Christian Suffering and the Mystical Body of Christ
While Christianity offers a unique view on the redemptive qualities of suffering, Catholicism’s theology
expands it to even a more social level. Catholicism’s ideals of suffering extends to the individuals ability to unite his suffering with Christ in a redemptive fashion. It is important to note that as isolated offerings these sufferings can mean nothing without the sacrifice of Christ and in correlation with it. However, while these sufferings can help one gain merit in the next life, they can also be applied to other souls in need of grace. This is the social nature of Christian suffering in Catholicism.
This social element is a unique Catholic theology because it incurs the existence of Purgatory. The Mystical Body of Christ is composed of the Church Triumphant in Heaven, the Church Suffering in Purgatory and the Church Militant on Earth. In Catholic theology, the souls in heaven can pray for the souls on earth and in purgatory, and the souls on earth and can pray to the souls in heaven for guidance as well as pray for the souls in Purgatory in need. The souls in Purgatory cannot help themselves. Albeit saved by the blood of Christ and forgiven for sins comittied on earth, they still need purged of self love–a self love not worthy of Hell but not worthy yet of the Beatific Vision. Through their suffering, they are cleansed of this final self love. In many ways, Purgatory can also represent the suffering one rejected on earth. The souls in Purgatory rejoice in their just punishment and burn for union with God–and through their suffering, it becomes more intense and perfect. Souls on earth can aid the souls in Purgatory through offering of their own suffering. The Church Militant in this way offers the ultimate gift of love for the souls of Purgatory and the complete social nature of the Body of Christ is manifested.
Of course, Protestantism, under Martin Luther denied the existence of Purgatory. First, this stemmed from the abuses of the Catholic Church in selling indulgences. The Catholic Church at that time faced corruption at all levels. Through this, the horrible practice of Simony took place where religious favors were sold. Martin Luther, justly, condemned this action, but also questioned the very existence of Purgatory itself. He felt there was no middle ground after death but only Heaven or Hell. This led to a theological debate that went well beyond the offense of Simony but to a whole theological revolution of idealology that would separate Catholics and Protestants.
Despite these theological divisions, Christian Counselors, of all Christian denominations, should point out the redemptive nature of suffering in one’s trials and tribulations. Belief in Purgatory is not a pre-requisite for that nor should be. One should offer their crosses to Christ for their own salvation and tie their suffering and
grief in union with Christ for the greater good.
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By Mark Moran, MA