Fr. Steven shares his insights on how we can transform our suffering with Christ.
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Reflective Study Guide Questions
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.”Mt. 11:28
- While discussing Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical on suffering, Father Steven points out that most of Jesus’ recorded actions in Scripture have to do with Him ministering to people who are suffering. How can knowing this about Jesus change the way you relate to Him when you are suffering?
- Though our sufferings often feel as if they are meaningless, there can be great redemptive value in our sufferings. Do you struggle with making sense of your sufferings? How can you work on growing spiritually through the knowledge of your sufferings’ redemptive value?
- As we seek to grow into a deeper unity with Jesus through our sufferings, we must first acknowledge our sufferings to Him. What sufferings and struggles can you acknowledge to Jesus for Him to come meet you in?
- It can often feel uncomfortable to surrender ourselves to Jesus in our sufferings. Have you felt uncomfortable surrendering your sufferings to Jesus before? How can you work on coming before Him with these sufferings in a posture of humility and trust?
Text: Redemptive Suffering With Christ
Hi, my name is Father Steven Borello and thank you for joining me in this online Pray More Healing Retreat. Let us begin in a prayer.
In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen. Almighty God, you know our story, you know, our experiences, you know the pain we have in our lives, places of emotional, physical, mental suffering. We ask you father that through the mercy and the love of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection, that all who suffer would experience His tender and intimate love and find hope and joy. We entrust this prayer to the hands of Mary, as we say, Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen. The father and the son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Suffering and the Power of God’s Love
Well, it’s good to be back with you again today and to reflect on suffering and the power of God’s love. So just like fear, suffering can only be encountered and transformed through love. And as perfect love casts out fear perfectly, love encounters and redeems suffering, and it redeems it perfectly. Love comes through encounter, it comes through vulnerability, it comes through relationship with God and others. Love is the secret and love is the key to both the simple and immediate sufferings of daily life, as well as those who experience long suffering, with physical, psychological, emotional, or medical ailments.
Now I want to just churn for a bit of time to hear what Saint John Paul II has to say about suffering. And it’s important, much of this comes from his apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris which is the sorrow of suffering. And so he begins by quoting that famous passage of John, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
The reality is is that that the Lord desires none to perish, but that all would have eternal life. Christ drew close to the world of human suffering, He drew close to draw it all to Himself, to redeem all that all of us would be with God forever in heaven, right? We hear that He went about doing good and His actions are concerned primarily with those who were suffering and seeking help. He seeked the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed the people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities.
He was sensitive to every human suffering, given that he had taken this suffering upon His very self. This was the good news of suffering. First of all, John Paul II will acknowledge that suffering is an evil, it is a true evil in the world that this was not how God intended the world to be and yet, as a result of the fall, here’s where we find ourselves as a world, as a population that suffering is present everywhere. But God who is good, sends His own son into the world to redeem the world. And in that, He goes on to say that it is, He goes on to say that in bringing about redemption through suffering, right? Cause Christ’s passion is by far the greatest suffering any human has ever experienced. Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of redemption, that means now that suffering has a direction, it has an end in mind and it comes about through the cross it comes about through our Lord. It comes about through His own suffering.
Suffering Can Have Merit
Thus, each man in His suffering, John Paul II says, can also become a share in the redemptive suffering of Christ. And this is so beautiful, right? That our suffering can have merit when united to Christ, our suffering can have merit when we ourselves meet Jesus Christ in these places of pain. Christ invites us, He doesn’t say, let me do this all for you, but no, He invites us, He invites Peter and James and John to draw near, to keep watch with Him in the garden to share in His sufferings. John Paul II notes, “man discovering through faith, the redemptive suffering of Christ also discovers it in his own suffering. He rediscovers them through faith and reaching with a new content and a new meaning.”
