Suffering is an inevitable part of the human experience; however, through His Passion and Death, Jesus gave new meaning to our suffering, if we choose to embrace it. In this talk, Sr. Orianne Pietra René discusses one of the most mysterious aspects of the Christian life–the saving power of the Cross and how we can participate in the redemptive act of Jesus by uniting our own sufferings to it.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.’”Matthew 16:24
1. Suffering is a difficult and unavoidable reality to face. Where do you see suffering in your life right now? Is it in your own experiences or in the life of a loved one?
2. Although He was without sin, Jesus was not spared from experiencing suffering and death during His time on Earth. Why? What significance does Jesus’ Passion and Death hold for your own experience of pain?
3. How do you respond when faced with difficulty and suffering? Do you turn from God or do you willingly and joyfully unite your sufferings to Christ on the Cross? What is holding you back from making your suffering redemptive?
4. Not even Jesus carried His cross without help. His Mother followed close by offering her empathy; Veronica wiped the blood and sweat from his face. Simon of Cyrene even physically helped Jesus carry the cross on the way to Golgotha when He struggled to go on. Who in your life can help you during times of suffering? How can you help someone else facing difficulties?
Text: How to Respond to Our Crosses
Hello, I’m Sr. Orianne Pietra Rene. I’m a daughter of Saint Paul, and I’m very excited to be praying with you today. We’re about to dive into kind of a difficult session about how to respond to our crosses. And before we begin, I would like to open with a prayer. But leading into that prayer, I’m hoping that you can call to mind any specific cross that you have or that you have had that you haven’t quite come to terms with yet, or perhaps a cross that you are watching someone else carry, and you just are in so much pain watching them. Take a moment to call that to mind. We begin in the sign of our faith with the cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen. And we will pray three times. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. Jesus, I trust in you. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen.
A Denial of The Pinnacle of Our Faith
Okay, so the cross is probably the most difficult part of our faith, and even though it is the thing about our faith that kind of makes our faith, you could say as a figure of speech in many ways, it’s also the part that we are most likely to deny. We have such a hard time accepting that suffering may yet be part of our lives once we have accepted a God of goodness into our life. If you think of how many times you hear, like, prosperity gospel preachers on TV, or in the media, or maybe even in-person, that is a denial of the cross. It’s not just kind of wrong. It’s a denial of the pinnacle of our faith, but it’s also really easy to fall into this idea that, “That if I do everything that God wants, if I trust Him, everything’s going to be great. Golden sunshine, rainbows,” but that’s not what Jesus’ life was like, and He did everything perfectly.
So, this is a really difficult thing for us to understand. In the Bible, Saint Paul describes the cross, the crucified Christ, as a stumbling block and folly. “A stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles.” Some translations call it “a scandal and folly.” Meaning it turns people off, right? And it can be very difficult for us to understand exactly why Jesus had to go to the cross in the first place or at least why he chose to, and even more difficult than in accepting our own crosses.
I think, when we look at people that we love, maybe you’ve had this experience maybe you haven’t, but when we love somebody, like really love somebody, and they are suffering, we often have a reaction from within ourselves of wishing that we could take that suffering off of them, and willing to take it on ourselves if it would spare them. That is one of the most God-like reactions, emotional reactions, that we can have.
When God looked upon His people who were suffering all of the consequences of sin, a sin that they chose, a sin that they chose when they said no to him, saying, “I don’t want the consequences of saying yes to you. I want the consequences of saying no and doing my own thing.” When they were suffering those consequences, perhaps the greatest of which was death, what did He do? He said, “No. “I will take this upon myself.” He came down from Heaven. He bore the weight. The lasting consequence of our sin, He bore it to the cross, and He suffered that consequence, except He was too big for it, and He broke it. He broke death. He conquered death, so that we will never have to suffer lasting death if we allow Him to live in us, if we choose His life. We have that ability. He took that upon Himself. He also told us that we would suffer. He did not take on all… Or He did not take on. He did take on. He didn’t take away all of human suffering. In His love for us, He allows us free will, and our free will has consequences, right?
Responding to Our Suffering
We will still have suffering. We will still have trials, but, we are edified and nourished and strengthened from within and from without by a love that looked at us and said, “I can’t bear to see you separated from me from eternity. I can’t bear to see you suffer the lasting consequence of death. I will take it on. I will take it on,” and He did. So, His suffering on the cross bore the weight of human sin, suffered the consequence, the lasting consequence of human sin. He redeemed us. His suffering, through His suffering, He redeemed us. This is a great mystery of our faith, a great mystery, the great mystery of our faith.
When we are faced with sufferings, when we are faced with our crosses, when we see others around us faced with crosses, we wish we could take on for ourselves but we can’t, how do we respond? How can any good come of these things? Sometimes we might be able to guess how good might be able to come from it, and sometimes we really can’t. We really can’t. We can’t guess, we can’t see, and it’s hard for us to believe. As Christians, especially by the virtue of our baptism through which God dwells in us, through which we are temples of the Lord of the Holy Spirit, we have a special ability to unite our sufferings to the sufferings of Christ on the cross, to the redemptive suffering of Christ on the cross.
