The Transforming Cross of Christ
by Father Paul K. Raftery, O.P.
As we have seen in last month's issue of
Light and Life, there can be no doubt on the Level of
Faith, that God is Directing all the
Suffering of His Servants to the
Ultimate Good of Eternal Life. Where this Control over
Evil and Suffering is especially seen is in the
Suffering, Death, and
Resurrection of our Blessed Savior. All that has taken place in
Christ is the very Source of our Hope
whenever Suffering draws near. Hope and the
Cross are Intimately Bound to one another, precisely because of what
Christ did through the Cross as His
Instrument of Salvation. His
Passion and Death will be seen as a Work actively Engaged and Managed. In
He was taking a hold of all Human Suffering and bending it to
His Will. Thus with the Cross, there were
Vast Changes being made in the very Nature of Suffering.
He was Refashioning Affliction, taking what was essentially something
Barren, and making it bear Fruit in
Christ's Control Over His Death
A Sympathetic Secular Observer, taking the Gospels only on the Level of a Historical
Document, would undoubtedly be impressed by the Courage of
Jesus in Confronting the Corrupt Jewish Authorities of
His Time. His Calm and Self-possessed Bearing when
Arrested by them, Falsely Accused,
and Put-to Death, Point to a Perfection of Human
Virtues never seen before among Men. Such a Non-Believer would acknowledge the Profound
Self-Mastery of Jesus as Injustice and
Suffering reach so Horrifying a Level. But, we
might ask, is He a Master in any Wider Sense? Was He
a Master of Himself to the extent that He
could fend-off the Death of the Body by an
Act of Will? Could He Will
His Life to Continue, despite His
Wounds, and make it happen? The Secular Observer would, of course, say "No" to
such Broadening of Influence over His Bodily
Existence. The Nature of Man does not Permit such Extensive Control. And this is where the
Christian Pierces to a Deeper Level of Understanding of what is taking-place in
the Passion and Death of
Jesus. Though He submits to the
Death-Dealing Malice of His
Enemies, they would have no Power to strip-away His
Life unless He Permitted it, because
He is God as well as Man. As our Blessed
Lord Himself informs them regarding His
Bodily Life: "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My Own accord. I have Power to
lay it down, and I have Power to take it up again" (John 10:18).
Saint Thomas highlights the Uniqueness of what was happening in the Death
of Jesus by going right to the Heart of the Problem -
His Absolute Control over Physical Reality.
Death by its very Nature is a Breaking of the
Union of Body and
Soul. The Body reaches a Point of
Collapse where it is unable to continue its Union with the
Soul, Necessitating its Departure to Eternal Existence in the
Realm of the Spirit. For Man, the Control over this Union
is beyond Himself. Physical Things, like the Body, are not Ultimately Subject to
our Will. But this is not True
in Our Lord's case, as Saint Thomas explains:
. . . Whatever was Physical in Christ as regards His Human Nature was completely subject to His Will
because of the Power of His Divinity, to which all Nature is Subject. Therefore Christ had it in His Power that, so long as He Willed,
His Soul would remain United to His Body, and that the Instant He Willed, the Soul would depart from the Body
(Compendium of Theology, 230).
The Angelic Doctor observes that the Centurion who stood near
Christ, as He was breathing His
last, was struck by the Presence of this Divine Power. Remarkably, as the
Gospels tell us, he heard Our Lord
Expire with a Loud Cry, Completely Exceptional for a Man at the Moment of Death.
Weakened by Intense Suffering and the Collapse
of our Bodies, we can scarcely muster the Strength to Breathe. That
Our Lord could Cry-Out-Loudly, Saint Thomas points-out, is a Sign of
His Divinity, controlling His Body
and Willing that it was now Time for the Separation
to take place. Responding to this Cry with Profound Astonishment and Perception, the Centurion said,
"Truly this Man was the Son of God! " (Mark 15:39).
Deeper Understanding of Passion
The Suffering He endured was thus under
His Calculated, Thoughtfully Chosen Direction. Seemingly not controlled, it was Masterfully
Controlled. Such that, with Saint Thomas, we can look to Deeper Reasons for all that was taking place in
We can notice an Embracing of Suffering that was, in a most astounding way, beyond what
was required. Supremely beyond! He had only to undergo the Slightest of
Afflictions to Atone for the
Sins of the entire Human Race. As God, any
Trial, being Mistreated by a Townsman,
Hunger or Thirst, would be of Infinite
Atoning Value. By the time He reached
His Passion He had
Atoned, on this basis, for the Sins of Humanity
Thousands of Times Over. But it was not enough for
Him to simply enter our World, quickly take care of Atoning for our
Sins in some minor Affliction, and
then depart. As Father McNabb so wonderfully put it, thus
" . . . would not suffice for the Love of the Redeemer. He meant to give "Copious Redemption". He
Willed that the Beaker should Brim Over. He gave a Thousand Redemptions all-in-one" (Craft of Suffering, 79).
