Passio Caritatis: God’s Power to Suffer With the Suffering

The power of the Cross rebukes the power of the world.

[1] Today, the world laments the death of the only Son – of Mary and Joseph and of God the Father. The German word Karfreitag connotes the idea of lamentation or complaint, klage (from the Old High German kara); the complaint of the Crucified resounds during the veneration of the Cross: Popule meus, quid feci tibi?; responde mihi (My people, what have I done to you? To what have I provoked you? Answer me!); however, other appropriate songs replaced this chant. Take note; the German Freitag (Friday) consists of two words – frei means free and tag means day; it means a free day; whether it is by vocabulary coincidence or something else, Karfreitag is theologically speaking about our liberation day from the grip of the power of sinful death.

[2] The English term Good Friday wherein good is derived primarily either from the corrupt form of the word for God; or good, pious, or holy: theologically, it is preferable the first possible origin because, on this day, God is the main protagonist of the divine goodness that relativized all created goodness: the good here is no other than God in the Crucified Christ, He is the summum bonum that liberates creation from the summum malum. Mark 10:17-18 reminds us of the good that only God is: “And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, 'Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone’.”

[3] The Filipino term for this special day is Biyernes Santo; it came from the Spanish word Viernes Santo means holy Friday. The accent here is the Santo, which refers to the Holy One of Israel whose death rendered this day holy Friday, and the holiness is visible from the point of liberation from the power of sin.

[4] Going back to the German connotation of Good Friday, one may say, what is the sense of the day's lamentation if someone does not lament over one's miseries confronted and yet consoled by the power of the Crucified; This day's event points out to three kinds of forces, namely: the mortification of the divine power, the power of forgiveness, and the power to endure suffering.

The omnipotence of God is manifested in his power to suffer with his suffering people.

(1) The power of the cross rebukes the power of the world

[5] The world boastfully acclaims that the power of man can do what once was impossible for him to do; the measure of one’s worth according to the world’s standard is to maximize the use of secular power and authority – to create and recreate, to destroy and annihilate, to produce and reproduce. History testifies to the abuse of power by some world leaders (e.g., Nero, Hitler, Mussolini, etc.). They took into their hands human life’s destiny (e.g., abortion, genocide, euthanasia, etc.) as if it is their inherent prerogative.

[6] On the Cross, the Father demonstrated the true meaning of being powerful; He can turn them into frogs, but He did not do it; He can save Christ from death, but He did not spare Him: God shows that divine power is not measured by demonstrating what it can do but instead by not doing what it can for the greatest good of creation, which is salvation; The divine power confronts the human claims for absolute power which contribute to the culture of death.

(2) The power of forgiveness against the evil of men

[7] The Cross is the concrete testimony of human capacity to do evil that he even murdered God without remorse; it is no wonder that today man can repeat it systematically (e.g., holocaust) in the name of law or religion. If man can murder the Son of God, he could murder too his fellow man in spite the fact that every man is the image of God (in the Crucified); so, every action against a human being is also against the Crucified.

[8] Yet the gravity of man’s evil cannot parallel the immensity of God's love for sinners. There is no sin beyond the reach divine forgiveness. So, it becomes a norm that every man is to forgive others as He forgives us; lastly, one can see on the Cross the coherence of Christ’s teaching as found in the Our Father: And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. God sets us the example of forgiveness; failure to follow this example contributes to the culture of mortal sin.

[9] Mortal sin is a quality of action that deprives grace of the soul that leads to death. It stands opposite to the divine love whose immensity cannot be measured by the gravity of man's sin. As a priestly people, God empowers men to forgive one another as Christ did to overcome the culture mortal sin.

[10] Furthermore, man’s refusal to forgive contributes to the culture of death. His refusal to forgive impedes the growth of healthy relationships with fellow men. It discourages a person to enter into a new relationship (friendship). Such a person is like a man under the shadow of a tree of hatred and suspicion persistently refusing to expose himself to the sun's healing light.

(3) The power to endure suffering

[11] God does not eliminate suffering instead He gives it a Christological form and consequently acquires a didactic dimension; God can suffer with man and all sufferings are within the suffering of Jesus. He is the caritatis concretum (concrete charity) of God to men and his suffering is the passio concretum (concrete suffering) of man in the Trinity; He christified the human suffering and through it has been obtained the communion between God and men.

[12] Unfortunately, man excludes the reality of suffering in his relationship with the Almighty: man measures God’s power through His ability to eliminate human suffering. If He does not respond to men’s expectations: they begin to doubt His existence. In the person of Christ, human suffering becomes a proof not only of His existence but of His love to humanity.

[13] There is nothing wrong with prayer for deliverance from suffering, but one should also pray for God’s will even if he has to suffer: God will sustain him to bear it. Then, it will become an instrument for the mission. A suffering man united with the suffering Christ is united too with the sufferings of countless people in the world, particularly those who suffer for justice’s sake.

[14] The power of God to suffer with man through Christ confronts all the powerful figures of the world specifically the underlying motives of their good deeds. As mentioned above, good actions remain outside the benefactors; suffering with the suffering is more a noble form of charity: to give food to a hungry child across the street is a noble act of charity, yet afterward, one may continue to eat his meal and be satisfied.

[15] Lastly, the suffering of Christ enables man to suffer with the Son of God and with his neighbors; to suffer for and with Him is obedience to the first great commandment (i.e., the love of God), while to suffer with our brethren is the fulfillment of the second great commandment – the love of neighbor, as I love myself; here, one finds the meaning of “with all” in Mt 22:37: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’.” Those who suffer can be charitable by uniting themselves with the suffering Christ; on the Cross, suffering becomes caritas in passione: the passion of Christ becomes our compassion for our brethren.


Fra Alfonsus D. Panaligan, OFMConv., SThD
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