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Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes

with Pope St John Paul II's apostolic letter Salvifici Doloris on the salvific meaning of suffering, which JPII gave us on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11th February 1984.

The daily prayer is by JPII in Lourdes in 2004 (his last pilgrimage abroad):

Holy Mary, poor and humble Woman, blessed by the Most High!
Virgin of hope, prophecy of the new times, we join in your song of praise, to celebrate the mercies of the Lord, to proclaim the coming of the Kingdom and the full liberation of humanity.

Hail Mary, humble servant of the Lord, glorious Mother of Christ!
Faithful Virgin, holy dwelling of the Word, teach us to persevere in listening to the Word, to be docile to the voice of the Spirit, attentive to his appeals in the intimacy of our conscience and to his manifestations in the events of history.

Hail Mary, Woman of sorrow, Mother of the living!
Virgin spouse beneath the Cross, the new Eve, be our guide along the paths of the world.
Teach us to live and spread the love of Christ, to stand with you beneath the innumerable crosses on which your Son is still crucified.

Hail Mary, Woman of faith, first of the disciples!
Virgin Mother of the Chruch, help us always to give an account for the hope which is in us, trusting in the goodness of man and the love of the Father.
Teach us to build the world from within: in the depths of silence and prayer, in the joy of fraternal love, in the irreplaceable fruitfulness of the Cross.

Holy Mary, Mother of believers, Our Lady of Lourdes, pray for us. Amen.

The music is sung by the Holy Redeemer Choir.
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You can read Salvifici Doloris in French, German, Italian, Latin, Portuguese & Spanish.
This novena was recorded especially to start on the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple & lead up to the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes 2012.

Day 1 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

INTRODUCTION

1. Explaining the salvific value of suffering, the Apostle Paul says: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church".

These words seem to be found at the end of the long road that winds through the suffering which forms part of the history of man and which is illuminated by the Word of God. These words have as it were the value of a final discovery, which is accompanied by joy. For this reason the Apostle writes: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake". The joy comes from discovering the meaning of suffering, and this discovery, even if it is most personally shared in by Paul of Tarsus who wrote these words, is at the same time valid for others. The Apostle shares his own discovery and rejoices in it because of all those whom it can help — just as it helped him — to understand the salvific meaning of suffering.

2. The theme of suffering - precisely under the aspect of this salvific meaning - seems to be deeply embedded in the context of the Holy Year of the Redemption as an extraordinary Jubilee of the Church. And this circumstance too clearly favours the attention it deserves during this period. Independently of this fact, it is a universal theme that accompanies man at every degree of longitude and latitude: in a certain sense it co-exists with him in the world, and thus demands to be constantly reconsidered. Even though Paul, in the Letter to the Romans, wrote that "the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now", even though man knows and is close to the sufferings of the animal world, nevertheless what we express by the word "suffering" seems to be particularly essential to the nature of man. It is as deep as man himself, precisely because it manifests in its own way that depth which is proper to man, and in its own way surpasses it. Suffering seems to belong to man's transcendence: it is one of those points in which man is in a certain sense "destined" to go beyond himself, and he is called to this in a mysterious way.

3. If the theme of suffering demands to be addressed especially in the context of the Holy Year of the Redemption, this is so primarily because the Redemption was accomplished through the Cross of Christ, that is, through his suffering. And at the same time, during the Holy Year of the Redemption we recall the truth expressed in the encyclical Redemptor Hominis: in Christ "every man becomes the path for the Church". It can be said that man becomes the path for the Church especially when suffering enters his life. This happens, as we know, at different moments in life, is realized in different ways, takes on different dimensions; nevertheless, in whatever form, suffering seems to be, and is, almost inseparable from the earthly existence of man.

Given then that throughout his earthly life man walks in one way or another on the path of suffering, the Church at all times - and perhaps especially during the Holy Year of the Redemption - should meet man on this very road. The Church, which is born of the mystery of Redemption in the Cross of Christ, has to try to meet man in a particular way on the path of his suffering. In this meeting man "becomes the path for the Church", and is one of the most important paths.

4. From this also follows the present reflection, precisely in the Year of the Redemption: a meditation on suffering. Human suffering evokes compassion; it also evokes respect, and in its own way it intimidates. For in suffering is contained the greatness of a specific mystery. This special respect for all human suffering must be set at the beginning of what will be expressed here later by the deepest need of the heart, and also by the deep imperative of faith. These two reasons seem to draw particularly close to each other and join together on the theme of suffering: the need of the heart commands us to overcome fear, and the imperative of faith — formulated, for example, in the words of St Paul quoted at the beginning — provides the content, in the name of which and by virtue of which we dare to touch what seems so intangible in every man: for man, in his suffering, remains an intangible mystery.

Day 2 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

II THE WORLD OF HUMAN SUFFERING

5. Even though in its subjective dimension, as a personal fact buried in the depth of concrete, unique man, suffering seems almost inexpressible and incommunicable, at the same time perhaps nothing else requires as much in its "objective reality" as does suffering, to be dealt with, meditated upon, and conceived as an explicit problem; and then around it basic questions asked and answers sought. As you can see this is not just a question here to give a description of suffering. There are other criteria which go beyond the sphere of description, and which we must introduce when we want to penetrate the world of human suffering.

It may be that medicine, as the science and the art of healing together, discovers in the terrain of of the suffering of man the best known area, the one identified with greater precision and relatively more counterbalanced by methods of "reaction" (that is, therapy). Nonetheless, this is only one area. The terrain of human suffering is much wider, more varied, and multi-dimensional. Man suffers in different ways, not always considered by medicine, not even in its most advanced specializations. Suffering is something even more extensive than sickness, more complex and at the same time still more deeply rooted in humanity itself. A certain idea of this problem comes from the distinction between physical suffering and moral suffering. This distinction is based upon the double dimension of the human being and indicates the bodily and spiritual element as the immediate or direct subject of suffering. Although to some degree the words "suffering" and "pain", can be used as synonyms, physical suffering is present when "the body is hurting" in some way, whereas moral suffering is "pain of the soul". It is, in fact, a question of pain of a spiritual nature, and not only of the "psychological" dimension of pain which accompanies both moral and physical suffering. The vastness and the many forms of moral suffering are certainly no less than those of physical suffering. But at the same time, moral suffering seems as it were less identified and less reachable by therapy.

6. Sacred Scripture is a great book about suffering. Let us quote some examples from the books of the Old Testament of situations which bear the signs of suffering, and above all moral suffering: the danger of death, the death of one's own children and, especially, the death of the firstborn and only son; and then too: the lack of offspring, nostalgia for the homeland, persecution and hostility of the environment, mockery and scorn of the one who suffers, loneliness and abandonment; and again: the remorse of conscience, the difficulty of understanding why the wicked prosper and the just suffer, the unfaithfulness and ingratitude of friends and neighbours; and finally: the misfortunes of one's own nation.

The Old Testament, in treating the human person as a psychological and physical "whole", often links "moral" sufferings with the pain of specific parts of the body: the bones, kidneys, liver, viscera(, heart. In fact one cannot deny that moral sufferings have a "physical" or somatic element, and that they are often reflected in the state of the entire organism.

7. As we see from the examples quoted, in Sacred Scripture we find an extensive list of variously painful situations for man. This varied list certainly does not exhaust all that has been said and constantly repeated on the theme of suffering by the book of the history of man (this is rather an "unwritten book"), and even more by the book of the history of humanity, read through the story of every human individual.

It can be said that man suffers whenever he experiences any kind of evil. In the vocabulary of the Old Testament, suffering and evil are identified with each other. In fact, that vocabulary did not have a specific word to indicate "suffering"; therefore it defined as " evil" everything that was suffering. Only the Greek language, and together with it the New Testament (and the Greek translations of the Old Testament), use the verb pasko "I am affected by .... I experience a feeling, I suffer"; and, thanks to this verb, suffering is no longer directly identifiable with (objective) evil, but expresses a situation in which man experiences evil and in doing so becomes the subject of suffering. Suffering has indeed both a subjective and a passive character (from "patior"). Even when man brings suffering on himself, when he is its cause, this suffering remains something passive in its metaphysical essence.

