"He mounted the Cross to free us from the fascination with nothingness, to free us from the fascination with appearances, with the ephemeral."- Msgr. Giussani
I am preaching the final three of Jesus' 7 Last Words, the words He spoke as He hung upon the cross. I went ahead and prepared a brief reflection on the fourth of our Lord's Seven Last Words "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani" from Matthew 27:46:
Godforsaken, desolate, devastated; these are words we use to describe our experience of suffering. Jesus’ question as He hangs on the cross in the throes of an excruciatingly painful death is understandable and very human. His death on the cross is the kind of cruel death undergone by tens, if not hundreds of millions of people, over the course of history.
In Scripture, these words occur at the beginning of the twenty-second Psalm and are followed by this cry: "Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief." Likewise, do we not often call out like this in the midst of our own suffering? Suffering causes us to feel helpless because, in addition to the pain, we realize how little we actually control. This realization causes us to fear. Coming to realize how little we control forces us to ask whether anyone is in control. As we consider our own suffering, which for most of us, if we are honest, pales in comparison to the suffering of so many, we tend to either conclude, looking at our own situation and the state of the world, either that nobody is in control, or that God is in control.
This move in favor of God being in control can be very inauthentic if we make it only to avoid asking why. The question why is the most human question we can ask. By asking why, we demand meaning. To be human is to require meaning. Suffering forces us to ask why with great fervor. Indeed, perhaps the biggest obstacle to believing in God for many people is the amount of suffering in the world, not to mention in their own lives and the lives of those near to them. Refusal to believe in the face of so much human suffering is certainly a more authentic response than the pragmatic move of believing to avoid asking the question.
All of this is just to set-up an intellectual problem, which is an exercise in abstraction. The Buddha’s assertion that to live is to suffer is correct. We know this through our own experience. We want to believe that all this suffering has a point and a purpose. The point and purpose of suffering is revealed to us by the Paschal Mystery of Jesus’ passion, death, and resurrection. But this, too, can be for us nothing more than an abstraction.
It is only through our own experience of suffering that we come to see that God is never more present to us than when we suffer, when we struggle, when we're down. This is how resurrection becomes something experiential and not just something we wish for, not really believing it. As we immerse ourselves in our own commemoration of the Paschal Mystery let us take the opportunity to see how this great mystery plays out in our individual lives and in our life together as Church. Dying is a limit, a horizon beyond which we cannot see. Yet, we believe that because of Christ we will be resurrected. In order for this to be more than a mere wish, we have to follow Christ, which means daily dying to ourselves. It is only by following Christ that I truly understand the great mystery of, not only how God brings life from death through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit, but I see how God brings me from death to new life through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.