"I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He takes away every branch in me that does not bear fruit, and every one that does, he prunes so that it bears more fruit." —John 15:1-2
Nobody likes to suffer, however, even in suffering, there is a silver lining: we can put our suffering to work for us and for the world. Beyond offering our sufferings in union with those of Christ's passion (which we should always do), we can also find opportunities to grow in virtue ourselves and to grow the church as a whole.
Fr. Robert Spitzer's book The Light Shines on in the Darkness is based on the question, "Why would an all-loving God allow suffering?" There, Fr. Spitzer writes an entire chapter (chapter 7) on the opportunities of suffering. The quote below is a snippet from the introduction to the chapter, followed by the list of opportunities that Fr. Spitzer describes throughout the chapter.
"God never leaves us even during the most turbulent and dangerous times in our life—He is present to us—helping us to mold and shape our identity and character—particularly when the tiller of control has disappeared, and the rapids seem ready to envelope us. If we bravely put our trust in Him—and we take advantage of the opportunities in challenge and suffering, we will emerge on the other side of the rapids heading toward the salvation prepared for us by Jesus Christ and His Father." —Fr. Robert Spitzer, The Light Shines on in the Darkness
Fr. Spitzer then goes on to list and explain both the interior opportunities of suffering and the external opportunities of suffering.
I. Interior Opportunities of Suffering
1. Prudence: Appropriation of higher levels of purpose and identity
- Attaining Level 3 happiness and a contributive identity
- Attaining Level 4 happiness and a faith identify
2. Other natural virtues
- Fortitude and Courage
3. Agape: "other-centered" love
- Acceptance of love's vulnerability
- Acceptance of compassion
I. Exterior Opportunities of Suffering
1. Good for the world
- Good for the family
- Good for organization/institution
- Good for the community
- Good for culture or society
2. Building the Kingdom of God
- Personal evangelization (to family, friends, and colleagues)
- Contributing to a local church or diocese
- Contributing to the larger Church mission (national or international)
- Evangelizing within the community (apologetical, catechetical, or moral)
- Evangelizing the culture (apologetical, catechetical, or moral)
More Resources on Suffering
Each of these opportunities above are further defined described in The Light Shines on in the Darkness which is available at our bookstore here or at Ignatius Press and Amazon.
For more on getting through times of suffering, download our free prayer sheet of some of Father Spitzer's favorite spontaneous prayers in times of trial below:
May God grant you peace and comfort you in all the sufferings he's asked you to endure!
What Friendship Has Taught Me about Redemptive Suffering
Suffering and God's Top Priority