Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love .—St. Faustina
When I first left the convent two years ago, the immense hurt and suffering that I felt was unbearable. No matter how much I tried to refocus my thoughts, I could not rid myself of the pain and devastation that consumed my soul. I felt absolutely and completely betrayed by those who were supposed to have been my family. It took every fiber of my being to be able to bring myself to Mass on Sundays because simply kneeling in the pew would bring forth a torrent of tears flowing down my face.
I knew, though, when the priest elevated the Sacred Host during the consecration, and I would gaze upon the Beloved One in front of my very eyes, he would transform my suffering in the Eucharist. Despite how I felt, I offered my suffering in union with Christ. I would imagine myself in the Garden of Gethsemane kneeling and weeping beside Jesus as he was experiencing his agony. There we would be together as I offered to share my suffering in unity with him.
Let us therefore without ceasing hold fast by our hope and by the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ who took up our sins in His own body upon the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth, but for our sakes He endured all things, that we might live in Him. Let us therefore become imitators of His endurance; and if we should suffer for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He gave this example to us in His own person, and we believed this.—St. Polycarp of Smyrna
The teaching of the Eucharist that we understand as Catholics tells that even our most intense suffering can be transformed into a deep and profound joy. How is this possible? When the gifts of bread and wine are brought to the altar, we can imagine ourselves leaving there upon the table our sufferings. There before us, we can know that despite the incredible ache we may have in our hearts, we can allow our suffering to be joined with Christ’s suffering, together becoming gifts presented to the father in heaven as the reditus (“returning”). Then in turn, the father as the exitus (“departure”) offers his own gift back to the son.
It is by being united with Christ Jesus in his sacrament of love that I could attain the strength to endure the suffering out of love for him. “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). Within my very depth, I knew that somehow, someway, God would allow fruits to grow out of my traumatic experience in religious life.
The Eucharist allows us to become partakers in the life of Christ in a deeper and more meaningful way. I allowed my heart to be open to accepting the love of Christ in the most intimate way in receiving his Real Presence, and my transformed suffering allowed me to heal. By receiving the Eucharist during the holy sacrifice of the Mass, gradually over time, I could feel a sense of peace. Often the words of St. Paul would enter into my mind, “But, even if I am poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with all of you” (Php. 2:17).
As Catholics, we understand that the Body and Blood of Christ hidden in the Sacred Host is truly the “source and summit” of the Christian life. We are nothing without Christ because it is Christ who gives us eternal life in him. The Eucharist is the life breath that we need to be able to continue on our Christian journey despite our wounds. Our suffering is never for naught, and it has a profound meaning for each and every one of us.
When we receive the Bread of Life, we know that it is in the Eucharist that our suffering becomes a part of not only our redemption, but that of the entire world. Suffering out of love for Christ, however minimal or extreme, is never wasted as it is a part of God’s divine plan. As Pope Benedict XVI says, “I encourage all of you to discover more fully in the Eucharist the sacrament of Christ’s sacrificial love, the inspiration and strength needed to work ever more generously for the spread of God’s Kingdom and the growth of the civilization of love.”