ND   The Friendship of Christ / by Robert Hugh Benson


Christ in the Sufferer

I fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ. -- COLOSS. i: 24.

WE have considered how Christ, the Key of the House of David, is the solution and answer of many doctrines found difficult of apprehension by NonCatholics. For example, we are thought to "preach the Church rather than Christ," to be superstitious, if not idolatrous, in our worship of the Blessed Sacrament or in our reverence for the Saints, to exalt overmuch the Christian priesthood, to be too friendly towards sinners and too easy in our absolutions. And it is not until the mind grasps that Christ is the solution of each, that the difficulty vanishes in a blaze of light: for, so soon as it perceives that the Church is the Body in which Christ dwells and energizes, that the Blessed Sacrament is Himself in the very Human Nature in which He lived on earth and now triumphs in Heaven, that the sanctity of the Saints is His own, that sacerdotal words and actions are the words and actions of the Eternal Priest, and that the supreme claim of sinners or

102 THE FRIENDSHIP OF CHRIST --> other persons lies in the Presence of Christ outraged and crucified or neglected within them -- the instant these things are seen, and Christ is perceived as extended within these planes and realms, in each in its own manner and degree, not only do difficulties vanish, but new and astounding avenues are opened up by which Christ can be approached and apprehended as the Lover and Friend of Souls, desirous only to be known and loved.

Let us consider one more such type -- a problem indeed that stretches wider than dogmatic Catholicism, since it is present in every philosophy and every religion -- and see whether Christ is not the Key of this also -- the Problem of Pain.

I. It is this problem that stands in the heart of every attempt to solve the riddle of the Universe -- the question as to why pain is, or seems to be, the inseparable accompaniment of life. A thousand attempts have been made to answer it. One answer is that of Monism -- that there is in existence no actual God at all of infinite Love and Power, and that pain is merely another name for the upward effort of the inchoate Divinity to realize Itself. Another answer is that of the Buddhist -- that pain is the inevitable consequence of personal sin, and that the sufferings of each individual are the punishment of his guilt in a previous life. It has been reserved for a sect of our own days to maintain that there is no problem, because there is no pain! -- that the whole thing is an illusion; that "thinking makes it so." But no attempt is made in this system to explain why thinking should take this unhappy form, nor why we should think so at all.

Here then the problem stands. We see it, crying for a solution in every innocent child that suffers in his body, it may be, for the sins of his parents; in every anxious heart tormented by sympathy or by the result of crimes for which it is not responsible; and, above all, in every burdened and darkened soul that believes that she has mortally and irreparably offended a God whom she has always striven to serve. It is not the direct and evident consequence of personal sin to the sinner which we find difficult; we are not shocked when the murderer is hanged or the wife-beater flogged -- so far, our ideas of justice and the Divine Idea run in agreement. But it is when, let us say, a child who is incapable of learning a moral lesson, suffers for a sin which he cannot even understand; or when a naturally sweet character is, apparently, maddened and embittered by a pain which he cannot see that he has deserved -- when sorrow is borne, over and over again, by souls who seem to have a claim on joy, while on the other hand we see "the wicked also highly exalted"{1} -- it is then that we are bewildered.

II. First, it is necessary to remark that the chief reason why the intellect fails always to analyse Satisfactorily this supreme problem, is because it was never intended to do so. It would be as foolish to attempt to put a mother's love under a microscope, or to "search the universe with a telescope" in the hope of finding God. For pain is one of those vast fundamental facts that must be scrutinized by the whole of man -- his heart and his will and his experience -- as well as by his head; or not at all. Strictly speaking the intellect is only adequate to the "exact sciences," which is another name for intellectual abstractions from the realm of concrete fact. I can add two and two together infallibly, because "two and two" is an abstraction which my intellect makes from the world around me. But I cannot place two persons together and calculate exactly the effect upon their future lives, or, it may be, upon myself. If the Problem of Pain is to be solved at all, it must be solved by man, not by a part of him.

