A personal reflection based on redemptive suffering
Nadia Masucci 

Suffering great or small will come our way in our lifetime. It is a mystery to our human existence and yet an inescapable part of our life.  How do we make sense of the unexpected and unwanted trials that we experience?

When hardships and struggles came unexpectedly shaking the core of my routine life, it humbly brought me to my knees redirecting my heart and mind to what matters most in life.  My trials became the stepping-stones to rediscover my faith and develop a personal intimate relationship with the one who is love, our Lord Jesus.

In Feb 2009 I had shortly returned to work as a High school teacher from my maternity leave.  I went for a routine visit to my doctor and my entire world was flipped on its head when I was given the dreaded diagnosis of breast cancer. I was overcome by shock and disbelief thinking my whole world around me was crumbling before my eyes.  I had to stop nursing my youngest child because the surgeon had to perform a mastectomy, remove 14 lymph nodes, and undergo 6 chemotherapy treatments and 25 radiation treatments.  

It was a time in my life when I felt utter despair and desolation.  It was at this moment when I questioned my Lord, where are you in the midst of my darkness?  Why would a God so loving and almighty abandon me, His child?  Where was God in the midst of such pain?

As I clung on to my dwindling faith, I read God’s Word and came across the story of the child Jesus presented in the temple.  
In Luke’s gospel Mary and Joseph being obedient to the Mosaic law bring the 8 day old child Jesus to the temple for circumcision. When Mary and Joseph approach the temple, Simeon prophesied that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah and spoke that this child Jesus would reveal the hearts of many.  He then turned to Mother Mary and said, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too”(Luke 2:35).  

I pondered on these words, “and a sword will pierce your own soul too”. 

Why would a God who is all loving and all knowing allow His own Mother to experience such suffering?  Why would this great God allow His own Mother to experience such grief? Why would a God who loves us beyond human comprehension allow us to go through such turmoil and suffering in our own lives?   Why?

Mary became my greatest role model, as she stood firm at the foot of the cross in humble obedience to God’s will in interior anguish, as “her soul was pierced by a sword”.  Her fiat, “May it be done according to thy word”(Luke 1:38), echoed throughout her faith filled virtuous life.  Mother’s anguished soul inspired my quest to find truth as I pursued to find meaning in suffering.

In Jesus’s time, the cross Christ bore brought great fear upon His disciples. They all fled Jesus and hid themselves in the upper room. Yet the cross of Christ has profound meaning and great power.  It is in the very moment of complete defeat, when God hangs on a tree and takes his last breath, and he cries out, “it is finished” (John19:30), that our Lord has defeated sin, Satan and death and has opened the gates of heaven forever.   The great tragedy has become for us our greatest victory.
  
This is the crux of our faith-that Christ died for our sins and 3 days later is Risen.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that makes us victorious Christians.  As children of God, we are the coheirs of this victorious inheritance of eternal life in Christ and this is why alleluia is our song of praise.

It is the resurrected Lord that the disciples witnessed afterwards.  They witnessed Jesus Christ the Risen Lord who conquered death on the cross.  They knew Jesus Christ is alive and risen, having complete power over death.  This witness had a profound effect on them as most went to their brutal martyrdom proclaiming the good news to the ends of the earth.

St. Paul proclaims boldly,  “I preach one thing, Christ crucified”.  Paul tells us that death has no power over us, that God’s love is greater than anything in this world. 

It’s our resurrected Jesus that gives us hope and meaning in the most troubling times of our lives.  When we encounter grief and turmoil we ought not despair but cling on to our Lord on the cross uniting our trials with His on that cross.

St Paul further explains our trials encountered in Romans 8:16-17 “It is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children of God, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ-if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him”.  It became evident that suffering united to Christ can be an opportunity for us to experience God’s glory. 

Through the guidance of beloved priest of God Fr. Shane Varghese, I learned the value of suffering with Christ.  That all suffering when united with Christ has great value and meaning, it becomes redemptive.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "By His passion and death on the Cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to Him and unite us with His redemptive passion" (#1505).  Redemptive suffering is our trials offered up and united to the Lord’s passion as a gift and it brings us closer to Jesus in an intimate way.  We offer our suffering as a prayer that it may spiritually repair our own soul or used for others, which allows us to participate in the work of redemption.
 
St. Pope John Paul II states, “Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the worlds Redemption, and can share this treasure with others”(Salvifici Dolores, 27).  

Redemptive suffering is part of our Christian life.  By bearing our crosses with love and patience united with Christ has great power. Our suffering becomes a participation in the mystery of the passion of Christ.   Throughout scripture we read of our apostles and their joy of being worthy to suffer for Christ.  St Paul tells us in Colossians 1:24, “I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church.”  We become partakers in Christ’s suffering when we use our very own painful situation as a prayer unified with the Lord on the cross.

