Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 29, 2007
God willingly takes on our suffering through his son
A father climbs into oxygen tent to be close to his child
My Glass is Half Full
By MARK PICKUP
I saw a man at a hospital visiting his son of about two years of age who was suffering from some sort of respiratory ailment. The small child sat wheezing inside a plastic tent. The father was so agonized to see his tiny son in distress that he had crawled inside the tent and was cradling the child.
I suspect it was against hospital policy but to me the scene was touching. When I passed the room again, the father was sitting at the bedside, outside the tent, in silent vigil. His child slept with laboured breathing in the mist tent. Had nurses ordered the father out?
The look on the man's face spoke volumes: I'm sure he would have traded places with his son in a heartbeat and taken the child's grief on to himself - if that was possible.
To me the imagery was rather analogous to Christ's response to hurting humanity. We are sick - steeped in sin and cut off from our heavenly Father.
The analogy quickly breaks down because, unlike the father of the small child in the hospital room, it was possible for Christ to suffer in our place to reunite us to the Father. Not only did Christ suffer in our place, he willingly submitted to the most ignominious death on a cross to draw us back to the Father.
St. Basil the Great (c. 330-379) said about this: "Nor was he content merely to summon us back from death to life; he also bestowed on us the dignity of his own divine nature and prepared for us a place of eternal rest where there will be joy so intense as to surpass all human imagination."
What wondrous love!
What does Christ ask in return for such a great sacrifice and love? He only asks for our love. That is all the payment he desires.
There is a divine principle of love at play here that cuts close to the heart of God. The Creator of man became one of the created. Christ who was one with God before time took on our nature at a given point in time to become a man in order to change our nature to become more like him in accordance with his image than was endowed upon each of us at our conception. Christ had to be brought low for our sakes that we might be raised up.
Do not be surprised by the apparent contradictions or contrasts. Spiritual truths closest to the heart of God often involve what appears like contradictions to the human mind.
In life there is death; in death we find life. Those who are first here on earth will be last in the kingdom of God. So too, many people who are last now will be first then. In our own strength we find weakness, but in our weakness God becomes strong. Only in utter surrender to Christ can we find true liberation.
There could not have been a Calvary without a Bethlehem. Christ could not have carried his cross without first laying in a manger. We could not have life in him without sharing in his death. The Incarnation was a restorative, redemptive work.
We read in the Scriptures, "The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him" (Romans 8:16-17).
Just as we are invited to enter into his suffering, he enters our suffering and gives it meaning. This is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church calls "union with the passion of Christ" (no. 1521). It is a gift that the sufferer is allowed to unite his suffering Christ's passion.
Configured to Christ's passion
The Catechism says, "In a certain way he (the sufferer) is consecrated to bear fruit by configuration to the Saviour's redemptive passion." His suffering "acquires a new meaning; it becomes a participation in the saving work of Jesus."
Human suffering can draw us nearer to the Redeemer.
The father I mentioned who climbed into the oxygen tent to comfort his tiny, wheezing son wanted to identify with the child's distress. He undoubtedly began to detect their eternal soul-bond deepening, as his son cried, "Daddy!"
In a much greater way, our heavenly Father can be found in midst of our distress, through Jesus Christ, comforting and identifying with our agonies.
Suffering can take on meaning as our eternal soul-bond with Christ deepens. We, his children, look up and cry, "Abba, Father!"
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