Crossed The Tiber

An Evangelical Converts to Catholicism

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Location: Pennsylvania, United States

I was born into the Catholic faith. At 14, I was "born again" and found Jesus personally but lost His Church. After thirty years as an evangelical protestant, I have come full circle to find that He has been there all the time, in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. I wish others to find the beauty and truth of the Catholic faith as I have found.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sufferin' Succotash! An Incomplete Guide to the Theology of Suffering

Suffering. No one likes to hear about it or welcome it and we try to avoid it at all costs in our lives. Yet, it seems that suffering has been part of human existence since our great, great.......grandparents developed a hankering for the forbidden fruit. After Adam and Eve were unceremoniously bounced out of the cool of the garden in exchange for the heat of the day, we have been suffering. As posted in my last blog, I had learned the hard way that pursuing my own interpretation of Scripture to deal with the suffering in my life was a difficult road to travel. My late wife and I clung to the Scriptures regarding healing and pulled them out of context to help us feel that "the healing was forthcoming" and our suffering would be ended. The passionate prayer of our Lord in the garden of Gethsemane and the "Lord's Prayer" were not part of our "prayer warrior armamentarium." After she died, the only words that comforted me were given to me by an old college friend who had since become a Catholic priest. The details of this were posted in my conversion testimony in the May blog (conversion story chap. 4), but to recap, Father E. had given me a verse from Colossians that helped me to realize that my late wife's suffering had purpose and wasn't in vain despite not "receiving her healing." My priest friend said that my late wife took her sufferings and added them to Christ's sufferings on the cross. He paraphrased a bit and said Jesus was giving her the opportunity to suffer with Him on the cross, the way Paul added his sufferings to Christ's for the sake of the body. Colossians 1:24 states "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" So Paul is saying that the suffering we endure can be used for the sake of the church, the body of Christ. I hadn't studied or remembered ever reading this verse as an evangelical! But yet here it was, plain as day, the sufferings we endure can be used for God's purposes in the Church. The Catholic Church has always believed that the suffering we endure on this earth has redemptive value and this is the basis for the concept of redemptive suffering or "offering it up." "In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed." John Paul 2
Since I have come back to the Church I often hear people tell me their Old Catholic Grandma's would tell them as children to stop their whining and "offer it up." What Grannie was saying is, "take your suffering and offer it up or add it to Christ's suffering because He will use it for some purpose in the body of Christ." Since Catholics believe the body of Christ is not separated by time or death, we can offer up our suffering for the sake of those enduring purification before they see Christ. (nothing impure can ever see God.) We can also offer up our suffering for the salvation of souls (my personal favorite)
Scripture speaks clearly to the fact that we will suffer and God uses this suffering. Luke 14: 27
"And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."

II Corinthians 4:8-12
"In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straitened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you"

My favorite verse of all time: Philippians 3:8-11
"Furthermore, I count all things to be but loss for the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ, my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ. And may be found in him, not having my justice, which is of the law, but that which is of the faith of Christ Jesus, which is of God: justice in faith. That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings: being made conformable to his death, If by any means I may attain to the resurrection which is from the dead. "

I must have skipped over these verses when we were insisting that God heal my wife. Somehow I didn't make the connection that Christ our Savior and role model suffered and we are to be conformed to his likeness and image, so suffering would certainly be a part of that process. The beauty in suffering is not only can it build character and patience and strengthen our faith, but it can fill up what is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the sake of His body, the church. Does that mean Christ's suffering and death on the Cross wasn't enough to bring us redemption from our sins? Absolutely not, but He gives us the opportunity to add our sufferings to His, since at some mystical level, we are a part of the "priesthood of believers " and therefore can offer up our suffering as a sacrifice for others. It's a beautiful and ancient teaching of the Church that has made much more sense to me than the unscriptural views of suffering I held many years ago during my late wife's illness. Peter reiterates this concept when he says: "For unto this are you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow his steps. "
(1 Peter 2)

So to wrap up this "incomplete" guide:

1) We all will suffer as children of God living in this fallen world.
2) Jesus is our role model and if He suffered, we certainly are not going to be spared, and are commanded to follow in His footsteps.
3) Suffering is not only used for our growth but in some mysterious way, God takes our suffering, when we offer it, and uses it for the benefit of our brothers and sisters, the body of Christ.

Let me know what you think.

Pope John Paul II's Letter on the Christian Meaning of Suffering

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Blogger Linda said...

I think you have beautifully and succinctly expressed the Church's teaching on suffering! As a (post-Vatican II) cradle Catholic, I had to 'rediscover' all of what you just wrote - mostly from Protestants who, like you, crossed the Tiber. So now, I instruct my little ones in 'offering it up' - I think it's a great comfort to them that God can use every tear or hurt they may endure to some good purpose. I know this teaching has certainly brought me peace beyond understanding... God bless!

September 03, 2006 11:44 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

Of all the wonderful teaching of the Catholic Church, this one I think brought me back to Rome.
It is more honest and real and rational than anything I had ever believed about suffering . God is the God of truth and gives us the grace to live in the present reality, not denying our pains but offering them up as Christ did before us. Thanks for the post Linda!

September 04, 2006 8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah that is great. so were does the term sufferin succotash come from?

October 10, 2006 2:43 PM  
Blogger Tiber Jumper said...

"Succotash (SUHCK-uh-tahsh) is a Naragansett Indian word meaning "broken into bits." This simple dish, of indigenous corn and lima beans, was introduced to white settlers by the Algonkian and Powhatan tribes of the Southern United States. The recipe was adopted by African slaves who were brought to the area and is a staple of traditional soul food cookery. "
Mel Blanc the voice of this warner brothers character probably had to endure multiple meals of succotash during his Navy days so perhaps he got it from there.
I was just trying to initiate the blog that day with a little humor for a very difficult to live concept.

October 10, 2006 3:27 PM  
Blogger Joyful Catholics said...

I couldn't agree more, TJ. And here I learned also a bit more about 'succotash!' Glad I popped over and now, curiously, I find myself hungry for lima beans and corn and fry bread and some of the best old cartoons ever! My fave was Daffy Duck though. He had that "thame lithpy thound."


May 27, 2010 10:20 AM  

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