This however does not mean that suffering in the psychological sense is not marked by a specific "activity". This is in fact that multiple and subjectively differentiated "activity" of pain, sadness, disappointment, discouragement or even despair, depending on the whole structure of the individual sufferer and his or her specific sensitivity. At the centre of what constitutes the psychological form of suffering there is always an experience of evil, which causes man to suffer.

Thus the reality of suffering prompts the question about the essence of evil: what is evil?

This question, in a certain sense, seems inseparable from the theme of suffering. The Christian response to it is different from that given by certain cultural and religious traditions which hold that existence is an evil from which we must be liberated. Christianity proclaims the essential good of existence and the good of that which exists, acknowledges the goodness of the Creator and proclaims the good of creatures. Man suffers because of evil, which is a certain lack, limitation or distortion of good. We could say that man suffers because of a good in which he does not participate, from which in a certain sense he is cut off, or of which he has deprived himself. He particularly suffers when he 'ought' — in the normal order of things — to partake in this good and does not.

Thus, in the Christian view, the reality of suffering is explained through evil, which always, in some way, refers to a good.

8. Human suffering in itself constitutes as it were a specific "world" which exists together with man, which appears in him and passes, and sometimes does not pass, but which consolidates itself and becomes deeply rooted in him. This world of suffering, divided into many, numerous subjects, exists as it were "in dispersion". Every man, through his personal suffering, constitutes not only a small part of that a world", but at the same time" that world" is present in him as a finite and unrepeatable entity. Parallel with this, however, is the interhuman and social dimension. The world of suffering possesses as it were its own solidarity. People who suffer become similar to one another through the analogy of their situation, the trial of their destiny, or through their need for understanding and care, and perhaps above all through the persistent question of the meaning of suffering. Thus, although the world of suffering exists "in dispersion", at the same time it contains within itself a singular challenge to communion and solidarity. We shall also try to follow this appeal in the present reflection.

Thinking about the world of suffering in its personal and at the same time collective meaning, one cannot fail to notice the fact that such a world, in some periods of time and in some eras of human existence, as it were becomes particularly concentrated. This happens, for example, in cases of natural disasters, epidemics, catastrophes, upheavals and various social scourges: one thinks, for example, of a bad harvest and connected with it - or with various other causes - the scourge of famine.

One thinks, finally, of war. I speak of it in a special way. I speak of the last two World Wars, the second of which brought with it a much greater harvest of death and a much heavier burden of human sufferings. In its turn, the second half of our century brings with it — as though in proportion to the mistakes and transgressions of our contemporary civilization — such a horrible threat of nuclear war that we cannot think of this period except in terms of an incomparable accumulation of sufferings, even to the possible self-destruction of humanity. In this way, that world of suffering which in brief has its subject in each man, seems in our age to be transformed — perhaps more than at any other time — into a particular "suffering of the world": of a world transformed as never before by progress through man's work and, at the same time,in danger, as never before, because of man's mistakes and offences.

Day 3 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

III THE QUEST FOR AN ANSWER TO THE QUESTION OF THE MEANING OF SUFFERING

9. Within every suffering endured by man, and also at the base of the entire world of suffering, there inevitably arises the question: why? It is a question about the cause, the reason, and equally, a question about the purpose (why?), and, ultimately, about the meaning. Not only does it accompany human suffering, but it seems even to determine its human content, that by which suffering is properly human suffering.

Obviously pain, especially physical pain, is widespread in the animal world. But only man, suffering, knows that he is suffering and asks himself the reason why; and he suffers in an even more profound human way if he does not find a satisfactory answer. This is a difficult question, just as another very similar question, namely that of evil. Why is there evil? Why is there evil in the world? When we put the question in this way, we are always, at least to a certain extent, asking a question about suffering too.

Both these questions are difficult, when man puts them to man, men to men, and also when man puts them to God. Man, in fact, does not put this question to the world, even though suffering often comes to him from it, but he puts the question to God as the Creator and Lord of the world. And it is well known that on this question, not only do many frustrations and conflicts arise in the relations of man with God, but the very negation of God can be reached. If, in fact the existence of the world opens so to say the eyes of the human soul to the existence of God, to his wisdom, his power and his greatness, evil and suffering seem to obscure this image, sometimes in a radical way, and even more when on sees the daily drama of so much suffering when there's been no fault and of so many faults without proper punishment. So this circumstance — perhaps more than any other — shows how important is the question of the meaning of suffering and with what acuity must the question itself and every possible answer be examined.

10. Man can put this question to God with all the emotion of his heart, and with his mind full of dismay and anxiety; and God expects the question and listens to it, as we see in the Revelation of the Old Testament. In the Book of Job the question has found its most vivid expression.

The story is well known of this just man, who without any fault of his own is tried by innumerable sufferings. He loses his possessions, his sons and daughters, and finally he himself is afflicted by a grave illness. In this horrible situation three old acquaintances in his house try to convince him - each in his own way - that since he has been struck down by such varied and terrible sufferings, he must have done something seriously wrong. For suffering — they say — always strikes a man as punishment for a crime; it is sent by God, who is absolutely just, and it finds its reason in the order of justice. It can be said that Job's old friends wish not only to convince him of the moral justice of the evil, but in a certain sense they attempt to justify to themselves the moral meaning of suffering. In their eyes suffering can have a meaning only as a punishment for sin, therefore only on the level of justice of God, who repays good with good and evil with evil.

The point of reference in this case is the doctrine expressed in other Old Testament writings which show us suffering as punishment inflicted by God for the sins of men. The God of Revelation is the Lawgiver and Judge to a degree that no temporal authority can see. For the God of Revelation is first of all the Creator, from whom comes, together with existence, the essential good of creation. Therefore, the conscious and free violation of this good by man is not only a transgression of the law but at the same time an offence against the Creator, who is the first Lawgiver. Such a transgression has the character of sin, according to the exact meaning of this word, namely the biblical and theological one. Corresponding to the moral evil of sin is the punishment, which guarantees the moral order in the same transcendent sense in which this order is laid down by the will of the Creator and Supreme Lawgiver. From this there also derives one of the fundamental truths of religious faith, equally based upon Revelation, namely that God is a just judge, who rewards good and punishes evil: "For thou, O Lord, art just in all that thou hast done to us, and all thy works are true and thy ways right, and all thy judgments are truth. Thou hast executed true judgments in all that thou hast brought upon us... for in truth and justice thou hast brought all this upon us because of our sins".

The opinion expressed by Job's friends manifests a conviction which is also found in the moral conscience of humanity: the objective moral order demands punishment for transgression, sin and crime. From this point of view, suffering appears as a "justified evil". The conviction of those who explain suffering as a punishment for sin finds support in the order of justice, and this corresponds to the opinion expressed by a friend of Job: "As I have seen, those who plough iniquity and sow trouble reap the same".

11. Job however challenges the truth of the principle that identifies suffering with punishment for sin. And he does this on the basis of his own opinion. For he is aware that he has not deserved such punishment, and in fact he speaks of the good he has done in his life. In the end, God himself reproves Job's friends for their accusations and recognizes that Job is not guilty. His is the suffering of someone innocent and it must be accepted as a mystery, which man is unable with his own intelligence to penetrate to its depths.

The Book of Job does not violate the foundations of the transcendent moral order, based upon justice, which are set forth by Revelation, in both the Old and the New Covenants. At the same time, however, this Book shows with all firmness that the principles of this order cannot be applied in an exclusive and superficial way. If it is true that suffering has a meaning as punishment, when it is connected with a fault, it is not true however that all suffering is a consequence of a fault and has the nature of a punishment. The figure of the just man Job is a special proof of this in the Old Testament. Revelation, the word of God himself, presents with complete frankness the problem of the suffering of an innocent man: suffering without guilt. Job was not punished, there was no basis for inflicting a punishment on him, even if he was subjected to a grievous trial. From the introduction of the Book it is apparent that God permitted this test by reason of Satan's provocation. For, before the Lord, Satan had challenged the righteousness of Job: "Does Job fear God for nothing? ... Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth thy hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse thee to thy face". And if the Lord consents to test Job with suffering, he does it to show the latter's righteousness. The suffering has the character of a test.

