March 24, 2002 - Passion Sunday: Homily

HE TRUSTED IN GOD, LET HIM SAVE HIM. These words were spoken in mockery by the chief priests who engineered Jesus’ death. St. Matthew, of course, and we along with him, realized that Jesus’ trust in his Father was fulfilled in a surpassing manner, as it turned out, in the resurrection. To those who did not have the eyes of the spirit opened by grace, the crucifixion seemed a proof that Jesus was abandoned by God and that his trust was misplaced. Indeed, it seemed to our Lord himself at the end that the Father had deserted him. Surely that sense of abandonment was the most painful of all his torments. For union with the Father was the very substance of his life and gave it meaning. That our Redeemer is truly the Son of God and so equal in his person to the Father is the fundamental belief of our Catholic faith. That this same Son of God was crucified and died in seeming abandonment by the One whose will he was fulfilling for the sake of our redemption is one of the most mysterious of all truths.

The Evangelists do not, at any point, adequately explain why such a sacrifice had to take place. St. John in his version of the Gospel tells us that the ultimate motivating force behind this death was unfathomable love for us. God so loved the world that he gave his only- begotten Son so that those who believe in him might not perish but might have eternal life (John 3:16). John makes no effort though to explain why love chose the way of such suffering and death. Why did the uniquely loved Son who is himself God not receive a positive answer to the prayer he made in Gethsemani that he be spared such pain? We cannot help but marvel that God who is almighty and all wise did not devise some other means of redemption. Surely one inference that becomes an inevitable conclusion as we reflect seriously on this mystery is that sin must be a more heinous reality than we could suspect otherwise. If such a death of his own beloved and lovingly obedient son is in God’s mind the price that must be paid for deliverance from the effects of sin then serious sin must be a horrible offence to be avoided at all costs.

Another inference from the passion of Jesus that remains significant for each of us is that suffering in this life can have a meaning that is redemptive. This holds true only when it is united in faith with the cross of Jesus. In itself, there is nothing inevitably constructive about human pain, anguish, the sense of loss, abandonment and humiliation. Each of these can be destructive; many persons are undone by such experiences and are diminished in their humanity because of such experiences. But the Passion of Jesus understood in light of his teaching can change the outcome of such suffering if it is accepted with faith in him as Redeemer and trust in the mercy of God. Examples of persons who have in fact turned suffering into an occasion for growing in faith and love of God abound, beginning with his blessed mother and St. John and Jesus’ other intimate friends.

The experience of sharing in the cross of Christ has not only united made many men and with God, it also caused them to become more fully human. In some instances their whole demeanor expresses a fuller, more gentle and open humanity. Suffering accepted and overcome leads one to grow in sympathy for others, to be more considerate of the needy and the sick, among other things. One of the fruits of suffering that is assumed through union with the cross of Jesus is a keener awareness of the human condition as such. All persons must confront the pain of loss of loved ones and their own eventual death. However successful, however popular a person may be he cannot escape death, neither that of those he loves, nor his own. Jesus’ cross reveals to us that death need not be sheer loss. On the contrary, for those who place their hope in him it is the passage into the fullness of life, life with God.

There is still another lesson we are to learn from the cross of Jesus. Just as God answered our Lord’s trust with the surpassing grace of the resurrection and its attendant glory, but did not spare him from the painful sense of abandonment, so also we must learn to trust him even when he seems not to hear our prayer. We need to believe that no prayer made in faith goes unheard even though it is not answered in ways that we can comprehend.

 

A good deal of the burden of suffering is relieved once we are able to assign it a place in the scheme of salvation. Faith teaches us that just as Jesus’ suffering remains eminently fruitful, a continuing source of eternal life for his faithful followers, so also the suffering of his members not only purifies them but assists other members of the mystical body of Christ in their spiritual journey. Cardinal Thomaek who had so much to suffer for his fidelity to the Roman Church gave a moving witness to this truth in a speech at the 1985 Synod in Rome.

 

We must labor for the Kingdom of God, which is much; we must pray for the Kingdom of God, which is of greater worth; we must suffer with the crucified Christ, which is everything (cited in Christoph Sch`nborn, Loving the Church, 59).

 

I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW. These words of the prophet Isaiah most fittingly are put in the mouth of the glorified Christ by the author of the Apocalypse. The cross of Jesus finds its meaning in the resurrection of Jesus; the two are but moments of a whole event- the passage of the Son of God from his condition of lowliness to glory with the Father. The risen life of Christ is what gives meaning to his suffering and death. In accepting his passion with loving trust in the Father’s wisdom and fidelity Jesus did indeed inaugurate a New Creation, one in which all things, pain, loss and death itself, take on a fresh significance for those who place their hope in his cross. May the grace of this Eucharist and our celebration of the Paschal mystery this week strengthen the bonds that unite us all in the mystical Body, and become for us a source of eternal life welling up from the depths of the Spirit who is given us by the glorified Lord Jesus.