Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday in Holy Week

Jeremiah 11:18-20 / Mark 14:32-72; 15:1-46

My soul is sorrowful even unto death.

There are those who think that Jesus would have been unable truly to suffer, at least internally, if he he had enjoyed even on earth the beatific vision, that glorious participation in which mortal souls and created spirits can gaze in love and knowledge upon God himself, and so enjoy a bliss that cannot be lost. If in enjoying the beatific vision, the souls of the just are freed from all sorrow, fear, and death, then, according to this logic, either the Scriptures deceive us when they claim that Jesus was crushed with sorrow in the garden of Gethsemane —And when He was gone forward a little, He fell flat on the ground: and He prayed that, if it might be, the hour might pass from Him. — or else he did not yet enjoy that unmediated vision of God that marks the life of eternity. Since the Gospels are clear as to Jesus' suffering, not only in his body but also, indeed especially, in his sorrow and desolation, the argument asserts that Jesus must have faced his death even as we sinners do, without any assurance or comforting vision of heaven to sustain us along the way.

Yet, is it in fact true that assurance and the joy that comes from certain hope and unassailable love are, in this world, incompatible with real, acute sorrow? We are told that Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, quite clearly a model of Christian faith, and clearly animated by hope in the power of the Cross and Resurrection, and animated by a heroic sharing in God's love, nonetheless spent some fifty years of her life without any sense of God's presence at all, not in her heart, nor even in the Eucharist which was so crucial to her devotional life. She was, quite simply, desolate, abandoned, forsaken. However, no one doubts that she had real faith, real hope, and real charity. There is no suggestion apart from her most rabid critics that she was anything other than a woman gifted by this graced sharing in God's life. If so, then her faith, which in essence does not differ from the beatific vision, but only in degree, can and did exist even in the midst of real suffering, of real inner sorrow.

We do not even have to look for so heroic an example. Have we not watched movies, read novels or poems, that we have read and seen before, and yet find ourselves all the same moved so deeply by what we see, even to tears and sorrow? That is, even knowing how it all turns out, even knowing before we begin, our hearts respond not as though to something unexpected, but to something which is all the same in and of itself worthy of our groaning and tears. Indeed, the better we know it, the less unexpected it is and the better tuned our own hearts are, the more keenly will we feel even those things whose coming was certain.

The suffering of Jesus in the garden is, then, as is the whole life of the Savior, Good News. We can know in his tears, in his sweat, in that sorrow even unto death that cast his very body to the ground, that none of this speaks against the active and redeeming presence of God in our lives. Even as Jesus Christ, forsaken on earth, even so did not ever leave his Father, so we can find even our most heartbreaking sadness here on earth also the place, perhaps even a privileged place, where we know the love of God.

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