The Book of Job is not the last word of Revelation on this subject. In a way it is a foretelling of the Passion of Christ. But, already in itself, it is a sufficient argument, because the answer to the question about the meaning of suffering is not unreservedly connected to the moral order, based on justice alone. If such an answer has a fundamental and transcendent reason and validity, at the same time it is seen to be not only unsatisfactory in cases analogous to the suffering of the just man Job, but it even seems to trivialize and impoverish the concept of justice which we meet in Revelation.

12. The Book of Job poses in an extremely acute way the "why" of suffering; it also shows that suffering strikes the innocent, but it does not yet give the solution to the problem.

Already in the Old Testament we note an orientation that tends to go beyond the concept that suffering has a meaning only as a punishment for sin, insofar as at the same time it emphasizes the educational value of suffering as a punishment. Thus in the sufferings inflicted by God upon the Chosen People there is included an invitation of his mercy, which corrects so as to lead to conversion: "... these punishments were designed not to destroy but to discipline our people".

Thus the personal dimension of punishment is affirmed. According to this dimension, the punishment has meaning not only because it serves to repay the objective evil of the transgression with another evil, but first and foremost because it creates the possibility of rebuilding goodness in the subject who suffers.

This is an extremely important aspect of suffering. It is profoundly rooted in the entire Revelation of the Old and above all the New Covenant. Suffering must serve for conversion, that is, for the rebuilding of goodness in the subject, who can recognize divine mercy in this call to repentance. The purpose of penance is to overcome evil, which under different forms lies dormant in man, and to strengthen goodness both in man himself and in his relations with others and especially with God.

13. But in order to perceive the true answer to the "why" of suffering, we must turn our gaze to the revelation of divine love, the ultimate source of the meaning of everything that exists. Love is also the richest source of the meaning of suffering, which always remains a mystery: we are conscious of the insufficiency and inadequacy of our explanations. Christ makes us enter into the mystery and makes us discover the "why" of suffering, in so far as we are capable of understanding the sublimity of divine love.

In order to discover the profound meaning of suffering, following the revealed word of God, we must open ourselves wide to the human subject in his manifold potentiality. We must above all accept the light of Revelation not only insofar as it expresses the transcendent order of justice but also insofar as it illuminates this order with Love, as the definitive source of everything that exists. Love is: also the fullest source of the answer to the question of the meaning of suffering. This answer has been given by God to man in the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Day 4 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

IV JESUS CHRIST - SUFFERING CONQUERED BY LOVE

14. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."

These words, spoken by Christ in his conversation with Nicodemus, introduce us into the very centre of God's salvific work. They also express the very essence of Christian soteriology, that is, the theology of salvation. Salvation means liberation from evil, and for this reason it is closely bound up with the problem of suffering. According to the words spoken to Nicodemus, God gives his Son to "the world" to liberate man from evil, which bears within itself the definitive and absolute perspective on suffering. At the same time, the very word "gives" ("gave") indicates that this liberation must be achieved by the only-begotten Son through his own suffering. And in this, love is manifested, the infinite love both of that only-begotten Son and of the Father who for this "gives" his Son. This is love for man, love for the "world": it is salvific love.

We find ourselves here — we must clearly realize this in our shared reflection on this problem — in a completely new dimension of our theme. It is a different dimension from the one which was determined and, in a sense, concluded the search for the meaning of suffering within the limit of justice. This is the dimension of Redemption, to which in the Old Testament, at least in the Vulgate text, the words of the just man Job already seem to herald: "For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last... I shall see God...". Whereas our consideration so far has concentrated primarily and in a sense exclusively on suffering in its multiple temporal dimension (as well as on the sufferings of the just man Job), the words quoted above from Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus refer to suffering in its fundamental and definitive meaning. God gives his only-begotten Son so that man " not perish" and the meaning of these words " should not perish" is precisely specified by the words that follow: "but have eternal life".

Man " perishes" when he loses "eternal life". The opposite of salvation is not, therefore, only temporal suffering, any kind of suffering, but definitive suffering: the loss of eternal life, being rejected by God, damnation. The only-begotten Son was given to humanity to protect man above all else against this definitive evil and against definitive suffering. In his salvific mission, the Son must therefore strike evil right at its transcendental roots from which it develops in human history. These transcendental roots of evil are fixed in sin and death: they are in fact found at the base of the loss of eternal life. The mission of the only-begotten Son consists in conquering sin and death. He conquers sin by his obedience unto death, and he overcomes death by his Resurrection.

15. When we say that Christ by his mission strikes at evil at its very roots, we have in mind not only evil and definitive, eschatological suffering (so that man "should not perish, but have eternal life"), but also, at least indirectly, evil and suffering in their temporal and historical dimension. For evil remains bound to sin and death. And even if we must with great caution judge man's suffering as a consequence of concrete sins (this is shown precisely by the example of the just man Job), nevertheless suffering cannot be divorced from the sin of the origins, from what Saint John calls "the sin of the world", from the sinful background of personal actions and social processes in human history. If it is not permissible to apply here the narrow criterion of direct dependance (as Job's three friends did), neither however can one reject the criterion that, at the base of human suffering, there is a complex involvement with sin.

It is the same when we deal with death. Many times it is even awaited as a liberation from the sufferings of this life. At the same time, it is impossible to ignore the fact that it constitutes as it were a definitive synthesis of the destructive work as much in the bodily organism as in the psyche. But death above all involves the dissolution of the entire psychophysical personality of man. The soul survives and subsists separated from the body, while the body is subjected to gradual decomposition according to the words of the Lord God, pronounced after the sin committed by man at the beginning of his earthly history: "You are dust and to dust you shall return". Therefore, even if death is not a suffering in the temporal sense of the word, even if in a certain way it is beyond all forms of suffering, at the same time the evil which the human being experiences in death has a definitive and total character. By his salvific work, the only-begotten Son liberates man from sin and death. First of all he blots out from human history the dominion of sin, which took root under the influence of the evil Spirit, beginning with Original Sin, and then he gives man the possibility of living in sanctifying Grace. In the wake of the victory over sin, he also takes away the dominion of death, by his Resurrection beginning the process of the future resurrection of the body. Both are essential conditions of "eternal life", that is of man's definitive happiness in union with God; this means, for the saved, that in the eschatological perspective suffering is totally blotted out.

As a result of Christ's salvific work, man exists on earth with the hope of eternal life and holiness. And although the victory over sin and death achieved by Christ in his Cross and Resurrection does not abolish temporal suffering from human life, nor liberate the whole historical dimension of human existence from suffering, however it throws a new light on this dimension and on every suffering: the light of salvation. This is the light of the Gospel, that is, of the Good News. At the centre of this light is the truth expounded in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son". This truth radically changes the framework of man's history and his earthly situation: in spite of the sin that took root in this history, both as an original inheritance, as the "sin of the world", and as the sum of personal sins, God the Father has loved the only-begotten Son, that is, he loves him always; and then in time, precisely by reason of this love which surpasses everything, he "gives" this Son, that he may get at the very roots of human evil and thus in a salvific way draw close to the whole world of suffering in which man shares.

16. In his messianic activity in the midst of Israel, Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. "He went about doing good", and his actions concerned above all those suffering and those waiting for help. He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various physical disabilities, and three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to every human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. At the same time he taught, and at the centre of his teaching are the eight beatitudes, which are addressed to men tried by various sufferings in their temporal life. They are "the poor in spirit" and "the afflicted" and "those who hunger and thirst for justice" and those who are "persecuted for justice sake", whom people insult, persecute and falsely say all manner of evil against them for the sake of Christ... this according to Matthew; Luke mentions explicitly those "who hunger now".

