Salvifici doloris 19

V. Sharers in the Sufferings of Christ

19 19. The same song of the suffering servant in the Book of Isaiah leads us, through the following verses, precisely in the direction of this question and answer:

"When he makes himself an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring, he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand; he shall see the fruit of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous; and he shall bear their iniquities.

"Therefore I will divide him a portion with the great, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong; because he poured out his soul to death, and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (53) .

One can say that with the passion of Christ all human suffering has found itself in a new situation. And it is as though Job had foreseen this when he said: "I know that my Redeemer lives" (54) , and as though he had directed toward it his own suffering, which without the redemption could not have revealed to him the fullness of its meaning. In the cross of Christ not only is the redemption accomplished through suffering, but also human suffering itself has been redeemed. Christ-- without any fault of his own -- took on himself "the total evil of sin." The experience of this evil determined the incomparable extent of Christ's suffering, which became the price of the redemption. The song of the suffering servant in Isaiah speaks of this. In later times witnesses of the New Covenant, sealed in the blood of Christ, will speak of this. These are the words of the apostle Peter in his letter: "You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot" (55) . And the apostle Paul in the Letter to the Galatians will say: "He gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age" (56) , and in the First Letter to the Corinthians: "You were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body" (57) .

With these and similar words the witnesses of the New Covenant speak of the greatness of the redemption accomplished through the suffering of Christ. The Redeemer suffered in place of man and for man. Every man has his own share in the redemption. Each one is also called to share in that suffering through which the redemption was accomplished. He is called to share in that suffering though which all human suffering has also been redeemed. In bringing about the redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the redemption. Thus each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.

Is 53,10-12.
54. Jb 19,25.
55. 1P 1,18-19.
56. Ga 1,4.
57. 1Co 6,20.

20 20. The texts of the New Testament express this concept in many places. In the Second Letter to the Corinthians the apostle writes: «We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh ..., knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus" (58) .

St. Paul speaks of various sufferings and, in particular, of those in which the first Christians became sharers "for the sake of Christ." These sufferings enable the recipients of that letter to share in the work of the redemption, accomplished through the suffering and death of the Redeemer. The eloquence of the cross and death is, however, completed by the eloquence of the resurrection. Man finds in the resurrection a completely new light, which helps him to go forward through the thick darkness of humiliations, doubts, hopelessness and persecution. Therefore the apostle will also write in the Second Letter to the Corinthians: "For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too"
(59) . Elsewhere he addresses to his recipients words of encouragement: "May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ" (60) . And in the Letter to the Romans he writes: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (61) .

The very participation in Christ's sufferings finds in these apostolic expressions as it were a twofold dimension. If one becomes a sharer in the sufferings of Christ, this happens because Christ has opened his suffering to man, because he himself in his redemptive suffering has become in a certain sense a sharer in all human sufferings. Man, discovering through faith the redemptive suffering of Christ, also discovers in it his own sufferings; he rediscovers them through faith, enriched with a new content and new meaning.

This discovery caused St. Paul to write particularly strong words in the Letter to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me: and the life I now live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me"
(62) . Faith enables the author of these words to know that love which led Christ to the cross. And if he loved us in this way, suffering and dying, then with this suffering and death of his he lives in the one whom he loved in this way; he lives in the man: in Paul. And living in him -- to the degree that Paul, conscious of this through faith, responds to his love with love -- Christ also becomes in a particular way united to the man, to Paul through the cross. This union caused Paul to write in the same letter to the Galatians other words as well, no less strong: "But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (63) .

2Co 4,8-11 2Co 4,14.
59. 2Co 1,5.
60. 2Th 3,5.
61. Rm 12,1.
62. Ga 2,19-20.
63. Ga 6,14.

