Reflection for the Sunday of the Lord’s Passion (Cycle C)
True servants of the kingdom of justice and peace “know how to sustain the weary” because they themselves have been forsaken in the structures of sin, and were sustained only by the Spirit.
True servants are so sustained because they listen to the Spirit and they do not rebel, yet they retain the strength and zeal to endure the battle with injustice and violence.
They have in fact, offered themselves to be struck, open to “blows, spittle and disgrace,” yet they do not despair, for they are allied to the God who avenges against oppression.
Such is the kenosis expected of the followers of the Christ: humility and obedience until death, glory and power for eternity. It is a self-emptying in response to divine love, a self-emptying filled up by divine faithfulness.
But self-emptying is a life process, not a single oblation event nor the dramatic outcome inspired by a single decision. It may even begin long before any climactic sacrifice, with an uncertain and shaky commitment. However, for as long as one can patiently persevere in emptying oneself — slowly and surely, day by day — one will eventually be immersed in the mystery of the Incarnation. In due time, when the Spirit wills, we become Christ.
Thus, we need to bear a daily cross. It is in bearing our daily crosses that we are nurtured to become true servants of the kingdom, that in our daily habit of “dying to the self,” we are making space for the “caring for others.” Yet this habit alone of bearing the daily cross often brings mixed feelings and notions. To genuinely experience this burden of a myriad of everyday problems, failures and misfortunes in the light of the teachings and example of our Lord and Master, we may have to consider three basic principles:
The Principle of the Inevitability of Suffering
There are sufferings in the dailiness of life, that may not always bring about for us our proverbial “once-in-a-lifetime” heroic action, but may nevertheless require a minimum and steady level of stoic endurance. We are pummeled daily with the pressures of earning a living, raising a family, keeping a job, maintaining good health, etc. Aside from the burden of not having enough money to survive, we may have to endure some of the people around us whom we do not personally like or cannot get along with. The physical and emotional stress which accompany such pressures, can seriously strain our bodily limits.
We must accept the painful reality that life on earth will never be as ideal as it seems or as we would want it to be. We may obtain temporary relief from our daily hardships, but we can never be free from the anxieties of aging, illness, expenses, keeping a reputation and ironically, the pursuit of happiness.
The Principle of Patient Endurance and Self-Offering of Suffering
But it is in this acceptance of inevitable suffering that we are made more open to God’s graciousness. Suffering — in a peculiar way — has to exist in order for his love to be made much more manifest in our lives.
Our Lord teaches us that we must bear patiently the sufferings which will inevitably come. We are constantly admonished to endure our problems, failures and misfortunes with the consolation that patient endurance for the sake of love — for him and for others — will be appropriately gifted with the promise of eternal life.
The key to patient endurance is the self-offering of suffering. Though our sufferings cannot be offered in sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, we can however offer our sufferings for the sake of love, or in reparation for the damage and injustice caused by our sins and the sins of others. In this sense of divine charity, we can lovingly offer our sufferings — along with the Christ’s perfect and true sacrifice on the cross — to satisfy divine justice.
The Principle of Alleviation from Suffering
The inevitability of suffering should not on the other hand, give us the excuse not to deal with it, nor to pretend that it does not or should not exist. How one should willingly choose whether to continue enduring or to prevent further suffering, must be based on the criterion as to which option will result in one’s or another’s spiritual or moral improvement.
Therefore, a proper balance must always be prudently maintained between the suffering one should bear for oneself or for others; and the responsibility everyone has for each other’s physical and spiritual wellbeing. One who professes to love God by accepting suffering, yet is drawing another to think and do greater evil, is no different from one who openly tempts and deceives another to sin. One who professes to love God by accepting suffering, yet is embracing it only for oneself, is no different from one who openly displays greed for possessions, power and prestige.
Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.