O God, who seest that we put not our trust in any thing that we do: mercifully grant that by the protection of the Doctor of the Gentiles we may be defended against all adversities.
– From the Collect for the Sexagesima Sunday
As the Church continues to prepare for Lent, the readings for Sexagesima Sunday remind us of the importance of cultivating a heart for the Word of God. Further, they emphasize that suffering is an essential part of that process.
In Sunday’s Epistle, St. Paul details the immense suffering he has endured to spread the Gospel: “Five times did I receive forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods: once I was stoned: thrice I suffered shipwreck: a night and a day I was in the depth of the sea.” The importance of suffering is something that is emphasized again and again in the Apostle’s writings (although our modern age wants to ignore it):
- “For unto you it is given for Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him.” (Phil 1:29)
- “For [Christ] I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but as dung, that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8)
- “[We are] always bearing about in our body the mortification of Jesus, that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our bodies.” (2 Cor 4:10)
And St. Paul tells us why this suffering is so necessary to his apostolate: “I Paul am made a minister, who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church” (Col 1:24). St. Paul’s sufferings—and the sufferings of all Christians—are worthwhile when they are united to Christ’s sufferings to build up the Church, Christ’s mystical body on earth. In fact, it is in suffering that we are most united to our Savior. This suffering leads us to his resurrection, as St. John Chrysostom preached,
What is the death of Jesus which they carried about with them? It is the daily deaths which they died, by which the resurrection also was shown. This is another reason for the trials, that Christ’s life might be manifested in human bodies. What looks like weakness and destitution in fact proclaims his resurrection.
(Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 9.1)
The Septuagesima season, of which Sexagesima Sunday is a part, reminds us of this essential role that suffering plays, particularly physical suffering. But Christians are not stoics—we do not embrace suffering as something to merely be endured. We embrace suffering because we know it is the path to salvation; it is the means by which we cultivate a deeper relationship with Our Lord.
In Sunday’s Gospel, Christ tells the Parable of the Sower, and then explains it to his disciples. In order to receive the Word of God—which is Christ—our hearts must be “good soil” in which the seed can grow. But any farmer will tell you that good soil doesn’t just magically appear; it requires hard work and labor to make it good for planting. Likewise, we must work hard in order to make our hearts receptive to Christ. A farmer prepares for the planting season by getting his soil ready; likewise, we should use the Septuagesima and Lenten seasons to prepare ourselves for the “planting” of the Word of God into our hearts at Easter. Preparing for this planting might be laborious and difficult, but it is worth the effort.
Eric Sammons is the Executive Director of Crisis Publications. He is the author of eight books, including Deadly Indifference: How the Church Lost Her Mission and How We Can Reclaim It.