21 21. The cross of Christ throws salvific light, in a most penetrating way, on man's life and in particular on his suffering. For through faith the cross reaches man together with the resurrection: The mystery of the passion is contained in the paschal mystery. witnesses of Christ's passion are at the same time witnesses of his resurrection. Paul writes: "That I may know him (Christ) and the power of the resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (64) . Truly, the apostle first experienced the "power of the resurrection" of Christ on the road to Damascus and only later, in this paschal light, reached that "sharing in his sufferings" of which he speaks, for example, in the letter to the Galatians. The path of Paul is clearly paschal: Sharing in the cross of Christ comes about through the experience of the Risen One, therefore through a special sharing in the resurrection. Thus, even in the apostle's expressions on the subject of suffering there so often appears the motif of glory, which finds its beginning in Christ's cross.

The witnesses of the cross and resurrection were convinced that
«through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God" (65) . And Paul, writing to the Thessalonians, says this:

"We ourselves boast of you ... for your steadfastness and faith in all your persecutions and in the afflictions which you are enduring. This is evidence of the righteous judgement of God, that you may be made worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering" (66) .

Thus to share in the sufferings of Christ is at the same time to suffer for the kingdom of God. In the eyes of the just God, before his judgement, those who share in the sufferings of Christ become worthy of this kingdom. Through their sufferings, in a certain sense they repay the infinite price of our redemption: At this price the kingdom of God has been consolidated anew in human history, becoming the definitive prospect of man's earthly existence. Christ has led us into this kingdom through his suffering. And also through suffering those surrounded by the mystery of Christ's redemption become mature enough to enter this kingdom.

Ph 3,10-11.
65. Ac 14,22.
66. 2Th 1,4-5.

22 22. To the prospect of the kingdom of God is linked hope in that glory which has its beginning in the cross of Christ. The resurrection revealed this glory -- eschatological glory -- which in the cross of Christ was completely obscured by the immensity of suffering. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ are also called, through their own sufferings, to share in glory. Paul expresses this in various places. To the Romans he writes:

"We are ... fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us" (67) .

In the Second Letter to the Corinthians we read: "For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to things that are unseen" (68) . The apostle Peter will express this truth in the following words of his first letter: "But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed" (69) .

The motif of suffering and glory has a strictly evangelical characteristic, which becomes clear by reference to the cross and the resurrection. The resurrection became, first of all, the manifestation of glory, which corresponds to Christ's being lifted up through the cross. If in fact the cross was to human eyes Christ's emptying of himself, at the same time it was in the eyes of God his being lifted up. On the cross, Christ attained and fully accomplished his mission: By fulfilling the will of the Father, he at the same time fully realized himself. In weakness he manifested his power and in humiliation he manifested all his messianic greatness. Are not all the words he uttered during his agony on Golgotha a proof of this greatness and especially his words concerning the perpetrators of his crucifixion: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do?"
(70) . To those who share in Christ's sufferings these words present themselves with the power of a supreme example. Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity. Proof of this has been given, down through the generations, by the martyrs and confessors of Christ, faithful to the words: "And do not fear those who kill the body, but cannot kill the soul" (71) .

Christ's resurrection has revealed "the glory of the future age" and at the same time has confirmed "the boast of the cross": the glory that is hidden in the suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man's spiritual greatness. This glory must be acknowledged not only in the martyrs for the faith, but in many others also who, at times even without belief in Christ, suffer and give their liver for the truth and for a just cause. In the sufferings of all of these people the great dignity of man is strikingly confirmed.

Rm 8,17-18.
68. 2Co 4,17-18.
69. 1P 4,13.
70. Lc 23,34.
71. Mt 10,28.

23 23. Suffering, in fact, is always a trial -- at times a very hard one -- to which humanity is subjected. The gospel paradox of weakness and strength often speaks to us from the pages of the letters of St. Paul, a paradox particularly experienced by the apostle himself and together with him experienced by all who share Christ's will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (72) . In the Second Letter to Timothy we read: "And therefore I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed" (73) . And in the Letter to the Philippians he will even say: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me" (74) .