What does this mean? It means that you and I, when we are drawn to Christ and are there with Him in the garden, experiencing His sorrow, experiencing His suffering, we become aware of how it’s our sins that did this to Him. It draws us into this place of intimacy and at the same time, Christ is saying, would you allow me to carry your suffering? Would you allow me to be drawn into your suffering? Because there’s this mutual exchange of love that’s taking place, as we sit beside Him, as we kneel with Him, as we are there with Him in Gethsemane, as we are there with Him on the way to the cross, as we are there with Him in the tomb.
What does it mean? It means that we discover how Jesus’ own sufferings were redemptive, and we find that he who knew no sin became sin for us, who came to bear our infirmities and iniquities, taking them all to Himself, He transforms our sufferings if we allow Him, this is key, right? We have to allow Him to do this for us. And what was once in the eyes of the world meaningless through faith, permits some of the greatest intimacy with Christ this side of heaven. It is so true. Each of us is invited to walk with Christ in the suffering of His passion and His death and experience it in our own suffering and experience in our own sufferings His resurrection. As we find Him in the garden, wrestling with the father in His suffering, we find ourselves wrestling with God and ours. We come to Him to comfort Him, to remain with Him and discover that He comes to us to remain with us, to comfort us in ours.
As this takes place, we journey with Him through His passion and he journeys with us through ours. And we find ourselves together lifted up to the father. So where do we begin? Well, first and foremost, we have to begin by acknowledging just like our fears, we have to begin acknowledging our own suffering, we have to begin acknowledging our own struggles, because that in the acknowledgement is where the Lord comes to meet us, he meets us in that vulnerability. You know, I think of this example, right?
Like every parent who sees their child suffering, they want to act, they want to meet their child in their need and provide that remedy to them. They want to make them well. And like every parent who sees their child suffering, there’s that moment in which they realize that unless my child acknowledges the struggle they are experiencing, the suffering they are going through, the parent really is powerless to enter into this time of difficulty and this time of trial and this is really important because we are these children, God is our father. He wants to hear what is ailing us as much as He wants to hear what is going well in our lives. The Father wants the freedom to act in our lives, which means you and I have to share with Him how we are suffering.
And so, this is first is to acknowledge where there is suffering, right? And we might be like, well, it’s small compared to whatever, but the Lord isn’t asking you or me to compare it. He’s asking us right here, right now, what are you experiencing? And this is where our vulnerability is key cause we make known to the Lord what happens. So, what happens in that vulnerability? Well, when we begin to engage vulnerably and share with our parents that where we are struggling, right? Our parents are able to meet us in our sufferings. You know, and it might be a word that they share with us, it might be them crawling into our beds and just holding us. It might be simply them staying in our room and just sitting on the side of the bed, allowing us to cry.
Sharing with Christ
But wherever we are, it’s when we make known these vulnerabilities, that the best of parents come and they console their children, that the father comes to console us in our weakness, to console us in our suffering. So, what happens here is that we have given another person permission when we are vulnerable, we have given another person permission to enter into our experience and to encounter us in our suffering, to discover that we are not alone in the loss and in the pain. We can hear the words of Matthew chapter 11 echoed here, “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Well, what are they weary with? The burdens of the day, today’s sorrows, today’s suffering. And it’s in coming to the Lord and revealing them and showing them to Him that we ourselves find rest, for He takes these burdens upon Him, He takes these loads upon Him for He is meek and humble of heart and He desires to carry them with us.
We give Christ in these moments of prayer, sharing, really, we give Him this opportunity to share with us our burdens and our weariness and our struggles. And as we share them with Christ our own sufferings, He draws our attention to His own. He helps us to see His anguish in the garden, His abandonment in prison, His exhaustion as He carries his cross. As we reveal our vulnerability, He receives us and makes known Himself as well and asks if we can accept and receive Him as he accepts us. Now, this takes time. This doesn’t happen right away.
But in these encounters, there is a sharing, an accompaniment where the Lord invites us to walk with Him as He carries our burdens, our crosses to Calvary, to redeem them, to redeem what the world says is pointless. And over time, a closeness is cultivated between ourselves and God. This closeness with Jesus is unique to those who suffer. It is truly a place of profound intimacy in which joy and hope and love flow out of the sufferings that the Lord himself experienced, that we ourselves experience because we become so united with Him.
