Cross Teaches Obedience in Suffering
"If doing well you suffer patiently, that is
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
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
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. And
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
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
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!"
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
and to pray as we suffer, according to thy august example. Amen.
A Sheaf of Sermons Selected from the Writings of
RT. REV. PAUL WILHELM V. KEPPLER
LATE BISHOP OF ROTTENBURG
B. HERDER BOOK CO.
Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1929