The Passion
 of Christ

The Cross Teaches Obedience in Suffering

"If doing well you suffer patiently, that is thankworthy before God. For unto this you are called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps" (1 Pet. ii, 20 f.).

THIS morning we jointly performed the liturgy of Good Friday. For the believing, praying soul it is ever a new experience, this aged, venerable liturgy, with its stirring ceremonies and chants, its intense sadness and plaintive mourning, which sanctifies all other mourning, and with its pain, so full of consolation.

A particularly impressive part of this liturgy is the unveiling and adoration of the Cross. Ever since Passion Sunday the image of the Crucified Redeemer has been kept covered and concealed from view. Today the priest removes the veil, first a section, then half, then wholly, chanting each time: "Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the Saviour of the world!" The choir responds: "Venite adoremus," and all bend the knee and worship the Cross and Him Who was crucified thereon. Throughout the year we frequently pass the Cross heedlessly and thoughtlessly; today, by this ceremony, the Church wishes to fasten the eyes and the hearts of her children in reverence, faith, and love on the Cross.
Beloved, the priest preaching on Good Friday has indeed no other task than to unveil the Cross, to remove from it, or rather from the eyes and hearts of the people, the veils and their fastenings, to set forth Christ, as though crucified among us, as the Apostle has it (Gal. iii, 1), and thus to reveal the secrets of the Cross.
We shall make no attempt to penetrate to the lowest depths of these mysteries. We shall not go beyond what is evident, what no man can ignore because it is inscribed in Blood and Wounds and is carved into the Body of the Crucified Saviour. I mean the mystery of suffering. In days of intense suffering let us raise our eyes to the Saviour on the Cross as to the Man of Sorrows (Is. liii, 3), as to the exemplar and teacher of suffering mankind. St. Peter shall introduce us to this mystery of suffering. "If doing well you suffer patiently," he writes in his First Epistle, "that is thankworthy before God. For unto this you are called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps."

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To speak of suffering is always timely. In the last analysis, every period of time is a period of suffering, and there has been no century, no decade, in which the peoples of earth did not chant the ancient hymn of woe. The past years have been years of intense suffering to many nations. Even today, large numbers of people in all walks of life are still laboring under the terrible after-effects of war; and all the while countless human beings are in grave distress from numerous visitations to which we are prey.

. . . When suffering comes, when trials and tribulations fall upon us as thickly as hailstones, we must not lose self-control, must not permit ourselves to go to pieces, nor must we dodge misfortunes in cowardly fashion; not try to escape; nor yet frivolously to laugh them off. That will lead to no good, but will rather make things worse and more difficult to bear. No! To face misfortune courageously by declaring: "God's will be done because it is God's will,"---that is to suffer like a Christian; it arms one with Christ's Own power to bear suffering and assures victory. if you suffer thus obediently and patiently, it is a grace from God, says the Apostle.

True, it is not an easy matter to accept suffering humbly, to overcome inward resistance by obedience when one's whole nature revolts against it; One can learn to do so only in the rigorous discipline, the stern school of the cross. For this reason the Saviour bequeathed to us from the Cross a special aid in suffering, a mother's aid, by giving us His mother as our mother. She is the mater dolorosa, the Mother of Sorrows, whose sufferings are inseparably united with the Passion of the Saviour; she shared all His pain and torture, but she was at one with Him also in patience and obedience. So did God love the world that He gave His Own Son for its redemption. And so did the Son love the Father and the world that He gave His Own life. MOTHER OF SORROWSAnd so did Mary love God and mankind, that she sacrificed her Son for the salvation of the world. If it is God's will, it is my will also, such was her heroic obedience, the content of her patience that sustained her under the Cross and makes her, for all future times, Christendom's Mother of Sorrows, the refuge of all who suffer and are sad. Let us learn from her how to suffer; let us ask her to impart to us obedience and patience in suffering. There is yet another lesson we should learn from the Cross: to sanctify and transfigure suffering by prayer. The incense of prayer rose up constantly from the Cross. The suffering Saviour begins and ends His Passion with a loud prayer. "With a strong cry and tears," the Apostle writes, "offering up prayers and supplications to Him that was able to save Him from death," He "was heard for His reverence" (Hebr. v, 7). His prayer was heard: it brought Him strength for the consummation of His sacrifice.

