Random examples of the ubiquity of suffering, both minor and major
At times, Christians have believed the suffering is invariably sent by God as a punishment for sin … but we can think of too many examples of this patently not being the case for this explanation to be very satisfying
At best, taken on its own terms, suffering just is … it’s devoid of meaning … we are just helpless victims. This is a singularly depressing thought leading potentially to fatal despair.
This is how it seemed to Peter when Jesus announced his impending Passion (briefly recount gospel narrative). He could not abide the thought of everything Jesus had said and done (and everything he had led Peter is saying and doing) simply ending with Jesus’ suffering and death—nothing accomplished, nothing brought to completion, no grand triumph, just meaningless victimhood.
But if we pay close attention to what Jesus says, we see the seeds of something different: Jesus will go to Jerusalem (not be taken there), and then he counsels his followers to take up the cross (not accept it, or have it laid on them). [N.B. the second of the Stations: “Jesus takes up his cross.”]
We know, of course, from hindsight, the fruit of Jesus’ Passion: the redemption of the world, the salvation of our souls. Part of our incorporation into Christ is to bend our experience to that pattern: Suffering that is intentionally (not proactively, but intentionally) “taken up” has the capacity to be not only “un-meaningless,” but actually redemptive, in union with the redemptive suffering of Christ.
Suffering, as we have seen, “happens.” We can try to evade it, and perhaps succeed at times for a while. But it will catch up with us all eventually. We can accept it passively or fatalistically (“Que será sera”), but that leaves us as victims and our suffering as meaningless. Nothing is more tragic than meaningless suffering! But as disciples of Jesus, we have the invitation to “read ourselves” into the story of Christ’s redemption of the world through his Passion, Death, and Resurrection.