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Mar 15, 2017

Suffering and the Mass: The Great Exchange

Jeff Cavins

Pope St. John Paul II said, “Down through the centuries and generations it has been seen that in suffering there is concealed a particular power that draws a person interiorly close to Christ, a special grace” (Salvifici Doloris, 26).


How many times have you heard someone say, “The Mass is boring,” or “What does the Mass have to do with my situation in life?” How many of us have grown up not understanding that in the Mass we have the divine drama of sacrificial love presented to us with the invitation to participate in the ultimate act of love (Tweet this).

The most ironic thing about many people’s experience during Mass is that they have brought their problems, their suffering, and their preoccupations to the very place where their suffering can find true meaning. It comes as no surprise to me that we oftentimes review our life’s difficulties in our mind, completely missing the very drama that changes the question mark in our heart to an exclamation mark. Like the dehydrated man circling a drinking fountain contemplating how thirsty he is, so are many Catholics today circling the Mass with thoughts of their own predicament.

Transformative Suffering

I want to focus on one aspect of the Liturgy: the aspect of suffering. Christ’s suffering can transform our lives in the Mass; where God has come to earth, suffered, died and now asks us to follow in his footsteps. At the end of every Mass, we ought to leave with the attitude that I’m not only going to join myself to him in his sacrifice, but I’m going to live that sacrifice when I exit the door and go to my home, my work, my neighbors. In short, I’m going to become like Jesus in every area of my life.

Often our lives are spent trying to avoid suffering. We don’t like to suffer. Most of us have unanswered questions about suffering. We especially wonder how God, if he loves us, could allow us to suffer. This question of suffering is so prevalent it would seem that the gospel message would provide obvious answers. Throughout salvation history we see that the ways of God are often not the ways of man. Embedded in the dark confines of an oyster, we find, to our surprise, shining pearls.

Perhaps the circumstances to which you find yourself appear to be dark and hopeless. You are not alone. Not only have others been where you are, but more importantly Jesus has been where you are.

This blog post is the first installment in the Suffering & Mass series, which was originally a chapter in Scripture and the Mystery of the Mass published by Emmaus Road Publishing. It is republished on The Great Adventure Blog with permission from Emmaus Road Publishing.

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  • Thank you, Jeff…I am Eucharistic Minister at our local hospital…And I got asked that very question: Why is there still suffering and violence going on in the world, if Jesus died and rose for us? I sent up a quick SOS to the Holy Spirit; and my answer was: Jesus did suffer, die, and rose for us. But God has a different plan in mind. His love for us is so great that He allows us to be a part of that Redemptive Salvation Story, if we choose to be. I know it is a simple response, but it was just what spoke to her heart. This is a question that is on the hearts and minds of many people.

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