One of the most striking aspects of the Passion accounts is how largely alone Our Lord is in His final hours. Most of His beloved disciples, followers, and friends flee from Him and abandon Him in His hour of need. St. Peter goes so far as to deny Jesus three times in order to avoid any connection to this man whom he had referred to as the Son of God (Matthew 16:16). It is the few dedicated followers, including Our Heavenly Mother and St. John, who stay with Him to the foot of the Cross and watch Jesus be crucified and placed in a tomb.
As we make our way through this Lenten season, it is necessary to ponder those times when we too flee from the Cross and from Our Savior. We all do it at one point or another. A period of suffering for ourselves, a loved one, our neighbor, or even the people we encounter in our daily lives occurs and more-often-than-not we flee. We may not be able to flee physically, as in the case of illness, death of a loved one, unemployment, trauma, or any other manner of suffering, which is dished up so generously in this life. When that suffering occurs, we often block it out with distractions such as television, Internet, food, alcohol, drugs, pornography, and the list goes on and on. We do anything to avoid confronting the reality of the Cross. We flee.
Fleeing from the suffering of others.
This is especially true when it comes to encountering suffering in others. Americans are largely individualistic, as are many Western European cultures. This is a trait that is diametrically opposed to the Catholic understanding of the Mystical Body. We are a communion. We are connected to one another through the Holy Spirit at the deepest levels of our being. We are the arms, legs, hands, feet, etc. of Christ here on earth. He is our head. When one part of the Mystical Body suffers, we all suffer. We may not acknowledge this reality and we may ignore it all together, but it is true nonetheless.
In loving one another as disciples of Christ, we are called to enter into the suffering of our neighbor. It isn’t easy, but there is nothing about the Cross that tells us the spiritual life and the path to holiness will be easy. Our Lord and Savior died on the Cross and He tells us we must follow Him. There is a final Cross for each and every one of us that we will face before we can enter into eternal life. Death awaits us all. The Cross comes before the Resurrection. This life is largely a series of Crosses leading us to the same fate as Our Lord. Even in this knowledge we live in hope thanks to what occurs after the Cross.
When Our Lord instituted His Church here on earth, He meant to unite all of mankind through a visible sign to the world of the ontological reality of the interconnectedness of humanity and the gift of salvation. Christ took on human flesh, which united Him to us in solidarity and united us to one another. It is because of this deep unity that He commands us to love our neighbor. Love requires a desire within us for the good of our neighbor. That means asking the Holy Spirit to help us gain fortitude because love requires the Cross. We need courage to enter into the Cross of our neighbor, but love compels us to do just that. We lighten the load of one another and we expand our own capacity for love when we choose to walk with those around us who suffer. Entering into the suffering of others is not just for the likes of St. Teresa of Calcutta; it is for you and me.