This has been a tough week here in America. Our digital age makes the news constant, up-close and graphic in ways our parent’s generation could never have imagined. We saw the backpacks and the victim’s faces seconds before the explosion. We saw the determination of the law enforcement officers as they surrounded the second suspect. We watched a family video of the huge explosion in Texas and heard the anguished cry of a little girl, “Daddy, I can’t hear!” And we waited and watched as our elected officials and their staff faced the fear of yet another onslaught of deadly poison in the letters they receive every day. And with our 24-hour news cycle, it’s hard to get away from the never ending barrage of human suffering. Heartbreaking loss. Families and lives shattered. Anxiety. Fear. Anger. Grief. Yes, it’s been a tough week.
I wear a small gold crucifix on a chain around my neck. I never take it off. I’ve worn it for so many years that most of the time I don’t realize it’s there. But as the events of this week unfolded I reached for it several times. I touched it and could feel the outline of the cross and the crucified Body of Christ. I felt His arms outstretched and His head hanging to one side. There’s nothing particularly remarkable about my little crucifix. That is, if you can imagine that there nothing remarkable about the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross. Suffering. It seems this week was full of suffering. And somehow, when the news got to be too much, I could reach for my crucifix and feel…what? Better? Not really. Comforted? Not exactly. What I truly felt was that He understood.
As a Catholic I’ve learned all I know about suffering from the life of Christ. Oh I’ve known the loss of loved ones, and the pain of illness, and the suffering of betrayal. But even the worst of my pains pale into nothing when I consider the Cross. This is a great truth of our faith: that the suffering Jesus knows our pain. He knows what it feels like to lose a dear one in death. He knows our human worries because He became one of us in all things but sin. And “all things” means that He knows our anguish at lives ended too soon, of families left homeless, of communities broken by loss and strife. This isn’t some theoretical understanding. Death by crucifixion was torture. We get the word “excruciating” from the Latin word meaning “to crucify.” Jesus knows our suffering, oh yes. And He not only knows it, He transforms it.
I’m not writing this in any attempt to convince an atheist that God is with us in our pain. I’ll pray that the Lord will work on their hearts for that. This reflection is for those believers who find faith hard in the face of human suffering like we’ve seen this week in our country. Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross redeemed us and set us free. But God never promised that His suffering would put an end to our pain and loss. Calvary didn’t negate original sin, Calvary made our salvation possible in spite of original sin. The fruits of that sin will remain with us until the end of time—but in Christ we can find meaning, purpose and value in our suffering.
This is why you’ll find more crucifixes than crosses in Catholic Churches—because in a crucifix we see the ultimate act of love and compassion. In the crucifix we see the Lord transforming suffering into eternal life. Calvary is the supreme act of finding good in evil. The Cross of Christ is the only way we can understand why bad things happen to good people. When we see little children shot in their classrooms, we need to remember Christ crucified. When innocent bystanders lose their lives or limbs through terrorism, we need to remember Christ crucified. When an entire town is fire-bombed by an industrial accident, we need to remember Christ crucified. Love DOES win in the end. Because Love gave everything on the Cross.
“He did not say you would not be troubled, you would not be tempted, you would not be distressed. But He did say you would not be overcome.”
—St. Josemaria Escriva
(1902 – 1975)