April 1, 2011

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Focus your Lenten prayer on the suffering Christ

(Listen to the archbishop read this column)

This holy season provides several reminders that, if we are to follow Jesus closely, we need to look out for the sick and the suffering among us.

Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI refers to the role of Simon of Cyrene, who was given the task of helping Jesus to carry the Cross on the way to Golgotha.

Two years ago, while on a visit to Cameroon, the pope said: “This man, albeit through no choice of his own, came to the aid of the Man of Sorrows when he had been abandoned by all his followers and handed over to blind violence. … He was ‘drafted in’ to assist him (cf. Mk 15:21). He was constrained, forced to do so.

“It is hard to accept to carry someone else’s cross. Only after the Resurrection could he have understood what he had done. Brothers and sisters, it is the same for each of us in the depths of our anguish, of our own rebellion. Christ offers his loving presence even if we find it hard to understand that he is at our side. Only the Lord’s final victory will reveal for us the definitive meaning of our trials” (Cameroon, March 19, 2009).

The late Pope John Paul II reminds us, “In his messianic activity, Christ drew increasingly closer to the world of human suffering. ‘He went about doing good’ ” (Acts 10:38), and his actions concerned primarily those who were suffering and seeking help.

“He healed the sick, consoled the afflicted, fed the hungry, freed people from deafness, from blindness, from leprosy, from the devil and from various disabilities; three times he restored the dead to life. He was sensitive to human suffering, whether of the body or of the soul. And at the same time he taught, and at the heart of his teaching, there are the eight beatitudes which are addressed to people tried by various sufferings in the temporal life” (Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris, 16, Feb. 11, 1984).

The sickness and suffering that we sometimes bear united to the Lord “completes” with his suffering what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (cf. Col 1:24).

John Paul wrote in his apostolic letter: “The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good in itself is inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add something to it. But at the same time, in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering” (loc. cit. 24).

In his same address two years ago in Cameroon, Pope Benedict said: “Let us fix our gaze upon the Crucified one, with faith and courage, for from him come life, comfort and healing. Let us learn to gaze on him who desires our good and knows how to wipe the tears from our eyes. Let us learn to abandon ourselves into his embrace, like a small child in his mother’s arms. … Every person who suffers helps Christ to carry his Cross and climbs with him the path to Golgotha in order one day to rise again with him.

“When we see the infamy to which Jesus was subjected, when we contemplate his face on the Cross, when we recognize his appalling suffering, we can glimpse through faith, the radiant face of the Risen Lord, who tells us that suffering and sickness will not have the last word in our human lives” (loc. cit.).

Before Ash Wednesday, I encouraged us to take time during this holy season to be still, to find some solitary time for reflection and prayer. This week, I urge us to do so with the specific intention of focusing our prayer on the suffering Christ.

Jesus underwent “appalling suffering” in obedience to the will of the Father, and he did so because he shares the Father’s love for us. His love was and is truly sacrificial. And he invites us to join what sickness and affliction we may experience to his.

He calls us to see in our human experiences of pain and loss that he is present with us and, as Pope Benedict reminds us, knows how to wipe away the tears from our eyes.

Often enough, in bearing our burdens and sufferings, we can’t simply make them go away, and we can’t understand why bad things happen to us. Yet, it means a lot to know that Christ is at our side, and offers a steadying and consoling hand.

I often think of my mom at my bedside when I was hospitalized for knee surgery. She patiently fed me ice chips to quell my thirst. Her presence was consoling.

Turning to Christ at our side is something like that. May the remaining weeks of Lent offer us the opportunity to deepen our faith in the consolation of Jesus. †

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