Within this year of 2020, there has been no shortage of suffering. Physical, mental, and emotional tribulations have arisen and threatened to overtake us in every facet of life. In the midst of this immense suffering, it becomes so easy to place the blame on God. We search for answers to the cause of our pain, and when we cannot find one, the Lord quickly becomes our scapegoat. Earlier this year, I found myself doing this same thing.
Like so many others, this pandemic has taken an unexpected and severe toll on my mental health. Back in March, the seemingly endless days of quarantine made me feel trapped, bogged down, and entirely out of control. In social distancing, I inadvertently emotionally distanced from my friends too, placing myself in total desolation. Each day felt like a dark and bland carbon copy of the last. Unsurprisingly, I sank into a deeper period of depression than I had experienced in years. Without mass and the sacraments, I clung desperately to personal prayer. Yet, each time I turned to Him, I found myself continuously asking: Why? Why did you place this burden of depression on me? Why did you make me this way?
I was placing the blame entirely on the Lord, the one whom I know loves me dearly and longs to see me healed.
All summer long, I grappled with this issue. It wasn’t until I returned to my college campus and sought out the sacrament of confession that I finally felt the Lord answering my cries for relief. In the peace-filled words of the priest, he gently told me, “Let no suffering go wasted.” In that moment, I knew this was the answer I had been seeking.
I had been praying for so many months for the pain of depression to just disappear. Could He not just snap His fingers and make it all vanish? In hearing these words from the priest – in persona Christi – I realized that the Lord had been calling me to something different all along. All of the sorrow and despair was an invitation to go deeper in my relationship with Him. It was an invitation to unite myself to Jesus Christ on the cross. It was an invitation to bear my own cross with love.
In speaking on imitating Christ through our suffering, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen says, “We cannot become like Him in His Power; we cannot become like Him in His Knowledge. There is only one way we can become like Him, and that is in the way He bore His sorrows and His Cross. And that way was with love. It is love that makes pain bearable.”
We are never more like Christ than when we willingly and joyfully pick up our crosses and carry them on this difficult walk of faith.
If we try to drag our crosses entirely on our own, we will quickly find that they are too much to bear. We trudge along, trying to remain on our feet, but over time, our legs grow weary. Our arms become weak. Our wounds need tending to. It is in that moment that we need to let Christ enter our messy lives. He who bore the heaviest cross before us does not want to see us struggle alone with our own.
How can we – in our everyday lives – learn to unite our suffering with Christ’s and pick up our cross with love? In meditating as often as possible on the Sorrowful Mysteries, we can enter into contemplation about the way He so virtuously suffered. We remember His trust, purity, humility, patience, perseverance, courage, and strength. He lived each of these with unwavering love. To Christ, the pain of His Passion was bearable and entirely worth it because He knew that with this offering, the salvation of the world was being won. In this same way, we can offer up our every suffering for the salvation of souls. No matter the magnitude or source of our pain, we can take every ounce and turn it into a gift through the Lord’s grace. This Truth grants us an ever-present hope that we should cling to at all times.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen offers encouragement similar to what I received in the confessional that day. He says, “Let not my abandonment and my sorrow go to waste. Gather up the fragments, and as the drop of water is absorbed by the wine at the Offertory of the Mass, let my life be absorbed in you.”
Without being in union with the Lord, our crosses can feel purposeless and insufferable. The pains we bear seem like punishments or unfortunate coincidences that weigh on us unceasingly. Thankfully, this way of suffering in solitude is not the only option we have.
Through a union with our Savior’s suffering, our own is made more meaningful. The fragments of our wounds are absorbed by Christ’s and offered up for the greatest purpose of all: the salvation of souls. Our suffering is made sacrificial; we have taken up our cross with love.
Maria is an undergraduate Senior at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. She is an English Major with a triple minor in Theology, Creative Writing, and Education. Maria finds immense joy in drawing others closer to Christ by sharing her faith experiences. In providing emotional support to those in her everyday life, she hopes to reveal the unwavering love of the Father. Maria aspires to teach English or Religion in a Catholic school while also writing novels in her time off.