February 23, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Lent: Making the connection between Jesus’ suffering and ours

Suffering is part of the mystery of human life. Our encounter with this mystery is inevitable. It opens to a deeper meaning of being human.

During the next weeks of Lent, we have an opportunity to reflect on the meaning of our redemption by Jesus and “to make the connection” between his suffering and ours.

It would be unfortunate if we simply gloss over the human suffering that Jesus endured for us. It would be the loss of an important spiritual opportunity.

Imaginative reflection in silent moments of prayer can help us take a measure of what Jesus did for us 2,000 years ago. It is a blessing to make a spiritual connection with Christ’s Passion. His suffering and death was not theater as he took upon himself the burden of the sins of all the ages.

There is a longstanding Catholic devotion of making the Way of the Cross. We find the 14 stations in our parish churches. They mark the last journey of Jesus on his way to Calvary, where he died for us. The stations help us recall the price Jesus paid in real human suffering; making the connection is not so difficult.

Most of our families have witnessed suffering of the deepest kind. I know of many who are suffering deeply, even now as we enter this season of Lent. I know because many of you have written to me asking for the support of my prayers.

It is heart-rending to stand by helplessly as a small child, a son or daughter is succumbing to cancer or some other devastating sickness. Words cannot describe the grief of a young mother and father as they lose a child.

Grandparents suffer with their children and grandchildren. They think and say, “Why couldn’t it be me?” God, the all-loving Father, permitted his Son’s suffering for our sake. Surely, somehow, his divine heart was touched.

At the fourth Station of the Cross, Jesus meets his mother. What must have been the profound sorrow of Mary as she accompanied her son on his way to Calvary? She had been forewarned that her son was destined to offer his life and that a sword would pierce her soul as well. But forewarning didn’t alleviate the pain.

I recall a dramatic scene from the movie The Passion of the Christ. It depicted Mary on her knees, wiping up the blood of Jesus with towels, just after she had witnessed the horrible scourging at the pillar. It was a poignant image of a helpless mother wanting to reclaim some dignity for her son. Many of us have been there in some way or other.

The fifth Station of the Cross provides us another point of reference. While Mary had been forewarned of her suffering, a farmer coming home from a day in the fields had not.

Simon of Cyrene, an ordinary man, was on his way home when he was forced to help carry the cross that was too much for Jesus to bear. He had to wonder, “Why me?”

How many of us are unexpectedly burdened with a load that we cannot set aside: sickness, death in the family, loss of a job, loss of a home, betrayal by a spouse or a friend? Like it or not, one way or another, we all suffer the unfairness of life.

I suspect Simon of Cyrene asked “Why me?” But seeing the suffering of Jesus, he must also have said, “I will help.”

I think this is true because later in Scripture we find out that his two sons, Rufus and Alexander, had become active members of the early Christian community.

Suffering is part of being human whether we want to accept it or not. It is naïve to pretend otherwise. If we accept suffering as part of our human lot, it can ennoble our human spirit. If we “make the connection” in faith with the suffering of Jesus and Mary, we experience a tangible union with them.

We also experience a communion with all those who suffer. However much we may want to say no to suffering—if, in fact, we accept it as a way of being with Jesus and his mother—we receive a transforming grace that can give us strength for patience and perseverance.

Does this mean we should seek out suffering or somehow glory in it? No, but when it comes our way it is spiritually wholesome to accept it as a sign that God wants us to be close to his son Jesus in his sacrificial mission of redemption.

Suffering may be God’s invitation for us “to make the connection” and to take up the crosses with Jesus in mind as they come our way. It makes our burdens lighter. †

Local site Links: