We are a people of dialogue. As such we have the moral obligation to search for the truth in freedom, the truth about God, about life, about ourselves, our country, our society, our world and the events around us.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

Why is This Friday Good?

Someone wrote that nothing matures to perfection without pain or something analogous to pain. It is true. It is common knowledge. Everyone knows that a perfect gymnastic form, for instance, is not acquired overnight. The athlete has to undergo a lot of practice, a lot of repetitions. The long practice involves a lot of sacrifices. These sacrifices are mostly self-deprivations which entail pain, bearable pain.

The pain is bearable because, for one thing, it is voluntary. The expectation of mastering the art or the game lightens the pain, thus making it easily bearable. The hope of winning the contest and the forthcoming award and the accompanying fame already reduce the burden of physical exertions.

The same principle is also operative in the process of self-mastery, of acquiring self-control, of training in self-discipline. All of which is also part of what we call Christian asceticism or the practice of acquiring Christian virtues. A real virtuous person is one who has undergone a lot of voluntary self-deprivations, most of which are painful, like fasting, abstinence, mortification, long hours of prayer and meditations, etc.

This same principle has been translated into a paradox with a Christian flavor. It says “there is no life without death” or “there is no Easter Sunday without Good Friday,” etc. Here Good Friday refers to suffering, pain and death, and recalls the Paschal Mystery of Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection which He has to undergo to redeem us from the slavery of sin.

Christ’s pain was redemptive and salvific. But how can human pain and suffering be also redemptive and salvific? For others? Not just for oneself? Not just for my personal transformation?

St. Therese of the Child Jesus, recently proclaimed Doctor of the Church, has her answer. She says, we join Jesus in His suffering and offer our pain for others out of love as He did. This was what she did in her own little way inside the monastery. How does she explain this teaching and experience?

She says that the Church, of which we are all members by baptismal consecration, is the Body of Christ. Just as the human body lives because of the blood coming from the heart, so the Church lives because of love coming from the heart of Christ. When we fill our hearts with the love of Christ and offer everything we experience, especially pain, out of love for the other members of the Church, our offering acquires, or rather, participates in the redemptive power of Christ. We have this privilege because of baptism.
St. Therese stressed that this voluntary offering of our pain is not to be done as a payment for sin or, as they say, an act of reparation. It must be done purely out of love because God is Love and Mercy. Reparation emphasizes only the justice of God or the God of justice who demands payment for injustices done to Him. We alone can never make an equal payment for the sins we commit. Only Christ can and did do it for us and with us.

We must therefore join the Heart of Jesus and be set afire with His love. We must offer our pain and sufferings, hardships and deprivation together with the pains of Jesus on the Cross so that we can participate in His self-immolation for the redemption of the world.

This is the real message of Good Friday. This is the reason why this Friday is Good.

Archbishop of Davao
President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference

March 6, 2005