Isn't What Jesus Did Enough?
(This post is a continuation of My Heart as a Sanctuary Lamp)
We know why Jesus died on the cross but why do we have to carry our crosses? Wasn't what Jesus did enough?
Of course what Jesus did was "enough." That is not the right question. Rather, it should be: "Exactly what was it enough for?"
It was enough to not only save us from hell, eternal death, but also to provide us with the ability (grace) to do what He did in the here and now of this life; to love the way he did; to become "other Christs." After all, He said:
"If anyone desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24).
The scriptures tell us that it is the Father's desire that we, his children, are conformed completely to the image of his son (Christ) in this life, and one of the most effective ways the Holy Spirit brings this about is through our suffering which we offer with love, as Christ did, for the salvation of others. in Romans 8:29-30 it says:
"We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose; for those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son in order that he might be the firstborn among many brethren."
Offering up our suffering - in my case my living, beating, shattered heart - as a living sacrifice has to do with understanding how Jesus saved us. Fr. John Bartunek, LC tells us that: “He did not save us by eliminating suffering from the world. He saved us by giving meaning to suffering. So he actually entered into our world of suffering - our fallen world - and took suffering upon himself to show us the way to respond to suffering - he obeyed the Father's will even when it cost him great suffering - so it was through suffering that he reestablished the connection between the fallen human family and the Father.
“Now when we are baptized we become members of Christ's body, the Mystical Body of Christ - that's another name for the Church. So when I'm baptized, I am in Christ, so therefore when suffering comes into my life, if I, through prayer, unite that suffering to the cross of Christ, I am somehow, mysteriously participating in the redemption of the world." There are many scriptures to support this:
"I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his body the church."
"So please don't lose heart because of my trials here. I am suffering for you, so you should feel honored."
I Corinthians 4:8-12 "In all things we suffer tribulation: but are not distressed. We are straitened: but are not destitute. We suffer persecution: but are not forsaken. We are cast down: but we perish not. Always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake: that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh. So then death worketh in us: but life in you."
2 Corinthians 1:5-7 "For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us: so also by Christ doth our comfort abound. Now whether we be in tribulation, it is for your exhortation and salvation: or whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation: or whether we be exhorted, it is for your exhortation and salvation, which worketh the enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer. That our hope for you may be steadfast: knowing that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so shall you be also of the consolation."
Our sacrifices and suffering have merit because they are offered in, with and through Christ and his perfect sacrifice. Another way of saying this is it is actually Christ, living in us, offering our suffering with his for the salvation of the world.
"With Christ I am nailed to the cross.I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me."
But not only does handling suffering this way bear fruit for others, this sacrifice and suffering that we bear in, with and through Christ, is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory - it is increasing our capacity to know and love God here on earth and the degree of His glory that we will participate in - in heaven. Every cross that we bear patiently and offer as an intercessory prayer for others, increases our glory from one degree to another:
“For the Spirit Himself gives testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God. And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with Him, that we may be also glorified with Him. The sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared with the glory to come that shall be revealed in us.”
Romans 8:18, 28, 38
“What we suffer at this present time cannot be compared at all with the glory that is going to be revealed in us...We know that all things work for good for those who love God...For I am convinced that neither life nor death...nor future things, nor powers nor any other creature can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus."
This is precisely why Jesus said that carrying our crosses was necessary:
Luke 14: 27 "And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
He knows all of the benefits that can come from this and he doesn't want us to miss out on them!
By the time we reach heaven, each one of us will be completely conformed to Christ - from the inside out - not just a legal declaration - but a real transformation (this is where purgatory fits in for saved Christians that haven't opened themselves to this process completely before death).
Carrying our crosses with love, and the real struggle that entails, is part of this. Even though our best efforts are futile on their own, they are necessary to show God our goodwill and then he will do the rest.
God created us without our cooperation but He will not save us without it. His desire is that we participate in our own rescue. Our participation, however, is not the source of the grace we receive (that comes from Christ's perfect sacrifice) but it is a channel for it. By doing our part - putting forth the best effort we are capable of at the time (and that is different for everyone) - we are giving God our five loaves and two fish (John 6:1-14) and this gives Him the channel to use to heal us, and other people through us, with his grace & power. He does this through the grace that we receive through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Love, which receive in a special way through the sacraments, prayer, self-denial, offering up our suffering, etc. "God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).