At any rate, above all Christ drew close to the world of human suffering through the fact of having taken this suffering upon his very self. During his public activity, he experienced not only fatigue, homelessness, misunderstanding even by those closest to him, but, more than anything, he was ever more tightly encircled by hostility encircled by hostility and the preparations for putting him to death became ever clearer. Christ is aware of this, and often speaks to his disciples of the sufferings and death that await him: "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; they will condemn him to death, hand him over to the Gentiles, they will mock him and spit upon him, scourge him and kill him; but after three days he will rise again". Christ goes towards his Passion and death with full awareness of the mission that he has to fulfil precisely in this way. Precisely by means of this suffering he must bring it about "that man should not perish, but have eternal life". Precisely by means of his Cross he must get at the roots of evil, planted in the history of man and in human souls. Precisely by means of his Cross he must accomplish the work of salvation. This work, in the plan of eternal Love, has a redemptive character.

And therefore Christ severely reproves Peter when the latter wants to make him abandon the thoughts of suffering and of death on the Cross. And when, during his arrest in Gethsemane, Peter tries to defend him with the sword, Christ says, " Put your sword back into its place... But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, according to which it must be so?" And he also says, "Shall I not drink the chalice which the Father has given me?". This response - like others that reappear in different points of the Gospel - shows how profoundly Christ was imbued with the thought that he had already expressed in the conversation with Nicodemus: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life". Christ goes toward his own suffering, aware of its saving power, he goes in obedience to the Father, but above all he is united to the Father in this love with which He has loved the world and man in the world. And for this reason St Paul will write of Christ: "He loved me and gave himself for me".

Day 5 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

The Scriptures had to be fulfilled. There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God. Among all these, particularly touching is the one usually called the Fourth Song of the Servant of Yahweh, in the Book of Isaiah. The prophet, who has rightly been called "the fifth evangelist", presents in this Song an image of the sufferings of the Servant with a realism as acute as if he were seeing them with his own eyes: the eyes of the body and of the spirit. In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the evangelists themselves. Here, he presents before us the true Man of Sorrows:

"He had no form or beauty to attract our gaze,
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,
as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Yet he has bore our sufferings and carried our sorrows;
and we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
He was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that gave us salvation,
and with his stripes we are healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep
each following his own way;
the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."

The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible, in a certain sense, to identify the stages of Christ's Passion in their various details: the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the spitting, the contempt for the prisoner, the unjust sentence, and then the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the mocking, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion, the agony.

Even more than this description of the Passion, what strikes us in the words of the prophet is the depth of the sacrifice of Christ. Here, He, though innocent, takes upon himself the sufferings of all men, because he takes upon himself the sins of everyone. "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all": all the sin of man in its breadth and depth becomes the true cause of the suffering of the Redeemer. If the suffering "is measured" by the evil suffered, then the words of the prophet enable us to understand the extent of this evil and this suffering, which Christ loaded upon himself. It can be said that this is "substitutive" suffering; but above all it is "redemptive". The Man of Sorrows of that prophecy is truly that "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". In his suffering, sins are erased precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them upon himself, accept them with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.

Here we touch upon the dual nature of a single personal subject of redemptive suffering. He, who by his Passion and death on the Cross brings about the Redemption, is the only-begotten Son whom God "gave". At the same time this Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions; it also has - unique in humanity's history - a depth and intensity which, while being human, can also be an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, as the Man who suffers is in person the same only-begotten Son: " God from God". Therefore, only he — the only-begotten Son — is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man: in every sin and in "total" sin, according to the dimensions of the historical existence of humanity on earth.

18. It can be said that the above considerations now brings us directly to Gethsemane and Golgotha, where the Song of the Suffering Servant, contained in the Book of Isaiah, was fulfilled. But before going there, let us read the following verses of the Song, which give a prophetic anticipation of the Passion of Gethsemane and of Golgotha. The Suffering Servant — and this in its turn is essential for an analysis of the Passion of Christ — takes on himself those sufferings which have been spoken of, in a totally voluntary way:

"He was mistreated, humiliated,
and he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb led to the slaughter
like a sheep dumb before its shearers,
and he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and unjust sentence he was taken away;
Among his generation, who considered that
he was cut off out of the land of the living,
he was stricken for the transgression of his people.
He was given a burial with the wicked
and his grave is with the rich,
although he had committed no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth."

Christ suffers voluntarily and suffers innocently. With his suffering he welcomes that question which — asked many times by men — has been expressed, in a certain sense, in a radical way by the Book of Job. Christ, however, not only carries with him the same question (and this in an even more radical way, for he is not only a man like Job, but the only-begotten Son of God), but he also carries the greatest possible answer to this question. One can say, the answer emerges from the very material from which the question is made up. Christ gives the answer to the question about suffering and about the meaning of suffering not only by his teaching, that is by the Good News, but above all by his own suffering, which is integrated with this teaching of the Good News in an organic and indissoluble way. And this is the last, definitive word of this teaching: "the word of the Cross", as Saint Paul will say one day.

This "word of the Cross" completes the image of the ancient prophecy with a definitive reality. Many episodes, many discourses during the public teaching of Christ testify that from the beginning he accepts this suffering, which is the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. However, the prayer in Gethsemane becomes a definitive point here. The words: "My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me; nevertheless, not as I wish, but as you wish", and a little later: "My Father, if this chalice cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done", have a manifold eloquence. They prove the truth of that love, which the only-begotten Son gives to the Father in his obedience. At the same time, they testify to the truth of his suffering. The words of the prayer of Christ in Gethsemane prove the truth of love through the truth of suffering. Christ's words confirm with all simplicity this human truth of suffering, to its very depths: suffering is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders. He says: let it pass from me", just as Christ says in Gethsemane.

His words together attest to this unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, which only the Man who is the only-begotten Son could experience. They attest to that depth and intensity which the prophetic words quoted above help us in their own way to understand: not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the Subject), but at least to perceive the difference (and also the similarity) which exists between every possible suffering of man and the suffering of the God-man. Gethsemane is the place where precisely this suffering, in all the truth expressed by the prophet about the evil experienced in it, is revealed as it were definitively before the eyes of the soul of Christ.

After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, which testify to this depth — unique in the world's history — of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?", his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which found expression in the Old Testament many times, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 [21] from which come the words quoted. One can say that these words about abandonment are born at the level of the inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father "laid on him the iniquity of us all". They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: "He who knew no sin, God made him to be sin for our sake". Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the "entire" evil of the turning away from God, contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection of the Father, the rupture from God. But precisely through such suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he expires: "Everything is accomplished."

One can also say that the Scripture has been fulfilled, that the words of the Song of the Suffering Servant have been definitively realised: "The Lord wished to crush him with sorrow". Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out from evil, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was taken from the Cross of Christ, and from it constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source, from which flow rivers of living water. In it we must also repeat the question about the meaning of suffering, and read in it, to its very depths, the answer to this question.

Day 6 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

V - PARTICIPATORS IN THE SUFFERING OF CHRIST

19. The same Song of the Suffering Servant in the Book of Isaiah leads us, through the following verses, precisely in the direction of this question and answer:

"When he offers his life in atonement
he shall see his offspring,
he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord will be accomplished by him;
after the torment of his soul
he shall see the light and be filled with knowledge.
the righteous one, my servant, will justify many
by bearing on himself their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a share among the many,
and he shall divide the spoil of the powerful,
because he delivered himself to death,
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and interceded for the transgressors."

It can be said that with the Passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation. And it is as though Job foresaw this when he said: "I know that my Redeemer lives ...", and as if he had directed towards it his own suffering which, without the Redemption, could not have revealed to him the fullness of its meaning. In the Cross of Christ not only is the Redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed,. Christ, - without any fault of his own - took on himself "the total evil of sin". The experience of this evil determined the incomparable measure of Christ's suffering, which became the price of the Redemption. The Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah speaks of this. In later times, the witnesses of the New Covenant, sealed in the Blood of Christ, will speak of this. Here are the words of the Apostle Peter in his First Letter: "Know that it was not at the price of perishable things, like silver and gold, that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, but by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot." And the Apostle Paul in the Letter to the Galatians will say: "He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from this perverse world ", and in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "For you were bought with a very dear price. So glorify God in your body."