Looking into Suffering
Now, what happens though in our lives, when we find that we might be stuck, when we find that we might be having difficulty, right? And the reality is this takes time, this doesn’t happen overnight. The Lord is asking of us a profound patience because JP II in his wisdom, St. John Paul II’s wisdom writes “Suffering is in itself an experience of evil, but Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good.” Namely, the good of eternal salvation. By His suffering on the cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil of sin and death, he conquered the author of evil Satan and his permanent rebellion against the creator, right? Isn’t that good news, right? That Christ in entering into our suffering brings about this victory over sin and death.
Now he goes on to say that “to the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the kingdom of God, the horizons of a world converted the creator, a world free from sin, a world built on the saving power of love.” And he pauses there, and then he goes on to say that “suffering cannot be transformed and changed by grace from outside.” right? So it’s not outside influences that change it, but it’s really an encounter with Christ in the level of the heart. It is an encounter with Christ through His own salvific suffering that every human suffering can experience the healing power of the Holy Spirit.
This consoling power of the spirit, this interior process does not always follow the same pattern. In fact, each one of us will experience this differently. It often begins in a sudden emotion with great difficulty, but in general, it can be said that almost always the individual enters suffering with the typical human protest and with the question why. He asks the meaning of His suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. He cannot help, but notice, you know, the one that he puts to this question too, though. And this is really important, that He cannot help but notice the one to whom He puts the question is Himself suffering and wishes to answer Him from the cross, from the heart of His own suffering. Jesus wants to answer us as we come to Him with our own suffering, He wants to answer us right from the cross, as He looks down and His gaze is back at us with love and love is the answer that He gives to us. It takes time and even a long time for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived.
I know in my mind that all things work for the good who believe in God. My heart, my heart doesn’t believe that, my heart wrestles with that. John Paul II goes on to say, “gradually the individual takes up his cross spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering Christ.”
Suffering is Real
My brothers and sisters since our sufferings are unique and they take time, there are going to be difficult moments times of profound wrestling with your suffering, as well as with the sense of being out of control. Yet in each of these moments, that we are asking for answers or reasons, the Lord is asking for you and me to share with Him where we are. He’s asking us to share with Him what’s going on in our minds and our hearts. And He’s saying, speak to me, tell me, share with me what you’re experiencing in this moment. Am I angry, am I scared? Am I lost, am I frightened? Do I not understand? Am I exhausted? Share with Him these things because it allows Him to meet us there and to console us.
Our response too with the sharing can also become very much aware that there is a great discomfort of surrender or the lack of control He’s inviting us to, or to a grasping for even greater control and a hardening of our hearts, because we’re unsure of how this is all going to happen. One of the most powerful things to say to the Lord when you notice this is to say, Jesus, I don’t understand. Jesus, I don’t understand why, how or what, what happened to cause this. In saying to the Lord, Jesus, I don’t understand, we come before Him in this posture of humility that allows Him to come to us to meet us here.
Our suffering is real, and the Lord knows it’s real, He went through it Himself and He is asking us to be with Him in the garden, to seek Him, to tell Him Jesus I’m hurt, and I’m disappointed and lost, and I’m confused, and I’m seeking for answers. When, in my woundedness, I need not answers but love. And so there we are with Him in the garden, we just sit with him in the garden, we say, Jesus, teach me, teach me Jesus, that you are faithful, and that you love me here. Speak to my woundedness, speak to my pain, speak to my hurt. And the Lord and His goodness, He does this. He does this because He is faithful to us.
Now there’s a second reason that we have difficulties in sharing with our sufferings. And these happen to often be that you and I want to just give it all to God, we just want to like throw it all at him and say, here Jesus, you take care of it. But the Lord often wants to enter into it to transform our hearts, to transform us because in the transforming of our hearts, we undergo a process of resurrection and redemption. It’s not, how do I want to say this? It’s not that Jesus and the father and the Holy Spirit want us to suffer, that they don’t take it away from us right away.
