This past week, I showed my Freshman theology students the movie, “The Passion of the Christ.” Whenever I watch this movie, I am struck by the immense suffering of Jesus. He shed so much blood. He suffered terrible agonies and tortures. The disrespect shown to Him by His captors and executioners was so unfortunate. I had a hard time watching it again. The students winced through the whole movie. Not of us want to see someone suffer so much. We have a natural negative reaction to seeing someone go through such torture. You wouldn’t wish that on your worst enemy, let alone your best friend.
However, in watching the Passion this time, I was struck not by the violence, but by the fact that an innocent man was being put through all this suffering. Jesus Christ was totally innocent of all crimes. He did not deserve the punishment given to Him by Pontius Pilate. Additionally, we can say that Jesus was innocent of all sin, as the Divine Son of God. Jesus was the only innocent man to ever walk the face of the earth. Most of us will get to die in our beds, surrounded by friends and family. Jesus, infinitely more innocent than any of us, died horribly.
Then, I considered that Jesus used that horrible death as an offering for my sins. If I had not sinned, He would not have had to die. The only reason why He died was to save us from our sins, and give us the opportunity for grace. When I reflected on my own sinfulness, I became very grateful to a God who loves me so much. Thanks be to God that Jesus embraced His Cross that day!
Sacrifice is a good thing. Sacrifice brings life and salvation. Many people in our world do not embrace sacrifice because they are convinced that worldly pleasures can bring lasting peace. People believe that they can live life without sacrifice or suffering. This is the dream of many a young man or woman, that a life without suffering is possible. Even as we grow older, and learn better, we still chase after this mirage.
Happiness and sacrifice go hand in hand. Suffering and peace are brother and sister. They are inseparable. Suffering must come first, before the blessing. As long as we run away from the Cross, we will never find true peace. We need to embrace this truth! We have to embrace our Cross daily! If all of us learn to do this, then we will have strong marriages and families, and abundant vocations to the priesthood and religious life. But not before.