Making Sense of Lent
and the Election of Suffering
is upon us — and many of us find
ourselves in a rather recurring
quandary. What are we going to do
during Lent? Even the youngest among
us have had many years to ponder
this question and to arrive at something
of an answer that will satisfy not
simply the question, but the season.
It is, after all, a season of abnegation,
of self-denial, calculated to something
more than what we intend to actually
derive from it. What I mean is this:
we've squandered the years in petty
oblations that are in some way more
satisfying to us than vexatious,
let alone painful. We are reluctant
to attend the school of suffering
and most often find ourselves truant.
Indeed, we think to ourselves that
we have suffering enough — all of
us — and see little value in that
apparently wanton sacrifice we call
It is true.
It is equally true than none, or
little, of the suffering we endure
(and much is great) is of our own
choosing, but rather comes to us
wittingly or not, through the wiles
of the world, the flesh and the
devil — or through apparently capricious,
or at the very least unavoidable,
devices and circumstances to which
we are naturally averse. We cannot
change this — or we would. We endure
it — because we must. This is suffering
rightly understood as an evil. And
so it is. It is a privation of a
good that ought to be present but
is not, or is present very defectively
or deficiently. In any event, we
cannot change it.
This is quite distinct from suffering
not as an ineluctable evil, but
as a redemptive choice.
It is, in fact, and the more you
look at it, much more akin to the
sufferings of Christ — Who chose
to suffer ... Who was, in fact,
"The Suffering Servant".
What are we to make of this?
Jesus Christ did not "have to" suffer
– He chose to suffer.
To redeem us from our sins.
Is that answer too simple, too naive,
to be acceptable?
I will not weary you with the unnecessary
complexities of theological justifications
(all quite valid, all quite in keeping
with reason) which concern the nature
of the inextricable relationship
between love, justice, and atonement
— especially as they pertain
to the very ontological fabric of
existence itself ... of which we
are part. You will have to seek
that elsewhere. Start with your
The point of Lent is this:
we choose to suffer.
We choose to conform ourselves to
Christ — and not just because Christ
suffered, but because to conform
ourselves to Christ ineluctably
entails suffering and privation.
As it has been observed, there are
many who wish to share in Jesus
triumphant entry into Jerusalem
— but few, exceedingly few — who
wish to share in His Passion on
the night of His betrayal and the
day of His Crucifixion.
We do not "have to". But we can
Choice is ever the election of love,
yes? And love, as St. John of the
Cross states, ever makes likeness
between the lover and the Beloved.
We choose to be like Christ. We
choose, in some way, in some measure,
to do something akin to what Christ
Himself had chosen to do — for
And now we choose, too — and to
do it for Him!
Yes! We may choose our sacrifice!
We may choose our suffering — but
I suggest that our own present suffering,
the suffering from which we cannot
escape ... the suffering that, were
it otherwise possible, we would
flee, is the one most acceptable
to God — and only remains to be
chosen by us ...
That is to say, we must make it
an election, we must willfully
take to ourselves that which is
natively repugnant to us —
and here is the crux (Latin for
Cross ...) of the matter:
it must benefit others
— not us. Even if we choose
that suffering from which we cannot
possibly extricate ourselves, we
must bear it for others,
as Christ bore His suffering for
us. We must pray that we
be united in our suffering with
the suffering of Jesus Christ in
the Garden, at the Pillar, and on
the Cross — for only in this will
our suffering become meaningful,
for it will become redemptive!
St. Paul tells us,
"I now rejoice in my sufferings
for you, and fill up those things
that are wanting of the sufferings
of Christ, in my flesh, for his
body, which is the Church."
* (Colossians 1.24).
In other words, we can share, even
participate in the suffering of
Christ — if we choose to
— and for the same end for which
He Himself suffered: the redemption
of the world, the salvation of souls.
Through this mysterious union in
suffering with Christ we exceed
ourselves, surpass all that is possible
to us apart from Him ... by becoming
one with Him. One in suffering.
One in purpose. And was there ever
greater purpose ...?
Lent call calls us to become like
unto Christ, to be conformed to
Him in this life – so that after
the Cross we will be found to be
conformed to Him at the hour of
our death ... and following Him,
join Him in Heaven where He has
prepared a place of everlastingness
for us ... that where He is we may
nunc gáudeo in passiónibus pro vobis,
et adímpleo ea quæ desunt passiónem
Christi, in carne mea pro córpore
ejus, quod est Ecclésia."
for the Boston Catholic Journal