Those who share in Christ's sufferings have before their eyes the paschal mystery of the cross and resurrection, which Christ descends, in the first phase, to the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence: Indeed, he dies nailed to the cross. But if at the same time in this weakness there is accomplished his lifting up, confirmed by the power of the resurrection, then this means that the weaknesses of all human sufferings are capable of being infused with the same power of God manifested in Christ's cross. In such a concept, to suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God offered to humanity in Christ. In him God has confirmed his desire to act especially through suffering, which is man's weakness and emptying of self, and he wishes to make his power known precisely in this weakness and emptying of self. This also explains the exhortation in the First Letter of Peter: "Yet if one suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but under that name let him glorify God" (75) .

In the Letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul deals still more fully with the theme of this "birth of power in weakness," this spiritual tempering of man in the midst of trials and tribulations, which is the particular vocation of those who share in Christ's sufferings. "More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" (76) . Suffering as it were contains a special call to the virtue which man must exercise on his own part. And this is the virtue of perseverance in bearing whatever disturbs and causes harm. In doing this, the individual unleashes hope, which maintains in him the conviction that suffering will not get the better of him, that it will not deprive him of his dignity as a human being, a dignity linked to awareness of the meaning of life. And indeed this meaning makes itself known together with the working of God's live, which is the supreme gift of the Holy Spirit. The more he shares in this love, man rediscovers himself more and more fully in suffering: He rediscovers the "soul" which he thought he had "lost" (77) because of suffering.

2Co 12,9.
73. 2Tm 1,12.
74. Ph 4,13.
75. 1P 4,16.
76. Rm 5,3-5.
77. Cf. Mc 8,35 Lc 9,24 Jn 12,25.

24 24. Nevertheless, the apostle's experiences as a sharer in the sufferings of Christ go even further. In the Letter to the Colossians we read the words which constitute as it were the final stage of the spiritual journey in relation to suffering: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church"
(78) . And in another letter he asks his readers: "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" (79) .

In the paschal mystery of Christ began the union with man in the community of the church. The mystery of the church is expressed in this: that already in the act of baptism, which brings about a configuration with Christ, and then through his sacrifice -- sacramentally through the eucharist -- the church is continually built up spiritually as the body of Christ. In this body, Christ wishes to be united with every individual, and in a special way he is united with those who suffer. The words quoted above from the Letter to the Colossians bear witness to the exceptional nature of this union. For, whoever suffers in union with Christ -- just as the apostle Paul bears his "tribulations" in union with Christ -- not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to, but also "completes" by this suffering "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions." This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world's redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the church as his body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. Insofar as man becomes a sharer in Christ's sufferings -- in any part of the world and at any time in history -- to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the redemption of the world.

Does this mean that the redemption achieved by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. In this dimension -- the dimension of love -- the redemption which has already been completely accomplished is in a certain sense constantly being accomplished. Christ achieved the redemption completely and to the very limit: but at the same time he did not bring it to a close. In this redemptive suffering, through which the redemption of the world was accomplished, Christ opened himself from the beginning to every human suffering and constantly does so. Yes, it seems to be part of the very essence of Christ's redemptive suffering that this suffering requires to be unceasingly completed.

Thus, with this openness to every human suffering, Christ has accomplished the world's redemption through his own suffering. For at the same time this redemption, even though it was completely achieved by Christ's suffering, lives on and in its own special way develops in the history of man. It lives and develops as the body of Christ, the church, and in this dimension every human suffering, by reason of the loving union with Christ, completes the suffering of Christ. It completes that suffering just as the church completes the redemptive work of Christ. The mystery of the church -- that body which completes in itself also Christ's crucified and risen body -- indicates at the same time the space and context in which human sufferings complete the sufferings of Christ. Only within this radius and dimension of the church as the body of Christ, which continually develops in space and time, can one think and speak of "what is lacking" in the sufferings of Christ. The apostle, in fact, makes this clear when he writes of "completing what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is the church."

