, April 2, 1997)
Direct participation in the work of Redemption
How disconcerting is the mystery of the Cross! After having meditated fully on it, Saint Paul wrote to the Christians of Galatia: ‘But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Gal 6:14). Also, the Most Holy Virgin could have repeated —and with what greater truthfulness!— these same words. Contemplating at Calvary her dying Son she had understood that the ‘glory’ of her divine maternity had reached, at that moment, its height, directly participating in the work of Redemption. Moreover, she had understood that from that moment on, human suffering, made hers through the crucified Son, acquired an inestimable value. (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 1, September 15, 1991)
Model of unfailing constancy and extraordinary courage in facing suffering
In the Fourth Gospel, St John says that ‘standing by the Cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’ (19:25). By using the verb ‘to stand’, which literally means ‘to be on one’s feet’, ‘to stand erect’, perhaps the Evangelist intends to present the dignity and strength shown in their sorrow by Mary and the other women. The Blessed Virgin’s ‘standing erect’ at the foot of the Cross recalls her unfailing constancy and extraordinary courage in facing suffering. In the tragic events of Calvary, Mary is sustained by faith, strengthened during the events of her life and especially during Jesus’ public life. (John Paul II. General Audience, no. 3, April 2, 1997)
The first who knew and wished to participate in the salvific mystery
The Virgin of Sorrows, standing at the side of the cross, within the silent eloquence of example, speaks to us of the significance of suffering within the Divine plan of the Redemption. She was the first who knew and wished to participate in the salvific mystery ‘uniting herself with a maternal heart with His sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth’ (Lumen Gentium, no. 58). Intimately enriched by this ineffable experience, she approaches those who suffer, takes them by the hand and invites them to rise with Her to Calvary and remain before the Crucified One. (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 2, September 15, 1991)
An intrepid presence at the Cross
In this hour of Marian prayer we have contemplated the Heart of Jesus victim of our sins; but before all and more profoundly than all else we contemplated his sorrowful Mother, of whom the Liturgy sings: ‘For the sins of his people she saw Jesus in torment and subject to the scourge’(Stabat Mater, Sequence, Verse 7). Within the proximity of the liturgical memorial of the Blessed Sorrowful Virgin Mary, we recall this intrepid and interceding presence of the Virgin beneath the cross of Calvary, and we think, with immense gratitude that, at that moment, Christ, who was about to die, victim of the sins of the world, confided her to us as our Mother: ‘Behold, your Mother’ (Jn 19:27). (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 3, September 10, 1989)
In contrast with the faith of the disciples, who fled, Mary’s was far more enlightened
This is perhaps the deepest ‘kenosis’ of faith in human history. Through faith the Mother shares in the death of her Son, in his redeeming death; but in contrast with the faith of the disciples who fled, hers was far more enlightened. On Golgotha, Jesus through the Cross definitively confirmed that he was the ‘sign of contradiction’ foretold by Simeon. At the same time, there were also fulfilled on Golgotha the words which Simeon had addressed to Mary: ‘and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.’ (John Paul II. Encyclical Redemptoris Mater, no. 18, March 25, 1987)
She who was linked to the Son of God by bonds of maternal love, at the foot of the Cross, experienced this union in suffering
‘Standing by the cross of Jesus were his Mother, and his Mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene’ (Jn 19:25). She who was linked to the Son of God by bonds of blood and by maternal love, there, at the foot of the Cross, experienced this union in suffering. She alone, despite the pain of her mother’s heart, knew that this suffering had meaning. She had trust – trust in spite of everything – that the ancient promise was being fulfilled: ‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel’ (Gen 3:15). (John Paul II. Homily at Kalwaria, Poland, August 19, 2002)
Mary’s self-restraint prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief
At the foot of the Cross, the prophecy of Simeon is fulfilled: her mother’s heart is pierced through (cf. Lk 2:35) by the torment inflicted on the Innocent One born of her flesh. Just as Jesus cried (cf. Jn 11:35), so too Mary certainly cried over the tortured body of her Son. Her self-restraint, however, prevents us from plumbing the depths of her grief; the full extent of her suffering is merely suggested by the traditional symbol of the seven swords. (Benedict XVI. Homily on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the apparitions at Lourdes, September 15, 2008)
Mary had full certainty of the Resurrection
A sword is named the affection of the passion and death of the Lord, that pierced the soul of Mary: because not without a bitter sorrow could she contemplate him crucified and dying, even though she did not in any way doubt that he would resurrect from his death as God. Nevertheless, she terribly grieved the death of the one whom she had begotten of her flesh. (Saint Bede. Homily XV, In Purificatione Beatæ Mariæ. PL 94: 81-82)
The Virgin Most Holy is a true martyr
Truly, o blessed Mother, the sword pierced your soul. Nor could it penetrate the body of your Son without having pierced it. And certainly, after having expired, your Jesus ― he is of everyone without doubt, but especially yours―, the cruel lance which opened his side ―not pardoning even dead, him who it could no longer harm― did not touch his soul, but surely passed through your soul. His soul was no longer there; but yours certainly could not be torn from there. Your soul then was pierced by the force of suffering, so that not without cause we proclaim you to be more than a martyr, since in you the sentiment of compassion was greater than what could be the corporal passion.