And when we turn to Christ crucified, knowing who and what He is, we see the problem set before us in its most acute form. It is not a man who hangs there, however innocent; it is Man without his guilt. And it is not merely unfallen Man who hangs there, it is Incarnate God. Certainly this does not answer the problem as to how it can be just that one can suffer for the sins of another; but it does unmistakably shew to us that one can so suffer, conscious of the fact, and can acquiesce in it; and, further, that this Law of Atonement is of so vast and fundamental a sweep and effect that the Lawgiver Himself can submit to it. It gives us then, as Christians, exactly the reassurance that we need; since it is demonstrated to us that pain is not an unhappy accident of life, not a piece of heartless carelessness, not a labouring struggle upwards on the part of an embryo God; but a part of life so august and so far-reaching that, since the Creator Himself can submit to it, it must fall under that Divine standard of Justice into which our own ideas of justice must some day be expanded. This does not explain the problem; it makes the steps of its working out even, perhaps, more bewildering than before; yet for Christians it does this at least -- it demonstrates the total sum worked out and placarded"{2} (in St. Paul's phrase) before our eyes.

Accepting this, then, so far as a working hypothesis -- so far as to believe that the Atonement that Christ wrought is according to this incomprehensible law -- we turn again to those other innocent sufferers -- to the crippled child, the agonized mother, the darkened melancholiac soul.

Now if we isolate these sufferers from the rest of the human race, if we take them out of their context and regard them one by one, again we are baffled. But if, on the other hand, we do that which we have been doing throughout these considerations -- meditate, that is, upon how it may be possible to see Christ in them -- light begins to glimmer at once. . . .

We reflected not long ago on the claim of the Church -- the sanctified organ of humanity -- to be the body in which Christ dwells. So far as this is so, then, we see, as in the authority of the Church the authority of Christ, His sanctity in hers, His priesthood in her ministers, so in her pains His Calvary. These sufferers, then, are extensions of Himself crucified, as His priests are His agents. That which He did on Calvary -- that mysterious atonement in which Humanity united to God was the victim -- He represents, as we have seen, in the Sacrifice of the Mass; now we see again how He offers once more that same sacrifice, though in another mode altogether, under the terms of the blood and tears of those who are united with Him. "I fill up," says St. Paul, "those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ."{3} "I work out, that is," the sufferer may say, "under terms of my own humanity, that atonement which He offered in His own. I am the minister of Christ, as His priest in one manner, His Saint in another, and his whole Church in a third." It does not greatly affect the situation whether or no the sufferer may be fully or indeed at all conscious of his work, for it is in virtue of the humanity common to himself and Christ that his pain avails; the priest at the altar may be an infidel, or violently distracted, yet he consecrates the Body of the Lord; the fever-patient may be rebellious and break out into furious complaint, yet it is nevertheless the patient Christ who suffers in him.

What, then, is the value of a willing sacrifice? It lies in this at least, that it solves practically and satisfactorily the whole problem of pain; since the words a willing sufferer are merely a phrase to describe a soul who has solved it -- not, that is to say, that he has done the impossible and compressed the problem into the limits of his own intellect, but that he has, somehow or another, succeeded in doing that which the intellect alone could not enable him to do -- he has risen with his whole being (worked upon by that Divinity of which the Law of Atonement is an evident principle), has risen to that high atmosphere in which Christ rendered His Soul into His Father's hands, and embraced, and thereby silenced for ever, at least in himself, that question which tortures perpetually those of us who merely stand by and look on.

III. How august and tremendous, therefore, becomes the dignity of the suffering soul, who, seeing Christ within her, desires to unite her pain with His, or, rather, to offer her pain as the instrument of His atonement, since Christ alone can bear the sins of the world! These living crucifixes stand clear altogether of that wrangling world of controversy in which we ourselves dispute. And we, too, looking upon them and seeing in them not merely separate human souls that twist in agony, but souls in whom Christ is set forth evidently crucified, learn one more lesson of the Friendship of Christ -- the last, perhaps, to be learned of all -- that He who in His glorious and mystical Body demands our obedience, in His Sacramental Body our adoration, in His Priest our reverence, in His Saints our admiration, and for His dear sinners our forgiveness, asks too, in those who are conformed to Him outwardly as well as inwardly -- who bear their pain solely because He bears it for them -- for that which is the most sweet of all the emotions that go to make up friendship, -- our tenderness and our compassion.

"I fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ."{4}

Then let us make haste to minister wine at last, instead of vinegar, to our Friend who cries for it.

{1} Ps. xxxvi: 35.

{2} proegrathê, Gal. iii: 1.

{3} Col. i: 24.

{4} Col. i: 24.

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