Paul’s suffering was also experienced at a deeper level. He has already given his inspired teachings about unity in the Body of Christ, and about believers becoming “one bread, one body.” So it was especially painful to him that his fellow Jews were rejecting Jesus, refusing to believe that he was the Risen Son of God. The Jews had so much to be thankful for: they were “chosen,” they had the covenants, the Torah, the Temple, the promises, the patriarchs and prophets. Yet now it all “seemed” to be lost.
Did he “write them off” as a lost cause, since they had rejected God’s Son? Not at all! It caused Paul’s heart “great grief and constant pain” to such an extent that out of love he was willing to suffer separation from Christ if it would result in their salvation!
There is a great mystery here. Paul knew that Jesus suffered and died for all humanity - past, present and future. He knew, therefore, what redemptive suffering was all about, and that somehow if we offer our own sufferings to Christ then they, too, somehow become redemptive for others. This is why the power of our intercessory prayer must never be forgotten. Through the Church (the Body of Christ), all who suffer – whether Christian or not – are embraced by Christ who makes their suffering his own. As Pope John Paul II taught, in that unity of suffering with Christ, even the suffering of non-Christians is somehow contributing to the world’s redemption ( See Salvifici Doloris, 24).
It is important for us all to remember that we can deliberately enter into the divine plan by our actions, prayers, and sufferings. Common sense tells us that “praying for our enemies” must not be an idle or useless action, otherwise Jesus would not have asked us to do so. How much more should we pray for those who reject Jesus, or for those who do not know him? Intercession has been a powerful act of selfless compassion since the time of Abraham, and recognises no boundaries.
Also see articles #307, #2635, #2636 and #839-843in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.