“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Many unbelievers have suggested that while crucifixion is certainly a horrific method of execution, Jesus’ death was no more terrible than the deaths of countless ordinary Roman criminals, or even that of the average cancer victim. They hold that we give undue significance to Christ’s Passion.
This verse more than any other shows us Christ’s agony as unique in its intensity. We only feel pain at someone’s absence if we love the person; and our pain increases in proportion with the depth of our love. No one will ever love as deeply as Jesus loved, and Jesus loves no one as much as He loves the Father. The suffering that Christ endured in His experience of the Father abandoning Him is most likely beyond what any of us are able even to begin to comprehend. Compared to this, all Christ’s bodily torments must have seemed almost negligible.
Christian martyrs throughout history have frequently met brutal deaths with a sense of peace and holy resignation which baffled those around them. St. Agnes was said to have gone to her execution more joyfully than most people go to their wedding; St. Thomas More told jokes on the scaffolding; and St. Maxamillian Kolbe led his fellow prisoners in hymns until they one by one died of starvation. Undoubtedly, these martyrs were strengthened and consoled by their faith in and love for God.
How paradoxical that Christ Himself—the source of the martyrs’ strength—was not granted similar consolation at the hour of His death! Yet perhaps this agony of agonies is what made His sacrifice complete. And in this, Christ, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, was actually fulfilling the Father’s will more perfectly than it had ever been fulfilled.
How does this apply to our lives today? I think for Christians of this century, and especially for us young Catholics, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” has become sort of the antiphon for our own sufferings.
We live in an age where we see multitudes of once-vibrant religious orders dying, churches closing, and families simply falling apart. Secular humanism has become the dominant intellectual view even in numbers of Catholic universities. It seems sometimes that the “lights of the world” are dimming, or that “the salt of the earth” is losing its flavor.
The spiritual pallor of our world finds its way into our interior lives. Probably most of us have felt it difficult or even impossible to believe in God at one time or another. For all the moments when our faith has been a comfort to us, there have been times when we have had to fight bitterly against the tide to hold on to what looked like the last shards of it. It may take every ounce of tenaciousness in us to resist the easy dullness of a life without faith for the obscure and difficult beauty of the God whom we barely understand…
But there is hope. We always have hope, and we should never forget this. We have hope in even in the most wretched and profound darkness because Christ has already been there…and He has risen from the dead!
Friday, March 14, 2008
A Reflection for the Last Friday in Lent
(This is a reflection I wrote for a program at my university on the "seven last words" of Christ. As it wouldn't seem right being on the computer on Good Friday, I thought I would share this today.)