The joy of suffering

Fr. James Manjackal MSFS (Except from the book "I saw eternity")

As you know, I had to suffer much on my bed and on my wheelchair, during my long illness of over a year. You can imagine that in the first three or four months of my illness, my body was lying on the bed without any movement except breathing through the ventilator. Even now having decided to preach a few retreats from May 2014, I am on a wheelchair, unable to get up by myself, very much depending on others for my daily necessities. Many people asked me, why was I not sad or depressed in my sufferings. I can say that by God's grace I found the joy of suffering. The word of St. Peter, the first Pope is always in my heart, "But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly" (I Pet 4: 13). I knew very well that I was called to suffer with Jesus, and I consider it to be a great privilege and a blessing. My visit to purgatory helped me to deepen this conviction, because I knew that I had to suffer not only for my own sanctification, but also for the sanctification of others in this world and in the nether world. Along with Paul, the apostle, I will say, "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).

Surrendered to Jesus

At the beginning of my illness itself, I offered all my sufferings to Christ the Lord. After the vision of the sufferings souls in the nether world, I knew that my suffering is nothing compared to theirs. The crucifix that appeared to me helped me offer all my sufferings to Him in a conscious way. I believe that by this experience the Lord was extending to me the cup of suffering as a gift. If Jesus had not suffered we would not have been saved, or in other words, the sufferings of Christ were necessary for our salvation. After receiving the Holy Spirit at His baptism in Jordan, Jesus was led by the same Spirit to the desert, where He was tested and tempted, and there God the Father, equipped Him with the gift of suffering along with other gifts to evangelize and save mankind. So too, everyone who follows Jesus and to evangelize will be equipped with many gifts- also the gift of suffering! Many may want the gift of preaching, teaching, healing, prophecy or vision, but often they may not want the gift of suffering; hence it may be often an undesired and unwanted gift.

It is a spiritual gift

Suffering is a spiritual gift like any other gift, "For to you has been granted, for the sake of Christ, not only to believe in him but also to suffer for him" (Phil 1: 29). What is gratuitously given is called a gift or charism. Every gift manifests the might and power of the giver, rather than that of the receiver. In the case of spiritual gifts, the Holy Spirit is the giver, and in the exercise of those gifts, the power and presence of the Spirit will be manifested. "If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you for the Spirit of glory and of God rest upon you" (I Pet 4: 14). In the moments of my suffering, I indeed received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on my soul, and felt strengthened in spirit and mind. Every gift is desirable in itself for oneself and for others. When the gift of suffering is received for the sake of others, it becomes more joyous because one becomes like Christ. That is why St. Paul desired to have this grace of suffering in order to become like Him even in His death, "To know him and the power of his resurrection and sharing of his sufferings by being conformed to his death" (Phil 3: 10). So, he went to the extent of stating, "For to me life is Christ, and death is gain" (Phil 1: 21).

Focused on Christ

Everything in one's life becomes meaningful and   valuable when focused around Jesus the Lord, so too suffering. Separated from Jesus, suffering may be a curse or a burden, and one may blame God for his suffering. When suffering is well accepted with Christ, our inner self will become strong, "Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal" (II Cor 4: 16-18). Many times during my intense physical suffering, I felt my soul separated from my body. I saw my soul well cladded in white cloth and my body decomposed and becoming one with the dust of the earth. In other words, I was experiencing a kind of purification of my soul amidst my sufferings. After all, one day we have to say bye to our mortal bodies that will be buried on earth, and our souls will have to gaze at what is unseen and eternal. There were times I thought: 'if I could only die and be with Jesus forever', Then I realized this thought was from the evil one, because it didn't want me to suffer with Jesus or to preach His kingdom - or perhaps it was my selfishness to escape the sufferings.

Dying with Christ

Christian life is dying with Christ as explained by St. Paul, "" Always carrying about in the body the dying of Christ, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our body. For we who live are constantly being given up to death for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (II Cor 4: 10-11). In fact Paul's call on his way to Damascus was to follow Jesus through suffering, that is why He told Ananias, "". Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before gentiles, kings, and Israelites, and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name" (Acts 9: 15).

