What is Redemptive Suffering
“This may be a wicked age but your lives should redeem it” (Eph. 5:16).
The word “redeem” means to rescue, set free, ransom, and to pay the penalty incurred by another. We often lose sight of the definition to “set free,” and we miss the power of our example as Christians to do exactly that — set our neighbor free.
We must look at this aspect of Redemptive Suffering if we are to understand its role in our daily lives. St. Paul told the Corinthians that, “indeed, as the sufferings of Christ overflow to us, so, through Christ, does our consolation overflow. When we are made to suffer, it is for our consolation and salvation” (2 Cor. 1:5, 6).
Paul did not want the sufferings encountered by being a Christian to discourage or dishearten anyone. He realized that when Christians saw the blessings and grace that poured upon him after his many trials, they would gain courage to suffer in their turn. The example of fortitude and fidelity exhibited by this man of God released them from the fetters of fear and cowardice.
Paul knew that Christ’s example of every virtue was as redemptive as His death. By the example of his holy life, the Christian was to release and set his neighbor free from the bondage of sin in which he was immersed. Holiness reaches out to touch everyone and gives them the courage to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. The Christian’s suffering was acceptable to the Father for the salvation of mankind because he was so united to Jesus through the grace of the Holy Spirit and because whatever he suffered, Jesus suffered in him. “It makes me happy,” Paul told the Colossians, “to suffer for you, as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church” (Col. 1:24). It is Jesus who continues to suffer in the Christian for the good of all mankind.
Whatever we do to our neighbor, we do to Jesus, and all the sufferings our neighbor encounters in his daily life helps to build up the Mystical Body of Christ. To Paul, everything he suffered was for the Christians to whom he preached and for those who were to come. “I want you to know,” he said, “that I do have to struggle hard for you . . . and for so many others who have never seen me face to face” (Col. 2:1).
What was the purpose of all this suffering for others? “It is all to bind you together in love,” he told them, “and to stir your minds, so that your understanding may come to full development” (Col. 2:2).
Paul offered his sufferings for the good of his brethren, the Jews, for he told Timothy, “I have my own hardships to bear, even to being chained like a criminal — but they cannot chain up God’s news. So I bear it all for the sake of those who are chosen, so that in the end they may have the salvation that is in Christ Jesus and the eternal glory that comes with it” (2 Tim. 2:9-10, emphasis added).
Here we have Redemptive Suffering offered to God for the sake of others. Paul’s desire to suffer for his brethren reached almost to extremes, for one day he said, “My sorrow is so great, my mental anguish so endless, I would willingly be condemned and be cut off from Christ if it could help my brothers of Israel, my own flesh and blood” (Rom. 9:2-4). Paul knew that God would never exact that price for the salvation of others but he went to extremes in his desire to suffer for others so they too might come to know Jesus and enjoy His Kingdom.
Paul even thought that God would use his conversion for the sake of others. In writing to Timothy, he said, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I myself am the greatest of them; and if mercy has been shown to me, it is because Jesus Christ meant to make me the greatest evidence of His inexhaustible patience for all the other people who would later have to trust to Him to come to eternal life” (1 Tim. 1:15-16).
God would use the manifestation of His Mercy towards Paul as an opportunity for the conversion of other souls. Great sinners throughout the ages would look to Paul for courage and strength. Yes, the suffering and humiliation Paul endured was Redemptive for it freed sinners of fear and made them look to God for mercy.
Jesus told His Apostles at the Last Supper that “a man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). Jesus laid down His life for our sake, and He desires that we do the same for our neighbor if and when that opportunity presents itself. A soldier gives his life for his country, and he is a hero because his act of sacrifice is unselfish — he dies that others may live in peace. Most Christians are not asked to make the supreme sacrifice, but God chooses some to participate in the salvation of souls, not by giving up their lives but by enduring sufferings that are over and above what they need for themselves. All those whose suffering is Redemptive can say with St. Paul, “Never lose confidence because of the trials that I go through on your account; they are your glory” (Eph. 3:13).
Every pain we endure with love, every cross borne with resignation, benefits every man, woman, and child in the Mystical Body of Christ. Those who are chosen to bear a greater portion of suffering than others are called by God to heal the souls of many whose lives are bereft of the knowledge and love of God. Redemptive Suffering not only helps poor sinners directly by suffering for them but edifies and consoles good and holy souls as they journey through life striving for holiness. This dual role of Redemptive Suffering merits for those chosen by God for such a role, a glory and happiness in the Kingdom beyond our concepts or imagination. Like Jesus, their sufferings, united to His, rise to Heaven and obtain grace and repentance for those who are straying from God and His Love.