In today’s Second Reading Saint Paul makes a statement which is sometimes misunderstood. He says: “[I]n my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” Is he claiming that Christ’s suffering was not sufficient for our redemption and that he, Paul, would complete it by his suffering? Not at all. That phrase “what is lacking,” may be understood as “what has yet to be endured.” Saint Paul was profoundly aware that there is an organic unity between Christ and each of us who, by baptism, are members of his body. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:27) “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26a) Our sufferings, therefore, do not add anything to the value of Christ’s suffering; but they participate in it. By participating in Christ’s suffering as members of his body, Christ gives value and meaning to our suffering. It is redemptive in nature, because Christ’s suffering is redemptive. This is what it means to “offer it up”: we can unite our suffering with Christ’s for the world’s salvation. This is true sacrifice, a “making holy.”
Having said that, there is way too much suffering going on in the world today. This is suffering that is brought on by human intervention—the many violent acts and shooting deaths, terrorist activity, and the persecution experienced by our fellow Christians in the Middle East. Yes, this suffering, too, has redemptive value, especially when those under attack give witness to their faith in Christ by refusing to deny that they are Christian in order to escape it. I think especially of Christians in Iraq, home to some of the most ancient Christian communities, whose churches and homes have been destroyed by those who want to eradicate Christianity. They ask for our prayers more than anything, while hoping that the governments of the world will recognize their plight and come to their aid. Secretary of State John Kerry has at least acknowledged it as genocide. What difference that will make remains to be seen. In his day Saint Paul spoke of his “anxiety for all the churches.” (1 Corinthians 11:28) This must weigh heavily on the heart of Pope Francis and it should on our hearts, too. The body of Christ is again under attack.
How fortunate we are to live where we do. Today we have the opportunity to enjoy St. Peter’s Shin-Dig. Thanks to all who work so hard to make it happen and to all who come to enjoy the fruit of their labor. The body of Christ can share joy and fellowship, too.
May God bless his people with peace.