The Bishop of Dudley – on ‘Suffering’

Passion and Passion

Today we begin our Holy Week journey with Jesus, following the Way of the Cross. It’s a week when people like me, who are a clear ‘T’ or Thinking type personality, have to let our intellectualising take second place to our emotions. We need to feel first, and then strive for some modest measure of understanding afterwards.

Once again I’m indebted to that great saint, Francis of Assisi, for showing the way. For beyond the sentimental image of Francis preaching to the birds and befriending the animals is the reality of a man who took the Way of the Cross into the heart of his life. When Francis prayed that he might feel in his own body as much as he could humanly bear of what Jesus felt on the cross, he did so not out of perverted masochism, nor even like those contemporary flagellants who sought to punish their bodies as an expiation of sin. Francis embraced suffering because he knew that this was the only way in which he would be able to feel in his own body as much as he could humanly bear of the love that held Jesus to the cross, and held him there with a force no nails could equal. What Francis had found was that the cross is not some intellectual solution to the questions of Judgement and Salvation, instead it is the place where divine love shows itself in its fullness, and so doing conquers all.

If two individuals as different as St Paul and St John can be united in placing love at the apex of their theology, then we need to accept Francis not as just some medieval mystic, but as one of our prime theologians. But it’s a theology that forms and grows in the heart long before it finds a lodging place in the mind. And so my focus this Holy Week, and one I commend to you, is to so enter into the Passion of Christ that we enter also into the heart of his love, into that more contemporary understanding of the very word ‘passion’. Yet, as one whose faith ever seeks understanding, I want to take with me on this week’s journey a particular question, the question of why there must be suffering at all.

For I think I’ve received a glimpse that such answer as there may be lies in that preeminence of love. Can it be that the world is as it is, with all the pain, evil and corruption that afflicts it, because in no other world could love be freely given and freely received? Can it be that the true question is not that of how a God of love can allow bad things to happen, but of how great must be the love that can know, feel and embrace all that suffering, and taking it, transform it into more love?

David Walker
David Walker is Bishop of Dudley in the diocese of Worcester

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The question is often asked of Christians: “How can any good possibly come out of suffering?” The clear answer from Bishop David Walker is –  “through our empathetic relationship with Jesus Christ in His Passion”. This is why the catholic ethos of liturgical representation of the Way of The Cross during Holy Week is such an important feature of our incorporation into the ‘mystery’ of God’s suffering, in the humanity of Jesus.

I well remember in my youth, the wise advice of a dear older friend who, when one felt able to share some problem – of pain, or situation – with her; her inevitable advice was to ‘Offer it up’ – to Jesus, and hope that this small ‘sharing’ of our passion with His great Passion might in some way be redemptive – not just for one’s-self, but also for the greater suffering of the world. Slowly, one got used to the idea that Jesus, in his full humanity, really is present in our suffering – opening up the way for us to be present with others in theirs – if we so will it to be.

“Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore, let us keep the feast. Not with the old leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand – Palm Sunday, 2013

About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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