Such was the Love He wanted to make sure to get across to us through the
Cross. He wanted there to be no
Doubt in our Minds as to the Intensity of
Add to this Astounding, Lavish Flood of Atoning Merit, our
Blessed Lord's choosing a Journey to Death that took
Him through the Broadest Possible Spectrum of Human Suffering.
Saint Thomas explains the Range of Affliction
Our Lord endured (III, 46, 5). On the Level of those
who were causing Him Suffering, there were
Gentiles and Jews, Men and Women, Rulers and Servants, Close Friends and Casual Acquaintances. Then Saint Thomas says
He experienced every type of suffering.
Friends Abandoned or Betrayed
Him causing a Painful Loneliness.
His Reputation was run through the mud.
His Glory and Honor were
He was Robbed of
His Soul was brought down by Sadness,
Exhaustion and Fear.
His Body was covered with
On a Third Level, He
Suffered in all His
There was a Crown of Thorns pressed into His
Nails were driven through His
Hands and Feet.
His Face was
Struck and Spat Upon.
There were Lashes over
His Back and
And Lastly, He
endured Affliction in His
Five (5) Bodily Senses.
Touch was filled with Pain through the
Nails and the Scourging.
Taste was Afflicted in being given
Vinegar and Gall to drink.
Smell was Tormented by being lifted up on
the Cross in a Place reeking with the Stench of
In His Hearing
He had to endure the Insults of those
Crucified with Him and
His Enemies below.
In His Sight
He had to witness the Tears of
and the Disciple who was so dear to Him.
Thus in His Passion we witness the
Fullest Possible Expression He could find of His
desire to join Men in whatever Suffering they may
come across in Life. But it was not simply a joining Mankind in a Passive Sense of the word. As we
have seen, He was Ultimately in Charge.
He was Actively taking to Himself, through
reaching out to all varieties of Human Suffering, the Totality of
Suffering that Mankind would endure from the Creation of the World to the Last Day.
New Direction to Earthly Trials
But Our Lord's Assumption of all Human Suffering
was only a Beginning. If it would have stopped there, the Reality of Suffering would have
remained unaltered. The Cross would Represent no more than an Act
of Divine Pity at a Horrible Mess of Human
Affliction. He needed to go to the very root of
Suffering, which is Sin. And this He
did through His Death, which brought to completion
His Act of Atonement, and Healed the
Spiritual Wound from which
Suffering has Sprung. With the Resurrection and
Ascension, Our Lord brings
Suffering into Complete Subjection to Himself. What
were Causes of the Stripping of His
Body of Earthly Life, become the Causes of
Infusing His Body with
In addition to this, Christ's Mastery over Suffering
and Death would Profit us nothing, if
it remained of Benefit to Him alone. An
individual Act of Resurrection does nothing to offer
Hope to Mankind. Most essential, then, for the Hope we can find in
the Cross is that somehow Christ's
Cross becomes ours, and Christ's
Resurrection becomes ours.
Here, again, we return to the Absolute Dominance He can muster
At-Will over All Reality. Through Absolute Power,
He was taking to Himself on the
Cross all Human Sin and
Affliction. Through the Absolute Power of the
Father, with Whom He is One
(1), He gained the Forgiveness
of all Sin by His
Death, and was Raised from the Dead on the
Third Day. And through Absolute Power, once again,
He will Unite to Himself all
People who consent to follow His Gospel. This is that same
Absolute Power reflected in the statement of Jesus referring to
His Death on the
Cross, His Resurrection, and His
Ascension: "And I, when I am lifted up from the Earth, I will draw all men to Myself"
(John 12:32). In this statement is the Bonding of all who are
Baptized to Himself, as Saint Paul teaches, into the
One (1) Body of Christ.
Our Hope then in the Cross comes down to
this: He can do all that He Wills.
He has Willed to make the
Cross in His Own Human Life, a 'Stage' that leads to
Eternal Resurrection. He has Willed
to Unite to Himself as
One (1) Mystical Body, all who
Believe in Him and are Baptized.
And Finally, He has
Willed that Sufferings be thus Transformed in
the Lives of all Members of His Body to Produce the same Effects of
Atoning for Sin and
Eternal Life that they Produced for Him.
