There’s a cemetery in Geneva, Switzerland, famous for its many beautiful and expressive monuments and tombstones. A particularly striking one has a granite carving of a father lying in his grave, with his daughter kneeling beside him, weeping and praying. Behind her is a statue of Christ, holding His arms outstretched over the two of them, with an inscription reading: “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (Tonne, Five-Minute Homilies, Year B, p. 84). This image is very appropriate, and, I think, very consoling. Jesus does indeed share in our sufferings and death, and He offers us a share in His glory and His new life.
Many of us—even if we won’t admit it to ourselves—have an inferiority complex. We become very concerned over our image and what people think of us, and what others might say about us if we do, or don’t do, certain things. At the same time, we think to ourselves, “If people knew the real me, they’d be disappointed or critical or even disgusted,” or “I can’t afford to be my real self around others, because then no one would like me,” or “Why can’t I get things together and be competent and talented, the way everyone else seems to be?” Self-acceptance is a real problem for many people today—but part of the Good News of the Gospel is that we have a God Who loves us just as we are, even as He offers the grace needed to become the persons we’re meant to be.
Today’s readings present Jesus as One Who understands our weakness, Who sympathizes with us in our time of need, and Who calls us—in spite of our unworthiness—to play an important role in the coming of His Kingdom. The disciples were grieving over their Master’s death, and confused by the reports of His resurrection. Jesus came to be with them on the evening of Easter Sunday; He wanted them to know they were not alone. His first words to them weren’t “Why did you run away when I was arrested?” or “Why did you abandon Me?” or “Why did you forget My promise to rise on the third day?” Instead, Jesus said to them, “Peace be with you.” Jesus is the One Who brings peace to those who grieve, who suffer, or who doubt their own worth as persons. He knew what it was to suffer and die; by showing the apostles His glorified humanity, He wanted them to know that His followers can rise to new life. In Acts of the Apostles, St. Peter addressed some of the people who were responsible for the Lord’s death. He didn’t threaten or condemn them; rather, he explained that everything that had happened fulfilled God’s plan. Peter also called his hearers to a change of heart, saying, “Repent, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be wiped away.” In the Second Reading St. John says, “If anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous one. He is expiation for our sins, and not for our sins only but for those of the whole world.” Jesus is perfect and strong, and in this He makes up for our sinfulness and weakness; He experienced death, but He gives life. As the reading goes on to say, we accept this gift by trying to keep His commandments.
One of the tragedies of this past century is that many children grew up in abusive homes; some of them remained miserable and were scarred for life, but others showed resilience by growing up to become reasonably happy, well-adjusted adults who made a success of themselves. A number of psychological studies discovered the secret of those who overcame the odds: each of these children found an adult mentor outside their dysfunctional family—a grandparent, clergyman, teacher, coach, or some other caring person. Having a loving adult who accepted the child and encouraged the development of his or her potential made all the difference (Steve May, The Story File, p. 3).
If an imperfect, sinful human being can provide such a great gift to someone in need, imagine what Jesus can do for us. He knows what it is to suffer, to be misunderstood, and to be rejected; He wants us to know what it is to rejoice, to be made spiritually perfect, and to use our gifts in a way that has eternal significance. If we were to take an inventory of all our worries, problems, and burdens, I think we’d discover that—in one form or another—Jesus has already experienced them Himself. Are we afraid of the future, or experiencing great tension? Jesus was afraid, and under great stress, in the Garden of Gethsemani. Have we been betrayed by someone close to us, or abandoned by friends when we really needed them? Jesus experienced these things. Have other people rejected us through no fault of our own, or falsely accused us of wrongdoing? This was Jesus’ fate. Have people ever made fun of us, or wished us ill? Jesus was mocked and cursed and unjustly condemned. Do we bear the cross of physical problems, or grieve over the death of a loved one? Jesus suffered terribly while carrying His cross, and on Calvary His heart was nearly breaking when He saw His Mother’s grief over His suffering.
In virtually every way we might mention, Jesus knows from His own experience the burdens we bear—and He is with us to help us. There’s an even greater truth than this, however: Jesus is not only the Crucified Lord, but also the Risen Lord. He not only helps us endure our sufferings; He gives them meaning. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life, and He wants us who share His cross also to share these joyous gifts. This means we can experience a deep inner peace even when, on the surface, we’re very busy or worried or confused. This means we can live according to God’s standards instead of society’s, and find satisfaction in doing so. This means we can give God control of our lives, and discover that, while it’s risky and challenging, it’s also exhilarating. This means we can see good in other people which we might otherwise have overlooked, and we can see opportunities and blessings where other people see only problems. This means we don’t have to be imprisoned in guilt over our sins and failures and mistakes, but can rise above them through God’s grace. This means discovering we have something valuable and important to offer to the world, despite our weaknesses and failings and feelings of inferiority. Above all, answering Jesus’ call to glory means looking forward to a life of perfect happiness in His Kingdom. We don’t have to deny our worries and difficulties and problems, but only keep them in perspective. Jesus passed through suffering and death to everlasting life. We are on this same journey—and because He loves us and accepts us, Jesus invites us to travel it with Him.