Updated: May 29
By Luke Lancaster
Catholics believe in this concept called, "redemptive suffering." What does that mean? Well, it means that, since we are united to Christ as "one flesh" (Eph. 5:31), our suffering can do something somewhat similar to what Jesus's suffering was able to do. Jesus came to earth and died on a cross as a sacrifice for our sins. That sacrifice was perfect and can be applied to sinners through repentance and baptism (Ac. 2:38). Those same sinners become united to Christ and their sufferings can also be applied to people. That sounds a little bizarre, but St. Paul is the one who first taught this.
He says in Colossians 1:24, "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church." What is lacking in Christ's sufferings for the redemption of the Church? Paul's participation in it. When St. Paul undergoes suffering, his pain is mysteriously united to Christ's suffering for the Church. Christ's suffering objectively healed man's relationship with God and opened the gates of Heaven. But, since St. Paul "died with Christ" at baptism (Rom. 6:3), he is united to Christ in a special way. When Paul does something, Christ is doing it in him. So, when St. Paul suffers for the Colossians, it has a redemptive effect upon them, for Christ's own passion is joined to it. Just as Christ objectively suffered for us and we subjectively receive it, so Paul objectively suffers for the Colossians, and they subjectively receive some kind of spiritual effect from it.
Some will think that Colossians 1:24 makes no sense, for St. Paul is saying that there is something to complete Christ's afflictions, implying that Christ's passion was incomplete. However, that is not what St. Paul is saying. We need to understand objective and subjective redemption. Jesus objectively redeemed the world, however, not everybody receives the effects of it. Only those who have faith and are baptized receive it (Mk. 16:16). Receiving His redemptive sacrifice is a subjective experience. Similarly, St. Paul speaks about the ability to help people receive Christ's sacrifice. Somehow, receiving the effects of Christ's crucifixion for our sins can be aided by our sufferings.