And so, in the midst of the unknown began my upward difficult climb. A painful journey that gave me great hope, inner peace and an immense love in a God who is our Emmanuel, a God who walks with us even in our greatest trials. As I went to the hospital regularly and experienced a lot of suffering I began to offer up all my fear and anxiety to the Lord on the cross.  All my pain was going to be used in a powerful way in union with my Lord’s passion.

I distinctly remember walking into the hospital and looking at all the sick people around me.  I wondered in my heart if anyone was inviting the Lord in their difficult and painful situation.  Is their suffering united to Christ or is it simply wasted?  And so I began to pray to my God, “Lord I offer up all of my pains, struggles, anxiety with your passion.  I offer it in reparation for my sins, for the conversion of my family members, for my children, for our beloved priests, for our church”.  God’s grace led me to use this suffering in a new perspective. It led me to ask God’s forgiveness for my sins, to repair past sins and also brought me to a deeper form of love by serving God and His kingdom.

It was in this unity with Christ on the cross that gave me great consolation and I experienced an outpouring of God’s gifts that allowed me to gracefully walk forward in my situation.  I recall opening my eyes from one of the many surgeries I had undergone. I was hooked up to an intravenous and oxygen mask and unaware of the severity of my situation as the doctor briskly carried the tumour to the lab for testing. It was in the midst of chaos, confusion and uncertainty that I experienced an incredible sense of peace and joy.  This joy can only come from the Holy Spirit. Being open to the Holy Spirit, through prayer, as I turned to the Lord in suffering, I experienced a deep peace through God’s grace.

This painful experience could have lead me to despair but being spiritually alert I saw this as a powerful way to come in union with God.  The Lord takes our unified suffering and brings us to greater heights. It becomes an opportunity to grow in holiness and to prepare our heart and soul for eternal glory.  

After my three surgeries, the oncologist told me that I would have to undergo 6 treatments of chemotherapy and 25 treatments of radiation.  He outlined all the side effects of chemotherapy and told me within a week of my first treatment I would lose my hair.  As a woman, it was quite devastating to hear these words. Once again my “womanhood” was at stake and being chipped away. I remember praying and asking the Lord for the strength to face all of this and I continued to feel quite sorry for myself and wallowed in self pity, was anxious and felt a sense of hopelessness. My suffering was viewed from a self-centered point of view and was not Christ-centered. 

In Matthew 14:29, Peter miraculously walks on the water when his eyes were fixed on the Lord’s.  When he noticed the winds, fear seized him and he began to sink.  Many times my gaze was not on Christ, and like Peter, I would cry out, Lord, save me!  Immediately my Jesus lovingly and patiently reaches out and embraces me in His heart. Our gaze has to continually be on Christ in order to walk on the turbulent waters of life’s trials.

The day before my treatment I went to a local coffee shop.  The young cashier serving me said to me, “Wow, you have such beautiful hair”.  I was quite shocked with this comment because I knew I would lose my hair within a week.  I remember speaking to God in my heart asking Him, “Lord, why are you allowing Satan to mock me?”  I went home and wallowed in self-pity and shed many tears.  As I sat in prayer, through spiritual guidance I became aware of how much God loves me and how much He wants me to grow in holiness.

I realized my entire life I was so vain and so attached to outer beauty, clothes and materialism. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”(Ecclesiastes 1:2). God wanted to purify me from all of this.  The Lord says in John 15 that the “Father removes every branch that bears no fruit” and I knew the Lord had many areas in my life that needed pruning.  

I now faced my next hurdle with great courage knowing that my hair as one of the many gifts from God, that would not be spared. The Lord intimately knows us and has “intricately woven”(Psalm 139:15) his precious children. Jesus says in Matthew 10:30, “yet even the hairs on your head are counted for”.  And so I made this next trial into a prayer as well, “Lord, may every hair that falls to the ground save a soul”.  And so this great loss of mine gained greater merit.

This suffering for me became an opportunity to grow intimately in God’s love.  It assisted me in detaching myself from the world, egocentrism and to focus on God’s will and eternal life.  Not only was I being purified from my sinfulness but it also gave me the opportunity to minimally share and imitate our Lord in His self-sacrificial love. This journey of pain became in sense a journey of triumph.

We are living in a difficult time, where the spirit of death is blinding our hearts and minds to believe that there is no longer value in one’s life if we encounter pain or suffering. We medicate and avoid pain at all costs sadly inviting euthanasia and suicide to become an answer to our crosses. We fail to see the incredible redemptive value that this unwanted suffering has in reparation of our souls and those of the whole world.  

The Lord calls us to pick up our cross daily and follow Him.  And it is within these daily crosses that we will meet our Lord face to face. When we offer ourselves to the Risen Lord in our trials, He will raise us to great heights, just as Mother’s “sword pierced soul” elevated her to Queen of Heaven and earth and Blessed among all women.  

Jesus’ passion became the ultimate gift of redemption and salvation for all of humanity.  We have the opportunity to participate in a minimal way in this mystery of Christ.  In the end we don’t give up on God but give into God, trusting and believing in our victorious, glorious risen Lord and that we are the children of the Almighty King and heaven ultimately is our home.