Christ’s Glorious Suffering

The Catholic faith contains within itself several mysterious paradoxes. For example: the King of Kings and Lord of Lords is born in poverty and born of a virgin. The apostles, charged with the spreading of the Faith, are mostly unsophisticated men.

This week's Gospel passage contains another: after Judas leaves the upper room to betray our Lord, Jesus reveals that it is now that his glorification is about to occur. For our Lord, glorification is understood in terms of His passion, death and resurrection. While it's very easy to understand how the resurrection is glorious, it's more difficult to see how His passion and death constitute a part of Christ's glory as well. Our society does not associate suffering with glory. And yet, Catholics believe it was precisely Jesus' suffering and death for our sins that was the greatest work He ever accomplished for us.

Our instinctual disdain for suffering is sometimes expressed in modern religious art. In some sanctuaries, you will find what are commonly known as "resurrecifixes." These are images of the resurrected Christ emerging from a cross. And yet, the liturgical law of the Church mandates that sanctuaries must contain a true crucifix that shows the five wounds of the passion.

By contrast, the "resurrecifix" expresses a desire to bypass the suffering and death aspect of Christ's glory. And yet, we know that this does not match the reality of our lives. The reality of our lives involves suffering, trial and hardship. This is precisely why the Church requires us to have a crucifix in the sanctuary – it connects our lives and the sufferings we endure to the suffering of Jesus. In order to experience the joy of Easter Sunday, we must endure Good Friday. In fact, the significance and meaning of Easter Sunday can only be understood in light of the events of Good Friday. The two events reveal that as evil and dark as Good Friday was, it could not vanquish our Savior in the ultimate sense. His victory on Easter Sunday was a victory over suffering and death itself. The devil gave Christ his best shot and our Lord conquered and won.

 To suffer graciously is to share in His glory. Those who suffer with grace and hope teach us to become poor in spirit – persons totally dependent upon God. They provide for us opportunities for charity and show us the depths of humility. Those who suffer also teach us the possibility of remaining joyful in the face of trials. Most persons associate joy merely with happiness or giddiness. True Christian joy, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, involves much more – it is the desire for God and/or to delight in the things of God. So, it is quite possible to be joyful in one's suffering, in spite of the absence of giddiness.

In Christ, suffering reveals to us the depth of His love. He embraced His suffering joyfully, even though there was nothing emotionally happy about the moment. Our blessed Lord invites us down the same path – to understand with greater clarity that our suffering can be an intimate participation in the glory of His suffering and death, which led to our hope – the resurrection.

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