It’s the Year of St. Paul, and so it’s a time of celebration. St. Paul himself, however, was realistic about celebrations. Though he trained his sights on glory, he knew he would have to suffer much while he was “in the flesh” (Galatians 2:20) and he would die (Philippians 1:23).
For those of us who do not share St. Paul’s great theological gifts, suffering and death are profound mysteries. We know they entered the world because of sin (Romans 5:12). Yet we also believe that Christ has set us free from the power of sin and death (Romans 8:2). If that is so, why must we still suffer loss and die?
The question has been with me in a painful way this last month. In the midst of the Year of St. Paul, we at the St. Paul Center are grieving the death of a good friend, Father Joseph Linck. A bright scholar, a holy priest, Father Joe died August 29 after a year and a half’s battle with cancer. His initial diagnosis came just as he was planning a pilgrimage itinerary with us, and less than two years after he had led one of our pilgrim groups in Rome. Father Joe was a longtime senior fellow with the Center. (See more about his life on page 4.)
I wish we could have grown old together as colleagues and friends. But God had another plan.
Father Joe understood this, as St. Paul did. Both men knew that Jesus Christ Himself had suffered, not as a substitute for sinful humanity, but as our representative. Thus, Christ’s saving passion didn’t exempt us from suffering, but rather endowed our suffering with divine power and redemptive value.
St. Paul could even “rejoice” in his troubles, “knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:3-5).
St. Paul gave us the key to suffering — and the key to understanding the grace of people like Father Joe, who kept his sense of humor even amid terrible pain. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Roman 8:18).
Through the Spirit of God, we are children of God — “sons in the Son,” to use the classic phrase of the Church Fathers. And God gives his children everything He has, sharing even His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). But He did not spare His Son from suffering. Suffering was central to Jesus’ mission as redeemer. And so it is part of our share in His life and mission.
Thus, suffering is not an optional component of Christian life. St. Paul tells us: “we are children of God … fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with him” (Romans 8:16-18). No suffering, no glory.
Father Joe knew all that. The very day before he died, he was struggling to breathe because of an accumulation of fluid in his lungs. Yet he was on the phone helping a friend make travel plans for the following week, double-checking the fine details.
Can we doubt that such suffering — such charity and self-giving — has redemptive power? “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, that is, the Church” (Colossians 1:24).
We cannot help but grieve, but even then St. Paul is ready with consolation: “For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too” (2 Corinthians 1:5).
I ask your prayers for Father Joe’s parents and friends in their bereavement. I thank you for your continued prayers, support, and encouragement of the St. Paul Center.