By Fr. Jeff Belger
For The Catholic Messenger
Last week, the Church celebrated two days using the theme of suffering: The Exultation of the Holy Cross, and Our Lady of Sorrows. One way to look at these celebrations is to name one as the Passion and the other as the Compassion. In fact, the latter is an older name for Mary’s feast, Our Lady of Compassion. Compassion literally means to suffer with or to enter another’s suffering. It is by design that they fall right next to each other on the calendar. They are a matched set.
So why all this celebration of suffering? Is it just to make us feel guilty? Primarily, I would say the answer to that is no. If it makes you feel guilty, do not wallow in it: name it, claim it and tame it. Christ came that we might have life and have it to the full. The focus should be the connection between suffering and love. A few quotes from my reading today have stuck with me.
Blessed Amadeus wrote, “Mary suffered much more in the Passion of her Son than she would have done had she herself endured it; for she loved her Jesus much more than she loved herself.”
St. Alphonsus wrote that Mary loved Jesus, “as much as it was possible for a pure creature to love Him.” So that, as St. Richard of Victor says, “as no other creature ever loved God as much as Mary loved Him, so there never was any sorrow like Mary’s sorrow.”
I think our own experience can verify this last statement. Our grief and sorrow are much more profound for a family member or friend’s death or injury than for someone we do not know personally. Our love for the person that we know causes our sorrow. It may sound like I am trying to talk you out of love, so that you can avoid suffering. Quite the opposite. I do not like suffering but I’m growing in appreciation that love is the answer, not avoidance at all costs. Suffering tends to isolate. “I do not want to be a burden” and “I don’t want to see them that way” are two sides of the same worthless coin.
Jesus was hanging on the cross not because he got caught by the authorities. He was hanging on the cross because he loved the human family. Out of love, there was nowhere else that he would rather be. Mary was at the foot of the cross not because she was attempting to prevent Jesus’ suffering. She was at the foot of the cross because she loved Jesus. Out of love, there was nowhere else that she would rather be. If there is any truth to that, I encourage you to take a good look around you. Is there some suffering that you are avoiding? If there is, what does love require of you? Love does not require you to go alone. Bring Jesus and Mary with you.
(Father Jeff Belger is priest director at the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City.)