Updated: Oct 1, 2020
Every now and then I enter into a discussion about offering our sufferings up, sometimes meaning offering it up in general or for some specific person or intention. The church would consider this to be redemptive suffering, or suffering that is accepted and offered up in union with the Passion of Christ for that person or intention. It isn’t uncommon that, especially non-Catholics but also some Catholics, will make an argument that Christ died once for all, so we don’t need redemptive suffering. The Catholic Church has taught that there is benefit in redemptive suffering beginning from the time of the apostles. One scripture verse supporting redemptive suffering comes from Paul in his letter to the Colossians 1:24:
“Now I (Paul) rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.”
Paul doesn’t mean that Jesus’ death is insufficient for universal redemption. He is simply saying that his own incorporation into the mystical body of Christ (the Church) means that his suffering can be helpful for other member of the body (specifically in this case the Colossian Christians to whom he is writing). His sufferings are helpful only because Paul is united to Christ in his Church and is offering his sufferings to Christ for the sake of the Church. Any baptized person may similarly offer their sufferings for the benefit of others.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has much to say about redemptive suffering, beginning in paragraph 1502 teaching that all pain, toil and sorrow united to Christ's passion “can also have a redemptive meaning for the sins of others.” In paragraph 1505, the CCC explains, “Christ not only allows himself to be touched by the sick, but he makes their miseries his own: ... By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion.” Paragraph 1521 likewise states that suffering in “union with the passion of Christ ... acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus.”
Every morning I say a prayer I learned as a child called the Morning Offering:
O Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary,
I offer you my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day
for all the intentions of your Sacred Heart,
in union with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass throughout the world,
for the salvation of souls, the reparation of sins, the reunification of the Church,
and in particular for the intentions of the Holy Father this month. Amen.
Offering our sufferings up in union with Christ’s suffering is truly beneficial both towards the intentions for which we are offering them, as well as for ourselves in knowing that our sufferings can provide benefit to others.