5. The Triumph of Suffering
THE perfection which characterizes all the work of God, characterizes also His suffering.
We have seen the perfection of His prayer, the perfection of His grace, the triumph of His love, His triumphant vindication of holiness; we think now of the triumph of His suffering.
"I thirst." Perhaps nothing is so hard as to give over the active part of life, to submit to God's will and to serve Him passively, but truly, by bearing what He lays upon us in suffering. If one should speak always with the deepest reverence of any suffering, how should we speak of the suffering of the holy, the innocent Son of God?
All through these wonderful sayings, and all through the silence which was but rarely broken on the Cross, suffering lives on; suffering of mind and heart, the throbbing head, the aching limbs, the burning wounds in hands and feet, and added to all this the thirst which we are told is so fearful, in the fever and agony of crucifixion.
"I thirst." Note our Lord's perfect triumph in suffering. He accepts the suffering. He accepts it in the way which is His own Divine way; He accepts it by seeming to forget it in His love for souls. He only mentions it here in order to fulfil an old prophecy which foretold that He should thirst upon the Cross, and perhaps for the sake of giving one human being the priceless privilege of moistening those Divine lips.
Though our Lord's sacred humanity knew nothing of that disorder which sin has left in our members, He shows us here how we may triumph by means of suffering.
The body is rebellious; the passions are strong. How many a young man or woman has said, "Of what use is it for me to hold down my natural inclinations and the desires of youth? Of what use to seek to curb the waywardness of my nature and to bring it under the control of the reason?"
Our Lord here is teaching us the great secret, and is showing us the province of pain and the use we are to make of suffering.
The flesh can only be subdued by pain. It is like some fiery steed that will only yield under the whip, and when held in control by a strong and resolute hand.
Our Lord Himself has taught us in regard to the spirits of evil, that "this kind goeth not out except by prayer and fasting."
St. Paul sets us the example of keeping under the body and bringing it into subjection.
The Church learned from her Lord and Head Who hung upon, the Cross, that method which she employs to keep the bodies of her children under control.
She has her periods of fasting and of abstinence, she keeps her Lents and her Fridays and her Ember days, she calls upon the faithful to mortify the flesh, she requires them to forego at certain seasons things which in themselves are innocent.
She does it all as a wise mother, taught by the Blessed Spirit of God, for the good of her children; because she loves their souls, and because she knows that body and soul must be saved together; that the soul must share with the body the fulness of the joy of heaven.
Every passion and sinful appetite which is not brought under control, but rules instead over the soul, is more to be dreaded and feared than any trial that can befall us: these must be met by the infliction of pain, or by the enduring of pain and suffering.
On the Cross our Lord was doing penance for the sins of the whole world. As the sinless Victim He bore all the pain and anguish that came upon Him. But He was also showing us the way in which we too may crucify our affections and lusts, and put to death those passions which rise up against us and seek to drag us down.
Suffering is the royal road to victory, and we should think of all suffering which comes upon us as sent by God's loving and wise appointment.
We must learn from Him how to bear it, how to see in it not simply so long a time for going on helplessly, passively bearing pain, but to view it as the instrument which He puts into our hands for the good of our souls and for the good of others.
In regard to the pain of the Cross, how wonderfully our Lord uses it; how marvelously through it He commends to us His love.
Had there been no sin in the world some have thought that our Lord would still have come, have taken our nature, and without suffering have united us in sacramental union with Himself. But sin having come into the world, the purpose of God to unite man to Himself by the Incarnation was not to be frustrated; and the fact that suffering and pain now stood in the way, so that to become incarnate the Son of God must suffer, did not hinder Him from coming still, and traversing all the long way of sorrow over which He had to go.
He suffers, and in suffering He applies His pain to us, and makes it the instrument of winning our hearts to Him; He shows us that which the human heart longs for and loves, which it admires above all else, and that is the beauty of self sacrifice.
And so, when suffering comes upon us, let us be comforted by this thought, that we are made more like unto Jesus Christ.
No life is complete without its cross. How differently we sometimes think about that We are apt to think of life as only complete when there is nothing to mar its pleasure, its buoyancy of spirit, its friendships, its loves; but the contrary is true.
A life that has no cross is an incomplete life, the manhood or womanhood in it cannot reach perfection except through the Cross; and our Lord, if He lays a cross upon us, does it in order to perfect that which He loves. As He saw His own triumph in suffering, so He will see our triumph in our suffering, as we bear this pain along with Him, strengthened by His Cross and Passion.
But more than that; He makes us minister to others, He gives us the blessed work of helping other souls. Is it not worth while, if He lays some cross upon us, to bear that cross for the sake of others, to say: I will be like my Master in this, and although I see not why I should bear this cross, I will bear it in the hope that others may profit by my bearing it?
Do we not ourselves know how much we are helped by others who suffer?
A modern error is deluding some persons by teaching that there is no such thing as pain. Regarding pain as non-existent, it at the same time sets before men as the great object to be desired, freedom from pain.
The worst of this is that it cheats men of one of the things most necessary for the perfection of their life, and that is the Cross.
It would cheat the world of those things which have been most for its purification; it counts as useless, nay as worse than useless, as a deception, those lessons which are brought to our minds by every patient sufferer, by every sick-bed which the Cross has sanctified, by every invalid cheerful through the long and painful years, by every noble soul that counts self sacrifice a privilege and a joy. That system would wipe all this out with its denial of the existence of pain. Do you believe it? Can you believe it? Can you understand how anyone can believe it, seeing what the Cross of Christ is in itself, and to all who share it?
If then we desire to have the lineaments of the saintly life, and that our soul should be made beautiful, suffering must have its place; it is impossible to realize this hope without the chastening of pain. The spiritual life can only so be fashioned, and our souls can only so be made like to Christ.
And if we have to say that we have no cross, no pain, no suffering, let us ask God of His mercy to give us something to bear for Him, lest our exemption from the cross be our exemption from a share in His triumph.
And to-day and especially at this hour under the contemplation of our Lord's sufferings, let us have courage in regard to our own crosses; let us more bravely take them up and clasp them to ourselves, let us see in them the power of our Blessed Master's Passion, let us use them as the key with which the Kingdom of Heaven shall be opened to us.
Life, after all, is not a play-time, it is not a time for mere merry-making or recreation. It is all too short as a preparation for eternity, and the cross we have in this life shall in the world to come be seen to have been among the greatest of God's gifts to us. He would not leave us without that cross which is to be our ark in the flood, the plank thrown to us in the shipwreck. He would have us cling to it as the pledge of our salvation.
So let us cling to it, forgetting its bitterness in the love of Him Who suffered first, Who suffered more than any of His creatures can ever suffer. Who sanctified pain by enduring it Himself, and Who invites us after our fellowship of suffering, to share with Himself and with His saints the glory of His Resurrection.