In his 1984 apostolic letter, Salvifici Doloris, John Paul II wrote at length on this theme. Christ, the late pope argued, gave humanity the Gospel of Suffering:
Christ did not conceal from his listeners the need for suffering. He said very clearly: "If any man would come after me... let him take up his cross daily ''
Christ does not explain in the abstract the reasons for suffering, but before all else he says: "Follow me!". Come! Take part through your suffering in this work of saving the world, a salvation achieved through my suffering!
The Master does not conceal the prospect of suffering from his disciples and followers. On the contrary, he reveals it with all frankness, indicating at the same time the supernatural assistance that will accompany them in the midst of persecutions and tribulations " for his name's sake."The differentiation between persecutions and tribulations is felicitous, for it serves to remind one that the daily cross is more likely to take the form of tribulation than persecution, but that such tribulation is nevertheless an opportunity to "make up for what is lacking in the suffering of Christ."
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.Anticipating his own physical deterioration in a way he could not have envisioned in 1984, John Paul goes on speak of suffering as bringing about the spiritual maturation of the one who suffers.
When this body is gravely ill, totally incapacitated, and the person is almost incapable of living and acting, all the more do interior maturity and spiritual greatness become evident, constituting a touching lesson to those who are healthy and normal.A few thoughts on this Feast of St. Stephen, whose faith matured in the face of persecution and whose sufferings led to St. Paul's conversion.