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March 21, 2016

The cross is not only the toughest aspect of the Christian faith to accept, but also the most important. North American Christians, living in the most affluent time in history, may want to downplay the cross and hurry on to the resurrection. With the resurrection, those uncomfortable nails are no longer driven through the hands and feet, to say nothing of having to endure that scratchy crown of thorns. With the resurrection, one might even enjoy a margarita on the beach, if not a piece of fish.

However, that's not how it works. The cross is the point. St. Paul had to drive the message home with the Corinthians who were a little too much like us. "The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God," he wrote (1 Corinthians 1.18).

The Corinthians created massive problems in their Church because of their failure to see the centrality of the cross. Sexual immorality, taking disputes to pagan courts, turning spiritual gifts into a game of one-upmanship and letting some people go hungry during the Lord's Supper while others ate plenty were just some of the fallout from ignoring the cross.

A Church with no cross is a Church with no love or unity. Everyone plays for his or her self.

St. John Paul II both lived the Gospel of redemptive suffering and taught it. He understood that not only did Christ redeem us by the cross, but that human suffering is also redemptive. Faith enables us to find in our own suffering "the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ," he wrote in 1984 (On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering, 22).

Like the Church, suffering is both divine and human. "It is something good, before which the Church bows down in reverence with all the depth of her faith in the redemption" (n.24).

To call suffering good is a shocking statement, especially in a society ready to legalize euthanasia because it sees the evil of suffering, but not its redemptive power. What is good is comfort, pleasure and the ability to accomplish great things. If comfort, pleasure and accomplishment are no longer possible, why would one want to live?

Only eyes of faith can see something good in suffering. Such faith requires a belief that the highest values lay beyond what one can see and touch, that the pain of the cross is overcome in the glory of the resurrection. It requires a belief that sacrificial love - placing the needs of others above one's own - is the path to becoming fully human.

Christ's cross redeemed the world, and our bearing of crosses can help. Our counter-witness of joy in the midst of suffering can offer hope for a world where hope sometimes goes missing. The example of hope in the midst of trials is one of the great gifts Christians can offer the world.