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V - The Liturgy of Suffering

March 4, 2017

If I could snap my fingers and bring world peace, I would first pray very hard, because Jesus didn’t.

One common doubt or objection to God’s existence is, “Well, why doesn’t God stop <example of human suffering>. Can’t God do whatever he wants?” The usual, knee-jerk response by the apologist is, “Well, sure He can, but He chooses not to, and here’s why…” and while what follows may be a reasonable rationale, it invariably has a reduced gravitas considering the original objection, human suffering.

 

It is not a good response because it is based on an untruth. God does not do what He wants, precisely because God does not Want. Want implies that there is something wanting in God. This is absurd. God as Creator is the All-in-All. God does not Want, He Wills. Man wants. Only man wants or desires, because man is powerless. God, Who is omnipotent, need only speak and something is. Because He is all Good, He cannot will that which is bad, and so all He wills, He speaks, and all He speaks is done.

 

Many people think it must follow, from the above concept, that every action that occurs is the Will of God. However, it does not. That is a faulty conclusion, arising from the premise that God created a mechanism. Unfortunately, the "God as watch designer" argument seems to have given credence to this. But faith and morals are not mere physics.The Catholic Church teaches that God created man with free will. We have the capacity to take that which He created, which is good, and do good with it, and we have the capacity to do evil with it. So then how does this capacity not conflict with God's will?

 

Another parable he proposed to them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is likened to a man that sowed good seeds in his field. But while men were asleep, his enemy came and oversowed cockle among the wheat and went his way. And when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the cockle. And the servants of the goodman of the house coming said to him: Sir, didst thou not sow good seed in thy field? whence then hath it cockle? And he said to them: An enemy hath done this. And the servants said to him: Wilt thou that we go and gather it up? And he said: No, lest perhaps gathering up the cockle, you root up the wheat also together with it. Suffer both to grow until the harvest, and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers: Gather up first the cockle, and bind it into bundles to burn, but the wheat gather ye into my barn. [Matthew 13:24-30]

 

God sows and the enemy sows. On the final day of judgment, He will separate His own. God's will was sown very selectively through human history. The tribes of Israel settled the Promised Land and established the Kingdom of Israel, one nation amongst the nations. Their story is one amongst many, but it was through them that Salvation came into the world.

 

But it presents us with a bit of a quandary. God's will, in action in human history, would seem to interfere with our free will. Those whom God uses for His purpose would seem to have an unfair advantage. This is an easily overturned assumption. Look at the sufferings of the saints and martyrs of the Church. Look at the history of the Jews, the Chosen People.

 

It is true, those whom God has used did not live lives the rest of the world envied. And yet, somehow, the early Christians, persecuted repeatedly by the Roman emperors for 300 years, conquered the Roman Empire. Somehow, the Jews, despite repeated persecutions in all the nations for 1900 years, returned to their ancient homeland and are an oasis of stability and democracy amongst the tumult and autocracies of their neighbors.

 

What God gives us in the suffering of His servants that is unique in history is that His servants exhibited something that others did not. The early martyrs exhibited a peace that impressed the spectators in the Colliseum. They prayed and sang songs as the starved lions approached. It took many examples, but the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. [Tertullian, Apologeticus, c. 197 AD]  The people of the Empire saw these examples and they envied them.

Putting aside the question of whether God could end suffering if He "wanted" to, let's look at how God uses suffering to bring us to Himself. If Jesus' suffering satisfied the condition for salvation for all souls, as some Protestant theology teaches, then why was there additional suffering? Why Christian martyrs?


The sufferings of the mystical body of Christ, the Church, contribute to the ongoing Eucharistic Mystery of the Church. As Jesus said of the bread, “This is My Body,” and of the wine chalice. “This is the cup of My Blood,” and they were substantially changed, so also is the Church the Body of Christ

 

The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread. [1 Corinthians 10:16-17]

 

If the Church is the Body, and we are members of the Body, and through Holy Communion we are made One with Christ our Lord, our Head and Redeemer, then we are, with the bread and wine, transubstantiated into the Body & Blood of our Lord. If this is not so, then what, rather than that, is the Mystery we partake of?

