Sunday, October 21, 2012

"Does God Want Me to Suffer?"

The first reading for Mass this past Sunday came from one of Isaiah's prophecies about Jesus' Passion.  The first verse read was, "The LORD was pleased to crush him in infirmity" (Is.53:10).  The reading didn't stop there of course, but how many times has the human heart?  "Are you enjoying this God, seeing me suffer like this?"

If you believe in the God worshiped by Jews and Christians, you know the answer is "no."  Isaiah continued,
If he gives his life as an offering for sin,
he shall see his descendants in a long life,
and the will of the LORD shall be accomplished through him.
Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.  (Is.53:10-11)
Jesus obeyed the Father, even when that obedience was meant with torture and death at the hands of the powers-that-be.  But His obedience in suffering atoned for the disobedience of our entire race, each of our betrayals of God's love for us.

It was in that sense that the Father was "pleased" to see Jesus crushed by infirmity - because it brought about the redemption of the entire world!  God is not a sadist.  He does not rejoice in pain for its own sake.  No, He rejoices in the saving work He accomplishes, even in the midst of pain.

Baptized into Jesus, each of us is given a share in His suffering for the salvation of the world.  It's what we heard in Sunday's Gospel, when He told James and John, "The cup that I drink, you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized" (Mk.10:39).  St. Paul made reference to it when he wrote to the Colossians, "I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of His Body, which is the Church" (Col.1:24).

The Epistle to the Hebrews says that "For the joy set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame" (Heb.12:2).  That joy was eternal union with a redeemed you and me.  If we hope to endure the Cross, it can only be for the joy of union with Him.  The difficult thing is, we don't see how our sliver of the Cross - our cancer, or divorce, or job loss - has any value.  That is the trial of faith.  By faith we look at the situation and affirm that "If God is allowing me to pass through it, then He is able to bring good from it - good for me, good for the Body of Christ" (Rom.8:28).  That is supernatural - literally above our nature.  It makes no sense to anyone outside the Faith.  But what a central truth, the Truth of the Cross, for us to strive to take hold of during this Year of Faith!

Our hearts are united to Jesus' Heart.  In the words of Sunday's second reading:
... let us hold fast to our confession.
For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help. (Heb.4:14-16)

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