Redemptive Suffering


“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” -Col 1:24

Recently, in the news, there have been several stories of terminally ill people, even young, otherwise healthy people, very openly planning on taking their own lives, and being assisted to do so.   Terminally ill can live beyond the first or most grim predictions of life expectancy.

This euthanasia (“good death”) is anathema to faithful Catholic thinking.  Catholics should recoil in horror from this suggestion as they do from the subject of abortion.  The Church does not deny modern death can and often is a prolonged and may be a suffering existence.  However, there is no “enough is enough” in faithful Catholic thinking.  Life is God’s gift.  Any attempts, however “reasoned”, well-intentioned, or motivated to short circuit God’s gift are repugnant to the Catholic moral mind, regardless of what is involved.

The Church always urges the best medical care available.  It only requires reasonable measures to prolong life.  Extraordinary measures are not required.  The debate may now ensue as to that definition.  Discuss.

Catholics believe in free will with regards to committing sin.  Beyond the effects of original sin, which is removed in baptism, post baptismal sin 1)  deprives the soul of grace, due to the guilt of having committed sin.  In addition, 2)  there is a penalty due.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation removes the guilt (1) freely, without cost, or other requirement, through the freely given gift of God’s grace and love, and allows that grace to be restored, and thus the soul may aspire again to Heaven, but (2) remains.  You can begin to see why Catholics hold the importance of infant baptism, required for salvation.

Catholics are often misunderstood as trying to “earn” their way into Heaven; untrue and misunderstood.  Catholics do through prayer, fasting, almsgiving, other good works of charity, and through redemptive suffering remit (2) the penalty due to sin.

We have no way of knowing what the penalty for offending God would be, however, and please bear with me as I try to make this point:  think of throwing a tomato at a homeless person.  Horrible.  But, not likely to arouse the wrath of the police, not likely.  Now imagine throwing a tomato at the President of the United States.  That might invite the attention of the Secret Service.  The point being the same offense against a more dignified personage implies a heavier penalty/consequence.  So, since God is infinitely dignified, etc, etc, even the smallest of offenses against Him implies an infinite penalty, so the thinking goes.  We don’t, cannot keep score.  We trust in and believe in the mercy of God, but are also aware of His justice.  There is no love without justice.

Redemptive suffering is the belief that human suffering, such as in end-of-life, but not purely limited only to that, any suffering accepted during life, when accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Jesus, can remit the just punishment (2) for one’s sins or for the sins of another, or for the other physical or spiritual needs of oneself or another. Like an indulgence, (yes, they still exist, are valid, but are no longer sold and no longer measured in time) redemptive suffering does not gain the individual forgiveness for their sin; forgiveness results from God’s grace, freely given through Christ, through the Sacrament of Reconciliation and CANNOT be earned. After one’s sins are forgiven, the individual’s suffering can reduce the penalty due for sin.  Redemptive suffering is only ever understood as that suffering in life unsought and which cannot be avoided.

Sometimes we see those who suffer beyond what a reasonable person would perceive as just from a loving God.  Their suffering is not wasted nor is it in vain.  It has deep meaning.  The merits of this suffering are retained, through the Communion of Saints, in the Treasury of Merit (Mt 6:20), to remit the penalty of sin due from others who have not fully paid their debt to God.  God is merciful and just.  Those unbaptized suffer to no end.  Theirs is pointless, dumb suffering.

There is a very good article on the detailed thinking of the Church’s mind on redemptive suffering here.