Late last year I was talking to a friend who shared his “horror” story about dealing with an institution for a project in a field to which he had dedicated his life.
He had worked conscientiously for close to two years planning and coordinating with people. The project almost got scrapped due to the ego of one of the partners.
When we talked about this experience, my friend was still working on the project, with some adjustments, but still as conscientiously and passionately as before, despite the setback.
After listening to him, all I could say was, “Always remember that if you have a dream that you believe in and dedicate yourself to, you will inevitably have to suffer for this dream. But there is no other way to pursue dreams and make them a reality.”
This is the essence of what we celebrate today, Passion Sunday, Christ entering the moment of his dream’s fulfillment to do the Father’s will; to be the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased.
Hans Kung in his book “What I Believe” says that suffering is not a desired goal or end, but often we will suffer for what we believe in.
This is the core of today’s feast: Christ suffers for what he believes in, his identity as the Beloved Son and his mission to be obedient to the Father’s will and thus the Father is well-pleased.
Today we remember and celebrate the meaning that was central to Christ’s life, the meaning that brought Christ his suffering, his passion and Cross.
Let us reflect on suffering as we begin the Holy Week.
It is suffering as seen from three perspectives: the physical; the psychological, the emotional and the social, and the spiritual.
In the Passion of Christ, what we initially notice is the physical suffering.
The classic work of Mel Gibson, “The Passion of the Christ,” powerfully conveys this physical suffering.
The violent and bloody portrayal of Christ’s passion, though criticized by some as way too violent, is an authentic depiction of what Christ went through, and conveys the depth of the Christian message that Christ “suffered and died for our sins.”
Without downplaying the value of physical suffering, I will not dwell on it. As mentioned earlier, suffering is not the end goal and as the Church says physical suffering leading to death or martyrdom is a special calling and grace.
The second perspective—the psychological, emotional and social suffering—is highlighted, too, in the Passion narrative.
In the long version of today’s Gospel, it opens with the betrayal of one so close to Christ, one among the 12 he handpicked, Judas.
You also have the betrayal by his chosen successor, Peter.
These personal betrayals were compounded by the betrayals of the people for whom he was offering his life.
We must also bear in mind that in his three-year ministry, Christ was constantly misunderstood, maligned and persecuted. The Passion narrative we read this Sunday is a culmination of this life of suffering. These years, his suffering in the day to day, prepared Christ for the Cross.
I would like to think that this suffering was liberating because the choice is not to suffer but to live life in loving obedience to His Father’s will. The suffering is a choice to love God more, and thus leads to greater freedom.
This is the choice the second reading in today’s Mass talks about: “…though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God… Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…” (Philippians 2: 6-7) He choose to humble himself and this second perspective of suffering was a consequence of this choice.
To be betrayed, to be misunderstood, to suffer without provoking others, to do this to oneself is the second perspective of suffering.
It is parallel to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s third degree of humility, where to be treated as such is due only to one’s desire to more closely imitate or follow Christ in his suffering, passion and Cross.
We will suffer for what we believe in, but such suffering is not sought.
The third perspective of suffering is most excruciating. It is no longer physical. It is no longer psychological, emotional and social. It is an interior struggle, deeply interior suffering.
In Christ, this is best seen in the Agony in the Garden where it is described that he was so stressed by the thought of his impending passion and death that blood started to come out of the pores of his skin.
He comes face to face with the Father He loved so much, and in the depths of this interior struggle expresses his desire to be spared.
Yet it is this final experience of suffering that leads to the greatest freedom to totally commit and surrender to God’s will; “not my will but Your will be done.”
Today, Passion Sunday, we see Christ given to suffering in his passion and Cross. It is a life constantly lived for and committed to his Father’s will, to be the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well-pleased.
This opens the story of Holy Week, an apt prelude to a special season of grace when we remember how much God loves us; celebrate this love; commit in faith and trust to this same love, that we may live the same pattern of love in our life.
Let our prayer this week be: “Lord that I may see Thee more clearly. Love Thee more dearly. Follow Thee more nearly.”