Friday, April 02, 2004


Stan Williams, himself a convert to Catholicism six years ago, writes in the middle of his article about violence and the movie "The Passion of the Christ", very much what I have struggled to explain to lifelong Catholic friends of mine. I have often struggled to relate to others the "why" of how it's taken me so long to struggle and finally to embrace the concept of suffering that Catholics have. It only takes Mr. Williams five short paragraphs.

I think I finally figured it out. Seeing what the suffering Christ went through filled a great void for me as I regard the purpose of suffering for a Christian. As an Evangelical growing up, suffering was often equated with sin. If something bad happened to someone in the church, the gut reaction from the adults and even the pastor seemed to be that the person was being punished for some hidden, unconfessed sin.

Many times, in Evangelical settings, when I would be experiencing difficulty in my life, I was challenged to "get right with God and everything will be all right." This aspect of the Evangelical, and even the Protestant, view of suffering is displayed at the front of every church behind the pulpit. There you will see a cross, an empty cross, void of its suffering Corpus (body of Christ). The empty cross represents Christ's Resurrection. Consequently, there is little emphasis on or contemplation of Christ's suffering; but there is a lot of attention given to Christ's glorious Resurrection.

Yes, there were the occasional communion services, when we were suppose to think about the blood that was shed for our transgressions. But such services only occurred four times a year, and at the large Evangelical, independent church we most recently attended, the wine was actually watered down grape juice. (The Communion Committee claimed they had to water it down to get the juice to flow through a Plexiglas contraption that semi-automatically filled the hundreds of little plastic cups.)

Later, as a Catholic, I came to realize that my sin crucified Jesus. And since I sin at least several times every week, it started to make sense to me that I should weekly (even daily) celebrate the Eucharist, and in the process stare at and contemplate the crucified Christ hanging on the cross above the altar, and ask forgiveness for putting Him through such a Passion. Now, after almost six years as a Catholic, it has gotten to the point where going to Mass does not just seem like a good thing to do, but an absolute necessity.

And to eat His broken body and to drink His blood every week at Mass (cf. John 6), and to taste the sweet potency of the wine's accidents, His real blood, is not just a nice symbolic remembrance, but something that physically gives me more than a "personal relationship with Christ." It gives me an intimate, physical, connection. I become literally, in reality, the body of Christ. And in so being, I go out from Mass to love and serve the Lord, even in the sharing of His Passion, and at times, joining in His suffering.


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