FOR US AND FOR OUR SALVATION – The suffering of the Christ

– FAUSTO GOMEZ OP

I. THE MYSTERY OF THE PASSION OF CHRIST

Lent is the journey of penance to Holy Week, to the celebration of the great mystery of our faith. Pope Francis tells us in his Lenten Message (2020) that Lent is “a favorable time to prepare to celebrate with renewed hearts the great mystery of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus”: the mystery of the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ!

As disciples of Jesus Christ, let us contemplate the mystery of the passion of Christ. I invite you to meditate with me on these questions: Who is Christ for us, followers of Jesus? What is the meaning of his passion and cross? How may we respond to the passion and cross of Jesus – to our own cross and the crosses of others? In this first column we answer the first question after fixing the eyes of our faith on the Passion of Christ.

The Passion of Christ! We remember Mel Gibson’s acclaimed film The Passion of the Christ. For some, the film is a bit too much:  too much blood from Jesus, from the scourging, the carrying of the cross, the crucifixion and death. For many others, for us Christians, the film is very close to reality, the dark reality of the passion and death of Jesus. Mel Gibson says: “The passion of Christ is very strong. We are accustomed to see beautiful crucifixes hanging on the wall, and we say Jesus was scourged, carried his cross on his shoulders and then nailed on the wood of the cross, but who [actually] meditate on the real meaning of these words?” Gibson adds: “Through my childhood, I did not realize what these words imply. I did not understand how that happened. The profound horror of what He suffered for our redemption did not shock me. To understand what He suffered, also at the human level, makes me feel not only compassion, but also the debt I owe him. I want to compensate him for the immensity of his sacrifice.”

Christ suffered and died for us. Christ! Who is Christ really?

WHO IS CHRIST?

Jesus’ question to his disciples, to each one of his followers, is constantly present in the lives of all Christians: “Who am I for you?” (See Mt 16:13-20).

We may answer the question in two ways, objectively and subjectively. The objective answer is easy. “Who are you, dear Jesus?” We all know it and have heard it all the time:  “You are our Savior, our Redeemer, the Way, the Truth, the Life, and the Light…”  “You are the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Santo Niño, the Nazarene, Eucharistic Bread and Wine, the Sacred Heart, the liberator of the oppressed and poor…” Jesus is the Son of God and the Son of Mary, a human being like us, but without sin: “And the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”(Jn 1:14).

Christ is the same for all Christians. He is the same yesterday, today and always, and essentially the same Christ in all cultural expressions. I remember the verses of John Oxenham:

In Christ there is no East or West,

In him no South or North,

But one great fellowship of love

Throughout the whole wide earth.

(Quoted from W. Barclay, In Luke 8:19-21)

The objective answer to the question who is Christ for his followers is necessary and grounds and feeds always the subjective answer. As in his question to the apostles, Jesus is looking for the subjective answer of his disciples: Who am I for you?  Do I make a difference in your life?

Jesus is looking for a personal answer that comes not mainly from books, but from a loving encounter with the Lord who lives in us. Christianity does not mean principally “reciting a creed; it means, knowing a person” (cf. W. Barclay, In Lk 9:18-22 and 10:21-24; In Mt 9:35). “I know whom I have believed,” St Paul says (2 Tim 1:12). To know the Lord implies “personal encounter with him, intimate experience, loyalty, love, adherence to the person, doing his will” (Francisco Ma. López Melús, Desierto, 1996). It entails kenosis: self-emptiness, un-selfing!

WHO IS CHRIST FOR YOU AND ME?

Who is Christ for you, for me? There are different vocations and different paths within the same way, the Way: following Christ as a priest, a consecrated person, or a lay faithful.  One day Jesus asked every Christian what He asked the apostles at the beginning: “Come, follow me” (Mk 1:16-17; Lk 5:10-11). Later on, He says to the apostles, to each one of us: “I chose you” (Jn 15:16). And at the end: “Go and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation” (cf Mk 16:15).

All followers of Christ are called to a progressive union with God through Jesus in the Spirit (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium, LG, 22, 40-41). Through our whole life we are, then, on a dynamic journey of continuing renewal or permanent formation. For us personal formation continues through life. I remember – and try to follow – the first norm of Blessed Charles de Foucauld to his followers: To ask himself on every occasion, what would Jesus think, say and do in his place, and do it. We follow Jesus: we know him, we love him and we embrace him.

There is a popular Spanish Flamenco song called “saeta” addressed to the Crucified Christ: “Song of the people from Andalucia that every spring is asking for ladders to go up the cross” (Cantar del pueblo andaluz que todas las primaveras anda pidiendo escaleras para subir a la cruz”). The great poet Antonio Machado did not like the lyrics, so he added: “I cannot nor do I want to sing to the Christ on the wood, but to the one who walked on the sea” (“No puedo cantar ni quiero a ese Cristo del madero sino al que anduvo en la mar”). It is easy to sing joyfully to the Christ who walked on the sea: when things go right in our life, it is not hard to follow Christ. However, it is difficult at times to sing to the Christ on the Cross, when life hurts!

