Obviously, if you’re reading this now, it’s September 15th. Due to delays and a generally busy schedule, I wasn’t able to wrap up this post on yesterday, September 14th. But, as today is set aside for Our Lady of Sorrows, this post will also relate. Thanks for reading!
I’m not skilled when writing about Jesus. For me, it’s very difficult: How do I approach a topic like the King of the Universe, Our Lord? On the other hand, I write with ease about His servants, using their lives as a vessel of His mission and reflecting on my own Christian walk. But, to write directly about Jesus? That’s tough.
Of course, there’s plenty of tough, tricky things when talking about Our Lord. Things like suffering.
Recently, I’ve been listening to Women Beyond Belief, a podcast featuring women who have left religious faiths of every stripe behind in favor of agnosticism or atheism. In the handful of episodes I’ve listened to, many of these women possess troubled backgrounds. Often in these narratives, there are cases of broken homes, sexual and physical abuse, intensely legalistic religious communities, and the absence of a close confidant to discuss feelings of doubt. Many of these women, if only given a brief sentence to mention why they abandoned faith (primarily Christianity), would probably say “There’s too much suffering.”
Certainly, life is full of suffering. There’s brokenness and humiliation, tears and heartache. Even more, for Christians, suffering is not something to be willed away immediately after our baptism, but something to be expected.
“The cross is a means of freedom. It’s how we are called to live our lives…being a Christian is not about escaping our flesh……The cross bucks that and stares back at us. We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ and follow His way of love, which takes us to the cross. God entered into humanity through the Incarnation…and felt our hunger and thirst” (“Carmelites and the Exaltation of the Cross,” 9.14.2017).
As Catholic Christians, and today especially, we look to the cross and ponder how our salvation came into the world. Jesus, perfect in humanity and fully divine, took on our every shred of suffering as he anguished on the cross. Surely, He could have avoided the cross and opted for a much more comfortable life. But, He didn’t. He took on our suffering and displayed the greatest act of love. This is a tough teaching that Our Lord lived out for us: love that leads to suffering.
But, I don’t use these platitudes to politely gloss over the experiences of the women featured in the podcast mentioned above. Abuse, abandonment, and strict legalism were not initially in God’s plan. Manipulation and evil should hold no place in the life of a servant of Christ. While reflecting of the stories of the women, I believe that the top cause of most people moving from a life of faith to atheism is due to poor teaching in regards to suffering.
Often (and mistakenly) our culture sells us a cheap approach to religion that is non-sacrificial and uncomplicated: “Follow Jesus and your life will be easy. Sin and temptation will flee you. The devil will never trail your heels again.” It’s no wonder the seats of many prosperity-teaching megachurches are filled to capacity every Sunday.
Yet, this is in a direct opposition to what Jesus said in today’s Gospel:
“…the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life.” from John 3: 13-17
Moreover, in John 15:18-21, Jesus reminds His disciples:
“If they persecuted Me…they will also persecute you…because they do not know Him who sent Me.”
The world turned on Jesus, the Messiah, and crucified Him. It’s no exception that as Christians in our current age, we too will experience suffering, abandonment, theft, and maybe even martyrdom. It’s a tough teaching from Jesus, but Christians are not immune to these trials. However, in situations that are uncontrollable, we can choose lean on Christ, the Resurrected Lord and King who suffered the cross, but conquered death.
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. // John 3:16
Apart from the Cross, there is no ladder by which we may get to Heaven. // St. Rose of Lima
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.