It is precisely the church which ceaselessly draws on the infinite resources of the redemption, introducing it into the life of humanity, which is the dimension in which the redemptive suffering of Christ can be constantly completed by the suffering of man. This also highlights the divine and human nature of the church. Suffering seems in some way to share in the characteristics of this nature. And for this reason suffering also has a special value in the eyes of the church. It is something good, before which the church bows down in reverence with all the depth of her faith in the redemption. She likewise bows down with all the depth of that faith with which she embraces within herself the inexpressible mystery of the body of Christ.

Col 1,24.
79. 1Co 6,15.

VI. The Gospel of Suffering

25 25. The witnesses of the cross and resurrection of Christ have handed on to the church and to mankind a specific gospel of suffering. The Redeemer himself wrote this gospel, above all by his own suffering accepted in love, so that man "should not perish but have eternal life" (80) . This suffering, together with the living word of his teaching, became a rich source for all those who shared in Jesus' sufferings among the first generation of his disciples and confessors and among those who have come after them down the centuries.

It is especially consoling to note -- and also accurate in accordance with the Gospel and history -- that at the side of Christ, in the first and most exalted place, there is always his mother through the exemplary testimony that she bears by her whole life to this particular gospel of suffering. In her, the many and intense sufferings were amassed in such an interconnected way that they were not only a proof of her unshakable faith but also a contribution to the redemption of all. In reality, from the time of her secret conversation with the angel, she began to see in her mission as a mother her "destiny" to share in a singular and unrepeatable way in the very mission of her son. And she very soon received a confirmation of this in the events that accompanied the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem and in the solemn words of the aged Simeon, when he spoke of a sharp sword that would pierce her heart. Yet a further confirmation was in the anxieties and privations of the hurried flight into Egypt, caused by the cruel decision of Herod.

And again, after the events of her son's hidden and public life, events which she must have shared with acute sensitivity, it was on Calvary that Mary's suffering, beside the suffering of Jesus, reached an intensity which can hardly be imagined from a human point of view but which was mysterious and supernaturally fruitful for the redemption of the world. Her ascent of Calvary and her standing at the foot of the cross together with the beloved disciple were a special sort of sharing in the redeeming death of her son. And the words which she heard from his lips were a kind of solemn handing over of this gospel of suffering so that it could be proclaimed to the whole community of believers.

As a witness to her son's passion by her presence and as a sharer in it by her compassion, Mary offered a unique contribution to the gospel of suffering by embodying in anticipation the expression of St. Paul which was quoted at the beginning. She truly has a special title to be able to claim that she "completes in her flesh" -- as already in her heart -- "what is lacking in Christ's afflictions."

In the light of the unmatchable example of Christ, reflected with singular clarity in the life of his mother, the gospel of suffering, through the experiences and words of the apostles, becomes an inexhaustible source for the ever-new generations that succeed one another in the history of the church. The gospel of suffering signifies not only the presence of suffering in the Gospel, as one of the themes of the good news, but also the revelation of the salvific power and salvific significance of suffering in Christ's messianic mission and subsequently in the mission and vocation of the church.

Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: "If any man would come after me ... let him take up his cross daily" (81) , and before his disciples he placed demands of a moral nature that can only be fulfilled on condition that they should "deny themselves" (82) . The way that leads to the kingdom of heaven is "hard and narrow," and Christ contrasts it to the "wide and easy" way that "leads to destruction" (83) . On various occasions Christ also said that his disciples and confessors would meet with much persecution, something which -- as we know -- happened not only in the first centuries of the church's life under the Roman empire, but also came true in various historical periods and in other parts of the world, and still does even in our own time.

Here are some of Christ's statements on the subject:

"They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, deliver you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name's sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; you will be hated by all for my name's sake. But not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives" (84) .

