The other day I was talking with a man whose wife died within the past year. She collapsed in January, was eventually diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, and died within six months.
I remarked that it seemed her death had not been a challenge to his faith, as death sometimes is for people, notably C.S. Lewis. He said no, certainly not.
He said that once, his daughter had come home from school upset and angry with God for letting her mom suffer so much without, seemingly, lifting a finger to help. But she later told him that she realized we are here for the purpose of getting to heaven. Why, then, complain when a loved one (as we hope) attains that goal?
He also told me about an old Protestant friend, who for years has been sending reading materials his way, in an effort to get him to reconsider whether his Catholic faith is not just a matter of external actions, of going through the motions without experiencing the power of the Gospel in a real, interior way.
But he said that what Protestants miss, is the crucifix. By this he meant not the ornamental bangle that people wear around their necks, but what it stands for. Christianity, he said, is all about seeing that figure on the cross, and conforming yourself to it.
Life isn’t fair, his daughter had complained. And you know what (he said)? She was right: It’s not fair. And the crucifix is the ultimate illustration of the fact.
Being a Christian is about laying down your life in the face of life’s unfairness, difficulties and sufferings. I’m reminded of this post of Adam Greenwood’s on Junior Ganymede, in which he quotes Dorothy Sayers, speaking of those who “refuse to assent to reality, who rebel against the nature of things and who choose to think that what we at the moment want is the centre of the universe to which everything else ought to accommodate itself”.
This is the opposite of the Cross. These people (and there but for the grace of God…) want reality to be put on the Cross instead of themselves: Let reality suffer and die at the hands of my desires, rather than my desires at the hands of reality. Which is more or less like saying, “Let God be crucified rather than myself.” Adam writes that “This is the ideology of hell….” Precisely so.
The Cross without Christ represents Christianity without suffering. “The suffering has already been done by Christ”, some say. What then does it mean to take up our cross daily? (Mt. 16:24) To die to self and live for Christ (Mk. 8:35; Jn. 12:25), or to be crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20)?
If we are united with Christ, then we are united in his sufferings as well as his glory (Phil. 3:10), and thus in his salvific offering of himself in sacrifice. If we don’t suffer with him, we may not be glorified with him. (Rom. 8:16-17) This is of the essence.