Friday, April 18, 2014

A God With Whom It is Possible to Connect

Continuing with The Wild Reed's 2014 Holy Week series, I share today a fourth excerpt from John Neafsey's book A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Justice. (To start at the beginning of this series, click here.)

As with all the excerpts from Neafsey's book shared so far in this series, this fourth one focuses on suffering, a key theme in the Gospel narratives of Jesus' final days and a reality which, to some degree or another, we all experience in our lives.

In the twenty centuries of the Christian tradition, contemplation of the image and reality of the crucified Jesus has served as a saving lifeline to God for suffering people. One evening, on a recent visit to Guatemala, I observed a group of very poor people in a church patiently waiting in line for their turn to pray in front of a life-sized statue of the crucified Jesus. Each person, in their turn, went to the foot of the cross, and, as they prayed quietly about whatever was on their minds or in their hearts, they reached up and literally clung to the legs of Jesus. From the looks of life-long suffering etched into their faces, I suspect that some were hanging on for dear life.

Although distorted forms of Christian piety can become morbidly preoccupied with the passion and death of Jesus, authentic Christian spirituality is not about suffering for its own sake. It is about the redemptive breakthrough of love and compassion through suffering, or in the midst of it, or in spite of it. "Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!" The crucified Jesus offers people an image of God that captures the heart and the imagination. This is a God with whom it is possible to connect – a human God, a God who suffers, a compassionate God who is able to appreciate what it is to be a suffering human being. "For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses," reads the Letter to the Hebrews, "but . . . one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin." The one who is able to sympathize or empathize with human weakness and pain is accessible, approachable. "Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we mat receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

In a mysterious way, the crucified Jesus not only provides us with a concrete image of God's love and compassion for suffering humanity but also evokes compassion in us for the God who suffers. The image of the crucified Jesus gives us a feeling for the radical vulnerability and helplessness of God. We are touched and moved by the suffering of God. There is a give-and-take of compassion, an experience of shared suffering: God feels for us and we feel for God. The evocative words of the African American spiritual "Were You There?" capture this poignant feeling for many people: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? / Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble / Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The image of Jesus can also serve as a point of compassionate connection with suffering humanity, with the God who is suffering right now in suffering persons and in the "crucified peoples" of the world. We move from personal, private, inner contemplation of the suffering God into the world of social suffering, to the encounter with God in the lives of suffering human beings. We experience God very concretely in those whose pains and needs are crying out for our attention, in the experience of solidarity and sharing in their suffering, in our attempts to be of service in some way. "I am endeavoring to see God through service to humanity, " wrote Gandhi, "for I know that God is neither in heaven, nor down below, but in everyone."

– John Neafsey
A Sacred Voice is Calling
pp. 127-129

For previous Good Friday posts, see:
Jesus and the Art of Letting Go
No Deeper Darkness
An Expression of Human Solidarity
The Most Dangerous Kind of Rebel
The Passion of Christ (Part 7) – Jesus Goes to His Execution
The Passion of Christ (Part 8) – Jesus is Nailed the Cross
The Passion of Christ (Part 9) – Jesus Dies

See also:
Why Jesus is My Man
Bishop Gumbleton: A Priesthood Set Apart and Above Others is Not the Way of Jesus

Recommended Off-site Links:A Holy Week Reflection on Church and State and Pope Francis – Betty Clermont (The Open Tabernacle, April 17, 2014).
Pope at Foot-washing: Jesus Wants Everyone to Serve Others with Love – Carol Glatz (National Catholic Reporter, April 17, 2014).
Good Friday 2014: Origins, Observances and Fasting RulesHuff Post Religion (April 17, 2014).
"There Is No Such Thing As Foreign Suffering": Good Friday Meditation Points – William D. Lindsey (Bilgrimage, April 18, 2014).
Good Friday on Jerusalem's Via Dolorosa Marked by Christians Commemorating Jesus' CrucifixionThe Huffington Post (April 18, 2014).
Did Jesus Really Die for Our Sins? – Christian Piatt (The Huffington Post, October 18, 2011).

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