The righteous suffering of a Christian is depicted as God's approval of his call to follow Jesus, "But what credit is there if you are patient when beaten for doing wrong? But if you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps" (I Pet 2: 20-21). Often some   people ask this question when they are faced with sufferings, why they should suffer while they live a righteous life. Some come and ask me, "I go to daily Mass; I have my personal prayer and family prayer, help the poor, then, why does God send these sufferings to me". My answer to them is that it is because God loves them more than others, "But even if you should suffer because of righteousness, blessed are you. don't be afraid or terrified with a fear of them" (I Pet 3: 14).

St. Peter explains further why we have to suffer, because we follow Christ, "Beloved, don't be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rest upon you. But let no one among you be made to suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer or as an intriguer. But whoever is made to suffer as a Christian should not be ashamed, but glorify because of the name" (I Pet 4: 12-16). Suffering is a great privilege if it is God's will. Suffering following misconduct may not be God's will. If suffering comes while being good and doing good, it surely is God's will to give a share in His suffering to make our souls more blessed, "For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that be the will of God, than for doing evil" (I Pet 3: 17). "In fact, all who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (II Tim 3: 12).

A testimony

I remember, once when I visited a poor man's house, I found a couple with five crippled and disabled children. I asked them, how they could be joyful and practice their religion going to Mass daily and carrying these children. The man replied,

-"These children are gifts from God. While they were in my wife's womb, the doctors had advised us to abort them as they were neither healthy nor normal, but we decided to bring them up as God's gifts. God loves us much in giving them to us. He knew well that if these children were entrusted to someone else with less faith and love of God, they would not be cared well. Jesus knows very well that we have no means to support them, hence He helps us through many good people around us, and they too receive the blessings of our suffering".

When I extended to him some money he said,

-"Father, I don't expect money from you because you are a priest, all what I expect is your blessing on us because I believe that the blessing of a priest will bring much power and grace in our lives"

He knelt before me with his wife. I blessed them along with their children and their poor hut. It is often the poor who accept the gifts of suffering with joy, rather than the rich and the affluent.


In His sermon on the mount Jesus said that suffering is blessedness, "Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Mt 5: 10-12) Through sufferings and trials for the sake of Christ, one is molded and prepared to receive the crown of life, "Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promises to those who love him" (Jam 1: 12). The compassion of God to those who suffer is explained by St. James, by referring to the sufferings of Job in the Old Testament, who after having gone through various trials, received God's abundant blessings a hundredfold. "Indeed we call blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of the perseverance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, because "the Lord is compassionate and merciful" (Jam 5: 11). Job, after having gone through all tragedies and sufferings, said to the Lord, "I have heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you" (Job 42: 5). When we endure our suffering in the right spirit we are securing eternal life, "By your perseverance you will secure your lives" (Lk 21: 19).

It is the mystery of Christ's death on the cross that has unveiled the ineffable value of suffering. Christ on the cross is a victim of love for mankind, "But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom 5: 8). Sin was condemned in the body of Christ exposed on the cross, (Rom 8:3) punishment and curses incurred by the sinner were annulled and nailed to the cross (Col 2:113-15). "Christ ransomed us from the curses of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, "cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree" (Gal 3: 13). Our redemption and justification are only in the cross of Christ: the crucified Messiah becomes the Lord of glory and His cross is the wisdom of God. It is God's way. We have no other choice than to accept His way. 1 Cor 1:23-25)

Love motivates

Perseverance in suffering is the expression of one's deep love and commitment to the Master. "What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril or the sword? As it is written: "For your sake we are being slain all the day; we are looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered" (Rom 8: 35-36). Surely our love for God is tested through suffering. That is why I never complained and asked Jesus why He gave this suffering, or how long it is going to last. The call to suffer with Christ is God's plan and design to purify and transform us from our worldliness to godliness. "He will sit refining and purifying silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, refining them like gold or like silver that they may offer due sacrifice to the Lord" (Mal 3: 3). I know that suffering brings me the grace of making me mature in my Christian and priestly life (I Pet 2: 19-21).

