“…The Cross stands before us as an eloquent symbol of God’s love for humanity. At the same time the dying Redeemer’s entreaty rings out: ‘My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?’ We often feel this cry of suffering as our own in the painful situations of life that can cause deep distress and give rise to worry and uncertainty. In moments of loneliness and bewilderment, which are not unusual in human life, a believer’s heart can exclaim: the Lord has abandoned me!
However, Christ’s Passion and glorification on the tree of the Cross offer a different key for reading these events. On Golgotha the Father, at the height of His Only-begotten Son’s sacrifice, does not abandon Him, but brings to completion His plan of salvation for all humanity. In His Passion, Death and Resurrection, we are shown that the last word in human existence is not death but God’s victory over death. Divine love, manifested in its fullness in the paschal mystery, overcomes death and sin, which is its cause…”
-The Venerable John Paul II
These words seem fitting when trying to make some kind of sense out of the devastation that afflicted the Hatian nation last week. Although it is futile to try and attribute this kind of a disaster to some temporal component on our part, as Pat Robertson so foolishly and intolerantly did, people are still left asking, “Why?”
Throughout Scripture, God’s people are placed in many situations where intense suffering must be endured, in some cases, for prolonged, seemingly indefinite, periods. In the late sixth century B.C. the city of Jerusalem was besieged and destroyed by the Chaldeans. To the Jewish people of this time, especially heartwrenching, was the fact that the holy Temple -the most tangible symbol to the Hebrews of God’s presence on earth- was destroyed. In the Book of Lamentations, this sense of despair and profound sorrow that the Israelites of the time were experiencing has been left to us to contemplate. Reading these words, we can get a sense of the raw emotion and desparity that must have filled the hearts of these individuals so long ago, “Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down with me…panic and pitfall have come upon us, devastation and destruction; my eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people. My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite, until the Lord from heaven looks down and sees…” (Lamentations 3:19-20, 47-50). No doubt, the Haitian people are now experiencing the full scope of all of these same emotions, axieties, and feelings portrayed in Sacred Scripture. What answers, if any, can we offer to our bereaved, and already impoverished, brothers and sisters in Haiti? How can the Haitians believe that God is still listening? That there even is a God in the midst of such indiscriminate devastation, death, and suffering?
The late Pope John Paul II attempts to address this point in one of his Palm Sunday homilies, and draws on the Church’s long held tradition of the inherent value and spiritual purpose of suffering. The Pope says that as Jesus did, only through enduring and accepting certain situations of suffering can we hope to leave these unfortunate circumstances behind, and move on to the light of God’s victory. To many, this of course is easier said than done, espeically to our distraught Hatian brethren who have had to endure impossible challenges and tribulations -that quite frankly- are hard to comprehend. What consolation is it to them to simply exhort them to drink their cup of suffering and bear it?
The turning point is the very fact that although during these times of trial and tribulation, although it may seem so, God is not absent, but in fact is present all the more. By means of the theological virtue of hope, God always remains before us; for as Scripture tells us, Christ is our Hope, for it was He alone that conquered sin and the grave and rose triumphantly for the sake of our salvation!
Although He did ultimately prevail in the end, Jesus identifiied Himself collectively -in an extremely intimate way – with all mankind, as He suffered in anguish upon the wood of the Cross. He prayed the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?” Jesus had not lost hope, but as God-incarnate, He assimilated all the experiences of his humanity and conformed them to His divinity. As one like us, He cried out in anguish as our representative before God, yet through His sorrowful Passion, as the Word incarnate He perfects suffering, and forever more exalts this virtue to the point of emulation. Identifying and uniting Himself to this most penetrating and personal human emotion and feeling, through pain and torment, Christ experienced to the very core of what it was to be a human being, subject to the ravages and sometimes terrible temporal realties of this world we call home. Yet, even though He did endure unspeakable suffering the story of Jesus of Nazareth did not end there; He triumphed, crushing forever the forces of sin and death, and rose victoriously from the grave, opening the gates of eternal life to all!
Thus, through the example of Christ we can receive consolation, for God Himself experienced suffering for our sake. God-made manifest in Jesus Christ, can genuinely and realistically understand our sufferings because He has been there and trumphed. Even in the midst of His sufferings Christ could not lose hope, because despite the horror of what He was then enduring He know that in the end, Hope would win and that Love would prevail. It seems that the ancient Hebrews, even in the aftermath of humiliation and occupation, clung to this sentiment as well, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness! ‘The Lord is my portion’ says my soul, therefore I will hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:21-24).
In the same way, so it seems that the Haitian people have found solace in this consolation as well. Even amidst the reality of a destroyed cathedral, an archbishop who was numbered among those claimed by the quake, and the fate of countless relatives and friends unknown as well as having to come to grips with the reality of those who have perished, the people of Port-au-prince continued to gather for the celebration of Sunday Mass last weekend. Certainly, as has been expressed by witnesses, they have remained firmly rooted in the Lord’s mercy and compassion. Understandably though, it probably is still quite hard for them to even conceive of when they will fully recover from this horrible reality. Even though it may be a small consolation to them now, it always proves productive to contemplate a crucifix, and see that it requires strength, fortitude, and hope to make it through occasions of darkness and pain to the glorious dawn of Easter.
However, with our material assistance as well as our prayers and emotional support on their behalf, they will certainly come to the light of a new era full of life, potential, and promise. Now, it is our responsibility, as their fellow members of Christ’s Mystical Body to make His promise in the Beatitudes a reality. We must actively and substantially, as best we can, fully embrace and realize those parts of that Body that we were destined to be at this moment in time and offer unwavering support, encouragement, and concrete expressions of solidarity to our Haitian brothers and sisters; so that all those who suffer, all those who mourn, will be comforted, and will know that they are indeed blessed.