Now the Hour has come

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Now the Hour has come

Fifth Sunday of Lent (B)

“Now the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”. With these words the Church invites us to turn our attention on the coming commemoration of the Lord’s death and resurrection.

In these words we are aware that the Lord steels himself for what is about to happen to him. His forthcoming suffering, his passion and death, bear heavily on his mind. Now all that he does has its focus on what is about to befall him. All his words and actions now are clearly in the shadow of the cross. He knows his fate, he fears his fate, he steels himself for his fate.

During the course of each liturgical year we engage in the contemplation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. We follow him in his preaching and teaching, in his expressions of concern for the poor and suffering. We witness expressions of mercy and compassion. In all of this we are granted an insight into the heart of Jesus, and hence into the heart of God. Also we learn what our own path should be as his faithful disciples. We seek to imitate him and take on his mind and his attitudes.

But the events we are about to recall in Holy Week draw us into a mystery that silences our words and profoundly touches our hearts. We are moved and yet numbed. We are confronted but comforted. And always at the back of our minds is the fact that this is what God has chosen to do that we might have eternal life.

The commemoration of the passion of the Lord, captured so powerfully in Mel Gibson’s film, draws us into uncomfortable places. We are confronted with the depths of human evil and the fearful reality of the extremes of human suffering. These are not easy places to visit.

Against the backdrop of what we will be recalling in the coming weeks I would like to take a moment to consider the question of human suffering and also human dying. It is a reality in human life and remains beyond logical or rational explanation. How do we come to terms with suffering? Indeed, how do we come to terms with facing our own dying?

For the believer the issue of suffering and death is seen in the light of the cross of Christ. In his encyclical on human suffering, Salvifica Doloris of 1984, Pope St John Paul II said of suffering,

It is supernatural because it is rooted in the divine mystery of the Redemption of the world, and it is likewise deeply human, because in it the person discovers himself, his own humanity, his own dignity, his own mission. (n 31)

Suffering and dying are profound human experiences. For the person of faith suffering and dying are profound spiritual experiences.

The Pope proposes that the experience of suffering is not just negative but becomes a moment of personal discovery. In suffering a person discovers himself and his humanity in its deepest dimension. Our superficial self is swept aside as we are brought to the very heart of ourselves and the meaning of our existence. We move to the deepest layers of our being.

We come to face the reality of our own humanity. We come to face our frailty and impotence. Here we cannot hide in the pursuit of comfort or pleasure. This can be a painful thing. It can be a confronting thing. We can react in anger, bewilderment or depression, but we are forced through suffering and with the advent of death to confront our humanity in its limitations.

Here we discover something of immense value. We come to see our own dignity and worth in a new way. Our worth is not determined by our successes, or our possessions, or even our reputation. No, it is the dignity granted by God: that we are not just isolated human individuals but we are sons and daughters of God. We come to find ourselves in God. We come to find a value of ourselves in relation to God who loves us and wants to draw us into union with himself – for eternity.

And perhaps there is a final dimension which is most surprising. We discover that we have a mission in our suffering. Here is something curious. Suffering can give us a mission. Stripped of our full human capacities all we can do is give from our hearts. We reach out to others in a new and profound way. In our helplessness we engage with others in a new way. We may learn patience at a new level. We come to prize what is most important – faith, hope and love. We come to mediate these virtues to those around us.

Don’t we all have the experience of being touched by visiting someone who is acutely suffering or someone who is dying. Somehow we are stirred at the core of our being. The peace or the patience or the love of a person in intense suffering communicates something deeply human and deeply spiritual to us.

Suffering is not just a negative human experience and it cannot be approached or judged on the material level alone. There is, as the Pope, says a mystery. This mystery opens us to the divine.

In facing suffering, our own or others, we should not just consider the physical dimension alone. These very real human experiences give access to the divine mystery of redemption in which no pain is ever meaningless.

Suffering and the reality of death remain deep mysteries that baffle the human mind. Yet, faith sheds light and breathes hope into the human experience. The Church has invited those who suffer and those who are dying to look towards the cross of Christ and enter into the paschal mystery of Christ in his dying and rising.

Christ himself, Son of God, has been there in the ultimate limits of human weakness and impotence, but embracing this in total surrender he has been lifted up to the glory of the resurrection. In the death of Christ, love and mercy have triumphed.

Thus, for the Christian to suffer becomes a moment in which we move beyond ourselves to the mystery of Christ. We link ourselves to him and allow the salvific power of God to rise up within his.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, March 21, 2015