When Saint Paul in the New Testament says, “I make up for what is lacking “in the sufferings of Christ,” what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ? Nothing except our conformity to it, right, because we are members of His body. When we are suffering, whether it’s from, you know, the consequence of our own sin, whether it’s from the consequence of somebody else’s sin, we had nothing to do with it, but it affected us, it’s not fair, but it does. Whether it’s because of some freak of nature: a tornado, a hurricane, a tsunami, whatever, a disease, all of these things were affected by the fall at the beginning. All of these things are a consequence of the fall.
We live with the consequences of sins that were never our own, and we live with the consequences of sins that are our own. When we are faced with suffering, we have a choice. We can choose not to bring it to God. We can choose to bemoan it. We can choose to rail against it. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to ever alleviate suffering or that we shouldn’t try to help ourselves.
What I’m saying is we have a choice as to how interiorly we respond. Am I going to rail against the injustice of my suffering? Blame God for it, ignore God in it, be angry and bitter and think of how unfair all of this is, or am I going to say yes to the opportunity of intimacy, of uniting myself with Christ on the cross? He who came incarnate to unite Himself to me, He who went to the cross bearing my personal sin in unity with me, He who has come to dwell in me and be formed in me in intimacy, am I going to say yes to therefore joining with Him in this suffering? Am I going to offer my sufferings, “To make up for what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ,” to unite my suffering as a member of Christ’s body to the cross with Christ? The only thing that is lacking is my participation. Am I willing? Am I willing to really be united with Christ? Am I willing to suffer death with Him in order to rise to life with Him? Am I willing to suffer death with Him in order to bring life to others? Am I willing to offer my sacrifices to the cross to Him, so that they can become redemptive, or am I going to withhold them, so that they just really stink and never really matter? They do matter, right, because we matter. We matter to God, but if we’re withholding those things from Him, if we’re not bringing our whole self to Him, if we’re not bringing our whole heart to Him, what can He do with that? What can He do with that? We’re holding it back. We’re not giving it to Him. We’re not giving Him permission. We’re not uniting it to Him.
A Place of Intimacy with God
The mystery of Christ’s ability to work redemption out of suffering is something that is difficult to fathom. Even when we have seen it happen in our own life, when we’re faced with another opportunity, we can forget, or we can doubt, or we can say, “Oh, not not this one though. “Not this one though.” But we are being invited to offer that suffering to God. Suffering our crosses really are a place of intimacy with the Lord. This is going to sound weird, but it’s a metaphor. Some mystics have described the cross as quote/unquote, “The marriage bed of the bridegroom, Christ, with the bride, His church.”
This is where, this is where, we are most intimately united. On the cross when He took on all of our failings, all of our no’s, all of our sins, all the weight of it, all the consequence of it He took it on Himself. This is the place that we then have the opportunity to come and to unite ourselves to Him, saying, “I’m not leaving you alone on the cross. Take my suffering too. Make this redemptive too. I don’t know how, but I know that you can. And I know that you will because you’ve done it before. You’ve done it before.” Yes, He died once and for all on the cross, once and for all, but He is working out that redemption through time. He is applying those graces through time into your life, into the lives of those who will come after you, into the lives of those around you, into your life now, and into your life five minutes from now, five years from now, five decades from now.
So, when we are faced with a suffering, again, whether it is little, whether it is a splinter on the cross, whether it is large, like, life-changingly, earth-shatteringly, “I don’t know how to go on from this moment,” large, we can bring it to Jesus. We can tell Him how we are feeling. We can tell Him, “Jesus, I don’t, I don’t…” We can run out of words with him, and we can say, “Lord, I’m offering you this suffering. Please enter into it. I’m offering it to you, uniting it to your cross. Work redemption out of this.”
Be Like Simon of Cyrene
Rely on the grace of the sacraments in this, because so often we need renewed strength, and it can be very difficult to find. Lean on the strength of the sacraments. Know that Jesus reminds us that we are sharing this yoke, right, with Him. He’s never leaving us alone to carry any burden. And also, in Jesus’ own passion, He had a helper. He had a helper carrying His cross up to that mountain. Simon of Cyrene literally got yanked out of a crowd and asked to help. But there are so many people around us who volunteer to help, and some who get yanked out and then willingly help, yanked out of a crowd. Accept your Simon of Cyrenes.
Accept the Simon of Cyrenes in your life. And if you see someone going through a cross that is just so utterly horrid you cannot believe how they are bearing it, you don’t understand why they’ve been entrusted with this cross, why they had to face it, what good could possibly come out of it, Simon of Cyrene had all of those same questions about Jesus. He helped Him. He helped Him get to the place where He could redeem humanity.
Help those around you who are carrying their crosses, so that they can have the freedom to offer it as well. We are never alone in our suffering. It is always the opportunity of an encounter with Christ. Take Him up on it, and let Him work redemption, and joy and life through this difficult thing. Trust Him. It might take a while, but it will come.
Divine Mercy Chaplet
And to close, we can pray one decade of “The Divine Mercy Chaplet”, just asking the Lord to cover us with His love and entrusting to Him all of our own sufferings for Him to unite them on the cross, and for Him to work redemption out of. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Eternal Father, I offer you the body and the blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.
About Sr. Orianne Pietra René
Sr. Orianne Pietra René, fsp was born into a multi-cultural and multi-faith home, and converted to Catholicism at a young age. After years of ongoing little conversions of heart, she left a teaching career to enter the Daughters of St Paul, a community of religious sisters dedicated to proclaiming the Gospel through the most effective means of communication, as St Paul did. Sr Orianne’s greatest wish is for all people to find their healing, their belonging, and their joy in Christ!