Today the Catholic Church celebrates Laetare Sunday. The name comes from the first word of the entrance antiphon for today’s Mass (“Laetare”), which is Latin for “rejoice”. At first, the notion of rejoicing in the midst of a penitential season seems inappropriate… Is it possible to find joy in the midst of suffering?
One of the beautiful things about our Catholic Faith is that it enables us to make sense out of suffering. The world tells us that suffering is bad and that we should avoid it at all costs. People should be “put out of their misery” if they develop a terminal illness; Unwanted children should be aborted rather than brought into the world; Couples should get divorced if they encounter marital difficulties; Sexual urges should be satisfied in whatever manner “feels good”. Turning on the television for a few minutes quickly reinforces the message that “suffering is bad and pleasure is good”.
The Catholic Faith looks at suffering in a much different way. It is a chance to assist Christ in the redemption of mankind. In a mysterious act of generosity, Jesus permits us to help with His mission. St. Paul tells us, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” (Col 1:24) While there is obviously nothing lacking in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, He allows us (as part of His Mystical Body, The Church) to join in His sacrifice.
No matter what we are going through (illness, financial problems, relationship difficulties, loneliness, depression, tiredness), we can rejoice with St. Paul in the knowledge that we are assisting Our Lord with His salvific mission. Keeping that in mind will make it possible to find joy… even in the midst of suffering.