The gospel of suffering speaks first in various places of suffering «for Christ," "for the sake of Christ," and it does so with the words of Jesus himself or the words of his apostles. The Master does not conceal the prospect of suffering from his disciples and followers. On the contrary, he reveals it with all frankness, indicating at the same time the supernatural assistance that will accompany them in the midst of persecutions and tribulations "for my name's sake." These persecutions and tribulations will also be, as it were, a particular proof of likeness to Christ and union with him. "It the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you ...; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you ... A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me they will persecute you ... But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know him who sent me" (85) . "I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (86) .

This first chapter of the gospel of suffering, which speaks of persecutions, namely of tribulations experienced because of Christ, contains in itself a special call to courage and fortitude, sustained by the eloquence of the resurrection. Christ has overcome the world definitively by his resurrection. Yet because of the relationship between the resurrection and his passion and death, he has at the same time overcome the world by his suffering. Yes, suffering has been singularly present in that victory over the world which was manifested in the resurrection. Christ retains in his risen body the marks of the wounds of the cross in his hands, feet and side. Through the resurrection he manifests the victorious power of suffering, and he wishes to imbue with the conviction of this power the hearts of those whom he chose as apostles and those whom he continually chooses and sends forth. The apostle Paul will say: "All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (87) .

Jn 3,16.
81. Lc 9,23.
82. Cf. Lc 9,23.
83. Cf. Mt 7,13-14.
84. Lc 21,12-19.
85. Jn 15,18-21.
86. Jn 16,33.
87. 2Tm 3,12.

26 26. While the first great chapter of the gospel of suffering is written down, as the generations pass, by those who suffer persecutions for Christ's sake, simultaneously another great chapter of this gospel unfolds through the course of history. This chapter is written by all those who suffer together with Christ, united their human sufferings to his salvific suffering. In these people there is fulfilled what the first witnesses of the passion and resurrection said and wrote about sharing in the sufferings of Christ. Therefore in those people there is fulfilled the gospel of suffering, and at the same time each of them continues in a certain sense to write it: They write it and proclaim it to the world, they announce it to the world in which they live and to the people of their time.

Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace. To this grace many saints, such as St. Francis of Assisi, and St. Ignatius of Loyola and others, owe their profound conversion. A result of such a conversion is not only that the individual discovers the salvific meaning of suffering, but above all that he becomes a completely new person. He discovers a new dimension, as it were, of his entire life and vocation. This discovery is a particular confirmation of the spiritual greatness which in man surpasses the body in a way that is completely beyond compare. When the body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.

This interior maturity and spiritual greatness in suffering are certainly the result of a particular conversion and cooperation with the grace of the crucified Redeemer. It is he himself who acts at the heart of human sufferings through his Spirit of truth, through the consoling Spirit. It is he who transforms in a certain sense the very substance of spiritual life, indicating for the person who suffers a place close to himself. It is he -- as the interior master and guide -- who reveals to the suffering brother and sister this wonderful interchange, situated at the very heart of the mystery of the redemption. Suffering is in itself an experience of evil. But Christ has made suffering the firmest basis of the definitive good, namely the good of eternal salvation. By his suffering on the cross, Christ reached the very roots of evil, of sin and death. He conquered the author of evil, Satan, and his permanent rebellion against the Creator. To the suffering brother or sister Christ discloses and gradually reveals the horizons of the kingdom of God: the horizons of a world converted to the Creator, of a world free from sin, a world being built on the saving power of love. And slowly but effectively, Christ leads into this world, into this kingdom of the Father, suffering man, in a certain sense through the very heart of his suffering. For suffering cannot be transformed and changed by a grace from the outside, but from within. And Christ through his own salvific suffering is very much present in every human suffering and can act from within that suffering by the powers of his spirit of truth, his consoling Spirit.