Today the message of the cross and suffering has little impact on the modern man, who seeks always a world of comfort and material joy, devoid of all sufferings. One of my Muslim friends often discusses with me about Christianity, but he has a great difficulty in accepting the fact that a God died on the cross to save humanity. This difficulty is found among some Christians too, they are happy to hear about the glorified Christ with His wonders and miracles, but not His suffering and death. Once in a retreat, when I started preaching about suffering, one man stood up and shouted, "Stop preaching on suffering, we had enough of that in the war, speak something about happiness here". When Paul said, "But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to gentiles" (I Cor 1: 23); he was indeed expressing the spontaneous reaction of today's man to the mystery of suffering.

Foolishness for the worldly

The message of the cross is foolishness to the purely human and worldly mind and a stumbling block to the proud and stubborn intellect. But, suffering is a hidden gift that the unspiritual cannot understand or receive with joy, as it transcends their natural realm of comprehension and receptivity. "Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he can not understand it because it is judged spiritually" (I Cor 2: 14). Salvation through a lifeless body was unthinkable for Jews, who considered the dead body as impure, and to be removed as soon as possible. That is why they wanted to remove the body of Christ as soon as possible in order to celebrate the Passover feast. (Dt 21: 22-23, Josh 10: 26-27; Jn 19: 31). Neither the Jews nor the Greeks, could accept the salvation offered through a criminal, a sign of divine curse (Dt 21: 23). This was one of the reasons that Paul, a Pharisee, could not accept Jesus as the Messiah; Jesus crucified was a stumbling block for him (I Cor 1: 23-25). The one, who died on the cross, was "cursed" by the very law, which he zealously observed (Gal 1: 14, 3: 10, Phil 3: 5-6).

The cross was a riddle and a scandal, and even fear-evoking also to Christ's disciples. Peter, who boldly proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, could not accept the prediction of His suffering and death. When Jesus spoke of His forth coming passion and death, he reacted and said, "Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, "God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to you". (Mt 16: 22) and immediately Jesus scolded him with harsh words, and said that his thinking was just human and not according to God. Knowing well how human nature   reacts to the crude reality of suffering, Jesus told His disciples,  "This night all of you will have your faith in me shaken, for it is written: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be dispersed'" (Mt 26: 31) and it did happen (Mt 26: 56b). Also today, people accept us amidst appreciation and applause, but when we are encircled by the hard nuts of suffering, they run away. During this sickness too, I experienced the same; some of those, who used to come to me often for various favors while I was well, moving around, preaching and praying for healing and wonders, didn't turn to visit me in my weakness of suffering! They were happy at the presence of a priest, who preached and did wonders, but not at the watching of a priest, paralyzed and suffering. Some of them even asked why this happened to me. And they took it as a sign that God abandoned me. Thanks God, a few like John and Mary Magdalena at the foot of the cross, were very close to my suffering bed, and were trying to serve me as best as they could. Yes, even today the cross is a stumbling block to many; the crucified Messiah remains a scandal to the "wise" of the world!

Example of Paul

Paul, the great persecutor of Christianity, after his living encounter with the crucified Messiah on his way to Damascus, had totally changed his traditional idea of a Messiah of power and pomp. He understood the power and wisdom of the paradox of the cross (Act 9: 1-4; II Cor 11: 22:26). Since then, till his martyrdom in Rome, the cross was his inseparable companion and he always preached the crucified Saviour. He, not only was convinced that crosses and suffering followed an authentic follower of Christ, but also interpreted them as integral and complimentary elements for evangelization.

Having discovered the wisdom of the cross, Paul could glory in nothing else than on the cross of Christ, and he carried the sufferings of Christ along, and always proclaimed Christ Crucified (I Cor 2: 1-15). "But may I never boast except in the cross of our lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal 6: 14). Paul's life could be summed up as a living proclamation of the cross. On the cross of Christ, he found a wonderful communion with Christ. Having become a partner with the Lord in his redemptive suffering and after being crucified himself with Him; he began the ministry of completing what was lacking in Christ's suffering for the sake of His body, the Church (Rom 8: 17; Col 1: 24-25;2: 19-20; 3: 5).

