Holiness and Suffering

Wednesday of the 4th Week of Ordinary Time

Endure your trials as “discipline”;
God treats you as his sons.
For what “son” is there whom his father does not discipline?
At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain,
yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness
to those who are trained by it.

Hebrews 12: 7-11

As the reading from Hebrews winds down, this beautiful text presents a great teaching for us who inevitably undergo trials in this world. The original context for this teaching is the suffering the Judeo-Christians were undergoing; perhaps they had not yet suffered “to the point of shedding blood,” but they were suffering nonetheless and the Spirit wanted to console them with this most important teaching. Their suffering was not to be seen as punishment by God or abandonment by God, but simply as the discipline by which God will sanctify them, by conforming them to the passion of His Son.

    We all suffer in this world, if not from persecution at least from illness, from family tensions and betrayals, from psychological pressures, etc. But we are blessed if we see this suffering as an opportunity to grow in virtue and holiness, to be more conformed to the Lord who suffered all of these things and far more. If we accept this “discipline” as a moment of grace, then God will turn this evil into a great good for us and for the world. Suffering is something quite different for Christians and for the rest of mankind.

    Think of the opportunity to develop virtues through our suffering if we join it to the passion of Jesus. Sickness, for instance, is a great opportunity to develop Charity in the way we treat those around us. Sickness is often a temptation to be miserable toward others who are not sick, even toward those who try to help us. The true test of Charity comes in these trials; it’s much easier to be charitable toward others when we are feeling good, but not so easy when we are not feeling well at all. But if we are charitable, then that virtue will grow much faster than when we exercise charity in more comfortable situations.

    The same is true for other virtues. Patience can grow in sickness and suffering much faster than in more favorable circumstances. Then there is the virtue of long-suffering whose name indicates its relation to all forms of suffering. And then there is the virtue of humility which also grows in the suffering of Christians who accept their weakness and need for help. Many sick people are too proud to ask for help or accept help, but the Christian sees this an opportunity to be humble and give others the chance to be charitable.

    Finally, the suffering of the Christian, when accepted as God’s “discipline,” is also productive of grace for others. The Christians, as Paul teaches, joins his suffering to the Passion and does so for the sake of others, to “fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church.” And can we doubt that this suffering is used by Christ for the conversion of many who do not yet belong to the body but are always his potential members since he died for all?

    What a blessing to be a member of Christ’s Church. Even the evil of suffering works for our salvation and the salvation of others, for our growth in holiness, which is conformity to Christ, and for the conversion of many. Praise be Jesus Christ, now and forever.

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