221. Which are the chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin?
The chief means by which we satisfy God for the temporal punishment due to sin are: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, all spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and the patient suffering of the ills of life.
– Rev. Thomas J. O’Brien, Advanced Catechism of Catholic Faith and Practice (1902)
The other day I wrote about the propensity in our modern society to avoid anything that might limit or impede our ability to “have it all.” While there are many causes for this shift, at least some blame can be attributed to our diminished sense of the value of suffering.
Traditionally, suffering was seen as a means of encountering Christ because Christ, in his humanity, endured the same physical and psychological pains we experience. Through his Incarnation Jesus joined himself to the human condition and raised it to perfection, including all of our pains and toils. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that Jesus’ suffering “showed how his humanity was the free and perfect instrument of that divine love which desires the salvation of all people.” (119) Jesus became one of us and suffered for us out of love.
This shared experience unites us with Christ, especially by reminding us of his Passion and death. This is why our suffering can become a sacrifice to God — Christ’s suffering sanctifies our suffering and makes it holy. Take a moment to think about that: Christ has given us a powerful spiritual weapon in our own human suffering, a weapon the Church has long recognized! It has the power to release souls from Purgatory (no small thing!), serve as satisfaction for our sins and unite us more closely with Christ and the saints!
If only we would remember the power of suffering we might not be so eager to avoid it in our day-to-day lives. We might embrace Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, the tiny indignities we face every day all the demands they place on us — demands of humility, hunger, treasure and time. (And for today’s busy person, what is more precious than time?!) We might even cease to look at corporal mortification as a weird medieval relic. Certainly we would recognize the Prosperity Gospel as the heresy it is.
So, the next time you find yourself stuck in traffic or asked to do something extra at work or in the parish, do what your grandparents did: offer it up to the poor souls in Purgatory. They, and you, will be better off for it.