Suffering With Christ

“Suffering With Christ”
A reflection on Colossians 1:24-28
Sunday of the Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time (Year C)
©️2022 by Gloria M. Chang

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory. It is he whom we proclaim, admonishing everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.

Colossians 1:24-28

Mystical Body of Christ

Jesus and the saints form one Mystical Body. Thus, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Corinthians 12:26, RSV).

Mysteriously, the sufferings of Christ the Head are shared by his Body, the Church, fulfilling the mission of the preexistent “word of God” (Colossians 1:25).

So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:11

When the Word took flesh in Mary’s womb, humanity and the cosmos commenced their journey to God the Father through his incarnate Son. Before his ascension, Jesus commissioned the Church—a divine and human organism—to complete his work on earth by making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). 

God’s apostle to the Gentiles, Paul, discovered the mystical nature of Christ’s Body on his way to persecuting his followers.

On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He said, “Who are you, sir?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

Acts 9:3-5

Paul soon exchanged his role as persecutor for persecuted; in suffering for Christ, he became one with him.

“Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name.”

Acts 9:15-16

Crucified With Christ

I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.

Galatians 2:20 (RSV)

United with his beloved, Paul writes, “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Colossians 1:24).

Christ’s union with all humankind makes us sharers in his suffering love:

For as Christ’s sufferings overflow to us, so through Christ does our encouragement also overflow. If we are afflicted, it is for your encouragement and salvation; if we are encouraged, it is for your encouragement, which enables you to endure the same sufferings that we suffer.

2 Corinthians 1:5-6

Divine-Human Collaboration

God wills to bring his creation to fulfillment with free, human collaborators. From Adam, Eve, Abraham, Sarah, and their descendants, to Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the apostles, and saints, salvation history unfolds as a divine-human enterprise. Yet, since the divine initiative and grace flow from God alone, redemption is ultimately the work of God. Nonetheless, the free response of creatures to God’s initiative redounds to his honor and glory with magnificent splendor. 

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, 
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. 
From this day all generations will call me blessed: 
the Almighty has done great things for me, 
and holy is his Name.

Magnificat of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke 1:46-48)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church offers profound insights into the synergy of God and humans in bringing creation to fruition.

Providence and Secondary Causes

To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of “subduing” the earth and having dominion over it. God thus enables men to be intelligent and free causes in order to complete the work of creation, to perfect its harmony for their own good and that of their neighbors. Though often unconscious collaborators with God’s will, they can also enter deliberately into the divine plan by their actions, their prayers and their sufferings. They then fully become “God’s fellow workers” and co-workers for his kingdom.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 307

Our Participation in Christ’s Sacrifice

The cross is the unique sacrifice of Christ, the “one mediator between God and men.” But because in his incarnate divine person he has in some way united himself to every man, “the possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery” is offered to all men. He calls his disciples to “take up [their] cross and follow (him),” for “Christ also suffered for (us), leaving (us) an example so that (we) should follow in his steps.” In fact Jesus desires to associate with his redeeming sacrifice those who were to be its first beneficiaries. This is achieved supremely in the case of his mother, who was associated more intimately than any other person in the mystery of his redemptive suffering. Apart from the cross there is no other ladder by which we may get to heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church 618

Suffering With Christ Heals the Church

The Holy Spirit gives to some a special charism of healing so as to make manifest the power of the grace of the risen Lord. But even the most intense prayers do not always obtain the healing of all illnesses. Thus St. Paul must learn from the Lord that “my grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and that the sufferings to be endured can mean that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church 1508

We Are the Hands and Feet of Christ

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

St. Teresa of Ávila

United with Christ, our afflictions
Become for the Church benedictions.

2 Replies to “Suffering With Christ”

  1. Dear GMC, thank you for your reflection that shows us that suffering is an act of God’s love. One of your statements also brings to mind what my spiritual director was telling me the other day: that as you say about God: “…he has in some way united himself to every man….” He finds that a mystery that is on par with the Holy Trinity. I would love to know what you think about that! Peace and grace to you, dear GMC!

    1. fdan, that quote is out of the Catechism. All mysteries originate from the primordial mystery—the mystery before “mysteries”—the Holy Trinity. God is not a mystery to himself. Apart from finite minds, are there any mysteries?

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