The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, states, “Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. In our own day, the magnified power of humanity threatens to destroy the race itself.
For a monumental struggle against the powers of darkness pervades the whole history of man. The battle was joined from the very origins of the world and will continue until the last day, as the Lord has attested. Caught in this conflict, man is obliged to wrestle constantly if he is to cling to what is good, nor can he achieve his own integrity without great efforts and the help of God’s grace…
Hence if anyone wants to know how this unhappy situation can be overcome, Christians will tell him that all human activity, constantly imperiled by man’s pride and deranged self-love, must be purified and perfected by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection.” (GS 37)
This week, beginning with the reading of the Passion of Christ, we enter into Holy Week and our yearly meditation on the Paschal Mystery. The Passion of our Lord helps us to recognize “the monumental struggle against the powers of darkness” that “pervades the whole history of man.” It is a time of purification and perfection as the Council Fathers pointed out as our human lives and endeavors must be purified and perfected by the power of the cross and the resurrection of Christ. In this Holy Week the grand theme and goal of our contemplation of the cross of Christ is to be able to see through the suffering of Jesus on the cross and be able to see the power of God’s love that shines forth through the cross and through the obedience in suffering of Jesus who “loves us to the end” (Jn 13,1) and who becomes an icon of the love of God, who in Jesus the Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2,7f) The love of God is made manifest to us in the sacrificial oblation of love that Jesus makes for us to the Father in order to renew all of creation in love.
In the cross of Christ we witness a humility that powerfully shows us a way to overcome our human pride, we witness a self-emptying that powerfully shows us a way to overcome our human selfishness and we witness an obedience that shows us a way to overcome the rebellious nature of fallen humanity. We come to know the God who loves us, loves us not only in words but also in deeds. He “shows the depth of his love” for all of the human race. This powerful historical event helps us to discover a way for us to overcome the temptation of sin in our own lives.
In the Passion of Christ we see the nature of God’s love that does not go around human suffering but that redeems human suffering. In the Passion we see human suffering redeemed and given a meaning, the meaning of offering our suffering for the salvation of others. In the garden we see Jesus ask of the Father if there is any way that suffering and death may be avoided and we see in his accepting the cup of suffering to drink that passing through suffering and pain is the only way to redemption. God does not take away the suffering in the world but rather he chooses to share in that suffering in solidarity with all of suffering humanity. What seems like senseless suffering is given a meaning, the meaning of love and salvation. From this moment all of human suffering is transformed, senseless suffering, the suffering of the innocent, emotional suffering and physical suffering all are transformed by love. God suffers with and for suffering humanity.
The way to perfection and purification of our human lives will never be through escapist behaviors or hedonistic indulgences that serve only to drive us deeper into our selfishness and isolation. There are no easy fixes or simple solutions. Only through great human effort aided by God’s grace will we be able to make true progress in love and integrity. Love must be willing to suffer and sacrifice for the true good of all people in solidarity with all human persons. In this Holy Week we must become engaged in the great struggle with the powers of darkness that has been going on since the beginning of time. Now is our time to take up the struggle and reveal the true glory of the human person in the suffering of the cross and the joy of the resurrection.