The Passion of Christ and its Divine Purpose
St Thomas Aquinas, in his famous Eucharistic hymn, Adoro Te Devote, says: “Cujus una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere,” which means, “one drop of Christ’s blood was sufficient to wash clean the whole world.”
This is for many a controversial statement. Some would protest, saying that Jesus’ death was in vain if he could have shed one drop of blood instead, but this is a bit of a one-dimensional view. We need to look deeper before we pronounce rash judgement. God’s omnipotent power makes it obvious that he could have redeemed humanity in any way he chose, but it stands to reason that he would choose the best way.
Frederick William Faber, a great English theologian, puts it this way:
“It was no necessity which drove God to the redemption of the world by the Precious Blood. He might have redeemed it in unnumbered other ways. There is no limit to His power, no exhaustion of His wisdom. He might have reconciled the forgiveness of sin with His stainless sanctity by many inventions, of which neither we nor the angels can so much as dream. […] All salvation must be dear: yet who can dream of a salvation which would seem at once so worthy of God, and so endearing to man, as our present salvation through Jesus Christ? […] The shedding of His Blood was part of the freedom of His love. It was, in some mysterious reality, the way of redemption most worthy of His blessed majesty, and also the way most likely to provoke the love of men.”
Jesus Christ suffered all, that he might perfectly love humanity, and perfectly love each individual. Consider in this context the words of Christ himself to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque:
“Behold this Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming itself in order to testify to its love.”
God’s chosen method of salvation, the bloody sacrifice of the cross, has particular consequences for us in our relationship with him. A wise friend once explained to me that where Jesus passes through in his incarnation, the world is transformed in his wake. When God encounters something, it is transformed by his power; it is conformed to his will, which is love. In Christ’s passion, he freely chose to pass through suffering and death for our sake, so to transform them.
When Jesus passed through death, he destroyed it. No longer is death the end of the human being; it has become life, and life to the full. Likewise, when Jesus passed through the heart of suffering, in his passion, he also transformed and destroyed suffering itself. No longer does suffering hold unchecked power to oppress and break the human spirit. Through Christ, suffering actually becomes the empowerment of the human person.
The Transformation of Death
Think about our culture’s perception of death. I’d say for most people, it’s one of the things they fear most (although in recent years that fear seems to have been overtaken by the fear of suffering), and rightly so, for the atheist or the unsure. What could be more fearful than the thought of not existing?
Absolute nothingness; this is the thought which plagues our culture, spurring it on to greater relativism, and causing it to flee from honest philosophy. Our culture, glorying in its achievements, is like the fictional king Ozymandias, from Shelley’s famous poem:
“…And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away”
And if we are honest, we must realize such is the fate of all human works, and such will be the fate of our own pride, in the grand scope of space and time. This is the mighty power of death over fallen man.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” – John 3:16
In the death and resurrection of Christ, death takes on a whole new meaning. Where once it was a black and ominous portal, beyond which lay nothing for us, it is now the doorway to life. Where once it was that which we hated and could not avoid, it is now the hope, salvation, and goal of life. Such is the transforming power of God’s grace, which tramples death.
This is why the cross of Christ, once the most feared symbol of death in the ancient world, now has the place of honour as the symbol of our Lord’s victory. “In this sign, thou shalt conquer,” just as Jesus Christ conquered in it.
The Transformation of Suffering
Blessed Pope John Paul II described Holy Scripture as “a great book about suffering,” and thus the whole of salvation history is implied to be a story of suffering. When we look at the Old Testament we can see many examples of this, most prominent of which is probably the story of Job, the innocent servant of God who suffered greatly.
One of the keys to understanding scripture is always considering the whole story when looking at a part. The description of suffering in the Book of Job was ground-breaking at the time, but is incomplete without the definitive revelation of Jesus Christ. Job rejects that all suffering is the direct result of his sins, but leaves the question of the ultimate meaning of suffering open.
So what changed in the New Testament? Suffering was turned on its head by the cross of Christ.
Seeing this quote, years ago, my first reaction was, really? Of all the things we hate and want to rid ourselves of, especially in modern culture, suffering tops the list. And the angels would wish to suffer like us? It doesn’t seem to make any sense on the surface. But the great Sister Faustina is not alone in saying these things. St. Padre Pio says:
“The life of a Christian is nothing but a perpetual struggle against self; there is no flowering of the soul to the beauty of its perfection except at the price of pain.”
And St. Therese of Liseux:
“Far from complaining to Our Lord of the cross which He sends us, I cannot fathom the infinite love which has led Him to treat us this way…What a favor from Jesus, and how He must love us to send us so great a sorrow! Eternity will not be long enough to bless Him for it.”
This is one of the ways in which the message of the cross appears foolish to the world, yet is in truth the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18). He has made suffering fruitful, so that no Christian need ever suffer in vain, but that we gain more through our suffering than through our triumphs and accomplishments in life. The ultimate meaning of suffering is appropriately summed up best in Holy Scripture.
“I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.” – Colossians 1:24
This is why we as Christians have the freedom to offer our sufferings to Christ, uniting them with his cross. It is in this sense a great privilege to be able to suffer for others, and this applies both to us Christians as individuals, and to the Church herself.
“Jesus was suddenly standing before me, stripped of His clothes, His body completely covered with wounds, His eyes flooded with tears and blood, His face disfigured and covered with spittle. The Lord then said to me, “The bride must resemble her Betrothed.” I understood these words to the very depth. There is no room for doubt here. My likeness to Jesus must be through suffering and humility.” – St. Faustina
Suffering and humility were indeed the hallmarks of the life of Christ, and of all the saints. So as we attempt to go about our lives as Christians, with this radical understanding of suffering and death, we should always keep before us the scriptural words of St. Paul.
“I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship.” – Romans 12
Posted on June 30, 2012, in Catholic and tagged crucifixion, death, divine purpose, life, ozymandias, passion of christ, redemptive suffering, Relativism, shelley, st faustina, st margaret mary, st thomas aquinas, suffering. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.