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The Lord sanctifies those who suffer

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 27 April 1994 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The reality of suffering is ever before our eyes and often in the body, soul and heart of each of us. Apart from faith, pain has always been a great riddle of human existence. However, ever since Jesus redeemed the world by his passion and death, a new perspective has been opened. Through suffering one can grow in self-giving and attain the highest degree of love (cf. Jn 13:1), because of him who "loved us and gave himself for us" (Eph 5:2). As a sharing in the mystery of the cross, suffering can now be accepted and lived as a cooperation in Christ's saving mission. The Second Vatican Council expressed the Church's awareness that all who are troubled and oppressed are specially united with the suffering Christ for the salvation of the world (cf. LG 41).

Jesus himself, in proclaiming the Beatitudes, considered every manifestation of human suffering: the poor, the hungry, the afflicted, those who are scorned by society or unjustly persecuted. Looking at the world, we too discover so much misery in a variety of ancient and new forms. The signs of suffering are everywhere. Let us then speak of them in this catechesis, seeking better to discover the divine plan guiding humanity on so painful a path and the saving value that suffering, like work, has for the whole human race.

2. In the cross the "Gospel of suffering" has been revealed to Christians (Salvifici Doloris 25). Jesus recognized in his sacrifice the way established by the Father for the redemption of humanity, and he followed this way. He also told his disciples that they would be associated with this sacrifice: "I tell you truly, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices" (Jn 16:20). This prediction, however, is not the only one, nor is it the final word, because it is completed by the announcement that their pain will be changed into joy: "You will grieve for a time, but your grief will be turned into joy" (Jn 16:20). In the perspective of redemption, Christ's passion is oriented toward the resurrection. Human beings too are thus associated with the mystery of the cross in order to share joyfully in the mystery of the resurrection.

3. For this reason Jesus did not hesitate to proclaim the blessedness of those who suffer: "Blest are the sorrowing; they shall be consoled.... Blest are those persecuted for holiness' sake; the reign of God is theirs. Blest are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is great in heaven" (Mt 5:4, 10-12). This blessedness can only be understood if one admits that human life is not limited to the time spent on earth, but is wholly directed to perfect joy and fullness of life in the hereafter. When accepted in love, earthly suffering is like a bitter kernel containing the seed of new life, the treasure of divine glory to be given man in eternity. The sight of a world burdened with evil and misfortunes of every sort is often so wretched; nevertheless the hope of a better world of love and grace is hidden within it. Hope is nourished on Christ's promise. With this support, those who suffer united in faith with him already experience in this life a joy that can seem humanly unexplainable. Heaven begins on earth; beatitude is anticipated, so to speak, in the Beatitudes. "In holy people," St. Thomas Aquinas said, "there is a beginning of future happiness..." [1] .

4. Another fundamental principle of the Christian faith is the fruitfulness of suffering and, hence, the call of all who suffer to unite themselves with Christ's redemptive sacrifice. Suffering thus becomes an offering, an oblation. This has happened and still does in so many holy souls. Especially those who are oppressed by apparently senseless moral suffering find in Jesus' moral suffering the meaning of their own trials and they go with him into Gethsemane. In him they find the strength to accept pain with holy abandon and trusting obedience to the Father's will. They feel rising from within their hearts the prayer of Gethsemane: "But let it be as you would have it, Father, not as I" (Mk 14:36). They mystically identify with Jesus' resolve when he was arrested: "Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?" (Jn 18:11). In Christ they also find the courage to offer their pain for the salvation of all. They have learned the mysterious fruitfulness of every sacrifice from the offering on Calvary, according to the principle set forth by Jesus: "I solemnly assure you, unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn 12:24).

5. Jesus' teaching is confirmed by the Apostle Paul, who had a very vivid awareness of sharing in Christ's passion in his own life and of the cooperation he could thus offer for the good of the Christian community. Because of union with Christ in suffering, he could speak of completing in himself what was lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body, the Church (cf. Col 1:24). Convinced of the fruitfulness of his union with the redeeming passion, he stated: "Death is at work in us, but life in you" (2 Cor 4:12). The tribulations of his life as an apostle did not discourage Paul, but strengthened his hope and trust, because he realized that the passion of Christ was the source of life: "As we have shared much in the suffering of Christ, so through Christ do we share abundantly in his consolation. If we are afflicted it is for your encouragement and salvation" (2 Cor 1:5-6). Looking at this model, the disciples of Christ better understand the Master's lesson, the vocation to the cross, for the full growth of the life of Christ in their personal lives and of the mysterious fruitfulness that benefits the Church.

