I don’t know about you, but some of us found the dramatic reading of the Passion Story from St. Mark’s Gospel last Sunday, not only moving but also quite harrowing. We have been through six weeks of Lent and it may have left some of us feeling a bit scarred or traumatised by it all. Recently I read a reflection by Gerard W. Hughes from his book ‘Oh God, Why?’ on the subject of the Pasion and suffering which I think puts it into a wider perspective. I would like to read that passage to you.
“Frequently we hear ‘The Cross lies at the heart of Christian life’ and ‘Unless we enter into the Passion and death of Christ, we cannot share in his resurrection.’ The phrases are true, but in what sense is this Good News to any except masochists?
Some writers of saints’ lives can leave the reader with the impression that the Christian journey is a kind of ‘sufferathon’, the person who suffers most winning the Olympic gold. We are still afflicted with this false belief, so that we can feel bad about feeling good, for we are told that suffering is a sign of God’s favour.
Some theologies of the Cross do not help, suggesting a God who can only be appeased by the shedding of blood, but who is ready to accept the blood of his Son in place of the blood of us all. This can leave us very grateful to Jesus, but less keen on his heavenly Father!
According to these beliefs, the most effective service of God would consist in our imposing the maximum suffering on ourselves and on others. Suffering, in itself is an evil and to be avoided. While it is true that some people are ennobled by suffering, the majority are diminished or destroyed by it. God’s will for us, as Scripture frequently says, is life, not destruction and death.
Jesus did not will suffering, he prayed to escape from it. ‘Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by’. He declared himself to be the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophesy. ‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind sight, to set the downtrodden free.’
It was because Jesus lived out this prophecy that he suffered, for he threatened those whose power, prosperity and security depended on keeping the poor in their poverty and the downtrodden in oppression. If we let Christ be Christ in us, oppose injustice and speak the truth in love, we shall also suffer at the hands of those whose power we threaten, whether in Church or State.
This is to share in the Passion of Christ. To keep quiet in the face of injustice and oppression, doing nothing to oppose it, may be painful but it is also a refusal to enter into the Passion of Christ. Much of our suffering has nothing to do with the Cross of Christ, for it is not pain incurred through following him, but the pain of our own bruised ego when our own kingdom is threatened by criticism, loss of status, or financial loss. But if we can let God into this pain, show it to him, acknowledge its origin in our own egoism, pray to be delivered from our own false securities then the pain can become curative, leading us to freedom, from our false attachments and to the knowledge that he really is our rock, our refuge and our strength, and that we have no other.
Perhaps instead of trying to enter into the Passion of Christ, we should ask Christ to enter into our suffering, whether it is the suffering we endure through trying to follow him, or the pain we feel when our own kingdom is threatened. It is in our own pain that we can find him present and beckoning.”
There is an ancient prayer on the Passion, called Anima Christi, meaning “Soul of Christ”. Here is a translation of it from the Latin:
May thy mind and heart be mine,
Thy body and blood heal mine,
Thy blood act on me like wine.
May the water from thy side cleanse me.
In thy goodness hear me.
Let thy wounds enfold me,
So that I become inseparable from thee.
From all that is evil protect me,
In my life may I always hear thee;
In death may I see thee invite me
To be one with all creation
In praise of thee and adoration.