Thursday, August 1, 2013

Jesus Christ Suffering Conquered by Love - Salvifici Doloris (Apostolic Letter) from Bl. John Paul II

17. The Scriptures had to be fulfilled. There were many messianic texts in the Old Testament which foreshadowed the sufferings of the future Anointed One of God. Among all these, particularly touching is the one which is commonly called the Fourth Song of the Suffering Servant, in the Book of Isaiah. The Prophet, who has rightly been called "the Fifth Evangelist", presents in this Song an image of the sufferings of the Servant with a realism as acute as if he were seeing them with his own eyes: the eyes of the body and of the spirit. In the light of the verses of Isaiah, the Passion of Christ becomes almost more expressive and touching than in the descriptions of the Evangelists themselves. Behold, the true Man of Sorrows presents himself before us:

"He had no form or comeliness that we should look
at him, and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray
we have turned every one to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all"(41).

The Song of the Suffering Servant contains a description in which it is possible, in a certain sense, to identify the stages of Christ's Passion in their various details: the arrest, the humiliation, the blows, the spitting, the contempt for the prisoner, the unjust sentence, and then the scourging, the crowning with thorns and the mocking, the carrying of the Cross, the crucifixion and the agony.

Even more than this description of the Passion, what strikes us in the words of the Prophet is the depth of Christ's sacrifice. Behold, He, though innocent, takes upon himself the sufferings of all people, because he takes upon himself the sins of all. "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all":all human sin in its breadth and depth becomes the true cause of the Redeemer's suffering. If the suffering "is measured" by the evil suffered, then the words of the Prophet enable us to understand the extent of this evil and suffering with which Christ burdened himself. It can be said that this is "substitutive" suffering; but above all it is "redemptive". The Man of Sorrows of that prophecy is truly that "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world"(42). In his suffering, sins are cancelled out precisely because he alone as the only-begotten Son could take them upon himself, accept them with that love for the Father which overcomes the evil of every sin; in a certain sense he annihilates this evil in the spiritual space of the relationship between God and humanity, and fills this space with good.

Here we touch upon the duality of nature of a single personal subject of redemptive suffering.
He who by his Passion and death on the Cross brings about the Redemption is the only-begotten Son whom God "gave". And at the same time this Son who is consubstantial with the Father suffers as a man. His suffering has human dimensions; it also has unique in the history of humanity—a depth and intensity which, while being human, can also be an incomparable depth and intensity of suffering, insofar as the man who suffers is in person the only-begotten Son himself: " God from God". Therefore, only he—the only-begotten Son—is capable of embracing the measure of evil contained in the sin of man: in every sin and in "total" sin, according to the dimensions of the historical existence of humanity on earth.

18. It can be said that the above considerations now brings us directly to Gethsemane and Golgotha, where the Song of the Suffering Servant, contained in the Book of Isaiah, was fulfilled. But before going there, let us read the next verses of the Song, which give a prophetic anticipation of the Passion at Gethsemane and Golgotha. The Suffering Servant—and this in its turn is essential for an analysis of Christ's Passion—takes on himself those sufferings which were spoken of, in a totally voluntary way:

"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is dumb,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered that
he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth"(43).

Christ suffers voluntarily and suffers innocently. With his suffering he accepts that question which—posed by people many times—has been expressed, in a certain sense, in a radical way by the Book of Job. Christ, however, not only carries with himself the same question (and this in an even more radical way, for he is not only a man like Job but the only-begotten Son of God), but he also carries the greatest possible answer to this question. One can say that this answer emerges from the very master of which the question is made up. Christ gives the answer to the question about suffering and the meaning of suffering not only by his teaching, that is by the Good News, but most of all by his own suffering, which is integrated with this teaching of the Good News in an organic and indissoluble way. And this is the final, definitive word of this teaching: "the word of the Cross", as Saint Paul one day will say(44).

This "word of the Cross" completes with a definitive reality the image of the ancient prophecy. Many episodes, many discourses during Christ's public teaching bear witness to the way in which from the beginning he accepts this suffering which is the will of the Father for the salvation of the world. However, the prayer in Gethsemane becomes a definitive point here. The words: "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt"(45), and later: "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, thy will be done"(46), have a manifold eloquence. They prove the truth of that love which the only-begotten Son gives to the Father in his obedience. At the same time, they attest to the truth of his suffering. The words of that prayer of Christ in Gethsemane prove the truth of love through the truth of suffering. Christ's words confirm with all simplicity this human truth of suffering, to its very depths: suffering is the undergoing of evil before which man shudders. He says: let it pass from me", just as Christ says in Gethsemane.

His words also attest to this unique and incomparable depth and intensity of suffering which only the man who is the only-begotten Son could experience; they attest to that depth and intensity which the prophetic words quoted above in their own way help us to understand. Not of course completely (for this we would have to penetrate the divine-human mystery of the subject), but at least they help us to understand that difference (and at the same time the similarity) which exists between every possible form of human suffering and the suffering of the God-man. Gethsemane is the place where precisely this suffering, in all the truth expressed by the Prophet concerning the evil experienced in it,is revealed as it were definitively before the eyes of Christ's soul.

After the words in Gethsemane come the words uttered on Golgotha, words which bear witness to this depth—unique in the history of the world—of the evil of the suffering experienced. When Christ says: "My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?", his words are not only an expression of that abandonment which many times found expression in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms and in particular in that Psalm 22 [21] from which come the words quoted(47). One can say that these words on abandonment are born at the level of that inseparable union of the Son with the Father, and are born because the Father "laid on him the iniquity of us all"(48). They also foreshadow the words of Saint Paul: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin"(49). Together with this horrible weight, encompassing the "entire" evil of the turning away from God which is contained in sin, Christ, through the divine depth of his filial union with the Father, perceives in a humanly inexpressible way this suffering which is the separation, the rejection by the Father, the estrangement from God. But precisely through this suffering he accomplishes the Redemption, and can say as he breathes his last: "It is finished"(50).

One can also say that the Scripture has been fulfilled, that these words of the Song of the Suffering Servant have been definitively accomplished: "it was the will of the Lord to bruise him"(51). Human suffering has reached its culmination in the Passion of Christ. And at the same time it has entered into a completely new dimension and a new order: it has been linked to love, to that love of which Christ spoke to Nicodemus, to that love which creates good, drawing it out by means of suffering, just as the supreme good of the Redemption of the world was drawn from the Cross of Christ, and from that Cross constantly takes its beginning. The Cross of Christ has become a source from which flow rivers of living water(52). In it we must also pose anew the question about the meaning of suffering, and read in it, to its very depths, the answer to this question.

For full text of Letter:  Apostolic Letter Salvifici Doloris - Bl. John Paul II 1984

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