How do you turn suffering into “passion”?
Suffering for the suffering’s sake is absurd. It does not make any sense. The perennial question, “Why does this have to happen?” is a fair one. Too often we have to ask it. In just the last two weeks, there have been fifteen mass shootings in the United States, with 27 dead and at least 72 injured. Why? Does suffering “have” to happen – like the sunrise or the tides? Why do we have to endure it?
In the midst of such hardship – the extreme senselessness of suffering and ultimately death – even Jesus has to cry out, “My God, my God! Why have you abandoned me?” Jesus’ suffering was real. It was painful. It was horrible.
It was also Passion.
What transforms mere human suffering into passion is an awareness of God’s presence and the love that comes with it. This is what we would commonly call faith. Faith tells us that there is some sense of meaning to what we do – some significance to our actions and our sacrifices. Jesus had this awareness, even on the brink of his apparent destruction.
At the Last Supper, he placed what was to come into the perspective of his faith. While at the Passover celebration with his disciples, he recalls the salvation that God worked for Israel, and then Jesus initiates his “new covenant.” It is a covenant in him – in his blood – and it is ratified and consummated with the Cross.
Some crosses cannot be avoided, and some we can address as a society. These are questions and responsibilities for us all. However, in the face of the real and painful suffering that we must face, we need to know that there is a point to it – that God sees us and loves us and can help. It’s not enough to simply send “thoughts and prayers” sometimes. And God doesn’t do this. Rather, God sends His Son. That is passion
In his suffering, Jesus identifies completely with our humanity – even to the point of feeling completely abandoned by the Father. But Jesus’ identification with our humanity was not just some exercise in divine curiosity. Rather, it was truly love. Only in this way, through love, could God reveal the depth of who He is. Only in the absurdity of suffering could God show us the paradox of His action in our world on our behalf. Only with God, and in God, can suffering be transformed into Passion.
And only through Passion do we know true love.