The Apostolate of Suffering

ChelseaDisabled, Suffering2 Comments

In my scripture reading today I came across Christ’s instructions to His Apostles on how they were to go out and spread the Good News (Lk. 9:1-6). This part of the Gospel has inspired missionaries throughout the centuries to travel around the world in order to share our faith with others and help those in need. It also reminds those of us who are not called to go to such great lengths in our apostolate that we still have a duty to spread the Good News to those around us, our friends, family, co-workers, etc…

This really is the call to all Christians everywhere and without exception. But what about those who don’t appear to have too much to offer in the way of evangelization? The sick, the suffering, the severely disabled, the emotionally disturbed, the home bound. For many of these people life itself can be painful. Maybe they can’t communicate or get out of their own beds. Are they worthless as apostles under such circumstances? Have they nothing at all to offer?

On the contrary:

Those who pray and suffer, leaving action for others, will not shine here on earth; but what a radiant crown they will wear in the kingdom of life! Blessed be the “apostolate of suffering”! –St. Josemaria

If only every suffering soul could see how valuable their life really is – not only for their own sake, but for the mission of the church throughout the world!

A great modern example of this is St. Therese of Lisieux who is the patron saint of missions, yet she never set foot outside the Carmel walls. Though unsurpassed in humility and “littleness”, as she called it, Therese was a very ambitious little soul. In her autobiography she divulges that she had a great desire for the foreign missions and making Christ known to the whole world:

Ah! in spite of my littleness, I would like to enlighten souls as did the Prophets and the Doctors. I have the vocation of the Apostle. I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach Your Name and to plant Your glorious Cross on infidel soil. But O my Beloved, one mission alone would not be sufficient for me, I would want to preach the Gospel on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles. I would be a missionary, not for a few years only but from the beginning of creation until the consummation of the ages. But above all, O my Beloved Savior, I would shed my blood for You even to the very last drop. (p. 192-193)

Even her superior acknowledged that she had such a vocation, but that her health prevented her from doing so (p. 217). Much of her life in the Carmel was spent in poor health, especially after she contracted tuberculosis, from which she would die at a very early age. Unable to actively participate in the missionary apostolate, she surrendered herself completely to the apostolate of suffering for the sake of souls:

“suffering opened wide its arms to me and I threw myself into them with love…Jesus made me understand that it was through suffering that He wanted to give me souls, and my attraction for suffering grew in proportion to its increase” (p. 149)

And so it can be for those in extreme suffering and with our own sufferings. Instead of considering life less valuable or without meaning because of deteriorating health or decreased physical mobility we can endure our sufferings and offer that which we endure to our crucified Lord for the salvation of souls. We can do this because of the feast we celebrated yesterday, the Triumph of the Cross. For when we unite our sufferings to Christ on the cross, it is not for the sake of suffering itself, but for the redemption of that suffering through the Victory of the eternal sacrifice of the Word made flesh.

Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.
Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honourable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation – very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honourable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world. (from a discourse of St Andrew of Crete)

2 Comments on “The Apostolate of Suffering”

  1. Jeff H.

    Thank you for this beautiful, as well as true and good, reflection on the apostolate of suffering. Offering up our suffering, even our death, is an action of Marian chivalry – saying Yes like Our Lady.

    I linked your thoughts at the website for my book, A Little Guide for Your Last Days. Thanks again.

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