CUSA takes a part of its inspiration from the writings of St. Paul, in particular, from the Letter to the Colossians 1:24-27.
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, of which I am a minister in accordance with God's stewardship given to me to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
Rejoice in suffering? Can this actually be possible? Don’t we all try to avoid pain, mental anguish, frustration, conflict?
Many people have also expressed difficulty in understanding how anything could be lacking in the afflictions of Jesus who died on a cross to save us from our sins.
In order to understand St. Paul, we must have a little understanding of Greek philosophy. The ideas of the Greek philosophers are the underpinning of much of St. Paul's theology. One such idea concerns the "birth" of something new. Here they are not referring to something that is new in the sense that it has never been used, such as a new pencil or a new box of chocolates. When the philosophers speak of something new, they refer to something that has never existed before, something totally new. Take for instance what St. Paul says in his Letter to the Ephesians:
For he is our peace, he who made both one and broke down the dividing wall of enmity, through his flesh, abolishing the law with its commandments and legal claims, that he might create in himself one new person in place of the two, thus establishing peace. (Ephesians 2:14-15)
When St. Paul speaks of a new person, he is not referring to a new born baby. Rather he is speaking of a totally different kind of humanity, a humanity that exists without the walls that exist between people of different races, ethnicities, creeds, genders, or countries of origin. The peace of which he speaks is not simply a “cease fire,” but rather a peace that has never been known on earth before.
Using the image of a woman in labor who is about to give birth, the Greek philosophers proposed that anything truly new is preceded by a period of tribulation, disturbance, turmoil – all words that connote a certain amount of suffering. In this context, a "new age" or a completely new idea would only come about after a period of tribulation or great suffering. Taking the image just a little further, they also proposed that there was a prerequisite or predetermined “amount” of suffering established for each new event or manifestation.
Schooled in the philosophy of his time, St. Paul applied this idea to the teachings of the Church. In our Creed we profess to believe that Jesus will return at some time in the future, often referred to as the "end of the world." By returning again, Jesus would usher in a new age, a new type of existence for human beings. We refer to that new age as the "parousia" or the "eschaton." The Scriptures report that when Jesus returns, it will be preceded by a time of great disturbance:
Jesus said to them in reply, "See that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah,' and they will deceive many. You will hear of wars and reports of wars; see that you are not alarmed, for these things must happen, but it will not yet be the end. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be famines and earthquakes from place to place. All these are the beginning of the labor pains. Then they will hand you over to persecution, and they will kill you. You will be hated by all nations because of my name. And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many;and because of the increase of evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:4-14)
Notice that even Jesus uses the imagery of a woman giving birth when he speaks of the beginning of the labor pains.
So when St. Paul says that he rejoices in his sufferings, he draws upon his Greek philosophical background with its image of a woman giving birth who, even though she is in great pain, rejoices because she is about to give birth to a baby. I have heard several women say that once they hold their baby for the first time, they cannot even remember the pain anymore. St. Paul uses that image in his Letter to the Romans:
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. (Romans 8:18)
He goes on to say that he is filling up what is lacking in the "afflictions" of Christ, once again referring to the fact that he believes that a predetermined amount of "affliction" must happen before Christ can return. He maintains that we all do this when we suffer affliction, that we all hasten the day when Christ will return and will reveal the glory that is to be ours, that we all add to what is lacking in that predetermined amount of suffering. He does this as an apostle, as one sent by God, to minister to the Church.
Although we find it difficult, CUSANS, like St. Paul, strive to rejoice in our sufferings. We want to hasten the day of Christ's return, to hasten the day of glory. One of the Eucharistic Prayers for Children says it so beautifully:
Jesus now lives with you in glory, but he is also here on earth, among us. One day he will come in glory and in his kingdom there will be no more suffering, no more tears, no more sadness. We thank you and sing, "Glory to God in the highest." (Eucharist Prayer for Masses with Children III)