As we carry our cross and follow Christ by offering up our suffering to God our struggle and suffering are made fruitful in many different ways. Two of them are:
1. When we "offer up" a difficulty to God - instead of succumbing to it - it is as if a wall has come down in our heart and we are giving Him access to an area of our life that He was not able to come fully into before. We have "opened it up" to Him. Because He is present there now, we are not on our own and can draw from His strength and power to face the difficulty. His strength begins exactly where our natural ability ends.
2. Now that He is present, so is His self-sacrificing love, which we can tap into in order to offer up the difficulty as a prayer of intercession for others. In other words, He is present in our difficulty - we are now yoked with him (Matthew 11:28-30) - so that we can, not only bear it patiently, but, we can go even further, and offer it up as an act of love for other people.
This offering is part of what we bring with us in our hearts when we come to Mass to unite with Christ's perfect sacrifice that will be made present on the altar during the consecration. During the offertory (the presentation of the gifts) we mentally place it on the altar with the bread & wine. This elevates our offering; it supernaturalizes it. Our act of love actually enters eternity this way.
On the natural level, patiently bearing a suffering can have positive effects on us and the people near to us but on the supernatural level, because it is now united with the offering of Christ, God will use it as a channel of His grace for people we could never have reached in a natural way and, joined to Christ, it will last eternally. In heaven, God will show us what He did with it and we will be amazed. This is one of the ways that God has redeemed suffering. He cannot take suffering away in this life because that would take away our free will (see The Problem of Evil)
I think this "offering of our suffering as a sacrifice" is key to changing the world because it is not just a pious thought but something supernatural actually happens when we offer things up - great or small. Christ mystically enters into that suffering, annoyance, etc. and now his presence changes everything. Our part is to struggle, with his help, to bear it patiently by accepting it with trust and offering it with love and as we do this, he sends forth his grace, it actually emanates out, from that exact suffering, out to everyone involved and to the people we have offered it for. It's a win/win for everyone involved because the other people greatly benefit and we ourselves experience peace and even joy as we grow in virtue which, as the Saints tell us, is the exact soil the Holy Spirit needs to operate more fully in our souls.
Imagine the transformation the world would go through, if everyone allowed their suffering to unite them more deeply with Christ! How much more peace would be experienced. I think that suffering isn't the greatest tragedy; feeling like there is no meaning or purpose to our suffering is. Our loved ones that have passed on to eternal life are hoping and praying that we allow this suffering to be a means to bring us closer to God and to help others. Let's not disappoint them.
IS IT ONLY HEAVY CROSSES THAT COUNT? This is from www.rcspiritualdirection.com “We can offer up anything; anytime we experience the cross and the cross is a very simple reality: It is when God permits something to happen or asks me to do something that, on the natural level, I would prefer not to happen. So God’s will and my natural will – when there is a clash there, every time that happens, in whatever form it takes – if I decide to align myself with God’s will, to embrace my cross, even though it doesn’t feel good – what am I doing? I am exercising trust in God saying “God, this is what you want; this is what you are permitting. I accept it even though I don’t like it because I trust in you.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church in paragraph #397 tells us that the cause of original sin was when our first parents, tempted by the devil, let their trust in their Creator die in their hearts and so disobeyed Him. So anytime God permits a cross, he permits us an opportunity to exercise trust, to rehabilitate the trust that sin destroyed. That is how we become participants in the Redemption. That trust, which is in essence an act of the will which says: “Lord, I offer this up for your work; for the redemption of souls” fundamentally, then, is what it means by ‘Offering it Up’.” This offering is part of what we spiritually bring with us to the Mass to be placed on the altar with Jesus’s sacrifice. Jesus then unites it with his and offers it to the Father for the Salvation of the world. What a high calling we have as Christians!
The following is a great article that teaches how to do this on a very practical level:
Other resources about Redemptive Suffering:
Suck it Up vs. Offer it Up! Redemptive Suffering - Offering it Up! APOSTOLIC LETTER: SALVIFICI DOLORIS OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF JOHN PAUL II TO THE BISHOPS, TO THE PRIESTS, TO THE RELIGIOUS FAMILIES AND TO THE FAITHFUL OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH ON THE CHRISTIAN MEANING OF HUMAN SUFFERING What is Redemptive Suffering? (by Mother Angelica) Redemptive Suffering from EWTN How Faith in Redemptive Suffering Can Keep Us Sane Must I Suffer in Order to Achieve Salvation