With these and similar words the witnesses of the New Covenant speak of the greatness of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering of Christ. The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own participation in the Redemption. Each man is also called to participate in that suffering through which the Redemption was accomplished. He is called to participate in this suffering through which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has at the same time raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man, in his suffering, can also become a participant in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

20. The texts of the New Testament express this concept in many places. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the Apostle writes: "We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. Always, in fact, we who are living, we are continually delivered up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh .... knowing that the One who has resurrected the Lord Jesus will resurrect us also with Jesus."

Saint Paul speaks of various sufferings and, in particular, of those in which the first Christians became participants "for the sake of Jesus". These sufferings enable the recipients of that Letter to participate in the work of the Redemption, accomplished through the suffering and death of the Redeemer. The eloquence of the Cross and death is, however, completed by the eloquence of the Resurrection. Man finds in the Resurrection a completely new light, which helps him clear a path through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness and persecution. Therefore the Apostle will also write in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so through Christ, our consolation also abounds".

Elsewhere he addresses words of encouragement to his recipients: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the patience of Christ". And in the Letter to the Romans he writes: "I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercy of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God: this is your spiritual worship."

In these apostolic expressions, the very participation in Christ's suffering finds as it were a twofold dimension. If a man becomes a participant in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened his suffering to man, because he himself in his redemptive suffering has become, in a certain sense, a participant in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings, he rediscovers them, through faith, enriched with a new content and a new meaning.

This discovery caused Saint Paul to write particularly strong words in the Letter to the Galatians: "I am crucified with Christ, and it is no longer me who lives, but Christ who lives in me, this life which I now live in the flesh, I live in faith in the Son of God, who has loved me and has given himself up for me". Faith permits the author of these words to know that love, which led Christ to the Cross. And if he has loved thus, all the way to suffering and dying, it is with this suffering and this death that his he lives in the one whom he has loved thus; he lives in the man: in Paul. And living in him - to the measure that Paul, conscious of this thanks to faith, responds through love to his love - Christ also becomes in a particular way united to the man, to Paul, through the Cross. This union caused Paul also to write, other words as strong in the same Letter to the Galatians, other words as well, no less strong: "As for me though, there is no glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by means of which the world has been crucified to me, as I have been to the world."

21. The Cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on the life of man and in particular on his suffering, because thanks to faith it reaches man together with the Resurrection: the mystery of the Passion is contained in the Paschal Mystery. The witnesses of Christ's Passion are at the same time the witnesses of his Resurrection. Paul writes: "That I may know him (Christ), the power of his Resurrection, and may participate in his sufferings, becoming conformed in his death, with the hope of reaching the resurrection of the dead." Truly, the Apostle first experienced the "power of the Resurrection" of Christ, on the road to Damascus, and only then, in this paschal light, reached that " participation in his sufferings" of which he speaks, for example, in the Letter to the Galatians. The path of Paul is clearly paschal: participation in the Cross of Christ comes about through the experience of the Risen One, therefore through a special participation in the Resurrection. Thus, even in the Apostle's expressions on the theme of suffering there so often appears the motif of glory, to which the Cross of Christ gives birth.

The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection were convinced that "it is necessary to pass through many tribulations to enter the Kingdom of God". And Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, expresses it thus: "We ourselves are proud of you... for your steadfastness and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions that you are enduring. This is a sign of the righteous judgment of God, that you will be proclaimed worthy of the Kingdom of God, for which you are suffering". Thus to participate in the sufferings of Christ is, at the same time, to suffer for the Kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, according to his judgment, all those who participate in the sufferings of Christ become worthy of this Kingdom. Through their sufferings, in a certain sense they repay the infinite price of the Passion and death of Christ, which became the price of our Redemption: at this price the Kingdom of God has been consolidated anew in the history of man, becoming the definitive perspective of his earthly existence. Christ has introduced us into this Kingdom through his suffering. And it is also through suffering that men wrapped in the mystery of the Redemption of Christ become mature for it.

22. To the perspective of the Kingdom of God is united the hope of that glory which finds its origin in the Cross of Christ. The Resurrection has revealed this glory — eschatological glory — which, in the Cross of Christ, was completely obscured by the immensity of suffering. Those who participate in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to take part in glory. Paul expresses this in various places. To the Romans he writes: " We are ... co-heirs with Christ, since we participate in his suffering so also to participate in his glory. I consider that the sufferings of the present moment are not comparable to the future glory that is to be revealed in us". In the Second Letter to the Corinthians we read: "For the tribulations of this moment are preparing us for a huge amount of glory in eternity beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things visible but to things invisible". The Apostle Peter will express this truth in the following words of his First Letter: "In the measure to which you participate in the sufferings of Christ, rejoice, so that, at the revelation of his glory, you may rejoice and be glad."

The motif of suffering and glory has a strictly evangelical characteristic, which becomes clear by reference to the Cross and the Resurrection. The Resurrection has become, before all else, the manifestation of glory, which corresponds to the elevation of Christ through the Cross. If, in fact, the Cross was to the eyes of men Christ's emptying of himself, at the same time it was in the eyes of God his elevation. On the Cross, Christ reached and realized his mission in all its fullness: by accomplishing the will of his Father, he at the same time realized himself. In weakness, he manifested his power, and in humiliation his messianic greatness. Is not a prrof of this greatness found in all the words uttered during his agony on Golgotha, and especially those which concerned the perpetrators of his crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do"? To those who participate in the sufferings of Christ these words impose themselves as a supreme example. Suffering is also a call to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity. In different generations, the martyrs and confessors of Christ have given proof of this by their faithfulness to these words: "And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul."

The Resurrection of Christ has revealed "the glory of the age to come" and, at the same time, has confirmed "the boast of the Cross": this glory which is contined in the very suffering of Christ and which so many times has been and is reflected in the suffering of man, as an expression of his spiritual greatness. We must give testimony to this glory not only in the martyrs of the faith but also in many other men also who, at times even without faith in Christ, suffer and give their lives for the truth and for a just cause. In the sufferings of all of these the great dignity of man is confirmed in a particular way.

23. Suffering, in fact, is always a trial — at times a very hard trial — to which humanity is subjected. In the pages of the Letters of St Paul is often spoken to us this gospel paradox of weakness and strength, a paradox particularly experienced by the Apostle himself and together with him by all who participate in Christ's sufferings. Paul writes in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "I will boast all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me." In the Second Letter to Timothy we read: "This is the cause of the ills that I suffer. But I am not ashamed, for I know in whom I have believed." And in the Letter to the Philippians he will even say: "I can do all things in him who gives me strength."

Those who participate in Christ's sufferings have before their eyes the Paschal Mystery of the Cross and Resurrection, in which Christ descends, in a first phase, all the way to the extreme limits of human weakness and impotence: indeed, he dies nailed to the Cross. But if at the same time in this weakness his elevation is accomplished, confirmed by the power of the Resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings can be permeated by the power of God, which is manifested in the Cross of Christ. According to this concept, to suffer means to become particularly receptive, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God, offered to humanity in Christ. In him, God has confirmed his desire to act especially by means of suffering, which is man's weakness and emptying of self, and his desire to manifest his power precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. This also explains the reccomendation in the First Letter of Peter: "But anyone who suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, let him glorify God in this name."

In the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul pronounces even more fully on the theme of this "birth of power in weakness", this spiritual renewal of man in the midst of trials and tribulations, which is the special vocation of those who participate in the sufferings of Christ. "We rejoice all the more in our tribulations, knowing well that tribulations produce patience, and patience proves virtue, and character proved hope. Hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us". In suffering is contained as it were a particular call to virtue, which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance, in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In so doing, man releases hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not prevail over him, will not deprive him of his own dignity as a man, a dignity united to the awareness of the meaning of life. And indeed this meaning of life is manifested together with the working of the love of God, which is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. In the measure to which he participates in this love, man rediscovers himself in all his depths in suffering: he rediscovers the soul which he thought he had "lost" because of suffering.

