cross

On Suffering – A Lenten Reflection, Part 2

Many Catholics are familiar with the phrase “offer it up,” but what does that mean and how can we offer up our infertility? “In bringing about the Redemption through suffering, Christ has also raised human suffering to the level of the Redemption. Thus each man [or woman], in his [or her] suffering, can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” (Salvifici Doloris 19)

This can give meaning to suffering, which so often seems to be lacking.  I know then, through my faith, that my suffering has meaning, that just as Christ died for our sins and suffered, the cross I carry has meaning.

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 of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesussake, 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” (2 Cor. 4, 8-11. 14).

I find it helpful to focus onSt. Paul’s use of the word body and his imagery of us carrying our cross in the body since infertility is a physical ailment.St. Paulsays it clearly: we can manifest the life of Christ in our bodies. We can be witnesses to God’s love no matter what happens. We can show others a different way of dealing with infertility. We can be afflicted but focus on Christ and know that He has suffered for us and joins us on the road of infertility – we will not despair.

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” (Rom. 12, 1).  While undergoing countless tests and procedures, it has helped me to focus on that image of my body as a living sacrifice. We bear the suffering of the cross but know that the story does not end there. Our faith in the Resurrection is what helps us to continue on the journey despite the difficulty. Paul’s words challenge me to show others Christ in and through my suffering of infertility. This is very difficult and there are moments when it seems almost impossible to do. For example, when recently hearing the news of another IVF pregnancy, the hurt and anger were deep.  Talking to a friend in the faith helped me to vent and gain the necessary perspective. 

The brokenness of infertility is also special in that it is a brokenness of our body that may not be obvious.  It’s not a physical deformity that can be seen by others, for the most part, but we may feel that our bodies have let us down, like they are not doing something they are supposed to do; we may even feel like less of a woman Also it’s a brokenness that many times goes unspoken — maybe because people don’t ask, are afraid to ask, or we may not want to share.

St. Paul, though, also reminds us that “For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Cor. 4, 8-11. 14 – 1, 5). This is the key, however: to always remember that we are not alone in our suffering, that Christ is comforting us as well.

In Salvifici Doloris, the late Blessed John Paul II alludes to the maturity which suffering brings.  Tto suffer means to become particularly susceptible, particularly open to the working of the salvific powers of God. (Salvifici Doloris 27). It is suffering, more than anything else, which clears the way for the grace which transforms human souls.

Confession became an important sacrament and avenue for this transformative grace for my husband and me as we learned to let go of so much and seek God’s counsel. I have to be honest and say that confession is not the easiest of sacraments for me to participate in, and though I am a more frequent confession-goer now because infertility has brought to the forefront many of my failings and sins, I still need more of the grace received from reconciliation.

John Paul II said that, “Suffering is also an invitation to manifest the moral greatness of man, his spiritual maturity.”  By being a witness to others on the journey you can also inspire them in their own faith. 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” (Luke 9: 23). 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” (Matthew 7: 13-14). Our culture rejects the difficult road many times and looks for quick fixes.  Yet God says in Matthew 11:28-30 “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”

As we enter this Holy Triduum, may we remember that in coming to God and uniting our suffering with Christ’s, our journey will be easy as we place our trust in Him.