Mark Pickup

March 26, 2012

There is a short passage about Jesus in the Book of Hebrews that I love: "In the days when he was in the flesh, he offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him" (Hebrews 5.7-9).

It's the Second Reading for the Mass for March 25, the Fifth Sunday of Lent.

Loud cries and tears of our Lord echoed through the night air at the Garden of Gethsemane as he prayed to the one who could save him from death. "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will" (Mark 14.35-36).

Christ's sweat was as blood as he earnestly prayed and contemplated his pending passion, crucifixion and being forsaken by God for our sakes as he would hang dying on a cross. The one who could save Jesus from death did not save Jesus from death but overcame death in Christ's resurrection.

Christ's perfect offering at Calvary gave the path of reconciliation for sinful humanity back to God. It is there for all people who believe in him and obey his commandments.

Christ's sacrifice on the cross was, and remains, a perfect offering; it fulfilled the law. It put aside the requirement of the old Mosaic covenant by which the blood of lambs, goats and bulls were offered to God by a Levitical priest in atonement for the sins of the people.

I find great hope in the obedience Christ learned from suffering. Perhaps my suffering can teach me obedience to Christ. For me to accept suffering is to relinquish self-will and place ownership of my pain into Christ's scarred hands.

This is the beginning of spiritual contentment regardless of my human circumstances. For me to accept suffering requires that I understand nothing in my life escapes God's will and desire for my ultimate good. I must accept the mystery that my pain is achieving perfection in Christ that can only be fully realized in eternity. It is part of the weight of glory.

Jesus contemplated his impending passion in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jesus contemplated his impending passion in the Garden of Gethsemane.

St. Paul put it this way: "Therefore, we are not discouraged; rather, although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison" (2 Corinthians 4.16-17).

Eternal results

My problems may seem insurmountable but they are small compared to their eternal results. Through my chronic illness and pain, I believe that I am being transformed to be more like Christ and this belief gives meaning and context to my suffering.

The Church teaches exactly what I am slowly beginning to experience: "By his passion and death on the cross Christ has given a new meaning to suffering: it can henceforth configure us to him and unite us with his redemptive Passion" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1505).

It is a work in progress for me and I have a long way to go to be configured to him before I can finally rest.

Throughout the Gospels we read that Christ had mercy with those who suffered or had disabilities. The sick tried to touch Jesus. Throughout the centuries Christ has touched the sick through the sacraments.

Anointing of the Sick with blessed oil is one sacrament and is intended to strengthen the faithful being tested by illness. Through the Sacrament of the Sick, appeals to the Lord are made for recovery of the afflicted person - if it is conducive to his salvation.

Many people with advanced states of disease are more concerned about healing of our souls than physical deliverance. The sacrament of Anointing of the Sick allows us to be more closely united to Christ's redemptive Passion.

And to be nearer our Lord deepens our spiritual contentment regardless of physical circumstances.