By chance for you was not that word, which truly pierced the soul, and which reached unto the division of the soul and the spirit: ‘Woman behold your son?’ O what an exchange! John is given to you in the place of Jesus, the servant in the place of the Lord, the son of Zebedee in the place of the Son of God, a mere man in the place of the true God! How could your most affectionate soul not be pierced on hearing this, when it breaks our hearts – although they be of stone, although they be of iron – just on remembering this? Do not wonder, brethren, that Mary be called a martyr in her soul. […] But perhaps someone will say: ‘Did she perhaps not know beforehand that her Son would die?’ Without a doubt! ‘And did she not hope that he would then rise?’ Yes, and with the greatest confidence! Then, ‘did she grieve to see him crucified?’ Greatly. In other words, who are you, brother, or what is your wisdom, that you are shocked more by Mary com-passionate than by the passion of the Son of Mary? He could die in the body, and could Mary not die with him in her heart? (Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. Sermon on the Sunday within the octave of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, no. 14-15)
IV – As true God and true Man, Jesus had full knowledge of his Redeeming mission
Papal condemnation for the errors of modernism regarding Christ’s knowledge
[Condemned doctrine] The critic can ascribe to Christ an unlimited knowledge only on a hypothesis that cannot be historically conceived and is repugnant to the moral sense: namely, that Christ as man possessed the knowledge of God and yet was unwilling to communicate the knowledge of so many things to his disciples and posterity. Christ did not always possess the consciousness of his messianic dignity. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3434-3435. Pius X. Decree Lamentabili: Errors of the Modernists, July 3, 1907)
According to agnosticism, there are two Christs: one real; the other, who never was in fact, but pertains to faith
According to agnosticism, history, just as science, is concerned only with phenomena. Therefore, just as God, so any divine intervention in human affairs must be relegated to faith, as belonging to it alone. Thus, if anything occurs consisting of a double element, divine and human, such as are Christ, the Church, the sacraments, and many others of this kind, there will have to be a division and separation, so that what was human may be assigned to history, and what divine to faith. Thus, the distinction common among the modernists between the Christ of history and the Christ of faith […] Thus they do not will that Christ said those things which appear to exceed the capacity of the listening multitude. […] For they distinguish sharply between these two histories; the history of faith (and this we wish to be well noted) they oppose to the real history, as it is real. Thus, as we have already said, the two Christs: one real, the other, who never was in fact, but pertains to faith. (Denzinger-Hünermann 3495-3498. Pius X. Encyclical Pascendi Dominici gregis, September 8, 1907)
The temptation to diminish the Son of God to our size
Today, the temptation is great to diminish Jesus Christ, the Son of God, into a merely historical Jesus, into a pure man. One does not necessarily deny the divinity of Jesus, but by using certain methods one distills from the Bible a Jesus to our size, a Jesus possible and comprehensible within the parameters of our historiography. But this ‘historical Jesus’ is an artifact, the image of his authors rather that the image of the living God (see 2 Cor 4:4ff, Col 1:15). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Intervention of Cardinal Ratzinger during the Congress of Catechists and Religion Teachers, December 10, 2000)
The fullness of all grace and knowledge
The fullness of all grace and knowledge was due to Christ’s soul of itself, from the fact of its being assumed by the Word of God; and hence Christ assumed all the fullness of knowledge and wisdom absolutely. But He assumed our defects economically, in order to satisfy for our sin, and not that they belonged to Him of Himself. (Saint Thomas Aquinas. Summa Theologica III, q. 14, a.4, ad 2)
The Word incarnate enjoyed the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans
By its union to the divine wisdom in the person of the Word incarnate, Christ enjoyed in his human knowledge the fullness of understanding of the eternal plans he had come to reveal. What he admitted to not knowing in this area, he elsewhere declared himself not sent to reveal. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 474)
Jesus is inseparably true God and true man
The Church thus confesses that Jesus is inseparably true God and true man. He is truly the Son of God who, without ceasing to be God and Lord. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 469)
The Son of God became man without withdrawing from the glory of the Father
Consequently, the Son of God entered into these lowly conditions of the world, after descending from His celestial throne, and though He did not withdraw from the glory of the Father, He was generated in a new order and in a new nativity. In a new order, because invisible in His own, He was made visible in ours; incomprehensible [in His own], He wished to be comprehended; permanent before times, He began to be in time; the Lord of the universe assumed the form of a slave […] For He who is true God, is likewise true man, and there is no falsehood in this unity. (Denzinger-Hünermann 294. Leo I, the Great. Epistle Lectis dilectionis tua to Flavian, Patriarch of Constantinople, June 13, 449)
The confession of the divinity of Jesus Christ is an absolutely essential part of the faith
