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Vicarious suffering

HINTS AND TRACES - Fr. Roy Cimagala (The Freeman) - January 25, 2021 - 12:00am

We have to understand this phenomenon very well, especially these days when a lot of people are going through all kinds of suffering, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, moral, financial, social, political and a long etcetera. When we understand it well, we would have the chance to take advantage of suffering, since suffering can open up a lot of good things for us. Suffering is not just a purely negative thing in our life.

We cannot help but suffer with everyone else, because whether we are aware of it or not, we are actually interconnected with one another. When one suffers, everybody else also suffers. Yes, we suffer too.

This truth about ourselves can be described in many ways: that we are in the same boat, we belong to the same body, we are actually one family, we cannot help but live in some communion among ourselves.

Let’s remember what St. Paul said in this regard. “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.” (1 Cor 12,26) And this is made possible because God has designed us to be so.

We actually form not only one body in Christ but also parts of the very body of Christ, who is the pattern of our humanity and the savior of our damaged humanity. As such, he assumed all the suffering of all men due to sin. Christ is the very epitome of what is known as “vicarious suffering,” since he, who need not suffer, chose to suffer for us and with us.

If we want to conform ourselves to this pattern and savior of our humanity, then we ought to have the same attitude Christ had and continues to have toward the suffering of men. We have to learn to choose to suffer for and with one another! We have to be eager to have the vicarious suffering for the others.

And these days, with so many suffering around, we should realize that we have a golden opportunity to identify ourselves more with Christ by suffering with and for the others.

In this regard, it would be good if we are always aware of the suffering of others. We should be pro-active in this. We should not just wait for others to tell us they are suffering. We have to take the initiative.

And our own suffering should not prevent us from thinking also of the suffering of the others. In fact, our own suffering would become useful and more bearable if we go through it with the suffering of the others, offering it to God and making it part of the continuing suffering of Christ that is meant for our redemption.

Thus our suffering that we convert also as a vicarious suffering for the others would also become a share of the redemptive suffering of Christ. With this understanding of suffering, our fear of it disappears, and instead of fear, we would have an eager desire for it. Suffering becomes a very positive element in our life.

Just as Christ embraced his suffering, his cross and his death, so should be our attitude toward all kinds of suffering, whether it is ours or those of others. We should suffer with and for everybody else. This way, we suffer with Christ also. We identify ourselves with him more, and our suffering becomes redemptive.

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