But often if they were to take it away from us, the way we would choose to live afterwards, maybe far worse than before. And so what do they do instead? They instead seek to enter into it, to redeem, to transform and to heal. They seek to meet us right where we are and to enter into our passion with us and to accompany us through Holy Saturday, into the resurrection of Easter morning.
A Healing Experience With God
I want to share with you just a story from my own life. When I was at the University of St. Thomas teaching at the seminary, a friend of mine called to let me know that her daughter had just died and that she had committed suicide and that somebody had slipped a drug into her drink. And I didn’t know what to do. There was just this, an overwhelming experience of just emotion that welled up in my heart, and I ran to the chapel, and I was just so angry with God. So, so angry with God. And here I am in the chapel, I just had this image of myself like being a little boy and my dad there and just like pounding into his chest and just like yelling at him, like, what are you doing? Why would you do this? Why didn’t you protect her? Why didn’t you take care of her? And as I’m pounding and like these tears are falling from my face, these tears are falling, like she had been doing so well, she’d turned her life around, she was getting ready to go back to college and she knew what she wanted to do, and all of this was taken from her, and being here in this place of profound, emotional suffering and sorrow, I’m just sharing this all with the Lord, and then I had this inspiration from God as I was there sharing this with him, just to look up.
Now I could see the father’s face, but what I could see were tears running down His face, tears running down His face, as my tears were falling on His own chest. For we both were grieved at what had taken place and that I was not alone in my pain and that the father knew what I was going through, and that He was there with me. It was probably one of the most healing experiences I’ve had with God to know that he is there with me and that He Himself is there to meet me in these places of my deepest pain, my places of deepest sorrow, of deepest suffering, of deepest woundedness.
And I share this experience because I think the Lord in our prayers we take time with in Lectio is He makes these things known, He is inviting us to draw so close to Him that we’re able to be so bold and so vulnerable that we’re able to pound on His chest, that we’re able just to share with Him the pain and the hurt and the frustration and all of it, all of it. And that He’s not afraid of it. He’s not afraid of our suffering. In fact, He desires for it to be shared with Him, just as Saint Paul shares with Jesus all of his sufferings that he can say so boldly that I make up for the sufferings lacking in Christ. Why? Because as he shares them with Christ, it allows Christ enter in to make them His own, they were already His own, but it really allows Paul to experience Christ in the midst of all of his sufferings with him, that he is not alone.
And so, as you can imagine, there is so much more that can be said about suffering, especially what to do when we find ourselves stuck or experiencing dryness in these places of prayer. And so next time, we’ll look at some of these common obstacles that cause dryness and how to respond to them in our daily life prayer.
So, in preparation for next time, I want to invite you to either continue praying with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, which is Luke chapter 22:39 to 46. Or to pray with John chapter 15, verses 1 to 12, which is the vine in the branches to remain in me.
The Lord be with you. May the blessing of almighty God, father, son, and Holy Spirit come upon you and remain with you forever, Amen. God bless.
About Fr. Steven Borello
Fr. Steven Borello is a priest of the Diocese of Joliet currently serving as the Director of Vocation for the Diocese of Joliet-in-Illinois.
Fr. Steven grew up in Glen Ellyn, Illinois and is the oldest of 4 children. He attended the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana where he studied chemistry and chemical engineering. While there, he received a call to the seminary to discern the priesthood. He received his Bachelors in Theology and Masters of Divinity from Mundelein Seminary and was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Joliet in 2011.
He first served as an associate pastor at Notre Dame Parish in Clarendon Hills and was then transferred to Saints Peter and Paul Parish in Naperville in June of 2014. In August of 2015, he began serving at St. John Vianney College Seminary as a spiritual director, director of human formation, and instructor to over 120 men discerning a priestly vocation. He returned to the Diocese of Joliet in August 2018 to begin as the new Director of Vocations.