My late Bishop Morse of blessed memory often said that “Passion” in the context of Passion Sunday is the combination of love and suffering. The root is pati (Latin), meaning suffering or enduring. It is curious that today’s meaning retained the idea of love that is found in the Passion of Christ. The lives of the early Christian martyrs were called passio. In the Middle Ages there were Passion Plays depicting these last two weeks of Jesus’ sufferings before his crucifixion. So Christ suffered out of love for us, and this abundant love is good to recall as we enter today the Way of the Cross, leading to Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Easter.
Christianity infuses the sufferings we experience with love, giving them meaning and purpose. As Christians we offer our sufferings to Our Lord to be one with his own on Good Friday. Our fallen world is full of suffering. If you live long enough you will see it all around you and will most likely experience it yourself. My bishop also often said that to love is to suffer. While at first that seemed strange to me (I was too young to understand), I now sense what he meant. For true love, both brotherly and marital, is the sacrifice of self for another’s good. When we give to our brothers and sisters a portion of our worldly possessions through tithing or time or charity, we do so at a sacrifice to ourselves. If we don’t experience this, we aren’t giving (loving) enough. (And that was another saying of Bishop Morse, “I always confess that I have not loved enough.”)
We are told by the Church to “offer it up.” Offer our pain to Christ in the moment, and he redeems it. I have found this to be true again and again.
There are times when we are betrayed just as Our Lord was betrayed by one of his disciples, and even ironically with a kiss. It is a double suffering, it seems, when a friend or loved one betrays your trust in them. When they gossip about you or even slander you. I try and watch my tongue (funny phrase) and not be guilty of this easy sin as often as I am tempted. When betrayal occurs by a clergyman, be they pastor, deacon, priest, or bishop as has happened since beginnings of the Church, the suffering is acute. I understand the pain of those who have come forward to testify past sexual abuse by clergymen, for the trust placed in them is often God-like, absolute, and the abuse of this trust is as bad as the actual abuse if not worse. Often, these victims never darken the door of a church again and live lives of silent and bitter judgment. They have been twice maimed. And such betrayal is a betrayal of the entire Body of Christ as well.
Someone once said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Teachers and clergy and those in elected office, given a forum of adoration, are often tempted to corruption. Somehow they think it is their due right. They are proud and think they are invulnerable, above the law of both God and man. I have known bishops who were saints (Bishop Morse of blessed memory above) and others who were something far less, for these latter betrayed the entire Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the Church.
Mankind is a fallen race, yet even in the fallenness, owns this great expectation to be perfect.
This dichotomy – our dark souls and our bright ideals – is redeemed on the Cross of Christ. We have good reason to believe in Jesus Christ and his resurrection from the dead. We have good reason to believe in a loving and living God. For the demands of perfection we place upon others and ourselves to a lesser extent are the living presence of something divine, something super-human, supernatural. Where did we get this strange idea of how we should be? When we live in a manner reflecting how we should not be?
Betrayal. Our Lord will be betrayed. We know the story well. And so I look into my own heart. How have I betrayed him? But he gives me a way out – confession, repentance, and absolution through his Church. The Good Shepherd brings me back into the fold, calling my name. He finds me wandering on a cliff-face, lost, so near the edge, and he carries me home on his shoulders. If I suffer, he suffers with me. He is good, and he is a shepherd. He loves us. But we must repent.
Our world is burning, and with it Western Civilization, and with the collapse of the West, the threat to religious freedom becomes real.
In the meantime, we worship in church as often as we can, so that we may have the Word imprinted deep in our hearts, that we may come to see what is truth and what is a lie, so that we may be true to who we are created to be and become. We receive the Real Presence of Christ into our bodies so that our sick souls may be healed, then clothed in his bright holiness, so that we may love as we are meant to love.
Each time, we leave the church renewed. We are able now, with this nourishing supper never to be our last, to re-enter the world of passion, of suffering love.