Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday — these days are the pinnacle of the church’s liturgical year, the commemoration of the most significant events in human history: the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.
There is so much one could say about these any of these days. So I will limit myself to one day.
In Christ’s passion, venerated on Good Friday, the church draws us into the mystery of suffering. We can try to limit suffering, to fight against it, but it will never completely go away. It is not by sidestepping or fleeing from suffering that we find true joy, but rather when we accept it, grow through it and find meaning in it.
Suffering comes in part from the fact that we do not live forever. It also comes from sin, which continues to accumulate in our world. As Christians, we must do what we can to reduce suffering, especially the suffering of the innocent. We must help people who suffer. This is an obligation for everyone of good will.
But why do we suffer? This question rises in the hearts of more and more modern people. There are no easy answers. Suffering is a mystery, but not the Sherlock Holmes mystery where we do not know who committed the crime. Holmes’ mystery has a bottom. It is eventually solved.
The suffering we experience is a mystery so vast that, to borrow a saying from one of the evangelists, the “world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (cf. Jn 21:25). However, the vastness of the mystery must not preclude us from drawing some conclusions.
When someone suffers it has the power to draw out good in another person. Imagine someone in a car accident, bleeding profusely. Suddenly, a total stranger of good will runs to the person and begins helping him. The suffering person in the car has unknowingly unleashed love in the world. The suffering allowed a stranger to love her neighbor.
This little illustration helps us to see a meaningful link between love and suffering. Would that stranger have achieved that level of love had the car accident never happened? Intense moments of suffering present opportunities to love deeply. So one can conclude that suffering exists in the world to unleash love.
This happens interiorly through a certain sensitivity of the heart, and exteriorly through acts of charity. And if these happen on a grand scale, there is a Catholic ethos, which St. John Paul II called “a civilization of love.” If you want to deepen your appreciation for the meaning of suffering, if you want to read something that will change your life, read this letter written by the saintly pope.
God did not respond to the question of the meaning of suffering in an intellectual way. He responded by suffering and that is at the heart of Good Friday.
I would like to conclude with a practical application of these ideas. When I was growing up, we were encouraged to “offer it up.” Whatever little daily hardships we encountered, we offered it up. This may have gone overboard at times. There is need for balance here, but in this common practice Christians made the connection between their little sufferings and the great redemptive passion of Christ. They made the connection between love and suffering. Maybe we should revive this practice in our day, on this Good Friday.
Father Christopher C. Moriconi is a priest of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia pursuing a Licentiate in Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome.
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