“The most beautiful act of faith is the one made in darkness, in sacrifice, and with extreme effort”– St. Padre Pio
There are two sides to every story. Behind every story of healing is a story of heartbreak. Behind every victory is a series of failures. More often than not, behind a kind and joyful person is a history of hurts and suffering.
True conversions of the soul and redemption often start deep in the pit of darkness, doubt, and despair. It is not pretty, but from these less-than-auspicious beginnings, beauty and healing grow. We can see this in the Old Testament, specifically in the Psalms and the book of Job. Most prominently, though, Our Lord endured this redemptive suffering in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Redemptive suffering plays an enormous role in an individual soul’s redemption and the Redemption of all the world.
The First Side: Rocky Soil
“Reckoning” or “Reality Check” would be appropriate names for the first side of redemption. This reckoning often starts in an individual soul with a movement. This movement could come from within oneself or from his circumstances.
An interior movement could be a simple question like, “What do I really believe?” or even “What if there’s Truth with a capital ‘T’?” It could be an episode of mental illness that leaves one afraid of his own thoughts. It could be an event or word that triggers long-buried memories and feelings of insecurity and fear.
On the other hand, an exterior movement comes from the outside, an event or circumstance that is thrust upon someone. An exterior movement could be a natural disaster. It could be the death of a friend or family member. It could be loss of a job. Perhaps it’s the betrayal of an old friend. It could be a long-dreaded diagnosis.
Oftentimes, the immediate result is silence, which, for a suffering soul, is anything but peaceful. The reigning question is, “What now?” In moments like these, one questions why he ever put security in what he lost. Everything seems to be moving in dreadfully slow-motion. One feels both numbness and extreme pain. Eating is hard, and sleeping even worse. One starts to re-evaluate where he puts his confidence and what are his priorities.
In Psalm 42, the writer sums up this pain perfectly. Who can’t associate with the heart-wrenching words, “My tears have been my meat day and night while they continually say unto me Where is thy God?” (Psalm 42: 3)? For the writer, everything holds the ashen tinge of darkness and better days seem like a far-off memory. The writer thirsts for his God and for relief with a burning intensity and knows that only His Face will save his soul.
Job in the Old Testament experiences a similar downfall and sorrow. God retracts Job’s many blessings, leaving him with nothing. His children and livestock die, he falls severely ill, and his friends abandon him. Despair consumes Job so fully that he curses the day of his birth (Job 3). Even worse, his friends whisper that God has abandoned him because of his own unrighteousness.
In the Chaplet of Divine Mercy, the repeated phrase is “For the sake of His Sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.” His Passion was indeed the most sorrowful event in human history, wherein God died for man’s many sins.
He is led out, stripped, whipped, and crucified. The Stations of the Cross attest to Christ’s extreme suffering, as He walked the way of tears. His suffering encompassed all of His Person– physical, emotional, and spiritual. As the crucifix in the St. Peter’s chapel depicts so beautifully, Christ’s sorrow was complete. Look into His exhausted, bloody, scorned Face. That is what redemption looks like.
The Second Side: Flowers Blossom Again
This side is what most associate with the word “redemption.” Individually speaking, this is when the soul learns how to love again. If the soul is a garden, this is when flowers begin to peep through the rocky, barren soil and turn their faces towards the sun. The soul starts to see goodness in things again.
In Job, this happens when God responds to Job’s incessant questions about suffering. In response, God asks Job a series of His own questions– namely, God asks Job if he has His knowledge or power: “Will you make my judgment null and void; and will you condemn me so that you may be justified? And do you have an arm like God, or a voice like thunder?” (Job 40: 3-4). Returning to Psalm 42, the writer finds a similar answer in God’s own Being, saying “Why art thou cast down O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance and my God.”
In both situations, the sufferer finds an answer in the Essence of God. In this sense, suffering is redemptive when it spurs one to run towards God. The individual soul finds its rest in God, and, through this resting, the seeds that were planted with tears spring up into flowers of the rarest beauty. These flowers, practically speaking, can manifest themselves in many ways: compassionate eyes, hands willing to serve the poor and lonely, a tongue ready to speak words of truth, and a heart in which others can rest and see the Light of Christ.
On a greater scale, Our Lord’s sorrowful Passion ushered in the most beautiful reason for hope: Christ’s Resurrection from the dead. In an ironic and unexpected twist, the ultimate Eucatastrophe broke death’s chains. Christ Jesus rose triumphant from the grave. However, His risen Body still retains the wounds of crucifixion.In fact, He even invited Thomas to put his hand in the pierced side. Even Our Lord did not wish to hide or downplay the suffering He chose to endure for mankind’s redemption.
As I said at the beginning, there are two sides to every story: the painful one that most don’t recognize and the beautiful side. They both comprise the work of redemption– personal and across humanity. The healing flowers give glory to the tears that watered them, and the tears give realism to healing. Redemption is a messy business, but it is thoroughly real.
This Lent, let’s reflect on the paradoxical beauty of real, unfiltered redemption and its epitome: the Cross and the glorious Resurrection. Have a blessed Lent.
Rex est Christus