This is not all: The divine Redeemer wishes to penetrate the soul of every sufferer through the heart of his holy mother, the first and the most exalted of the redeemed. As though by a continuation of that motherhood, which by the power of the Holy Spirit had given him life, the dying Christ conferred upon the ever-Virgin Mary a new kind of motherhood -- spiritual and universal -- toward all human beings, so that every individual, during the pilgrimage of faith, might remain, together with her, closely united to him unto the cross and so that every form of suffering, given fresh life by the power of this cross, should become no longer the weakness of man, but the power of God.

However, this interior process does not always follow the same pattern. It often begins and is set in motion with great difficulty. Even the very point of departure differs: People react to suffering in different ways. But in general it can be said that almost always the individual enters suffering with a typically human protest and with the question why. He asks the meaning of his suffering and seeks an answer to this question on the human level. Certainly he often puts this question to God and to Christ. Furthermore, he cannot help noticing that the one to whom he puts the question is himself suffering and wishes to answer him from the cross, from the heart of his own suffering. Nevertheless, it often takes time, even a long time, for this answer to begin to be interiorly perceived. For Christ does not answer directly and he does not answer in the abstract this human questioning about the meaning of suffering. Man hears Christ's saving answer as he himself gradually becomes a sharer in the suffering of Christ.

The answer which comes through this sharing by way of the interior encounter with the Master is in itself something more than the mere abstract answer to the question about the meaning of suffering. For it is above all a call. It is a vocation. Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: «Follow me!" Come! Take part though your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering! Through my cross. Gradually, as the individual takes up his cross, spiritually uniting himself to the cross of Christ, the salvific meaning of suffering is revealed before him. He does not discover this meaning at his own human level, but at the level of the suffering of Christ. At the same time, however, from this level of Christ the salvific meaning of suffering descends to man's level and becomes in a sense the individual's personal response. It is then that man finds in his suffering interior peace and even spiritual joy.

27 27. St. Paul speaks of such joy in the Letter to the Colossians: "I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake" (88) . A source of joy is found in the overcoming of the sense of the uselessness of suffering, a feeling that is sometimes very strongly rooted in human suffering. This feeling not only consumes the person interiorly, but seems to make him a burden to others. The person feels condemned to receive help and assistance from others and at the same time seems useless to himself. The discovery of the salvific meaning of suffering in union with Christ transforms this depressing feeling. Faith in sharing in the suffering of Christ brings with it the interior certainty that the suffering person "completes what is lacking in Christ's afflictions"; the certainty that in the spiritual dimension of the work of the redemption he is serving, like Christ, the salvation of his brothers and sisters. Therefore he is carrying out an irreplaceable service. In the body of Christ, which is ceaselessly born of the cross of the Redeemer, it is precisely suffering permeated by the spirit of Christ's sacrifice that is the irreplaceable mediator and author of the good things which are indispensable for the world's salvation. It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls. Suffering, more than anything else, makes present in the history of humanity the powers of the redemption. In that "cosmic" struggle between the spiritual powers of good and evil, spoken of in the Letter to the Ephesians (89) , human sufferings, united to the redemptive suffering of Christ, constitute a special support for the powers of good and open the way to the victory of these salvific powers.

And so the church sees in all Christ's sufferings brothers and sisters as it were a multiple subject of his supernatural power. How often is it precisely to them that the pastors of the church appeal and precisely from them that they seek help and support! The gospel of suffering is being written unceasingly, and it speaks unceasingly with the words of this strange paradox: The springs of divine power gush forth precisely in the midst of human weakness. Those who share in the sufferings of Christ preserve in their own sufferings a very special particle of the infinite treasure of the world's redemption and can share this treasure with others. The more a person is threatened by sin, the heavier the structures of sin which today's world brings with it, the greater is the eloquence which human suffering possesses in itself. And the more the church feels the need to have recourse to the value of human sufferings for the salvation of the world.

Col 1,24.
89. Cf. Ep 6,12.

Salvifici doloris 19