The Christian way is not one of avoidance but of participation in the suffering of Christ, which encompasses not only our suffering, but the suffering of the whole world. Thus St. Paul can say, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church, of which I became a minister according to the divine office which was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now made manifest to his saints.” Thus also Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic The Cost of Discipleship, wrote, “When Jesus calls a man, he calls him to come and die.”
To many this does not sound like good news. Christians also are embarrassed by the cross. A young woman tells me why she left the Church for a New Age empowerment group: “I was sick and tired of all that talk about blood and suffering. I wanted a positive spirituality.” Maybe she had been listening to the likes of the California evangelist who declares, “There’s nothing downbeat about the cross at New Life Cathedral.” It is difficult to imagine an upbeat cross. It is easy to understand why people might want to avoid the cross altogether. Avoiding the cross makes very good sense, if we do not know the One whom we join, the One who joins us, on the cross that is the world’s redemption. The victory of Christ is not a way of avoidance but the way of solidarity in suffering. Suffering and death are not “senseless,” something to be avoided at all costs. Not if they are understood as “completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church.” It is not that Christ did not do enough, but that he invites us to participate with him in the salvation of the world. When Jesus calls us, he calls us to come and die. We will die anyway. The question is whether we will die senselessly or as companions and coworkers of the crucified and risen Lord.
We were taking a train from Grand Central Station, where at any moment one sees thousands, even tens of thousands, of the hurried, harried and worried; it seems the entire human condition on disorderly parade. Musicians regularly perform in the great hall of Grand Central, and today it was a young woman singing “Amazing Grace” with a voice of crystalline purity that echoed through the crowded chamber. “How very sad,” observed my Christian friend, “that so many of those people do not know Jesus as their Savior.” And of course she is right, it is very sad. Yet I confess that my sensation was very different, looking at this ragtag horde of humanity. How amazing the grace, I thought, that all of them, all of this, all is redeemed.