IF YOU ARE THE SON OF GOD COME DOWN FROM THE CROSS. That our Redeemer is truly the Son of God and so equal in his person to the Father is the fundamental belief of our Catholic faith. That he was crucified and died on the cross in fulfillment of the Father's plan of our redemption is one of the most mysterious of all truths. The Gospel of Matthew whose passion narrative was just proclaimed to us described the various stages of the passion that culminated with the crucifixion and our Lord's death on the cross. However, at no point before or after these events does he, or any of the New Testament authors attempt to explain why such a sacrifice had to take place. St. John in his version of the Gospel tells us that the motivating force behind this death was God's immense love for us. God so loved the world that he gave his only- begotten Son so that those who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16).
John makes no effort though to explain why love chose the way of such suffering and death. Why did the uniquely loved Son who is himself God not receive a positive answer to the prayer he made in Gethsemani that he be spared such pain? We cannot help but feel that God who is almighty and all wise could have devised other means of redemption. The wisest and holiest of men and women have given thought to this question and many have recorded their reflections. While we can profit from their writings on the matter ultimately the mystery remains. One inference that is obvious to all of us from the fact of the crucifixion of Jesus is that sin has a more terrible consequence than we could suspect otherwise. If such a death is in God's mind the price of deliverance from the effects of sin, which include eternal punishment and alienation from God, then serious sin must be avoided at all costs.
Another inference from the passion of Jesus that remains significant for each of us is that suffering in this life can have a meaning that is redemptive. This holds true only when it is united in faith with the cross of Jesus. In itself, there is nothing inevitably constructive about human pain, anguish, the sense of loss, abandonment and humiliation. Each of these can be destructive; many are undone by such experiences and are diminished in their humanity because of their effects. But the Passion of Jesus understood in light of his teaching can change the outcome of such suffering if it is accepted with faith in him as Redeemer and trust in the mercy of God. Examples of persons who have in fact turned suffering into an occasion for growing in faith and love of God abound.
The experience of sharing in the cross of Christ has not only united many men and women with God; it also led them to become more fully human. In these persons their whole demeanor expresses a fuller, more gentle and open humanity. Suffering accepted and overcome leads one to grow in sympathy for others, to be more considerate of the needy and the sick, among other things. One of the fruits of suffering that is assumed through union with the cross of Jesus is a keener awareness of the human condition as such. All persons must confront the pain of loss of loved ones and their own eventual death. However successful, however popular a person may be he cannot escape death, neither that of those he loves, nor his own. Jesus' cross reveals to us that death need not be sheer loss. On the contrary, for those who place their hope in him it is the passage into the fullness of life, life with God.
A good deal of the burden of suffering is relieved once we are able to assign it a place in the scheme of salvation. Faith teaches us that just as Jesus' suffering remains eminently fruitful, a continuing source of eternal life for his faithful followers, so also the suffering of his members not only purifies them but assists other members of the mystical body of Christ in their spiritual journey. Cardinal Thomasek who had so much to suffer for his fidelity to the Roman Church gave a moving witness to this truth in a speech at the 1985 Synod in Rome.
We must labor for the Kingdom of God, which is much; we must pray for the Kingdom of God, which is of greater worth; we must suffer with the crucified Christ, which is everything (cited in Christoph Sch`nborn, Loving the Church, 59).
I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW. These words of the prophet Isaiah most fittingly are put in the mouth of the glorified Christ by the author of the Apocalypse. The cross of Jesus finds its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus; the two are but moments of a whole event- the passage of the Son of God from his condition of lowliness to glory with the Father. The risen life of Christ is what gives meaning to his suffering and death. In accepting his passion with loving trust in the Father's wisdom and fidelity Jesus did indeed inaugurate a New Creation, one in which all things, pain, loss and death itself, take on a fresh significance for those who place their hope in his cross. May the grace of this Eucharist and our celebration of the Paschal mystery this week strengthen the bonds that unite us all in the mystical Body, and become for us a source of eternal life welling up from the depths of the Spirit who is given us by the glorified Lord Jesus.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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