Three great struggles have become part of my daily life: how do I stop trying to figure out what this latest assault from the bishop is all about?; how far do you push against someone who seems to have, humanly speaking, all the power?; how do you have intimate confidence in Jesus and stay still with Him on the Cross rather than writhing all day long trying to get down from it?
Obviously of all three questions/struggles, the critical one is the third.
A first hint/clue to the answer is found in these words from Pope Benedict from a recent homily during his visit to Great Britain: “….the…crucifix….portrays Christ’s body, crushed by suffering, overwhelmed by sorrow, the innocent victim whose death has reconciled us with the Father and given us a share in the very life of God.”
I certainly want, like I believe most baptized people, to take up my cross each day and follow Him – but in this union with Him I surely do not want to be crushed nor overwhelmed.
This is the great dilemma for anyone seeking to truly be His disciple – if we say yes, even tentatively, He takes us at our word.
Then when unsought after suffering hits us – sudden death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness or injury, being battered or abused, rejected, abandoned, falsely accused – we become in reality crushed and overwhelmed.
Our emotions flare, running the entire gambit from fearful anger and powerlessness, to serious faith-doubt to a desperate need to flee, to escape, in a word to get down from the cross, because it’s all nuts!
So I return to the first two struggles/questions: how do I stop trying to figure out what this latest assault from the bishop is all about?; how far do you push against someone who seems to have, humanly speaking, all the power?
Pope Benedict also said in the same homily: “The Lord’s outstretched arms seem to embrace…..”
Just what does this embrace entail for those who suffer?
A miraculous cure of the cancer, a sudden offer of a new job, restoration of a decaying marriage, sudden end of abuse or violence or……
Why submit, much less yearn for, His embrace, if apparently His embrace doesn’t end suffering?
Sure an embrace, a hug, from someone who loves us can be momentarily comforting but if I am in a cancer ward, for example, once the embrace is done, the loved one leaves, I remain there alone, in pain.
To be blunt: often Christ’s embrace seems more like being bound than comforted!
Jesus’ words to Peter apply here: unsought after suffering is indeed an experience of having our outstretched hands bound by another and being led where we really would rather not go! [cf. Jn. 21:18ff.]
That is also the last time in the Holy Gospels when Jesus says yet again: “Follow Me.”!
As loving and comforting as Christ’s embrace IS, His embrace also contains within it an act of uniting, IF we are willing, our own sufferings, fears, experience of being crushed and overwhelmed, uniting primarily NOT our sufferings with His, rather becoming in union with Jesus Himself, a union of love, from which flows the uniting of participatory suffering.
Pope Benedict notes this union also includes: “…our own needs, hopes and aspirations, to the infinite merits of His sacrifice. Through Him, with Him, and in Him, we lift up our own bodies as a sacrifice holy and acceptable to God….In this sense we are caught up in His eternal oblation…..”.
Within all our struggles and suffering, if we accept His embrace, then not only are we no longer alone, even if still crushed and overwhelmed: we are in the depths of His own agony for the redemption of the world.
A friend told me the other day of their immense anger not only because of their great suffering, anger too at God, but especially anger at themselves because they will NOT say no to Jesus!
Beneath all their emotional turmoil, in the depths of their heart and soul shines this incredible intimate confidence in Jesus.
I get it! The anger bit I mean!
How I would love to lash out, to forego His embrace, to get down from the cross, cut the bonds, run away by……..yeah, that’s the rub…..the only way to do that is to stop being in love with HIM!
Yes, there are not three answers to the questions, but one alone: Jesus!
It may seem trite and is often miss-asked but in the face of everything that crushes, overwhelms, confuses, angers, there is only one real question to ask and then in the depths of which questing to be still: What would Jesus do?
“Let me kiss him…Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you shepherd your flock….Show me your face…cause me to hear your voice….” [cf. Song of Songs]