 

Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist when He spoke the words of consecration at the Last Supper. His Passion would seem to be that which was necessary to perpetuate the Eucharist. The sacrifice of the True High Priest, Jesus Christ, in offering up His Own Body, accomplished His acting as the Lamb of God, fulfilling and taking over the place of the lamb at the Passover meal. As the Hebrews ate the lamb and the unleavened bread at the seder, so we Catholics eat the Lamb and the unleavened Host at Mass. The Hebrews were required to undergo the ritual of the Passover annually, including the slaughter of the lamb and the making of the bread and wine, as Catholics are required to undergo the Mass weekly, or daily, including the making of the bread and wine. These actions are work on two levels: as bread and wine both require harvesting of the materials and making of the finished product; and as we work spiritually to maintain ourselves within the law of God and seek, as best we can in cooperation with Grace, to show ourselves worthy.

St. Paul said in Colossians 1:24, that he is made a minister in the faith, "Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for his body, which is the church..." The note to the Douay on the word "wanting": ""There is no want in the sufferings of Christ in himself as head: but many sufferings are still wanting, or are still to come, in his body the church, and his members the faithful."

 

Christ, when Saul was persecuting the members of His Church, said to him, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou Me?” [Acts 9:4] As many others have pointed out, He didn’t say, “why persecutest thou My church”, or “My followers”, He said “Me”. As with the Eucharist, when Jesus speaks something directly, not as a parable, He is speaking with the authority of God Who said, "Let there be Light".


As the Saints of the Church have been persecuted, suffering in their persons like Christ, and like St. Paul and the other Apostles, if we are to recognize that their actions are meaningful, then we must recognize them to be redemptive, not as in the essential nature of Christ’s redeeming act, but through participation in it. If all the points here and above are affirmed, then we must admit that the body of Christ, the Church, is the Body of Christ, the Lord, through Communion and by participation.


I would argue that God would not allow suffering by His servants, and would not have required the suffering of His Son, were it not necessary. The prevailing Protestant view, that Christ died and forgave all sin and all we need to do is accept it one time, suffers from this glaring contradiction- that suffering for Him continues. "Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For he that will save his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for my sake, shall find it." [Matthew 16:24-25] Protestant theologians who took on this deep question were forced into logical contortions that have disfigured the reasonable basis for Christianity down to the present day. God, since suffering is required, did that which is good- He led by example. Through the Person of the Son He suffered unto death. He did not suffer in a symbolic sense, or purely as an example, He suffered in a Liturgical sense. This is the key to understanding. We participate in a liturgy through which we are saved. The history and teaching of the Church is that we are brought into profound participation with God. We are baptized into eternal life, we eat His flesh and drink His blood at Mass, and we become the body of Christ, the Church which is Church Militant on earth, Church Suffering in Purgatory, and Church Triumphant in Heaven. We are One, Church and Lord.

 

So is there a distinction by which we do not participate in the Eucharist? It seems there is no such distinction, because we recognize no such distinction in any of the examples above. When Jesus said, “Eat the flesh of the Son of Man”, we say He meant His own flesh. When He said, “This is My Body”, we say He meant His own body. When He said to Saul, “Why persecutest thou Me”, we say He meant Himself. Extrapolating from this, it would seem to make sense of the great persecutions of Christianity throughout history, as there does not appear to be a time when some persecution of the Church was not going on. To go back to the previous question, why was the blood of the martyrs required? Why couldn’t the Gospel be spread by the force of the words themselves? Why couldn’t Christ institute His Kingdom just by standing up and saying so to the Israelites? His words were powerful, they were efficacious, they had power to heal, to raise from the dead. He acknowledged they could move mountains. So why did He need to be crucified, and why did Stephen need to be stoned? Why the deaths of Sts. Peter & Paul and the Apostles? Why all the suffering, if it isn’t necessary? The answer to this question is: The Eucharist. That is why the Church suffers. For the Eucharist.

 

 

 

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