While the mob rages about the Cross; while dismal night enshrouds all and even seals the lips of the boldest revilers; while the hours are painfully drawn out like centuries of torture and the Blood seeps drop by drop from the Wounds---during all this time the Saviour continues in prayer; and even when the climax of suffering is reached in the terrible sense of being forsaken by God, He complains to God and remains united with Him in prayer. One might call Him Crucified Prayer as He hangs there, for He is all a prayer---witness the outstretched arms, the eyes raised to Heaven, the parched lips, the gaping Wounds, the dripping Blood, the head drooping in death. And the Sorrowful Mother is united with Him in prayer as in suffering. During those hours she too was all grief and prayer. Her praying was fused with His and rose with it to Heaven. This prayer imparts to her a priestly dignity and consecrates her as the Queen of Martyrs.

From Him Who was crucified and from the Mother of Sorrows standing under the Cross the Apostles and Martyrs and the Christians of all ages have learned that when in sorrow and pain, men should always pray; that suffering and prayer go together. St. Paul reminds the Romans: "In tribulation be patient, instant in prayer" (xii, 12), while St. James writes: "If any of you be sad, let him pray" (v, 13). We should heed this advice in times of affliction. Do you not think things would be better if people whined and lamented less, scolded and blasphemed less, ranted and quarreled less, but prayed more? We at least shall make it our duty to direct into all our sufferings the strength, the blessing, the consolation of prayer.

The union of suffering and prayer leads to a still higher and more valuable union, that of grief and love. Both are united and fused in the most perfect manner in the Passion of Christ. In the bloody deeds of violence composing the Passion human might and human rage seem to triumph, and the Saviour appears as the helpless, defenseless victim of coercion. In truth, however, it all happens by His free choice, the free consent of His love. He discloses this fact in the beginning of His Passion on Mount Olivet. As yet no executioner is present and no Cross; there are no thorns and no scourges, and still His Blood flows, veils His Body in a crimson mantle, and trickles in heavy drops to the ground. Violence from without has not shed this Blood; it is poured forth solely by the inner impulse of His love, which drives the Blood out of his arteries and veins.

With the same free choice and love He accepts all the tortures and pangs His enemies prepare for Him: and with the same willingness and love He goes to His death. It was not His enemies who took His life, nor yet Death, but solely love. He died because He willed to die, and when He willed to die. He revealed this and emphasized it, while He still taught, in the parable of the Good Shepherd: "No one taketh My life away from Me; but I lay it down of Myself, and I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again" (Jn. x, 18). Love ordains Him for the Passion on Mount Olivet. On the Cross, love has the first word and sings her chant: . . ." Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!" Love radiates from His Wounds; love offers
His life as a holocaust; love transfigures the image of torture on the Cross and imparts to it powers of attraction that retain their full compelling force throughout the centuries.

And this love, stronger than death, burning in the Heart of the Crucified Saviour, strikes a spark in that of His Mother at the foot of the Cross and causes grief and love to become as one in her heart also. Love for her Son enkindles in her heart love for the poor sinners for whom He is suffering and dying; and thus she becomes the refuge of sinners, the consoler of the afflicted, the mother of the dying.

Now this is the last, unmistakable test of whether we suffer with Christ. If love---love of God and love for our neighbor-----enters into a compact with our suffering; if piety and charity draw nourishment from our tribulations; if suffering arouses sympathy with others; if we, with the affliction of our suffering, do not permit ourselves to become a burden to others, but rather allow them to share in the blessings of our trials---then we are at one with Christ in the fellowship of His sufferings (Phil. iii, 10); then we are true children of the Mother of Sorrows.

But woe to us if grief and distress render our hearts, not softer, more tender, more charitable, but hard and cold and barren of love, unfeeling towards the needs of others! That is not suffering in the spirit of Christ. In such wise the impenitent thief, Satan, and the damned in Hell suffer; and such suffering converts their life together into a hell.

Let us have no communion with the devil and his ilk. Let us join those souls whose love keeps pace with increasing need; who enrich themselves out of the impoverishment of their fellowmen, it is true, but do so by good deeds and merit; who follow the exhortation of the Apostle: "If doing well you suffer patiently, that is thankworthy before God. For unto this you are called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow His steps" (1 Pet. ii, 21).

O Crucified Saviour, we will suffer with Thee and learn love and draw love from Thy suffering and ours. O Sorrowful Mother of God, teach us, in the school presided over by the Cross, the true solution of the mystery of suffering, which is also the mystery of our tribulations. Obtain for us the grace to suffer obediently as Thou didst, to suffer in love, as  Thou didst, and to pray as we suffer, according to thy august example. Amen.

A Sheaf of Sermons Selected from the Writings of
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1929

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