24. However, the Apostle's experiences of participating in the sufferings of Christ go even further. In the Letter to the Colossians we read the words which constitute as it were the final stage of the spiritual journey in relation to suffering. St Paul writes: "I rejoice in the sufferings I endure for you, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ, for the sake of his body, which is the Church." And in another Letter he asks his readers: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?"

In the Paschal Mystery, Christ inaugurates the union with man in the community of the Church. The mystery of the Church is expressed in this: that already in the act of Baptism, which is configuration to Christ, and then through his Sacrifice - sacramentally through the Eucharist - the Church is continually being spiritually built up as the Body of Christ. In this Body, Christ wishes to be united with every man, and he is united in a particular way to those who suffer. The words from the Letter to the Colossians cited above testify to the exceptional nature of this union. For indeed, the one who suffers in union with Christ — as the Apostle Paul endures his "tribulations" in union with Christ — not only draws from Christ that strength which has already been discussed but also "completes" by his suffering "that which is lacking in the afflictions of Christ". In this evangelical picture is highlighted in a particular way the truth about the creative character of suffering. The suffering of Christ has created the good of the redemption of the world. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to every suffering of man. In the measure to which man becomes a participant in the sufferings of Christ - in whatever part of the world and at whatever time in history — he completes in his own way the suffering through which Christ has worked the Redemption of the world.

Does this mean that the Redemption accomplished by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, worked through the power of reparatory love, remains constantly open to all love which is expressed in human suffering. In this dimension — in the dimension of love — the Redemption already totally and fully accomplished is, in a certain sense, being accomplished constantly. Christ has worked the Redemption completely and to the very end; but, at the same time, he has not closed it: in this redemptive suffering, through which is worked the Redemption of the world, Christ has opened himself from the beginning, and constantly opens himself to every human suffering. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of the redemptive suffering of Christ that it requires to be unceasingly completed.

In this way, with such an openness to every human suffering, Christ has worked through his own suffering the Redemption of the world. For indeed, this Redemption, even though accomplished in all its fullness by the suffering of Christ, lives and develops at the same time in its own way in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, which is the Church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by virtue of the union in the love of Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes it as the Church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the Church — of this body which completes also in itself the crucified and risen body of Christ — indicates at the same time that space in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and in this dimension of the Church-Body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of "what is lacking" in the afflictions of Christ. The Apostle, moreover, puts this clearly in relief when he writes of "completing" what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the sake of his body, which is the Church".

The Church, which unceasingly draws from the infinite resources of the Redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, is precisely the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. This puts into relief the divine-human nature of the Church. Suffering seems to partipate in some way in the characteristics of this nature. And for this reason suffering has a special value in the eyes of the Church. It is a good, before which the Church bows down with veneration, in all the depth of her faith in the Redemption. She likewise bows down before it in all the depth of that faith with which she embraces within herself the inexpressible mystery of the Body of Christ.

Day 7 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes       

VI - THE GOSPEL OF SUFFERING

25. The witnesses of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ have transmitted to the Church and to humanity a specific Gospel of suffering. The Redeemer himself wrote this Gospel above all with his own suffering assumed through love, so that man "should not perish but have eternal life". This suffering, together with the living word of his teaching, became an abundant source for all those who took part in the sufferings of Jesus in the first generation of his disciples and confessors and then in those who succeeded them in the course of the centuries.

First of all, it is consoling — as it is evangelically and historically accurate — to note at the side of Christ, in the very first and most recognised position, is always his most holy Mother who gives the exemplary testimony by her whole life to this particular Gospel of suffering. In her, the numerous and intense sufferings were accumulated with such a cohesion and in such an interconnected way that they were not only as if a proof of her unshakeable faith, but also a contribution to the redemption of all. In reality, from the time of her secret conversation with the angel, she foresaw in her mission as mother her "destiny" to share, in a unique and unrepeatable way, in the very mission of her Son. And very soon she had confirmation of this, in the events which accompanied the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, in the solemn words of the old man Simeon who spoke of a sharp sword that would pierce her heart, in the anxieties and privations of the precipitous flight into Egypt, because of Herod's cruel decision

And after the vicissitudes of her Son's hidden and public life, which she undoubtedly shared in with an acute sensibility, it was on Calvary that the suffering of Mary, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached a summit difficult to imagine in its height from a human viewpoint, but certainly mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the purpose of universal salvation. Her ascent to Calvary, her presence at the foot of the Cross together with the Beloved Disciple were a completely special participation in the redeeming death of her Son, as indeed the words she was able to collect from his lips were like a solemn delivery of this Gospel to be announced to the entire community of believers.

Witness to the Passion of her Son by her presence, and participator in it by her compassion, Mary Most Holy offered a singular contribution to the Gospel of suffering, realising in advance the pauline expression quoted at the beginning. She truly has a most special title, being able to affirm that she "completes in her flesh" — as she has already done in her heart — "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ."

In the light of the unmatchable example of Christ, reflected with singular evidence in the life of his Mother, the Gospel of suffering, through the experience and words of the Apostles, becomes an inexhaustible source for the ever new generations that succeed one another in the history of the Church. The Gospel of suffering signifies not only the presence of suffering in the Gospel, as one of the themes of the Good News, but also the revelation of the salvific power and salvific significance of suffering in the messianic mission of Christ and, subsequently, in the mission and vocation of the Church.

Christ did not hide from his listeners the necessity of suffering. Very clearly he said: "If any man would come after me... let him take up his cross every day'', and to his disciples he placed the exigency of a moral nature the realisation of which is only possible on the condition of "denying oneself". The road which leads to the Kingdom of heaven is "hard and narrow", and Christ contrasts it to the "wide and spacious" road that "leads to perdition". On many occasions Christ also said that his disciples and confessors would meet with numerous persecutions, something which — as we know — happened not only in the first centuries of the Church's life under the Roman Empire, but which has come true in various periods of history and in different parts of the world, as it is still coming true in our own time.

Here are some of Christ's phrases on this subject: "They will put their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, dragging you before kings and governors, because of my name. This will give you an occasion to bear testimony. So settle it in your minds not to prepare beforehand your defence: for I will give you a language and a wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relative and friends, and some of you will be put to death; you will be hated by everyone because of my name. But not a hair on your head will perish. By your perseverance you will save your souls".

The Gospel of suffering speaks firstly in various places of suffering "for Christ", "for the sake of Christ", and it does so with the words of Jesus himself, or those of his Apostles. The Master does not hide the prospect of such suffering from his disciples and followers. But rather, he reveals it with total frankness, indicating at the same time the supernatural force which will accompany them in the midst of persecutions and tribulations " for his name's sake". These will at the same time be like a special proof of likeness to Christ and of union with him. "If the world hates you, know that before you it first hated me ...; because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you from the world, therefore the world hates you... A servant is no greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you as well... But all this they will do to you because of my name, because they do not know him who sent me". "I have said these things to you, that you may have peace in me. You have tribulations in the world, but have confidence: I have overcome the world".

This first chapter of the Gospel of suffering, which speaks of persecutions, that is of tribulations undergone on account of Christ, contains in itself a special call to courage and fortitude, sustained by the eloquence of the Resurrection. Christ has overcome the world definitively by his Resurrection; however, thanks to its relationship with his Passion and death, he has at the same time overcome this world by his suffering. Yes, suffering has, in a singular way, been inserted into this victory over the world, which is manifested in the Resurrection. Christ retains in his risen body the marks of the wounds of the Cross in his hands, his feet and his side. Through the Resurrection, he manifests the victorious power of suffering, and he wishes to instill with the conviction of this power into the hearts of those whom he chose as Apostles and of those whom he continually chooses and sends forth. The Apostle Paul will say: "All who desire to live piously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted".

