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Mary of the Cross: Lent Week 3

Week 3 video text

I’d like to begin with a testimony from one of our elderly Residents.

Mary reminds me of the prophetess Anna; for as long as she was able she used to walk down the street with her walker and spend hours in the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Now in a wheelchair, she is content to spend long moments of prayer in our chapel. I told her that I was preparing some Lenten reflections and asked her how she would explain to someone the purpose of suffering.

Mary paused and smiled for a moment before saying, “Well, I know that God loves me, and if he has permitted that I be in the shape I’m in now, it must be because he wants me to help him save souls.”

God loves me and wants me to help him save souls.

That in a nutshell is the meaning of redemptive suffering!

Allow me to expand on this idea by using the words of Saint John Paul II:

“Christ drew close to the world of human suffering above all through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self.”

In his own suffering Christ carries in himself the greatest possible answer to the question of suffering.

In Christ’s passion, human suffering has forever been linked to a love which creates good. On the cross Christ redeemed us by suffering in our place and for our sake.

“He loved me and gave himself for me,” St. Paul wrote.

Each of us is called to share in this suffering through which our redemption was accomplished.

In this way, we become sharers in Christ’s work of saving the world. This is what our Resident, Mary, understood so well.

Saint John Paul II taught that suffering can open a person up to “interior maturity and spiritual greatness” through the action of the Holy Spirit working deep in the human heart. But he admitted that this spiritual greatness is often not achieved without struggle.

He recognized that the individual almost always enters into suffering by protesting and asking WHY.

The person who suffers, he wrote, cannot help but notice that the One to whom he puts the question WHY is, himself, suffering and wishes to answer him from the Cross, from the heart of his own suffering.

But Christ doesn’t respond to the question of suffering in the abstract. No, in place of an answer he says, “Follow me! Come!

Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross.”

For Saint John Paul II, and for Mary, our Resident, suffering is a call, a vocation.

The redemptive value of suffering in union with Christ can transform our feelings of depression, desperation and uselessness into a sense of mission. This is how St. Paul could say “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, for in them I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, the Church.”

In the smile of Mary, our Resident I saw this same deep joy and confidence that her suffering has a purpose.

The points I’ve tried to make today are not easy and I have only paraphrased Pope John Paul II. But I feel that it’s crucial for us to wrap our heads around this concept of redemptive suffering so that it can penetrate our hearts and become an unwavering conviction.

It’s clear to me that a driving force behind the culture of death is that many of our contemporaries don’t find any purpose in suffering. My prayer is that believers will stop this tide before it is too late.

During her long years of retirement and old age Jeanne Jugan made the Stations of the Cross every day. One of the young Sisters who assisted her later remarked that at the 11th station, where Jesus is nailed to the cross, she would smile and say, “We have been grafted into the cross and we must carry it joyfully until death.”

In the coming week, let’s continue to gaze on the crucifix, asking Saint Jeanne Jugan to help us understand our own role in Christ’s redemptive mission.