Paul understood that he had to suffer for the Salvation of others. It is with pride in the Lord, that Paul said, that he preached the Gospel through sufferings, "You recall, brothers, our toil and drudgery. Working night and day in order not to burden any of you, we proclaimed the Gospel of God" (I Thess 2: 9). His sufferings and hardships to the point of being chained like a criminal were for the sake of preaching the Gospel, "Bear your share of hardship along with me like a good soldier of Jesus Christ" (II Tim 2: 3). Paul's ministry of preaching was marked by great endurance, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, riots, imprisonment, labors, sleepless nights, hunger, flogging, stoning, shipwreck, attacks by brigands etc. (II Cor 6: 4-6, 11: 24-28). He had to be constantly on guard against his enemies, the Jews of Damascus (Acts 9: 23-29), Antioch (Acts 13: 49-51), Beroea (Acts 17: 13) Achaia (Acts 13: 18:12), the Hellenists of Iconium (Acts 14: 5-6), the Romans of Philippi (Acts 16: 23-24), the Gentiles of Ephesus (Acts 19: 23). In addition to those bodily sufferings, he experienced some sort of mental agony from which he wanted to be delivered; and he suffered daily anxiety for all churches (II Cor 11: 28). Also he suffered from the attack of an angel of Satan that was a thorn in the flesh for him (II Cor 12: 7). In conclusion, he writes, "For even when we came into Macedonia, our flesh had no rest, but we were afflicted in every way - external conflicts, internal fears" (II Cor 7: 5).

Suffering is a ministry!

Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many. "For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk: 10: 45). It is through His sufferings that He redeemed us. "For it was fitting that he, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the leader to their salvation perfect through suffering" (Heb 2: 10. Hence suffering for the sake of the salvation of others is a ministry in itself.

We can see in some families or congregations certain people are called only to suffer and through their sufferings the families or congregation is purified and sanctified. I know a priest in my congregation who broke his spine in an accident two weeks after his priestly ordination, and now he is on his bed and wheelchair with all his sufferings. Through him my congregation is being sanctified, I believe. I know many such cases in several congregations of men and women. In certain families someone may be in coma for long time, bedridden with incurable diseases, disabled following an accident, or born crippled. Through their sufferings, the sins of their families are atoned bringing salvation and sanctification. We have many examples of saints who became saints only because of their suffering; they suffered with Christ for the salvation of mankind.

Paul instructed the young Timothy thus, "But you, be self-possessed in all circumstances; put up with hardships; perform the work of an evangelist; fulfill your ministry" (II Tim 4: 5). It is in fact an invitation to Timothy to join him in his suffering for the Gospel, "So don't be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God" (II Tim 1: 8).

Today too, whoever preaches the Gospel with conviction and courage, without diluting or adulterating the word of God, will meet with opposition, trials, threats and punishments from the people among whom he works, or from the authorities in the Church, or from enemies of the Gospel. Many of you have heard of my sufferings that I had to undergo ever since I started the ministry of evangelization. The Lord gave me various bodily sufferings like pain on my legs, swollen feet, broken arms due to accidents, bleeding through the varicose veins, pains in the stomach because of the change of foods in the different countries, cold and cough due to change of climate, fatigue and tiredness due to constant journeys by car or plane, and sleepless nights due to worries about the problems of the people whom I serve. Once I was kidnapped on my way to preaching, and I was tortured very badly, both mentally and physically, having me locked up in a toilet with wounds all over the body, they gave me no food or drink for five days. I was blind folded; they abused and insulted me. They poured alcohol and urine into my mouth and on the wounds of my body causing excruciating pain. Above all these, I had the rejection and misunderstanding from my superiors and confreres. People whom I loved and served, whom I considered as my trusted friends had disowned me.

