By Bishop Joseph R. Kopacz, D.D.
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Palm Sunday’s Passion Narrative by St. Matthew was the bridge that led the church this year through suffering and death into the light of Christ’s resurrection. This can bring us abundant peace and comfort, yet we do not shed the chains of suffering as if the resurrection covers it over with a blanket of devotion.
The great mystery of our faith is uniquely contained in the Lord’s final words before dying on the Cross in Matthew and Mark’s Gospels. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” Is this a cry of despair from the Lord, or an act of profound trust and love arising from the throes of suffering? In the face of unspeakable suffering that engulfs our world the Christian is impelled to walk the narrow road, and wrestle with the mysteries of suffering and evil in the light of the resurrection.
Chiara Lubich offers her deepest desire as a disciple of the Lord. “I wish to bear witness before the world that Jesus forsaken has filled every void, illuminated every darkness, accompanied every solitude, annulled every suffering, cancelled every sin.”
Mark, along with St. Matthew leave the world hanging with the Lord’s final words of abandonment that are actually the opening lines of Psalm 21. In the first half of the psalm, we discover that the jaws of suffering can inflict unrelenting agony. But the believer is directed to persevere and to know that God is love and does not abandon his creation.
This is evident in the closing verses from which the following is taken. “For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the tormented, but has heard when they cried out … From you comes my praise in the great congregation. Those who seek God shall praise the Lord! May your hearts live forever! Our posterity shall serve God; the faithful shall tell of the Lord to the coming generations and proclaim God’s deliverance to a people yet unborn.” Although suffering is ever at hand, in the power of the resurrection abandonment is not the last word. Rather, it is the love of God that is as strong as death because Christ is risen!
Pope Francis, for the 400th anniversary of the death of Francis de Sales quoted from the great saint’s masterpiece, A Treatise on the Love of God in his pastoral letter, Totum amoris est (All is Love).
“In Holy Church, everything pertains to love, lives in love, is done for love and comes from love. The source of this love that attracts the heart is the life of Jesus Christ. ‘Nothing sways the human heart as much as love, and this is most evident in the fact that’ Jesus Christ died for us; he gave us life through his death. We live only because he died, and died for us, and in us.”
For this reason, St. Francis de Sales could eloquently describe Calvary as “the mountain of love.” For there and there alone, do we come to realize that “it is not possible to have life without love, or love without the death of the Redeemer. Except there, everything is either eternal death or eternal love, and the whole of Christian wisdom consists in knowing how to choose well between them.”
Chiara Lubich, the founder of the Focolare Movement that is anchored in the love of Jesus crucified and risen, writes gracefully on the passion of Jesus as the fountain of love. Just like Jesus, who through his suffering gave humanity joy here in earth and lasting joy in the next life, we too can acquire joy by accepting the various kinds of anguish we experience for ourselves and for others.
“Love impelled him to the Cross, considered foolishness by many, but this foolishness has saved humanity and has formed the saints. Suffering teaches what you cannot learn by any other means. It teaches with the greatest authority. It is the teacher of wisdom. Therefore, let’s not be afraid if we learn that suffering awaits us.”
The Father, Jesus, Mary, us. The Father permitted that Jesus feel forsaken by him, for us. Jesus accepted being forsaken by the Father, and deprived himself of his mother, for us. Mary shared the forsakenness of Jesus and accepted being deprived of her Son, for us. We, therefore, have been put in first place. It is love that does such crazy things…
Alleluia, Christ is risen! Happy Easter!