The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Suffering with Convenience

As the Bride of Christ prepares to enter into the final week of Lent, the most holy week of the year, it seems appropriate to now turn the attention on a section of the Holy Father's papal letter, Spe Salvi, that deals with suffering. For Catholics, the passion of The Christ, His suffering and death, represents a place of importance in heart of the believer that remains on par with the resurrection. In point of fact, Catholics do not typically speak of one without the other. Passion, death, and resurrection take on a kind of trinitarian quality in describing the meaning of Christ's gift to humanity.

This thinking defines a very real demarcation between Catholics and her separated brethren. Nearly all Protestant Christian faiths delimit the death of Christ as an unpleasant evil that had to take place in order for Him to rise from the dead. To memorialize and give a lot of attention to that event seems odd for them, and many Protestants even consider the display of crucifix to be a form of idol worship. If they were to wear a symbol of Christ, it would be something that represents the empty tomb, which in a sense is the meaning of the cross without the corpus.

In some Protestant ecclesial communities and in far too many Catholic churches one often sees the risen Christ upon the cross. This is an image created completely by man. Christ gave humanity the image of Himself crucified, and when He was taken down there was the image of the empty cross, but never did He offer humanity the image of hovering upon a cross risen from the dead. It is perhaps the weakest of Christian symbols as it portrays man's desire for the risen Christ without the incarnation and true meaning of His suffering. With only His spirit portrayed, the risen Christ on the cross is perfectly acceptable for the gnostic who sees Christ as pure spirit.

The removal of the corpus from the cross is an understandable reaction to the truth. No one should want to look at suffering, especially when the one in distress is one's savior. Yet as undesirable as it may be, one has to come to grips with the reality that in a fallen world some things must be endured. The challenge then becomes how one copes with the suffering.

We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but we cannot eliminate it. It is when we attempt to avoid suffering by withdrawing from anything that might involve hurt, when we try to spare ourselves the effort and pain of pursuing truth, love, and goodness, that we drift into a life of emptiness, in which there may be almost no pain, but the dark sensation of meaninglessness and abandonment is all the greater. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we are healed, but rather by our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love.
Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi

In this modern age, consider the link between suffering and convenience. It seems that the more technologically advanced the society becomes, the lower the bar for what gets defined as suffering becomes. Hunger, disease, and overt oppression have all but been eliminated in much of Western society. Many of the ailments common to the culture are self-inflicted, even many forms of cancer. No one starves to death in America like they do in Darfur. While pockets of racism still exist, the West doesn't see such atrocities such as ethnic cleansing or forced genocide.

In America, suffering often gets linked to money, material wealth, and convenience. Imagine if the money spent on cell phones was suddenly allocated for feeding the poor? Would one dare to give up the convenience of a cell phone if it meant one more person would have a chance at survival? Sadly, that answer has already been made, and the answer is no. Consider what would happen if the money Americans spent on bottled water was used to supply water to drought stricken regions. Again, the choice has already been made in favor of the convenience of the bottled water. There are a multitude of examples where man has chosen making his life easier in this life at the expense of his "out of sight out of mind," distant brother.

Returning to our Holy Father:

...the capacity to accept suffering for the sake of goodness, truth and justice is an essential criterion of humanity, because if my own well-being and safety are ultimately more important than truth and justice, then the power of the stronger prevails, then violence and untruth reign supreme. Truth and justice must stand above my comfort and physical well-being, or else my life itself becomes a lie. In the end, even the “yes” to love is a source of suffering, because love always requires expropriations of my “I”, in which I allow myself to be pruned and wounded. Love simply cannot exist without this painful renunciation of myself, for otherwise it becomes pure selfishness and thereby ceases to be love.
- Pope Benedict, Spe Salvi

Christ on the cross is an ever present reminder of how far man still needs to go to live out the message the Redeemer has given. Perhaps that is one reason the image proves difficult for many to behold. But look one must. Let every Christian gaze upon the crucified Christ and draw the needed inspiration to let go of self and give all to neighbor. This life long calling to abandon self seems impossible at times, especially in the modern world of convenience. But every convenience indulged in is a freely-willed choice, an opportunity to say yes to Christ.

Pray for the grace to always say yes.


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