(this article was added to the previous one to make one long article)

II .THE PASSION AND CROSS OF CHRIST (# 2)

Jesus went through life “doing good,” and culminated his life with his passion and death, which point to his resurrection. On his long journey to Jerusalem, as narrated by St Luke, Jesus reveals to his disciples his crucifixion and death: “The Son of God must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:21).

CONTEMPLATING CHRIST ON THE CROSS

The sufferings of Jesus, who is the suffering servant of the prophet Isaiah, were incredible: his agony in the garden, the betrayal of Judas, the abandonment by his disciples. Then Jesus is accused falsely, condemned unjustly, mocked, ridiculed, and scourged at the pillar. And thereafter, the way of the cross, his crucifixion and death on a cross. Through it all: the serenity of Jesus, his silence, his forgiving love, his obedience to the Father.

The saints love to contemplate Jesus on the Cross! A wooden crucifix presiding over the main altar removes the nail on his right hand to embrace St Bernard. Christ on the cross in San Damiano asks Francis of Assisi to restore his Church. St Thomas Aquinas, for whom the cross is the example of all virtues, heard from Jesus crucified on the cross these words: “You have written well of me. What do you want from me?” After that vision, St Thomas stopped writing; he considered thereafter that all he had written (“books enough to sink a ship or stock a library”- Chesterton) was like straw).  The preferred book of Saint Catherine of Siena was Christ’s death on the cross. St John of the Cross, for whom the cross is the staff for the journey of life, heard from a painting of Christ carrying the cross these words: “You have done a lot for me, what you wish from me?” The incomparable mystic answers: Only to suffer and to be despised for your sake!

Thomas a Kempis says in his classical book Imitation of Christ that the following of Christ is “the royal way of the cross,” that the union with Christ is experienced joyfully in the reception of the Eucharist, and that the union with Christ entails union with the Father and the Holy Spirit. St John XXIII writes in his Journal of the Soul: “My great book, from which I must draw, with great care and affection, the divine lessons of high wisdom is the crucifix.”

   

WHY THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST?

Why is the Only Begotten Son of God crucified and dies on the cross?  He could have delivered us through his divine will! Why then the horrible passion? St Augustine and St Thomas condensed well the answer of the New Testament and all the Fathers of the Church: “There was no other more suitable way of healing our misery than by the Passion of Christ.” Why so? (Cf. STh, III, a. 3). In the first place, because through his passion and his crucifixion, Jesus shows us his infinite love. Jesus suffers and dies on the Cross because God loves us infinitely and unconditionally, and his death on the cross shows this divine love best: “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (Jn 3:15); “God so loved the world that He gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).

Moreover, Christ by dying on the Cross reveals to us the gravity of sin and our need of a savior, of a Redeemer. Jesus dies on the cross to show us the evilness of sin and thus invites us dramatically to refrain from committing sin: “He himself bore our sins, so that freed from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed” (I Pet 2:24). We know well that sins are bad company. They are like darkness of the soul, night, a betrayal of God’s love and of the precious blood of Christ shed for us – for our sins. St Augustine tells us that when Judas betrayed Jesus was night. And the Bishop of Hippo adds:  “And Judas was night, because the sinner carries the night within himself.” Seeing him on the cross suffering for our sins, we are urged and bound to refrain from sin: “You are bought with a great price; therefore, glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20-21). Consequently, we sinners all strive constantly to be reconciled with God, with one another, with God’s creation (cf. II Cor 5:20). The journey of Lent is the journey of conversion from sin to love – to God’s love: rejecting sin and returning to God. It helps us to implant in our hearts – in an ever growing way – the paschal mystery of the passion, death and resurrection of ChriSt 

Furthermore, by his Passion, Christ delivered us not only from sin, but also merited justifying grace for us and the glory of happiness. He is the meritorious cause of our salvation.  It is written: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Gal 3:13). “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.”  Words to ponder: To believe in God crucified is to recognize God in Christ crucified; it is about “the affirmation of the reality of the God-Man who suffered for us and with us,” and thus merited our salvation (Jürgen Moltmann).

Through his passion, Jesus is also the exemplary cause of our life. We know that He is our Way, our only Way, which includes necessarily the Way of the Cross. St Peter says: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). In particular, Jesus gives us a perfect example of obedience, humility, patience, justice, and above all love and compassion. Christ on the cross is the Word on the cross, and the Seven Last Words from the cross: Father, forgive them… “Behold your mother.” And the piercing fourth: Why have you abandoned me? And his final words: Into your hands, I commend my spirit. It is Jesus’ hour, the hour of his death, which is the hour of his glorification (cf. Jn 12:33-50).

Like St Paul, we are most grateful to God: “Thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57). 

Lent is preparation for Holy Week, for the Holy Triduum. Since I was a child, an acolyte, I am greatly attracted and touched by the Paschal Triduum of Holy Week: Good Friday (death of Jesus), Holy Saturday (his Burial) and Easter Vigil/Easter Sunday (Resurrection), and also Holy Thursday, which formally introduces us the Triduum. Thus, from Holy Thursday, trough Good Friday and Holy Saturday to Ester Vigil/Sunday, we accompany Jesus. What may move us more to love him than the awesome, amazing Paschal Triduum?

In our next column, we shall face the third and final question of our meditation on the Passion of Christ: How may we respond to the passion and cross of Jesus – to our own cross and the crosses of others?

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