The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

Monday, March 5, 2018

Reflection: Stations of the Cross

Note: Every Friday during Lent the deacons of our parish lead the people in praying the Stations of the Cross. Before praying the Stations, we usually give a brief Lenten reflection to help us conform our minds and hearts to God's holy will. This past Friday of the Second Week of Lent it was my turn. My reflection follows:

I sometimes think we take the Cross for granted, thus dulling the reality of Christ's passion. Or maybe we belittle His sufferings, believing it was somehow different for Him, that in His Divine Person His suffering wasn't real, like our suffering.

It's important to state this clearly: Jesus' sufferings were very real and more intense than anything you and I might endure. And they encompassed so much. 

The agonizing hours He spent in the garden, all the while ignored by His three closest friends. And later to be abandoned by these and by virtually all whom He loved, even betrayed by one of them.

He was arrested, tried and convicted for crimes He didn't commit; falsely accused and subjected to a steady stream of lies.

He was insulted, taunted, repeatedly struck and spit on, flogged almost to the point of death. Then the King of Kings was painfully and ignominiously crowned with thorns.

Condemned and executed like a common criminal, as He died, He endured more taunts, insults and mockery.

And through it all, the Father kept His silence. Can we even begin to plumb the depths of Christ's suffering?

Yet all this suffering would have been wasted, it would not have redeemed a single soul, if Jesus had not endured it with love.

Christ's suffering alone didn't redeem the world. It was His love - the love with which He bore and offered His sufferings to the Father for us. This is the same love that was present at the creation - the love that brought everything into being. A love we repay with sin.

There's an awful lot of suffering in our world today. Just read the headlines. Watch the evening news. Or perhaps you need only look at those seated near you, or at yourself. Illness, the death of a loved one, a child who has strayed and turned his back on God, financial problems, family strife, addictions... all these sufferings are very real in our lives and in the lives of those we know.

But have we learned to bear our sufferings as Jesus taught us? Even though surrounded by darkness, the light of His love burned brightly and enlightened others. With one look of compassion he brought tears of repentance to the eyes of Peter. He prayed for His executioners. He welcomed the good thief to paradise.

He died because He did the will of the Father, freely and out of love. He didn't simply endure His sufferings. He suffered because of His great love for you.

Suffering that is merely endured does little for our souls except harden them. It just turns us inward and floods us with self-pity, the first and normal reaction to suffering. But self-pity can be a cancer; it can erode our faith, our courage, and our capacity to feel compassion for others...our capacity to love.

Thomas Merton once wrote that, "The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy. For nothing so easily becomes unholy as suffering." [No Man is an Island, p. 77]

Now, I'm not suggesting that you imitate those who have an almost morbid love of suffering. From my experience, they tend to be dour, humorless people. No. Christ wants us to love. Love can cause the greatest suffering of all - heartbreak - but it also brings the greatest joy.

God wants us to be joyful. That's why next Sunday is Laetare Sunday, a day to rejoice, even in the midst of repentance. After all, we repent because we are filled with hope, the hope of forgiveness. Is this not a good reason to be joyful?

And it's also why Good Friday isn't called "Bad Friday." It's good because it's the ultimate manifestation of God's overwhelming love for you -- not some generic love, but a very personal, individual love, a love in which our God lays down His life for you.

And so today, as we pray these Stations together, let's recall Jesus' prayer for those who nailed Him to that Cross: "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do" [Lk 23:34].

When we return to our homes, let's not take up where we left off, carrying the burdens of things we can't forgive.

Jesus began His ministry by telling us to do two things: "Repent and believe in the Gospel" [Mk 1:15].

We talk a lot about believing in and living the Gospel these days, and that's a very good thing. But let's not forget the other part. Let's not forget to repent of our sins.
"Do not weep for me..."
"Do not weep for me," Jesus told the women of Jerusalem, "weep instead for yourselves and for your children" [Lk 23:28].

It's okay if we don't weep for Jesus this Lent. He won't mind. Rather let's follow Peter's example -- Peter, who wept bitter tears for his own sins. Then maybe we'll be able to forgive those who sin against us.

God love you.

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