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. -Romans 5:3-5
It is impossible to come across anyone in this world who has not experienced suffering. There are those who have had to endure great physical suffering through illness or injury, and there are others who have experienced the most excruciating mental and spiritual suffering. Some of these people become consumed by their suffering. It swallows them whole, plunging them into the darkest and loneliest despair. The pain, whether it be physical or spiritual, becomes so overwhelming that you feel as though there is nothing you can do that will make it stop. In these moments, these dark and painful moments, it is difficult to find hope and laughable to rejoice at anything. Yet, this is exactly what St. Paul says that suffering should do. 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.
What on earth could possibly induce a person to rejoice at something like suffering? For a first world American, much of our society is constantly seeking a means to relieve every possible source of discomfort. However, there is something greater than our comfort. There is something – someone – who can give meaning to our suffering.
For anyone who has ever played a sport or exercised regularly, endurance is not something you achieve over night. It takes time and regular exercise to gain any sort of endurance. This can also be said of suffering. Once we know that our suffering can be a means of drawing closer to God, it is no longer a source of despair. On the contrary, it becomes a source of rejoicing as St. Paul says. Suffering can either teach us to complain and feel sorry for ourselves, or it can help us grow in endurance, character and hope. Just as the athlete pushes themselves to their limits in order to grow in physical strength, so can we grow in endurance through our suffering.
According to St. Paul, when we rejoice in our suffering, we gain endurance. Through endurance comes character. I have often wondered what sort of character is produced by suffering. I did not have to wonder for long. Some of the greatest characters of human history have been formed by suffering. From Christ on the cross, to his Mother and her sorrows, to the early church Christians slaughtered for their faith and even the Christians suffering for their faith today in Iraq. These strong characters were not formed by seeking their own comfort. They did not become close to God in the comfort and safety of their homes. They sought Him and found suffering, but instead of allowing that to consume them, they endured and grew in character.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit”(CCC 1817). If you want true happiness, you need hope. If you want hope, you need character. In order to have character, you need endurance. If you want endurance, you must suffer and rejoice in your suffering. This is easier said than done, but it is not impossible.
I have spent more Holy Hours than I can count reflecting on this passage by St. Paul to the Romans. At times, it has been a source of great confusion, but the longer I spent before God in the Blessed Sacrament, the better able I was to understand what St. Paul was trying to say. Aside from the endurance, character and hope that suffering produces, there is one simple reason why we should all rejoice in our suffering – because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us. I have found that when I allow myself to accept how much God loves me and allow him to pour that love into my heart, it isn’t hard to rejoice at suffering. When I allow God’s love to fill me, it becomes so much greater than my suffering. Notice, I said when I allow him to love me. When suffering consumes me, I despair. When God’s love consumes me, I hope. Suffering will come whether I like it or not. It is up to me whether I allow it to take over or not. The choice is mine. Brothers and sisters, the choice is ours.