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On my bed I remember you;
I think of you through the watches of the night.
Because you are my help,
I sing in the shadow of your wings.
Holy Week begins in a couple of days. Throughout this next week, if we slow down enough to notice it, we will come face to face with the vivid reality of suffering. This seemingly senseless aspect of our lives is something we try, hard as we may, to escape as much as we can.
But in the contemplation of Holy Week, we are forced to come to grips with this reality that never seems too far away, that never seems to go away. For as much as we feel society to have progressed in technology, in medicine, in knowledge, in mastery of nature, yet this very grim presence constantly haunts our lives, and can easily strip the meaning from the rest of it.
In Holy Week we find that even God must suffer. We all face this inescapable truth- to be human is to suffer. We cannot escape it, we cannot shake it off. As Pope Benedict says in his encyclical “Saved In Hope”,
Indeed, we must do all we can to overcome suffering, but to banish it from the world altogether is not in our power. This is simply because we are unable to shake off our finitude and because none of us is capable of eliminating the power of evil, of sin which, as we plainly see, is a constant source of suffering.
In the face of so much suffering, in the reality of even the Son of God sharing the same lot as the rest of us, how are we to find hope? Perhaps it is really all just meaningless, senseless, purposeless.
However, Holy Week reminds us that suffering is not meaningless. In fact, it is from this participation in our suffering that God sheds hope abroad into the world. As was mentioned, we cannot eliminate suffering. as Pope Benedict says:
Only God is able to do this: only a God who personally enters history by making himself man and suffering within history. We know that this God exists, and hence that this power to “take away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29) is present in the world. Through faith in the existence of this power, hope for the world’s healing has emerged in history.
Through God’s uniting of Himself with humanity, God united to Himself our suffering. God was not content that our suffering should remain ours and ours alone- God shared in our suffering by suffering with us. It is in the midst of this sharing of suffering that love and hope are born. Pope Benedict says:
Indeed, to accept the “other” who suffers, means that I take up his suffering in such a way that it becomes mine also. Because it has now become a shared suffering, though, in which another person is present, this suffering is penetrated by the light of love.
When we try to comfort those who are suffering, we offer them consolation. In English this is at best the kind words we can offer those in pain, and at worst the token words we offer out a sense of obligation. But ‘consolation’ comes from the Latin “con-solatio”. Literally, it means ‘not alone.’ Consolation is meant to go beyond words and platitudes and wishes for hope and health and better days- consolation is ‘being with’ the one who suffers. The one who is alone, who suffers alone, ceases to be alone, ceases to suffer alone. Simeon in the Gospel was waiting and hoping for the ‘consolation of Israel’. That consolation came through none other than Immanuel- “God with Us.”
To love thus becomes to suffer and to suffer with others. Love must deal a painful death blow to the rights and intentions that belong to ‘I’. In that death of self is opened up the capacity to love others.
In this suffering alongside others, in this consolation is hope born. But it is still hope- it is not yet a reality. We still face the pain of our often bitter lives and the final sting of death that will befall us all.
The glory of Holy Week is that it ends not in suffering, but in a resurrection. It is on this event that the Christian hope is founded- the hope that suffering is not the end, that death does not have the final say and that somehow all of this means something. The God who created all things became like us to suffer with us and for us. In the Incarnation and the Passion and the Resurrection is wrapped up all of human history- all of our sins, all of our injustices, all of our suffering. In it all God demonstrated that Love makes suffering worthwhile- in the light of this grand exhibition we are empowered to, like God did for us, give the gift of ourselves to others. In this gift of self is an anticipation and deposit of the hope that we have- that Love is actually greater than suffering, and that there is meaning even in the senselessness of suffering. And since love comes from the One who is Love, we can have hope in its endurance beyond the fragmented years of our pain.
In the resurrection is the great hope of the Christian faith realized. Love is worth the pain we endure, and guarantees through faith the day when we will see the world set aright, and where Love will rule all.
So may we offer others consolation through not only our words, but also our presence.
May we remember that God became like us to suffer with us.
And may we hope in the resurrection, and believe that God is greater than our suffering.