26. If the first great chapter of the Gospel of suffering is written down through the generations by those who suffer persecutions for Christ, at the same time as this another great chapter of this Gospel unfolds through the course of history. It is written by all those who suffer with Christ, uniting their own human sufferings to his salvific suffering. In them is accomplishe what the first witnesses of the Passion and Resurrection said and wrote about participation in the sufferings of Christ. In them then is realized the Gospel of suffering and, at the same time, in a certain way each of them continues to write it: each writes it and proclaims it to the world, announces it to their own milieu of life and to their contemporaries.

Down through the centuries and generations it has been ascertained that in suffering there is hidden a particular power that draws man interiorly close to Christ, a particular grace. To this grace many saints owe their profound conversion, like, for example, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Ignatius of Loyola etc. The fruit of such a conversion is not only the fact that man discovers the salvific meaning of suffering but above all that in suffering he becomes a completely new man. He finds in it like a new dimension of his whole life and of his own vocation. This discovery is a particular confirmation of the spiritual greatness which in man surpasses the body in a way that is completely incomparable. When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and man is as if incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a moving lesson to those who are healthy and normal.

This interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the fruits of a particular conversion and cooperation with the Grace of the Crucified Redeemer. It is he himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings by way his Spirit of truth, by way of the Spirit Consolator. It is he who transforms, in a certain sense, the very substance of the spiritual life, giving to the suffering man a place close to himself. It is he — as interior Master and Guide — who teaches to his suffering brothers and sisters this admirable exchange, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption. Suffering is, in itself, a trial of evil. But Christ has made it the most solid base of the definitive good, namely of the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the Cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil: those of sin and death. He has overcome the author of evil which is Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator. To his suffering brother or sister, Christ opens and gradually unfolds the horizons of the Kingdom of God: of a world converted to the Creator, of a world liberated from sin, which is being built on the saving power of love. And slowly but surely, Christ introduces suffering man into this world, into this Kingdom of the Father, in a certain sense via the very heart of his suffering. Indeed, suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from outside, but from within. And Christ by way of his own salvific suffering is found at the very depth of every human suffering, and can act from within through the power of his Spirit of truth, of his Spirit Consolator.

This is not all: the Divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer by way of the heart of his most holy Mother, the first fruits and summit of all the redeemed. As if by continuation of that motherhood by which he had been given life by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ, dying, conferred upon the ever Virgin Mary a new motherhood — spiritual and universal — towards all men, so that each one, on the pilgrimage of faith, might remain together with her, closely united to him all the way to the very Cross, and by the force of this Cross, every suffering might become regenerated from the weakness of man to the power of God.

But such an interior process does not always develop in the same way. It often begins and is established with difficulty. Even the very point of departure differs: diverse are the dispositions that man bears in his suffering. It may however be said that almost always each one enters into suffering with a typically human protest and with the question of his "why". Each one asks himself the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question at the human level. Certainly he often puts this question also to God, as he also puts it to Christ. Moreover, he cannot help but notice that the one to whom he puts his question is himself suffering and wants to answer him from the Cross, from the centre of his own suffering. However, sometimes it takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be perceived interiorly. Indeed, Christ does not answer directly nor does he answer in the abstract to this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ's salvific answer in the measure to which he himself is a participant in the sufferings of Christ.

The answer which comes through such a participation, along the way of the interior encounter with the Master, is in itself something more than the mere abstract answer to the questioning about the meaning of suffering. It is, in fact, above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: "Follow me!". Come! Take part with your suffering in this work of the salvation of the world, which is accomplished by way of my own suffering! By way of my Cross. To the measure that man takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the Cross of Christ, is revealed before him the salvific meaning of suffering. Man does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. But, at the same time, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to the level of man and becomes, in some way, his personal response. And then man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy.

27. The Apostle speaks of such joy in his Letter to the Colossians: "I rejoice in the sufferings which I endure for you". A source of joy comes from surmounting the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a sensation which sometimes is very strongly rooted in human suffering. It not only consumes man interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. Man feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others and, at the same time, seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing sensation. Faith in the participation of the sufferings of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that suffering man "completes what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ"; that in the spiritual dimension of the work of the Redemption he, like Christ is serving the salvation of his brothers and sisters. So his is not only useful to others but, moreover, he is accomplishing an irreplaceable service. In the Body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the Cross of the Redeemer, suffering itself, permeated by the spirit of Christ's sacrifice, is the irreplaceable mediator and author of good things, indispensable for the salvation of the world. It is this which, more than anything else, clears a path to Grace which transforms the human soul. It, more than anything else, renders present in the history of humanity the forces of the Redemption. In that "cosmic" struggle between the spiritual forces of good and of evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians, human sufferings, united with the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a particular support for the forces of good, opening the way to the victory of these salvific forces.

And so the Church sees in all Christ's suffering brothers and sisters like a multiple subject of his supernatural force.

How often is it to they themselves that the pastors of the Church have recourse, and from them that they seek help and support! The Gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and unceasingly it speaks with the words of this strange paradox: the springs of divine force gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who participate in the sufferings of Christ retain in their own sufferings a most special particle of the infinite treasure of the world's Redemption, and they can share this treasure with others. The more man is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which the world of today brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the Church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world.

Day 8 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes      

VII - THE GOOD SAMARITAN

28. To the Gospel of suffering there also belongs — and in an organic way — the parable of the Good Samaritan. Through this parable Christ wanted to give an answer to the question: "Who is my neighbour?" In fact, of the three travellers along the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, on the side of which lay a man half-dead, stripped and beaten by robbers, it was precisely the Samaritan who showed himself really to be the "neighbour" of this unfortunate: "neighbour" means also the one who has fulfilled the commandment of love of neighbour. Two other men passed along the same road; one was a priest and the other a Levite, but each of them " saw him and passed by on the other side". The Samaritan, on the other hand, "saw him and had compassion on him. He went up to him, ... and bound up his wounds", then "brought him to an inn, and took care of him". And when he left, he solicitously entrusted the suffering man to the care of the innkeeper, promising to meet the necessary expenses.

The parable of the Good Samaritan belongs to the Gospel of suffering. Indeed it indicates what the relationship of each of us must be towards our suffering neighbour. We are not allowed to "pass by on the other side" indifferently, but we must "stop" beside him. The Good Samaritan is every man who stops beside the suffering of another man, whatever it may be. This stopping does not mean curiosity but availability. This is like the opening of a certain interior disposition of the heart, which also has its own emotional expression. The "Good Samaritan" is every man who is sensible to the suffering of another, man who "is moved" by the misfortune of his neighbour. If Christ, connoisseur of the interior of man, underlines this compassion, this means that it is important for our whole attitude in front of another's suffering. Thus one must cultivate in oneself this sensibility of heart, which testifies to compassion towards the one suffering. Sometimes this compassion remains the unique or principal expression of our love and of solidarity with suffering man.

However, the Good Samaritan of Christ's parable does not stop at sympathy and compassion alone. They become for him a stimulus to actions which aim to bring help to the injured man. Thus the Good Samaritan is the one who brings help in suffering, whatever it may be. Help which is, as much as possible, effective. He puts his whole heart into it, nor does he spare material means. It can be said that he gives himself, his own "I", opening this "I" to the other. Here we touch upon one of the key-points of all Christian anthropology. Man cannot "fully find himself except by way of a sincere gift of himself". The Good Samaritan is the man capable of exactly such a gift of self.

29. Following the parable of the Gospel, it could be said that suffering, present under so many different forms in our human world, is also present so as to release love in man, that very gift disinterested of one's own "I" in favour of other men, of men suffering. The world of human suffering calls tirelessly, so to speak, for another world: that of human love; and that disinterested love, which stirs in his heart and in his works, man owes in a certain sense to suffering. Man who is a " neighbour" cannot with indifference pass by the suffering of another in the name of fundamental human solidarity, still more in the name of love of neighbour. He must "stop", "sympathize", just like the Samaritan of the Gospel parable. The parable in itself expresses a deeply Christian truth, but at the same time is very universally human. Not without reason, every activity on behalf of men suffering and in need of help has, in common speech,come to be called the work of the "Good Samaritan".

