Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Blog # 236 Suffering - 4
Blog # 236 Suffering - 4 Colossians 1: 24 has this to say: "Even now I find my joy in the suffering I endure for you. In my own flesh I fill up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of His Body, the Church." I do not think St. Paul's valuable insight into the identity and function of suffering is the conscious experience of many. The part of it that may have to be clarified in order to help it become more commonly applied and fruitful in our daily Christian awareness and experience of suffering in a new light is his reference to "what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ". On first reading, we might tend to ask : "What could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ? With an emphasis upon the divinity of Christ as the Eternal Word of God nothing could be seen as lacking. The Word of God, infinite and one with the Father and the Spirit, is infinite in perfection with them. However, focusing upon the humanity of Christ, the person of Jesus is equal to us in all but sin. Our limited human capacities relating to time talent and energy were experienced by Jesus in a similar human way as they are experienced by us. From time to time in obedience to the Father Jesus would act and speak as God but even here He was limited by His human capacities. Jesus was never less than the Father was calling Him to be. We could be the same. The human limitations both in the historical life of Jesus on earth and in us are rightly identified as limits but not as a lack in the sense of something sinful or contrary to obedience to the Father. Neither Jesus nor we are ever expected to give more than we possess. When Paul wrote the words of the text we are considering Jesus had already left the earth in the glory of His Resurrection and Ascension. The fact of a lack in the sufferings of Christ in Colossians is given in the present tense. We are seeking its meaning in the experience of Paul thirty or more years after the Ascension of Jesus and for us two thousand years later today and for the Catholics coming after us all the way to the end. Here is how I put it together. A key element in understanding Paul's insight is our faith in the identity of Jesus as the sole Savior of the world, of all of Creation and of all people. The primary work or means of accomplishing salvation was the unconditional total love of Jesus on Calvary. There God in the flesh of Jesus suffered, was crucified, and died on our behalf . Light shone upon darkness and by the Father's will the darkness was overcome. We can detect in the tragedy and evil of the terrible suffering of it a call from the Father for us to realize the evil of sin, to be strengthened in our resolve and Baptismal promise to avoid sin and whatever would tempt us to sin, as well as the goodness of God in revealing through the suffering of Jesus the Lamb of God the human root of the forgiveness of our sins. All of this was true during the time Jesus lived on earth. But after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension Jesus is free of the limits His humanity placed upon Him while He walked on earth as one of us. Now there are no limits of time for Him, in His risen flesh He lacks the ability to suffer; He cannot die. Yet history continues and sin continues to be real. I could possibly imagine the Father and Jesus asking us to suffer in His place as it were, vicariously, as Jesus did in history, now in us in our suffering borne for the salvation of sinners in Jesus' name today. This in His divine mercy the Father does, but in a better way, beyond our imagination. A basic theological principle proclaims that God will not call anyone to a specified task without providing the means necessary for performing that task. We see this applied in the identity or task given to St. Joseph to head the Holy Family, or the identity given Mary to be the mother of the Messiah. So in the present situation we are considering. Through Baptism a person is raised to a new supernatural relationship with God. We become a new creation, sharing the life and love of Jesus as a branch shares the life of a vine to which it is attached and the life of which it shares. Jesus lives in us, calling and enabling us to sanctify our thoughts words and actions in His love. Applied to our sufferings this means that in our moment of history here on earth we who suffer can fill up in our own flesh what would be fitting reparation for sin on the part of Jesus, but impossible without us for Jesus to experience in His resurrected glory. I think we can see in this a meaning of Paul's statement of "filling up" in our flesh what is lacking in the sufferings of Jesus. No wonder the experience brought Paul joy! What about the phrase : "for the sake of His body, the Church ?. " I see two meanings or applications of Paul's words. The first is to see here a basis and invitation to praise and thank the Father for the special grace given the Church to share the redeeming suffering of Jesus, and the joy that can be ours in place of the alternative of experiencing suffering in some other less meaningful merely natural human way. Then in the wake of the recent tragic scandal of the clergy abuse of children, with the Church losing respect and esteem among many, I have experienced blessings in my priestly ministry won as I feel, by people who have experienced suffering consciously aware of their suffering being experienced in union with Jesus for this very purpose, 'for the sake of' the Church'. I have not lost confidence in the Church. I love the Church as the living Body of Christ today.