By Father Thomas Corbishley, S. j.
(Master of Campion Hall)
IT is a mark of man's sclfcentredness that for any given individual the only real suffering IS his own.
Loving and sympathetic as I may be towards another, there is this great chasm fixed between my solitariness and his, that my sufferings are mine, his are his_ Only in a very fhetaphorical way can I take upon myself his pain, can I share my grief with him.
And when we turn to look at the sufferings of Christ in His Passion, the same difficulty besets us. Imaginative arid sensitive as many men are, they are yet unable to enter into the mind and heart of Our Lord and really share those experiences that are uniquely and incommunicably His. Indeed, only too often, we arc affected with a certain sense of unreality, not merely because it all happened so long ago, but because we flnd it hard to convince ourselves that He felt things in the way we do.
Let us, for a moment, think of what life means to millions of our fellow-men and women to-day. Over the world broods a great uncertainty. The echoes of crumbling Hiroshima, the flash of the atom bomb that caused all that misery and havoc, still haunt our imagination as we look forward with dread to further and more colossal catastrophes. Under that dark cloud we are all living. But for countless multitudes the present is so dark that fear for the future is scarcely felt. Homeless or living in hovels, hungry, half-naked, cold. leading the life of beasts, they would seem to call for all the sympathy and love that we can command. Is there not something unreal, theatri cal, even inhuman, in turning away from the thought of them to con
template the story of a man who
was crucified so long ago ? Is there not even a danger that we may turn
to Him because we cannot bear the
sight of that other suffering ? Is our religion to turn out, after all, a piece of escapism ?
In 'What Sense Suffering 7 Besides, He is God. Whatever pain His body may have endured, whatever grief His soul may have known. surely these were as nothing beside the fact that, as we are told, in the depths of His soul, He never lost sight of that Beatific Vision which is incomparably, even infinitely more enriching and blissful than any earthly joy. How could He then know the terror and heartbreak, the frustration and sense of futility, the loneliness and weariness of spirit that are The common lot of men He was upborne by the knowledge that He had at command the omnipotence of the Godhead, that He wets cherished by infinite Love, that in Him resided, imperturbable and unshaken, majeStie and unchanging, the fullness of nacreated Life. Knowing that, He was invulnerable. Patience and courage, hape and trust would seem to require a consciousness of vulnerability, a ryahsation of the possibility of failure. In what sense is such a consciousness compatible with the possession of the Beatific Vision ?
The answer to that question has taxed the ingenuity of theologians and this is no place to attempt a solution. It must suffice to say that whilst, on the one hand, we must maintain the truth of the statement that Christ's soul was ever united with the divine Person of the Word in such a way that it possessed that face to face vision of God which is the prerogative of the blessed in heaven, we must equally maintain the truth of the assertion that he became like to us in all things; sin alone excepted.
Since the Gospels tell us that He could grow in wisdom, there must be some sense in which the effects of the vision of all truth were suspended at some level of consciousness; since He could be " bewildered and dismayed " (Mk. xiv, 33), or " sorrowful " (Mt. xxvi, 38), the effects of the Beatific Vision were at least not continuously appreciated at the emotional level. And, indeed, unless we believe that Our Lord was in some real sense subject to the limitations of human knowledge and suffered emotionally as well as corporally. we are in danger of becoming Doeetists, implying that Our Lord's human nature was only apparent and not nreai'i Ganteinci
all this, when we reflect n the tensity
all this, when we reflect n the tensity
and extent of the physical distresses and tortures to which He had been subjected from the sweat of blood in the Garden to the hideous agony of crucifixion, we shall scarcely be, surprised to find confusion and bewilderment in His thoughts and feelings, so that, in the last dreadful moments He could utter that cry: " My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me ?" Words originally spoken by the Psalmist. they take a new and awful meaning on the lips of the Son of Gad.
However we explain them, it is clear that, in those moments, He allowed His soul to be flooded with that sense of lonely abandonment which is the most poignant of human griefs. Gradually, during the last days of His life, He had seen His work undone, His ascendancy challenged, treachery of the basest kind perpetrated by an intimate and trusted disciple, cowardice and heedlessness undermining the confidence of men who had known Him so well and who had every reason to believe in Him. And now, with the blood draining from His body and His energies wasted, with pain tearing at every nerve and the very power of thought ebbing away, He felt that the Father's love itself was withdrawn from Him. His will remained rock-like in its acceptance of this bitterest of all sufferings. Not a word of reproach, still less of resentment, but the simple utterance of bewildered hope.
Sharing Our Solitariness In that moment then He became one with all who have, in any degree, felt the terrible solitariness of ;heir individuality. He chose to he assimilated to the outcast sufferer, the homeless and the destitute, the victim of man's contempt. Ile went further and permitted Himself to feel that sense of abandonment which is the supreme sorrow of those to whom God is all in all. And in so identifying His experience with that of mankind He was, as we knqw, redeeming the world. Had men riot rejected Him, had He not been called on to suffer thus, the world would still have been redeemed, but in some other way. This was the way He chose. This, then, gives point and purpose to what looks so often like wanton waste. He took the suffering which is the outcome of sin and made it into sin's antidote.
Nor can we doubt that, in taking upon Himself the sin of the world and atoning for it by suffering, He was somehow associating with that suffering the pain of all the world. Into the chalice witich He freely accepted went the sorrow and anguish of all who belong to Him. Calvary then is more than a remote event in world history. It is the type arid symbol of human experience. In the Crucifixion of Christ we see at once the blackest evil and the most radiant good. For there, through the judicial murder of God, is wrought the salvation of man. And the benefit is more than proportionate to the horror. " Christ had to suffer and in that way enter into glory," So that the contemplation of Calvary can give us courage to face the unceasing specthcle of man's inhumanity to man. Because we know by faith that the climax of man's wickedness is also the triumph of God's love, we can dare to believe that the monstrous story of Belsen and the labour-camps of Siberia, the notorious infamies that have been blazoned in our newspapers and the unrecorded tragedies of unknown men and women throughout the world may contain within them a germ of good, which, watered by the tears and sweat and blood of Christ, will spring up to life everlasting. It is more than nineteen hundred years now since that April day in Jerusalem. -A casual reading of history might suggest that the Passion hnd Death of Christ have made very little difference to mankind. True, the Church is an immense power for good yet what evil has been wrought in her name; Christian Europe is, it may he, a better place than it would have been but for the coming of Christ-yet how much good is done by men who have not known Him. The truth is not to be estimated by the reading of history'. It can only be dimly guessed at by
those who have faith. We know that the balance will only be struck in another world, though the price is paid in this. Let us take courage from the spectacle of the price that is being paid. For the higher the price the richer the reward.