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The Suffering and the Promise



Reflecting on the Holy Week Tragedies

“Where I am going, you cannot come.”

How the hearts of the disciples must have broken when Jesus said this to them, even as He washed their feet and gave them bread.

This year’s Holy Week brought two devastating tragedies in the fire that incinerated the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Sri Lanka bombings.  The former was an beautiful and awe-inspiring testament to God, and the latter a reminder that His people are never fully welcome here in this world.  The heart-breaking and gut-wrenching images of these tragedies challenge us to understand the suffering of and offer hope to those involved and affected.

Especially for their timing and their magnitude, these tragedies invite Christians around the world into deep healing and purified renewal.  Indeed, they mirror the passion and death of Jesus Christ that we come to know during Holy Week. God became man and died, that we might be saved through the ultimate and perfect act of love, represented in Christ’s death on the Cross.

We are reminded in reflecting upon this reality, and the miracle, that we are not from here or for here.  We are from the Father and for the Father. He became like us––He was born and raised, and suffered and died, like us––that we might become like Him.

Lord, take this pain if You can. Though, “Not as I will, but as You will.”

Life-giving trust, childlike dependence, and the sacrificial love of the Cross upon which Christ was to pour out His love and spirit are the unshakable, indestructible foundation of hope.

As St. Augustine articulates in Confessions,

“For Thou shalt also redeem my life from corruption, and crown me with loving kindness and tender mercies, and shalt satisfy my desire with good things, because my youth shall be renewed like an eagle’s. For in hope we are saved, wherefore we through patience wait for Thy promises.”

Some of the best reminders of hope––the best ways to learn patience and appreciate promises, especially the promise of salvation that He, the merciful and ever-faithful God, has given to us––are in the small, the unnoticeable, and the taken-for-granted.

In Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday morning before the bombings brought about senseless carnage and tremendous human suffering, Christians were gathered to celebrate the most joyous occasion and profess their belief in the Risen Lord and in life everlasting. They gathered as they did any other day or week.  They gathered in peace. To say they did not expect to be slaughtered in their reverence probably understates reality.

The bombings remind us that religious persecution, particularly of Christians, is still an extremely relevant problem that the pleasurable comforts of modernity did not and could never resolve. The modern world, as with any world, still makes martyrs of those who know that there are worse things than death.  

The bombings ought also to remind us that political tolerance of religious difference is perhaps the essential good of a modern political community.  But how often do we today bemoan our political landscape in America, and how often do we criticize, lament, or bemoan this nation’s commitment to ‘religious freedom’?  How often do some on the left wish they didn’t have to deal with Christians and their moral commitments, and how often do some on the right wish that ‘religious freedom’ didn’t allow the state some space for neutrality or enable more religious division to develop?  These tragedies might give us pause as they invite us in this nation to appreciate more fully the relative peace and security that we do have.

In France, last Monday morning before the flames engulfed Notre Dame, the Blessed Sacrament lay inside the church and a rather ordinary gold cross was suspended above the altar.

These made for two remarkable stories arising from the tragedy.  The chaplain of the Paris Fire Brigade, Father Jean-Marc Fournier, led an effort to save, among other things, the Crown of Thorns and the Blessed Sacrament.  And the image of the cross released in the wake of the fire was one of the most striking causes for hope.

How often do we fail to notice these, or take them for granted?

How many times do we look at a beautifully constructed cross and forget that it was Christ and His outpouring of love which transformed this symbol of injustice into a sign of the victory over sinful death? How many times do we forget that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our own lives, for our own happiness found in His Presence?  How often do we profane the Body and Blood He gave to us?

Through the tragedies and suffering, we are reminded during Holy Week that there is nothing we bear that Christ Himself did not bear for us and our salvation.  His Resurrection invites us into the fullest reality of our created existence and the mysterious promise of that existence. We are created in, by, and for love. Forever.

Jesus said to the disciples a second time, “Where I am going, you cannot follow now.” And this time, He added, “But you will follow later.”  

Let our hearts bear the suffering and rejoice in the promise.

Nick Marr is a junior from San Diego, CA. He studies history and political theory. As a 10 year old, he argued with a Supreme Court justice about who was a bigger Notre Dame fan.  It was neither his first nor his last argument. You can reach him at nmarr@nd.edu.

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