When a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz in the summer of 1942, the Nazi soldiers imposed their penalty. They took all of the prisoners from the escapee’s barracks and lined them up, and then at random chose a man to be put to death in retaliation. When the man broke down in tears, protesting that he was the father of young children, a quiet bespectacled man stepped forward and said, “I am a Catholic priest; I have no family. I would like to die in this man’s place.”
Pope John Paul II later canonized that priest, Saint Maximilian Kolbe. With brutal clarity, Kolbe allows us to see the relationship between suffering willingly accepted and salvation. He was consciously participating in the act of his Master, making up, in Paul’s language, what is still lacking in the suffering of Christ.
We see a similar example in Saint Francis. Among the many stories told about the joyful saint, one of the most affecting is that concerning his encounter with a leprous man. Young Francis had a particular revulsion for leprosy. Whenever he saw someone suffering from that disease, he would run in the opposite direction. One day, Francis saw a leper approaching, and he sensed the familiar apprehension and disgust. But then he decided, under the inspiration of the Gospel, to embrace the man, to kiss him, and to give him alms. Filled with joy, he made his way up the road. But when he turned around he discovered the man had disappeared. Once again, suffering was the concrete expression of love.
When a mother stays up all night, depriving herself of sleep, in order to care for a sick child, she is following this same example, suffering so that some of his suffering might be alleviated. When a person willingly bears an insult, and refuses to fight back or return insult for insult, he is suffering for the sake of love.
We shouldn’t be surprised when we are called upon to suffer in this world. We have been given the privilege of carrying on Christ’s work in just this way.
“We shouldn’t be surprised when we are called upon to suffer in this world.”
– Father Robert Barron