Linking up (belatedly) with California to Korea.
The thing about suffering in the Church is, you never suffer alone.
I don't mean that there is always someone somewhere praying for you, though maybe not by name. I don't mean that you can go to any Catholic parish and a Saint Vincent de Paul Society will tend your material needs while a priest in a confessional hears out your spiritual ones. I don't even mean the Eternal Presence of Christ in the sacrament of the Eucharist, though that's hardly a mild comfort.
I mean that God Himself knows what it is to suffer; that, if we believe in the eternal sacrifice and know that all of space and time is present before the Most High, God even now is intimately familiar with (what we might call) despair. And that when our soul's agony cries out to heaven, He weeps with us, saying, "I too have cried out to God, asking why He has forsaken Me."
If I were not a Catholic, I don't know what I'd do with suffering. It has been Christ crucified, and His silent company, that I've clung to in times of terrible sorrow.
That, and the knowledge that in Catholicism, suffering is not for nothing; it's never wasted. Suffering can purify. Suffering can heal. Through Christ's sacrifice, it is made fruitful. We can consecrate our suffering and join it to that of Christ on the cross, who said, "Behold! I make all things new" (Rev.21:5).
Excepting the Arctic and Antarctic circles, and some remote Pacific islands (Pitcairn), the Catholic Church is literally universal. It can be found in every country in the world. The apostolic succession set up by Our Lord and the early Church has successfully withstood heresy, rebellion, war, schism, and modernity to remain One. That's a pretty incredible feeling. I can wander into a small Swiss village in the Alps one Sunday morning looking for Mass and find an active Catholic parish.* I can kneel during the consecration of the Blessed Sacrament and be joined in adoration with all the other Catholics that day all over the world, present at the same exact sacrifice.
Human beings thrive on ceremony. It quenches an instinct as primal as the sex drive, evident from prehistory; surviving through folklore, myth, and artifacts; buried carefully with the beloved dead. Even atheists happily practice superstitions, and cherish family customs passed down from generation to generation. Children revere bedtime routines to the point of insisting the babysitter follow Mommy's nightly ritual: bath, book, lullaby . . . and don't forget to tuck her in, just so! Ceremony is not meaningless but expresses the inseverable union of material reality and spiritual truth. Since God became man, all matter is sanctified.
The Church recognizes and celebrates this, and gives us ceremony. She might've interpreted Jesus's command to do this in memory of Me in the simplest of terms. Many "Bible churches" do. But every action blesses and enriches. So the incense and the chanting in Latin; the kneeling and fabric-draped altar; the lips touching crucifixes and colors of candles are for us as much as they are for Him we worship. We were created as works of art, and our every act of living should be a sublime performance.
Even the simple act of blessing is a ceremony--not a mere thought of good will or a spoken word but a kind of dance. The lifting of the hand, the touching of the forehead--down to the chest, across the shoulders--to trace a cross in the air, like a magic spell.
*This really happened to me.