From the Desk of Father Valentine
There is something quite beautiful (if you would excuse me for using that word) about St. Luke’s account of the Way of the Cross, namely, the compassion of Jesus toward others, even as he faces his own death. Consider everything he does, from serving his disciples (Lk. 22:27) to praying for Peter (31), from healing the ear of the high priest’s slave (51) to comforting the women of Jerusalem (23: 27-31), from asking mercy for his executioners to promising Paradise to the good thief (43). Jesus unfailingly brings relief to every level of human existence – body, mind, soul, and spirit – even as he endures his own unspeakable anguish and pain. It is said that “to love is to suffer.” It follows, then, that to love exquisitely is to suffer: exquisitely.
One of the great privileges of being a priest is to “accompany” people, so to speak, along their journey to heaven. All of them are at different points on the road: coming into the world, learning about it, making friends, working, marrying, raising their own children, retiring, and completing their days “on this mortal coil.” And each point has a distinctive sort of pain, pain that imposes itself even to the point of tears: childbirth, the first day of school, bullies, unrequited love, a lost job, a lost parent, loneliness, and profound, isolating illness. Going through the experience, it becomes tempting to believe that we will never get over it. Until, of course, we do, at which time we discover several things: we are more resilient than we thought; life itself becomes even more beautiful, now that the event is past; finally, just as God has been good to us before, there is every reason to believe he will be no less gracious to us again.
In short, pain has great value, and not just because it alerts us to something in the body or mind that needs attention. (Although certainly that is true.) Without being “stretched” by pain to feel great sorrow, how can we possibly understand profound joy, wonder, ecstasy? We read in the Passion that Jesus is so distressed that “his sweat becomes like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground” (22:44). The disciples, by contrast, are lulled to sleep and, as Pope Benedict points out, “this deadening of souls, this lack of vigilance regarding both God’s closeness and the looming forces of darkness, is what gives the Evil One power in the world.”
As his disciples, we Christians must learn that only by accepting our share of the Cross – and the exquisite suffering it entails – can we ever know the exquisite sweetness of resurrected life, and the true beauty of holiness. Moreover, our participation in the Passion of Christ is our source of genuine com-passion (“suffering with”) toward our neighbor. Let us not be afraid to feel with Our Lord his incomparable sorrow, so as to attain its resultant blessedness.