Union With the Suffering Christ
Part of being Joined to Christ is experiencing the
Suffering, Death, and
Resurrection for ourselves. This is the Sign that we are
One (1) with Him. That we Suffer is an
Indication that there is Union with Him. Yes, all in
this World must go through Affliction. It is Part of Life. But the difference between the
Affliction of Life simply speaking, and the Affliction
we have as Christians, is that in the Latter Case we
have ceased being Individuals Suffering on our own, and we have
Joined the Suffering Body of Christ.
We can say with Saint Paul, "I have been Crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live,
but Christ Who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by Faith in the Son of God, Who Loved me and gave Himself for
me" (Galatians 2:20).
The Suffering becomes the Sign, Verifying the
Union. While the Life of the Flesh continues in
Affliction, the Soul is
Refreshed by Divine Union. For those
who Value that Union above all else, the Cross draws them on
and fills them with Hope. As Saint Paul will say after his many
Afflictions in spreading the Gospel, and showing us the
Cross's Potential for Lifting the Human
Spirit: ". . . Far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the
World has been crucified to me, and I to the World" (Galatians 6:14). The time will come when the
Sign of our Union with
Him will come to its Perfection in the
Resurrection. Our Resurrected Bodies,
Radiant with Divine Light, will Manifest for all to see that this is a Person bound for ever to
God in the most Intimate Union. But we must understand that
the Resurrected State is not the only one in which a Person is United
to God. This occurs also in the Suffering State of
Individuals in this World, Burdened with Affliction.
And this is our Consolation. To all Appearances, our
Afflictions are the same as those Commonly Experienced by Men. But this is only the Level of Appearance. The Deeper
Reality is we are not Living our Lives on the purely Human Level any more. We are living them on the Level of the
Son of God. The Sufferings we are going through are of that
Exalted Status. They are Son-of-God
Sufferings. They have the Divine Presence
running through them.
We explicitly acknowledge this Divine Presence in our
Sufferings when we recognize, as the Church teaches us, that they have a
Power of Atoning for Sin that is Immeasurably
Beyond any merely Human Act. Among the Older Generation of Catholics
"let's offer it up!" was a Common Expression when some
Trial arose. This is not simply a Pious Saying, nor a phrase that
should be left behind. A Profound Truth was Being Expressed. The Underlying Current of
Divine Power running through our Afflictions
makes the Willing Acceptance of even a Relatively Small Amount of
Pain, and the Consecration of it to
God, of Astounding Benefit to a Soul
in Need. We must remember that any such Offering,
when we are United to Christ through
Charity, becomes an Act of Christ Himself. And when we do
"offer it up" we must think of Christ
imparting His Own Power to that Act. The more that
Offering is made with Love, the greater
Christ's Divine Power will be working through it. The thought frequently expressed by Mother Theresa of Calcutta
harkens to this Profound Truth: "God does not ask of us great things.
Only little things done with great Love". The least of our Deeds and
Afflictions will take on the very Efficacy of
Christ Himself when we Unite ourselves to
Him as fully as possible in Love. Thus what
is essential in using our Afflictions to the Greatest
Benefit to ourselves and others is making a Consecration of those
Afflictions with a Full and Generous Heart,
Pushing Ourselves to the Utmost in Loving Sacrifice.
Christ has brought the Fullness of His Divine Power
to bear on our Sufferings. This is what the Cross
means for us. It stands for Human Suffering that God
has Acted-upon and Transformed through His Almighty Power.
This is not to say that Suffering before Our Lord
mounted the Cross had no value. It had Value in Terms of
Justice as a Response to Sin. The Offence
demanded a Corresponding Punishment for Justice to be
Satisfied. Then too there was what we might call a Medicinal
Value to Affliction. It Healed Humanity of
Aberrant Behavior. Suffering was, and still is,
the Sign of leaving a Path of Human Activity that is Good for
us both in our lives here on Earth, and with our Relationship with God. We might say it was, and
still can be, a Sign for us of where not to go. But (contrary to the present time after the
Cross) Suffering did not lead anywhere in Itself.
It was a Dead End, that did indeed only Lead to Death.
Then, came our Kind and Blessed Lord's
Entry into our Human Scene. And Suffering has no longer been the same. What was once
Barren, now bears Fruit in
Eternal Life. What was once a Dead-End, has become a
Highway to Life. What was once only an Indication of Human Behavior drifting away from
God, now has become, for those who are Seeking to Please God, a Sign of our
Union with God in Jesus
Christ. And there is here something to Rejoice in, as Saint Peter
was so wanting the Church to recognize: "Rejoice in the
measure that you share Christ's Sufferings. When His Glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly. Happy are you when you are insulted
for the Sake of Christ, for then God's Spirit in its Glory has come to rest on you" (1Peter 4:13-14).