6. The disciples of Christ have the privilege of understanding the "Gospel of suffering," which at all times has a salvific value, at least implicitly, because "down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace" (SD 26). Whoever follows Christ, whoever accepts St. Paul's theology of pain, knows that a precious grace, a divine favor, is connected with suffering, even if it is a grace that remains a mystery to us, because it is hidden under the appearances of a painful destiny. It is certainly not easy to discover in suffering the genuine divine love that wishes, through the acceptance of suffering, to raise human life to the level of Christ's saving love. However, faith enables us to cling to this mystery and despite everything, brings peace and joy to the soul of the one suffering. At times he even says with St. Paul: "I am filled with consolation, and despite my many afflictions my joy knows no bounds" (2 Cor 7:4).

7. Whoever relives the spirit of Christ's sacrifice is also moved to imitate him by helping others who are suffering. Jesus relieved the countless human sufferings around him. In this respect too he is a perfect model. He prescribed the command of mutual love that implies compassion and reciprocal aid. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus taught generous initiative on behalf of the suffering! He revealed his presence in all who are in need and pain, so that every act of helping the poor is done to Christ himself (cf. Mt 25:35-40).

In conclusion, I would like to leave you with Jesus' own words: "I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me" (Mt 25:40). This means that suffering, intended to sanctify those who suffer, is also meant to sanctify those who help and comfort them. We are always within the heart of the mystery of the saving cross!

[1]   cf. Summa Theol., I-II, q. 69, a. 2; cf. II-II, q. 8, a. 7"

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi

Chers frères et sœurs,

Je vous salue cordialement, chers pèlerins de langue française, les aînés et les jeunes. Je souhaite la bienvenue en particulier aux prêtres et aux séminaristes de Vannes, conduits par Mgr Gourvès, ainsi qu’aux professeurs et aux étudiants en Droit canonique de Toulouse. Je les encourage tous pour les services de la communauté ecclésiale auxquels ils se préparent.

Que la foi au Christ ressuscité vous donne la joie de Dieu plus forte que toute souffrance! Je prie pour chacun de vous et je demande à Dieu de vous bénir et de vous garder sur la route des Béatitudes.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Societas Sanctae Birgittae visiting Rome on pilgrimage from Sweden. May Your visit to this Eternal City, where Saint Birgitta gave outstanding witness of her love for Christ and his Church, inspire you to follow the Lord more faithfully and to work for the unity of all his followers.

My greeting also goes to the members of the Catholic International Group Legatus. I deeply appreciate your commitment to the spread of the faith and your generous devotion to the See of Peter. To the members of the Gregorian Foundation I express my gratitude for their cooperation in the important educational mission of the Pontifical Gregorian University. I welcome the pilgrimage from the Archdiocese of San Antonio led by Archbishop Patrick Flores, and the group of Australian alumnae of Sacred Heart Schools. Upon all the English-speaking visitors I cordially invoke the grace and peace of Christ our Risen Saviour.

Ad alcuni fedeli provenienti dal Giappone

Rendiamo grazie a Dio!

Dilettissimi pellegrini giapponesi! Accolgo e ringrazio voi, che siete venuti per incontrarvi con il Papa.

Vi auguro che troviate la libertà dell’animo attraverso le difficoltà del corpo.

Il Signore sta sempre vicino a voi. Di cuore, con affetto vi benedico. Nel nome del Padre, del Figlio e dello Spirito Santo. Amen.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mit der abschliebenden Bitte für uns alle, Gott möge uns die Kraft und die Bereitschaft schenken, seinen Willen auch im Kreuz anzunehmen und unser Herz für das Leid unserer Mitmenschen zu öffnen, grübe ich Euch, liebe Schwestern und Brüder, sehr herzlich. Einen besonderen Willkommensgrub richte ich an die Mitglieder der Katholischen Standortpfarrei Bruchsal, an die Firmlinge aus der Pfarrei St. Marien Wädenswil sowie an die zahlreichen Jugend - und Schülergruppen.

Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie allen, die uns in österlicher Freude verbunden sind, erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai pellegrini di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me es grato dar mi cordial bienvenida a todos los visitantes de lengua española; en particular al Señor Obispo de San Justo (Argentina), Monsenor Jorge Meinvielle, y a sus diocesanos. Deseo saludar también a los peregrinos de Panamá, Ecuador y Estados Unidos. De España, saludo con afecto al grupo de sacerdotes que realizan un curso de formación permanente en el Colegio Español. Saludo igualmente a las Hermanas de María Reparadora y al Colegio de la Purísima de Alcira. A todos os exhorto a ser portadores de esperanza y consuelo para los que sufren, a la vez que os imparto mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai fedeli portoghesi

Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa que me escutam, com votos de felicidades, paz e graça no Senhor. Em particular, os grupos de brasileiros vindos de diversos Estados da Federação, e a numerosa peregrinação portuguesa destinada a comemorar em Roma o Terceiro Centenário do nascimento de São Paulo da Cruz. A todos desejo uma feliz estadia na Cidade Eterna; e que o espírito da oblação de Cristo os leve a imitá-l’O na ajuda aos que sofrem. Com a minha Bênção Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini di lingua italiana

Nel dare il benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, saluto in particolare il gruppo dei fedeli della Diocesi di Alife-Caiazzo, i quali, accompagnati dal loro Vescovo, Monsignor Nicola Comparone, intendono compiere questo pellegrinaggio nel quadro delle iniziative dell’Anno Mariano indetto per la loro Diocesi. Saluto, inoltre, i fedeli della parrocchia di Sant’Antonio di Padova in Corsico, Arcidiocesi di Milano, che ricordano con gratitudine al Signore il 25o anniversario di fondazione della loro Chiesa.

Agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli

Mi rivolgo poi ai malati ed ai loro accompagnatori, agli sposi novelli qui presenti.

Nel Vangelo Gesù proclama: “Io come luce sono venuto nel mondo, perché chiunque crede in me non rimanga nelle tenebre” (Gv 12, 46). Egli illumina i nostri sentieri perché ognuno possa giungere alla casa del Padre (cf. Gv 14, 1).

A voi, cari malati, Gesù crocifisso e risorto richiama il valore salvifico della sofferenza.

A voi, cari sposi novelli, il Signore si presenta quale solida roccia su cui fondare la vostra casa.

Siatene tutti riconoscenti, per poter vivere in letizia pasquale ogni giorno della vostra vita.

Volentieri imparto a ciascuno la mia Benedizione.

Ai giovani di Tursi-Lagonegro

Cari giovani - e penso particolarmente a voi che costituite il numeroso gruppo giovanile della Diocesi di Tursi-Lagonegro guidato dal Pastore diocesano Monsignor Rocco Talucci - il divin Maestro vi invita a non rimanere nelle tenebre di un agire solamente istintivo, precluso alle domande più profonde della vita. Egli vi ha scelti! Accettate, dunque, la sua chiamata, imparate a prepararvi alla vita ed impegnatevi ad essere costruttori e testimoni credibili in una società nuova e realmente cristiana.

L’auspicio per il futuro del Sud Africa e l’appello perché si arresti il genocidio in Rwanda

Ancora una volta l’Africa sollecita la nostra preghiera. Come spesso accade, situazioni che inducono a sperare per il futuro sono unite ad altre che rattristano profondamente facendo temere il peggio.

In questi giorni si stanno svolgendo le elezioni generali in Sud Africa.

Desidero formulare l’auspicio che l’importante avvenimento possa contribuire a portare pace e serenità in quel Paese, ponendo fine alla triste spirale di violenza che, per tanto tempo, ha provocato lutti e distruzioni.

Esorto tutti - in particolare i cattolici sudafricani - a ricercare con tenacia cammini di pace e di riconciliazione, perché a quel grande e caro Paese sia assicurato un futuro di concordia e di autentica crescita morale e civile.

Vi invito, poi, ed accoratamente, ad una preghiera sofferta e fervorosa per il Rwanda.

La tragedia di quelle popolazioni sembra non voler arrestarsi: barbarie, vendette, uccisioni, sangue innocente versato, ovunque orrore e morte.

Invito quanti detengono responsabilità ad una azione generosa ed efficace perché si arresti questo genocidio. È l’ora della fraternità! È l’ora della riconciliazione!

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