Perhaps it's because of a phase of life I find myself in, but the Church's teaching on redemptive suffering is coming to mind a lot lately.
Although I know I've had the symptoms for some time, it has been within the past two weeks that I've had a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. As I understand it, this is not degenerative, but it will come and go, posing some challenges to daily existance as it does so.
In the past, I have met Christians of the Protestant variety who seem to believe that if one is truly saved, truly redeemed and truly believes in Jesus and His healing power, one will not suffer physical pain or illness.
This is not a scriptural notion. It is certainly not the teaching of the Catholic Church.
We are a fallen people. We have all sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God. Because of sin, our own and those of our first parents, Adam and Eve, we are subject to such inconveniences as illness.
Catholics believe that illness can be put to work for our own good and the good of others. We call this redemptive suffering.
St. Paul tells us that he dealt with a chronic condition. Scripture tells us that Timothy did, too. Surely if simple faith in Jesus' ability to heal were sufficient to effect a cure, these Godly men would have been the first beneficiaries of such a miracle. They weren't, yet Jairus' daughter, who may not have ever heard of Jesus, was brought back from the dead...because of her father's faith.
When we are suffering in some way (and it does not have to be an illness of body, or even physical pain. Mental pain will do, too) we can "offer it up". We can add it to the suffering Jesus endured on the cross. Why would we do this? Well, St. Paul says in Colossians "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church".
This can be seen as a very bold statement, but there it is. How is it that Christ's sacrifice is somehow incomplete?
As I understand it, this lack of completion is due to the ongoing nature of Christ's sacrifice. I mentioned in an earlier post the difference between Kairos time and Chronos time. Chronos time is what we know so well; Time that goes in a straight line and does not repeat. Kairos time is God's time. He can see all of past present and future at once. So Jesus is suffering now, in the same sacrifice He made over 2000 years ago. We join with His sacrifice when we offer Him the use of our afflictions.
This can be to various effects. Pain may be offered in reparation for ones own sin. It can be offered for someone one knows. It may be offered for the general 'pool' of redemptive sacrifice and therefore benefit someone in Purgatory or someone not yet born. How suffering is used is up to God (although I suppose he may take suggestions!). Only occasionally does God reveal the use of a particular person's pain.
Knowing that our pain may have a role in someone's salvation does make it possible to rejoice in our suffering, however major or minor it may be.
God, I ask you to give me the grace to bear my discomfort with dignity and joy. When it is your will that this pain be taken from me, give me the wisdom never to forget what it meant!