Over the centuries, this activity assumes organized institutional forms and constitutes a field of work in the respective professions. How much there is of "the Good Samaritan" in the profession of the doctor, or the nurse, or others similar! By reason of the "evangelical" content enclosed in it, we are inclined to think here rather of a vocation than simply a profession. And the institutions which over the generations have accomplished a service of the samaritan, in our times are even more developed and specialized. This undoubtedly proves that man today stops with ever greater and closer attention at the sufferings of their neighbour, seeks to understand them and deal with them with ever greater skill. They also possess an ever greater capacity and specialization in this sector. Looking at all of this, we can say that the parable of the Samaritan of the Gospel has become one of the essential components of moral culture and universally human civilization. And thinking of all those who by their science and their ability provide many services to their suffering neighbour, we cannot but offer them words of thanks and gratitude.

These words are extended to all those who exercise their own service to their suffering neighbour in a disinterested way, voluntarily engaging in the help of the "Good Samaritan", and devoting to this cause all the time and energy at their disposal outside of professional work. Such spontaneous activity of the "Good Samaritan" or charitable activity can be called social activity, then it can also be defined as an apostolate, whenever it is undertaken for clearly evangelical motives, especially if this is in connection with the Church or another Christian Communion. Voluntary activity of the samaritan work is realised by way of appropriate milieux or through organizations created for this purpose. Work in this form has a great importance, especially if it involves undertaking larger tasks which require cooperation and the use of technical means. No less valuable is individual activity, especially on the part of people who are better prepared for it in regard to the various kinds of human suffering towards which help can only be brought individually or personally. Finally, family help means both acts of love of neighbour done to people of the same family, and mutual help between families.

It is difficult to list here all the types and different areas of activity of the "Good Samaritan" which exist in the Church and in society. We must recognize that they are very numerous, and also express joy because, thanks to them, the fundamental moral values, such as the value of human solidarity, the value of Christian love of neighbour, form the framework of social life and interhuman relationships, combating on this front the different forms of hatred, of violence, of cruelty, of contempt for man, or simple "insensibility", in other words, of indifference towards one's neighbour and his sufferings.

Enormous here is the significance of attitudes in education. The family, the school, other educative institutions must, if only for humanitarian motives, work perseveringly for the reawakening and refining of that sensibility towards one's neighbour and his suffering of which the figure of the Good Samaritan in the Gospel has become a symbol. Obviously the Church must do the same, penetrating still more profoundly — as far as possible — into the motivations which Christ enclosed in his parable and in the whole Gospel. The eloquence of the parable of the Good Samaritan, as of the whole Gospel, is in particular this: man must feel himself as if called in the first person to bear witness to love in suffering. Institutions are very important and indispensable; nevertheless, no institution can by itself replace the human heart, human compassion, human love, human initiative, when it comes to dealing with the suffering of another. This refers to physical sufferings, but it is even more true when it comes to the multiple moral sufferings and when, above all, it is the soul which suffers.

30. The parable of the Good Samaritan, which — as has been said — belongs to the Gospel of suffering, walking together with it along the history of the Church and Christianity, along the history of man and of humanity. It testifies that the revelation on the part of Christ about the salvific meaning of suffering is not identified in any way with an attitude of passivity. Totally the contrary! The Gospel is the negation of passivity in the front of suffering. Christ himself is especially active in this field. In this way, he realizes the messianic programme of his mission, according to the words of the prophet: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me: for this he has anointed me and mandated me to announce to the poor the good news, to proclaim to prisoners freedom and to the blind sight, to set at liberty those who are oppressed and to proclaim a year of grace of the Lord". In a superabundant way Christ accomplished this messianic programme of his mission: he goes about "doing good" and the good of his works became especially evident in the face of human suffering. The parable of the Good Samaritan is in profound harmony with the conduct of Christ himself.

Finally, this parable, through its essential content, will enter into those disturbing words of the Final Judgment, noted by Matthew in his Gospel: "Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, nakes and you clothed me, sick and you came to visit me, I was in prison and you came to see me". To the just, who ask when they had done these things to him, the Son of Man will respond: "In truth, I say to you, as you did it to one of the littlest of these my brothers, you did it to me". The opposite sentence will touch those who have behaved differently: "As you did it not to one of the littlest of these, my brothers, you did it not to me"."

One could certainly extend the list of sufferings that have encountered human sensibility, compassion, help, or which have not encountered them. The first and second parts of Christ's statement on the Final Judgment indicate without ambiguity how essential they are, fin the perspective of the eternal life of each man of every individual, to "stop", as the Good Samaritan did, at the suffering of one's neighbour, to have "compassion" for it, and finally to give help. In Christ's messianic programme, which is at the same time the programme of the Kingdom of God, suffering is present in the world so as to release love, so as to give birth to works of love towards one's neighbour, so as to transform all human civilization into a "civilization of love". In this love the salvific meaning of suffering is realized to the very end and reaches its definitive dimension. The words of Christ on the Final Judgment allow us to understand this in all the simplicity and clarity of the Gospel.

These words about love, about acts of love, connected to human suffering, allow us once more to discover, at the base of all human sufferings, the same redemptive suffering of Christ. Christ said: "You did it to me". He himself is the one who in each one experiences love; he himself is the one who receives help, when this is given to every suffering person without exception. He himself is present in this suffering person, since his salvific suffering has been opened once and for all to every human suffering. And all those who suffer have been called once and for all to become participators "in the sufferings of Christ". As all have been called to "complete" with their own suffering "what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ". At one and the same time Christ has taught man to do good by his suffering and to do good to those who suffer. In this double aspect he has revealed to the very end the meaning of suffering.

Day 9 of the Novena to Our Lady of Lourdes       

VIII - CONCLUSION

31. This is the meaning, truly supernatural and at the same time human, of suffering. It is supernatural because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the Redemption of the world, and it is likewise profoundly human, because in it man discovers himself, his own humanity, his own dignity, his own mission.

Suffering is certainly part of the mystery of man. Perhaps it is not enveloped by this particularly impenetrable mystery up as much as man is. The Second Vatican Council expressed this truth that "in reality only in the mystery of the Incarnate Word does the mystery of man find true light. In fact..., Christ, the new Adam, by revealing the mystery of the Father and of his love, fully reveals man to man himself and makes known to him his supreme ccalling." If these words refer to everything which touches upon the mystery of man, then they certainly concern in a very particular way human suffering. Precisely at this point the "revealing of man to man himself and making known his supreme vocation" is particularly indispensable. It also happens - as is proved by experience —that this can be particularly dramatic. By contrast when it is totally accomplished to the very end and becomes the light of human life, then it is particularly blessed. "Through Christ and in Christ, is illuminated the enigma of sorrow and of death."

We close the present considerations on suffering in the year in which the Church is living the extraordinary Jubilee connected to the anniversary of the Redemption.

The mystery of the Redemption of the world is in a surprising way rooted in suffering and this, in its turn, finds in this mystery its supreme and surest point of reference.

We desire to live this Year of the Redemption in close union with all those who suffer. And so there should come together in spirit beneath the Cross on Calvary all those suffering who believe in Christ, and particularly those who suffer because of their faith in Him, crucified and risen, so that the offering of their sufferings may hasten the fulfilment of the prayer of the Saviour himself for the unity of all. Let there also gather here all men of good will, because on this Cross hangs the "Redeemer of man", the Man of Sorrows, who has assumed in himself the physical and moral sufferings of the men of all times, so that in love they may find the salvific meaning of their sorrow and valid answers to all of their questions.

Together with Mary, Mother of Christ, who stood beneath the Cross,we stop beside all the crosses of man today.

We invoke all the Saints, who down the centuries were in a special way participators in the sufferings of Christ. We ask them to support us.

And we ask all of you who suffer to support us. Precisely to you who are weak we ask you to become a source of force for the Church and for humanity. In the terrible battle between the forces of good and evil, of which our contemporary world offers us the spectacle, may your suffering in union with the Cross of Christ be victorious!

 

To all of you, dearest brothers and sisters, I send my Apostolic Blessing.
Given at Rome, at Saint Peter's, on the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 1984, in the sixth year of my Pontificate.
JOHN PAUL II