Today, September 15, is the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. Quite naturally, it follows yesterdays feast of the Triumph of the Cross. We call to mind today the sorrows of Mary, Jesus’ mother, who wept for Him at the foot of the cross.
The reading for the Liturgy of the Hours morning prayer for this memorial is from St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: “Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up with is lacking in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his body, the church” (Col 1:24).
What does St. Paul mean? What could possibly be lacking in the suffering of Christ?
In his Apostolic Letter on the Christian meaning of suffering, Salvifici Doloris, Pope St. John Paul the Great reflects on St. Paul’s words. After considering St. Paul’s message on sharing in the suffering of Christ, (“I am crucified with Christ…” Gal 2:20) St. John Paul turns to St. Paul’s words in Colossians:
“In the Paschal Mystery Christ began the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his Sacrifice – sacramentally through the Eucharist – the Church is continually being built up spiritually as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer. The words quoted above from the Letter to the Colossians bear witness to the exceptional nature of this union. For, whoever suffers in union with Christ – just as the Apostle Paul bears his ‘tribulations’ in union with Christ – not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to but also ‘completes’ by his suffering ‘what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions’. This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. In so far as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings – in any part of the world and at any time in history – to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world.
“Does this mean that the Redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension – the dimension of love – the Redemption which has already been completely accomplished is, in a certain sense, constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the Redemption completely and to the very limits but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the Redemption of the world is accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ’s redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.” (#24, emphasis in original)
Just as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ, so the Church completes the suffering of Christ. As we who are crucified with Christ share in his suffering, so we complete the suffering of Christ as members of his Body. As he hung on the cross, Christ brought to himself the sufferings of all humankind throughout history, taking that suffering and nailing it to the cross with him and his own suffering, so that the suffering of humanity became united with the suffering of Christ and became part of his redemptive work.
Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, is the first to unite herself perfectly with the sufferings of Christ. In the sorrows she suffered at the cross was the fulfillment of the prophecy spoken by Simeon to her at the Presentation of our Lord: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted (and you yourself a sword will pierce) so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed” (Lk 2:34b-35).
But, again, this suffering is not for its own sake. This suffering is redemptive and through this suffering Christ has brought about the redemption of the world. To the point where we unite our suffering to his, we participate in that redemption, as members of his Body.
All suffering can be united with the suffering of Christ, for he has taken upon himself on the cross the suffering of all humanity throughout history. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ will also share in his glory. “Rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pt 4:13).
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.