When we face pain, distress, challenges, and disasters – our Catholic Faith makes it possible for us to keep a certain measure of tranquility. Jesus was very close to those who were suffering. In His Beatitudes, Jesus taught that those who were poor, sorrowing, or under persecution were among the “Blessed.” “They will see God,” He promised (Mt 5:8). “Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Mt 5:3).
If we experience a warlike attack such as “9/11,” a loss through a natural disaster (a storm, or fire, or earthquake), or some personal tragedy (a sickness or accident), how do we maintain our trust in God?
When we read about the abuses and cover-ups that have become public among anointed leaders in the Church, or the omissions or deceptions of shepherds entrusted with the protection of the flock, how do we stay faithful to the Church, when some of Her leaders have failed?
When we ourselves are hurt; when – God forbid – we are a victim of such acts of abuse, can we ever trust again?
These sufferings are difficult to comprehend. One thing is clear: they can only begin to make sense in the context of the greater mystery of the Cross of Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ saves us through His dying and rising. This was difficult even for the Apostles to understand. When Jesus told His followers that He would suffer and die, and rise, they failed to comprehend. They were distressed, or in the case of Peter - he rebuked Our Lord for this talk of the Cross (Mt 17:22-23; Mk 8:31-33; Lk 9:43-45). Nonetheless, Jesus made the Cross the necessary pathway of discipleship with His words, “Unless you take up your Cross and follow Me, you cannot be My disciple” (Lk 9:23).
In St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells Nicodemus that just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so that all who looked at it would be cured, so also He says, “The Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life” (Jn 14-15). The crucified Jesus, “lifted up on the Cross,” is the antidote to the poison of sin, sickness, and death. By His crucifixion Jesus makes possible the Resurrection to new life. The Cross is the key that unlocks the Resurrection.
Sometimes our sufferings are “self-inflicted”; they are the result of our sinfulness. We drink too much and pay the price. We do violence against another and our crimes are discovered, and we are humiliated; we are punished, perhaps imprisoned. In these cases the sufferings can – with God’s grace – bring about the purification, the change of heart, the rehabilitation we need to start over. God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the sinner, but rather that he may turn from his ways and live” (Ez 18:23).
There is also innocent suffering. A tiny baby has a painful malady or disease; she or he is completely innocent. So also the innocent victims of abuse; their suffering is most like that of Christ, Who was completely innocent of any offense. Here there is the deep mystery of the Cross.
In the case of Jesus, the suffering He endured had the power to heal not Himself, but me and you. If we are hurt out of no fault of our own, we can – with God’s grace – join ourselves more consciously with Christ. If we suffer innocently as an adult, the suffering we may endure can purify us from other sins to which we cling. We may also offer these hurts – in union with the suffering of Jesus – for the salvation of souls: mine and another’s. Some ridicule the notion of “offering up our sufferings.” But indeed, this power of meritorious grace is one of the most profound teachings in our Catholic Faith.
Can we trust God again? Can we live in fidelity to the Church, whose human members have failed? If we ourselves were violated, can we ever live a new life? The hope held out to us in Christ says, “Yes.” St. Paul bears witness in this regard: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come…will be able to separate us from the love of God, in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
Perhaps the wounds that some people bear will be as the very wounds of Christ. Jesus still had the wounds of His hands, and feet, and side after His Resurrection. He invited St. Thomas to touch them as a proof that He was the Risen Lord (Jn 20:24-28). Perhaps our scars and our unfixable hurts can be worn into Heaven. This too is part of the mystery of the Cross.
If those who commit crimes are punished, may it be a help to their reaching Heaven as a repentant sinner. May the suffering of the innocent cry out before God, so that He will right the wrongs that humans otherwise seem to be unwilling or unable to rectify. Our greatest sufferings can unite us with the Savior, Who, when He is lifted up, will draw all people to Himself (Jn 12:32).
Human beings by their own power are incapable of achieving the Resurrection. We cannot rise from the dead on our own. However, this is what human beings can do: we can take up the Cross. We can choose to embrace the Cross – whatever God sends us or allows. Drawn in this way to the crucified Christ, He will carry us to new life.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Prayer to Our Lady of Sorrows
Hallowed Mother, do this favor:
Those wounds that gored my Savior,
deeply on my heart engraved.
Mine it be, Christ’s throes in sharing.
mine it be, His anguish bearing,
these, His wounds, to keep in mind.
From the flame of hell unending,
be Thou, Virgin, me defending,
In that dreadful reckoning day!
When in death my eyes are closing,
open them, Lord, to see reposing,
victory’s crown in Mary’s hand.
When my frame by death is broken,
and my doom by Thee is spoken,
be it, Lord, the better land. Amen.
Let us pray...
I beseech You, O Lord Jesus Christ, that the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose most holy soul was pierced in the hour of Your Passion by the sword of sorrow, may intercede for us with Your mercy now and at the hour of our death. Amen.