Suffering by itself is not sanctifying. Many people who are suffering are not necessarily profiting from their suffering. Evidently, then, we should do something with and about the suffering to profit from the experience. Hence the importance of knowing what suffering is and how we can alchemize it from mere pain to sanctity.
Moreover, the role of suffering in the spiritual life is ultimately based on mysteries of our faith; and, as with so many mysteries, we are likely to live with them without attempting to fathom them. That is a mistake. We can never fully comprehend their meaning; but suffering is surely a mystery which needs to be better understood so that, as with other mysteries, we may more effectively experience it. This is one mystery that we don’t merely read about.
There is such a thing as making the mistake of identifying progress in virtue with the amount of suffering. This is very hard to disassociate, once people have made that wrong identification. Certainly suffering has much to do with sanctity, but it is not an arithmetic equation, “Suffering equals sanctity”. A person must not think, “The more suffering, the more holy I must be getting!” Maybe, but maybe not. In other words, those who suffer the most are not necessarily more holy than those who suffer less. It is what we do with the suffering, not the amount that we experience, that makes the difference.
There are three areas in our immediate scope of coverage. First, to examine what suffering is. Second, why there is suffering in the world. And third, how we can use the suffering that God sends us—or offers us—to grow in holiness. (Read more.)
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