By Bobby Atendido, BCBP Alabang
Alabang Chapter held a beautiful Lenten recollection last February 18 conducted by Fr. Manoling Francisco, S. J. I wish to share some of the insights presented which, for me personally, clarified the issue of the Cross and sufferings in the light of God’s salvific plans.
In those days when I was not a member of the BCBP, the Cross had always brought fear into my heart, especially because the scriptures said that we must carry and suffer our cross if we were to be called Christians. It was as if all of us had to be crucified like Christ to merit heaven. Who in his right mind would wish to suffer? It is really an awful and scary thought. What kind of a father would anyone be to willfully desire his son to be crucified and suffer the ignominy of a painful and horrible death. Even as a member of the BCBP, I considered the Cross as an enigma. More so because the idea was continuously drilled down to us by many priests especially during Lent without adequately explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of sufferings and difficulties.
Fr. Manoling’s explanation of the Cross was a breath of fresh air. It took away the cobwebs clouding the idea of a Christ crucified and opened up its meaning for all of us.
Allow me to summarize some of the insights he shared with us:
1. The truth is “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3). While it was the plan of God to send Jesus Christ His Son to reveal God’s love to the world and teach us to follow God’s will, it however did not include God “willfully” sending Christ to die on the Cross. God did not will Jesus’ crucifixion! (This is the first time I heard the Cross presented this way. All along, I thought the Cross was part of God’s plan.)
On the first level, Fr Manoling explained that the Cross was not the will of God but of men. It was not the work of grace but of the sinfulness of men. It was the pride of men who cannot accept Christ as the Messiah that led to the Cross. The fact that Jesus went through the suffering and crucifixion was the consequence of the heroic love of Jesus to follow the will of the Father for the salvation of mankind.
On the second level, God’s grace draws out the good from evil, love out of hatred, redemption out of condemnation. That is why the Cross, while not the will of God, is a true reflection of the wonder of diving grace. Even from human sin and wretchedness, God is able to draw the good and incorporate them into His salvific plan. The Cross has become the channel of God ‘s love and grace.
On a practical level, all of us have had the experience of suffering becoming an occasion to love and be loved. Our brothers and sisters who are sick have become objects of our love and compassion. Hurts in the context of love can edify others. Hurts teach us how to be more loving, more compassionate, more other-oriented. Hurts allow us to transcend pain. A sufferer learns to overcome and forgive. It opens up the avenue to love. This is the meaning of the Cross. Without love, the cross in one’s life becomes a burden.
2. Suffering per se is not salvific. It is the LOVE underpinning the suffering that is redemptive. Jesus Christ did not redeem us by his physical agony and emotional anguish but by the power of his love for us and the heavenly Father. It is not the intensity of pain that matters but the intensity and depth of one’s love. It is not the Cross per se that is redemptive but the love of Jesus that makes possible our reconciliation with God.
How futile it is then for those people who flagellate themselves during lent, as if the more blood they display, the more Christian they become. How useless it is for anyone to adhere to the rules of fasting and abstinence during lent if they don’t emerge from the experience more loving and compassionate. Suffering must be transformational. It must be redemptive. It must be about love.
The question we must ask ourselves is: “How have my hurts in life, through God’s healing mercy, become channels of grace and goodness?” The story of my wife Fe who lost her father at the tender young age of 9 years old, was abandoned by her mother who remarried and left her children to the care of her maternal parents, was subsequently raised by a demanding and very strict grandfather, is a case in point. She could have shriveled into her own pain and resentments and become angry at the world. She however has overcome her sufferings and has become a source of life and grace to the rest of her siblings and cousins. She became the loving “Ate” to all of them. She became mother and father to her brothers and sisters. She drew strength out of her pains.
3. Fr. Manoling asked: “Is ‘Suffering’ good?” He explained that suffering by itself is not a virtue. However, it gives rise to virtue because it draws out love. We do not seek to suffer but we seek to love further in and through suffering. Of course, there are those who revel in suffering, those with martyr complex. They delight in the suffering. The more painful it is, the more enjoyable it becomes for these people. They fail to see beyond the pain.
What really matters is not the intensity of the pain but the intensity of the love that springs forth out of the suffering. We all experience our little and big crosses in life. It may be an obnoxious person in the office that we have to deal with everyday. It may be an argument or disagreement with a spouse. It may be the children who refuse to obey our directions. It may be a health problem that suddenly upsets our well-being. Or it may be a financial challenge that drains the family savings. Whatever it may be, the challenge is to see how we can draw love out of every situation we find ourselves in. Our crosses in life can become transformative. They can teach us to be more patient, more compassionate, more trusting, more loving. In the end, our crosses teach us to be more Christ-like over time. The inconveniences and sufferings we go through can be a great source of divine grace.
4. The Cross then is really the consequence of Jesus’ fidelity to his mission. While it is the symbol of Man’s rejection of God’s love, it remains to be the powerful symbol of God’s faithful love to the end.
In Mark 14:35-36, Jesus fell to the ground and prayed that if it were possible, that the hour might pass by him; He said, “Abba, Father,* all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” Jesus did not like to go through the pain and ignominy of the Crucifixion. He prayed that the cup be taken away from him. Indeed, who wants to suffer? In the end, Jesus went through the Cross of redemption because He was faithful to His Father’s will. Love triumphed in the end.
During this time of Lent, let us look and reflect on the meaning of the Cross for each one of us personally. Let us unite ourselves in love with Christ on the Cross. Let us ask the Lord to enable us to draw great grace from the crosses of life we undergo. Let us love much every day just as Jesus did on the Cross. May we all be transformed in love in and through the suffering we go through in life.
“Lord, grant us the grace to see your face in the suffering we undergo each day. Allow us to go beyond its pains and be transformed to become more loving, more compassionate to those who inflict pain on us, to be more trusting and obedient to your holy will. Amen.”