Almost exactly 100 years ago, during World War I, a village behind the front lines on the Western front had been badly shelled by artillery fire, and there were many casualties. The church, like most of the other buildings, had been heavily damaged, but it was the largest place available for use as an emergency shelter and first aid station, and the altar was a suitable operating table. One of the casualties was a soldier originally from that very town, and who was home for a few days on leave. His leg was severely wounded, and would have to be amputated. The doctor warned him, “Son, you’ll have to be brave. This will be very painful, and we’ve no anesthetic—it was destroyed when the hospital was hit.” The young soldier looked at the altar, and then at the crucifix on the wall above it. “I’ll be all right, Doctor,” he said. “Put me there—as long as I can look up at Jesus, I’ll manage” (Anthony Castle, Quotes & Anecdotes, p. 245). All of us have times when we have to suffer, whether it be physical pain, rejection, disappointment, loneliness, grief, or various other difficulties. With Christ’s help, we’ll manage. Jesus knows what it is to suffer—so He will certainly help us in our time of need.
Next week we’ll celebrate Palm Sunday, including the reading of the Passion, with its vivid description of everything Jesus had to suffer: betrayal, desertion, false accusation, rejection, scourging, mocking, condemnation, seeing His Mother’s heart being broken, and being executed as a criminal in the most humiliating and painful way imaginable. The Gospel for the Fifth Sunday of Lent (John 12:20-33) anticipates these events; Jesus speaks of the necessity of His death, explaining that “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat—but if it dies, it produces much fruit.” Our Lord is saying that, by dying, He would bring forth a rich harvest by reconciling humanity to God.
Was this an easy prospect for Him to face? Not at all. He states very clearly, “My soul is troubled now.” Jesus knew what awaited Him—and this knowledge was a terrible burden. The Letter to the Hebrews (5:7-9) says Christ “offered prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears” to God. Only Mary, as a perfectly loving Mother and disciple, could truly understand and experience suffering to this same degree. Jesus was immensely afflicted, but His devotion and obedience to the Will of God was even greater. He asked, “What should I say—Father, save Me from this hour? But it was for this purpose that I came. . . . Father, glorify Your Name!”—in other words, “Thy will be done.” Because of this obedience, God saved Him: not from death, but in spite of death—by raising Him to new life. In this, Jesus became the source of salvation for all who believe; He became the source of the new and everlasting life mentioned in the Book of Jeremiah (31:31-34)—a new life solemnly promised in a covenant written not on tablets of stone, like the Ten Commandments, but on our hearts.
Malcolm Muggeridge was a 20th century British journalist and author who, as a young man, supported Communism and doubted the existence of God. Later in life, however, he converted to Catholicism and became a strong defender of the Church. In his autobiography he wrote,
I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo, as Aldous Huxley envisaged in Brave New World, the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal and trivial to be endurable. This, of course, is what the Cross signifies. And it is the Cross, more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ (R. Kent Hughes, 1001 Great Stories & Quotes, p. 2).
Many people are repelled by the Cross, but Mr. Muggeridge was attracted by it—for he realized it represents the truth of our sinful human condition, and of Christ’s victory over sin and death, and also of His supreme act of self-surrender, submitting Himself to His God-given mission so that we might be saved.
Jesus has shown that it is possible to obey God’s Will, even when it’s difficult or costly. If we were to spend some time talking about our misfortunes, our painful sacrifices, and all the ways we’ve suffered in life, it would become very clear that life has not been very easy for some of us. Just from the times I’ve counseled or otherwise assisted people, I know that human life contains the potential for immense suffering. At times it can seem overwhelming. However, if we were to spend some time telling each other all the ways God has been present in our lives, helping us bear our difficulties and somehow bringing meaning out of misfortune, we’d be amazed and hopeful and delighted. God never abandons those who trust in Him—and this too can be overwhelming.
Jesus loves us with a love beyond all reckoning, and He knows what it is to suffer, to be afraid, to be lonely, and to be deeply troubled. These two truths, taken together, mean we will never have to bear our cross alone; He offers and desires to help us. As long as we keep our hearts and our lives focused on Jesus, we’ll manage; as long as His covenant is written in our hearts, He will be with us when we need Him most.