The divinity of Jesus has been the object of the Church’s faith from the beginning, long before his consubstantiality with the Father was proclaimed by the Council of Nicea. The fact that this term was not used does not mean that the divinity of Jesus was not affirmed in the strict sense. […] The divinity of Jesus is clearly attested to in the passages of the New Testament […] The numerous Conciliar declarations in this regard are in continuity with that which the New Testament affirms explicitly and not only ‘in seed’. The confession of the divinity of Jesus Christ has been an absolutely essential part of the faith of the Church since her origins. It is explicitly witnessed to since the New Testament. (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Notification on the works of Jon Sobrino, SJ, November 26, 2006)
Jesus willed humanly all that had decided divinely
Similarly, at the sixth ecumenical council, Constantinople III in 681, the Church confessed that Christ possesses two wills and two natural operations, divine and human. They are not opposed to each other, but co-operate in such a way that the Word made flesh willed humanly in obedience to his Father all that he had decided divinely with the Father and the Holy Spirit for our salvation (cf. Council of Constantinople III (681 AD). Christ’s human will ‘does not resist or oppose but rather submits to his divine and almighty will’. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 475)
Christ’s loving acceptance of the Cross
The Christ that suffers is, as a modern poet sang, ‘the holy one who suffers’, the innocent one who suffers; and precisely because of this, his suffering has a much greater profundity in relation to that of other men, including that of all the Jobs, that is, those who suffer in the world without any fault of their own. Since Christ is the only one who is truly without sin, and who, in fact, could not even sin. He is, therefore, the one – the only one – who absolutely does not deserve suffering. And yet, he is also the one who accepted it in the most full and resolute manner, he accepted it voluntarily and with love. This is signified by his desire, almost his kind of interior angst to entirely drink the chalice of suffering (Jn 18:11), and this, ‘for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world’, as the Apostle Saint John explains (1Jn 2:2). (John Paul II. General Audience, no.2, November 9, 1988)
Jesus went toward death voluntarily
Did Jesus foresee his death and understand it as a death for mankind? Did he accept it and wish it to be so? In the Gospels it becomes clear that Jesus voluntarily went toward death. […] Jesus accepted his death voluntarily. In fact we know that he predicted it on repeated occasions; he announced it three times while going up to Jerusalem. […] There is no doubt that Jesus considered his life and death as a means of rescue (lythron) for men. (John Paul II. General Audience, September 14, 1983)
Jesus offered himself freely in the Passion
Jesus is the voluntary victim, because he offered himself ‘freely to his Passion’ (Roman Missal, Eucharistic Prayer II), as a victim of expiation for the sins of men (cf. Lv 1: 4; Heb 10: 5-10) that he consumed in the fire of his love. (John Paul II. Angelus, no. 2, September 10, 1989)
CELAM – Document of Puebla
Jesus freely surrendered himself to death on the Cross, the goal of his life’s journey
Fulfilling the mandate received from his Father, Jesus freely surrendered himself to death on the Cross, the goal of his life’s journey. The bearer of the freedom and joy of God’s kingdom chose to be the decisive victim of this world’s injustice and evil. The sorrow of creation is assumed by the Crucified One, who offers his life as a sacrifice for all. He is the High Priest who can share our weaknesses; the Paschal Victim who redeems us from our sins; the obedient Son who, in the face of his Father´s saving justice, incarnates the cry of all men for liberation and redemption. (Denzinger-Hünermann 4615. John Paul II, Document of the Third General Assembly of the Latin American Bishops in Puebla (Mexico) ‘The Evangelization’, February 13, 1979)
If anyone does not confess that God the Word voluntarily suffered, let him be condemned
If anyone does not properly and truly confess in accordance with the Holy Fathers that God the Word himself […] was crucified in the flesh, voluntarily suffered for us […] let him be condemned. (Denzinger-Hünermann 502. The Lateran Synod, October 31, 649)
The Cross is a liturgy of obedience
The sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was not only passio, but also actio. The latter aspect, the voluntary self-offering to the Father, with its pneumatic content, is the most important aspect of his death. The drama is not a conflict between fate and the individual. On the contrary, the Cross is a liturgy of obedience manifesting the unity between the Father and the Son in the eternal Spirit. (International Theological Commission. Select Questions on the Theology of God the Redeemer, no.12, 1995)
Whoever omits the cross, omits the essence of Christianity
In the reconstruction of the ‘historical Jesus’, usually the theme of the cross has no meaning. In a ‘bourgeois’ interpretation it becomes an incident per se evitable, without theological value, in a revolutionary interpretation it becomes the heroic death of a rebel. The truth is quite different. The cross belongs to the divine mystery — it is the expression of his love to the end (Jn 13:1). The following of Christ is participation in his cross, uniting oneself to his love, to the transformation of our life, which becomes the birth of the new man, created according to God (cf. Eph 4:24). Whoever omits the cross, omits the essence of Christianity (cf. 1Cor 2:2). (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Intervention of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger during the Congress of Catechists and Religion Teachers, December 10, 2000)
2 thoughts on “88 – Why do children suffer? Only when our hearts can ask this question and weep, can we begin to understand. There are no answers. Do not be afraid to challenge God: ‘Why?’
I am reading the diary of Sister Faustina (who has been declared a saint). She suffered a lot, and Jesus made it clear to her that she was atoning for sin and that by her suffering she was saving many souls.