Draw power from the wounds of Christ

In all those moments I was able to look at Jesus Crucified, and from His wounds and blood I was able to draw power and grace. The words from the book of Isaiah are very true, "The Lord will give you the bread you need and the water for which you thirst. No longer will your teacher hide himself, but with your own eyes you shall see your teacher, while from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: "this is the way; walk in it", when you would turn to the right or to the left" (Is 30: 20-21). The more I was put to suffer, the stronger I became. Through these tests of suffering the Lord prepared me for a greater and special ministry of preaching the Gospel to the Islamic countries, where I had to endure tougher sufferings like beatings and imprisonments. The words from the book of Sirach boosted me, and strengthened me often, when I had to face with sufferings in my ministry of evangelization, "My son, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials. Be sincere of heart and steadfast, undisturbed in time of adversity. Cling to him, forsake him not; thus will your future be great. Accept whatever befalls you, in crushing misfortune be patient; for in fire gold is tested, and worthy men in the crucible of humiliation" (Sir 2: 1-5). I do believe that after this present paralysis and the followed long suffering, Jesus will anoint me again for a greater ministry in His vineyard.

My dear brothers and sisters, who read this book, my advice to you is the following, suffering is an existential reality from which no one can escape, in other words, we have no life in this world without sufferings and trials. We have two options, either to face them with courage and joy in the Lord, or attempt to run away from them with fear and sadness. If we look at the history of mankind, we will come to know that there lived many holy men and women, who had been trained in the school of suffering. Having found the hidden value of pain and sorrow, they became great before God and man, and contributed greatly to humanity.

We need the Holy Spirit

To face pain and suffering with courage and joy, one needs the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit will make a person aware that his or her suffering is completing what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His body, the church. Also He strengthens the inner self of a person with power and grace to endure suffering with joy in the heart, and with praises of God on the lips. As one suffers more and more with Christ, he grows more and more in Christian virtues (the fruits of the Spirit) that make one Christ-like. Then he and she will be blessed with more and more charisms to do God's works.

It is sad, that today in the modern world of secularism, materialism and relativism, many Christians themselves refuse to accept the gift of sufferings being ignorant of its significance and value. It is about them that St. Paul writes, "For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their god is their stomach; their glory in their "shame". Their minds are occupied with earthly things" (Phil 3: 18-19). When St. Peter disagreed with Jesus about His plan of taking up the cross and suffering, the Master rebuked him thus,  "He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do" (Mt 16: 23). It is in this context that He told his disciples, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to safe his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life?" (Mt 16: 24-26).

Let us try our best to follow Jesus even through our sufferings and trials without separating ourselves from His love. Paul and Barnabas instructed the early Christians thus, "They strengthened the spirit of the disciples and exulted them to persevere in the faith, saying, "It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God" (Acts 14: 22). Our focus should always be on the kingdom of God rather than on gains and profits in our earthly life. Let us always be convinced that our earthly life is transitory and what is eternal is waiting for us after our departure from this world. "But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil 3: 20).

Mary mother of Christ

The Blessed Virgin Mary, mother of Christ and our Mother is a great example of suffering. From the moment she conceived Jesus in her womb till her departure from this world, she was a mother of sorrows. Just imagine how a mother who knew that her son was the Only Son of God, followed her son carrying the cross like a criminal with His excruciating pain and with the climax of his merciless death on the cross on Calvary! She was sharing the sufferings of Christ the Saviour for the salvation of mankind without complaint or murmuring. She did not suffer for her sins but for the atonement of the sins of all of us! Standing at the foot of the cross, looking at the wounds of hers son's body especially the open heart from where water and blood flew out, she must have been offering all of us her children to those wounds for our forgiveness, liberation, healing and salvation. In the body of her Son that carried our sins with their consequence she saw our sinful bodies and loved us all. Her love for her Son and for all of us urged her to such a heroic suffering.

Let us always ask her intercession in moments of sufferings. In all my sufferings the Blessed Virgin Mary, my Mamma, was following me and was keeping me on her lap especially at the moments of intense pains. Ever since I experienced the power of the Holy Spirit at my baptism in the Spirit in 1975, I experienced the closeness and maternal care of the Virgin Mary, my mother.

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