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Knowing Christ in Suffering


The Stations of the Cross, also known as the Way of the Cross, offer a miniature pilgrimage through the last day of Christ on Earth, when we offered his life in sacrifice fulfilling scripture and ultimately overcoming sin and defeating death once and for all. This devotion of Christ’s suffering and sacrifice has been practiced by the faith for the entirety of the Church’s life, with ‘tradition holding that our Blessed Mother visited the scenes of our Lord’s passion daily.’[1] The Stations of the Cross are most often prayed as a community in the season of Lent due to the penitential focus in preparation of Easter. Throughout the life of the Church, the Stations grew and popularity and was eventually officially titled the “Via Dolorosa” meaning the Way of the Cross. This devotion offers a few very important themes and insights for the Christian life, those being the journey with Christ where come to walk closer with him in his ultimate sacrifice and vulnerability, understanding more fully the will of God that Christ is fulfilling as we know from John’s Gospel where Christ says: “I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me” (John 6:38), and finally to experience and understand Christ’s suffering. This opportunity to come to better know Christ and understand his destiny and suffering leads the faithful to understand our calling from the great commission to live as Christ did in full discipleship. So as we further our journey closer to Christ we look to the study and exegesis of the New Testament Gospels which offer the inspired testimony and witness of Christ’s life and ministry on Earth, in human terms. As we begin our progression in this discourse on discipleship let’s turn to Mark’s Gospel. In Mark’s Gospel two questions are posed, those being: ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is a disciple?’ As we read Mark’s Gospel, we begin to see a picture take form of who Christ is, especially when Christ asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). In this moment Mark shows that Jesus is Christ and leads us to begin answering the question of discipleship. We can see that Peter knows Christ, but hasn’t fully made the commitment into true discipleship, for to be in full and true discipleship of Christ, there are two stages; firstly, knowing Christ, and then living as Christ lived even unto Calvary. It's important to note that who Christ is and his destiny most be combined and not torn from one another, for in doing so you can no longer know Christ. Coming to knowing what it means to be a disciple and live true discipleship to Jesus Christ, is illuminated in knowing Christ and His destiny. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI says in his book The Joy of Knowing Christ, “the mystery of his death and resurrection, of his passion and of the joy of his resurrection… invites us to follow Jesus and thus walk towards it.’[2] Thus discipleship can be the only response of the faithful to knowing Christ and his suffering.


Let’s begin our study and exegesis by turning to Mark’s Gospel and he disciples journey to understand and know who Christ is amidst them. Mark’s Gospel offers an interesting look at Christ, where within the first chapter Christ is ‘baptized, tempted by Satan, begins preaching, calls on his first disciples, exercises a demon, and performs several miracles.’[3] The Gospel immediately begins with Christ’s ministry and with a clear understanding of the relationship between Christ and Satan, as protagonist and antagonist. The readers or Mark’s Gospel are fully aware of who Christ is in the opening chapters as God calls down from heaven as Christ is baptized, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). However, the human characters of the Gospel are often confused as to Christ’s mission and ministry, responding to him with anger or hostility, amazement and disbelief, and consistently confusion amongst the disciples. This is a common theme throughout the first half of Mark’s Gospel, a constant struggle of an inability to recognize Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah, Christ. However, as we see above, Mark poses two specific questions, ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is a disciple?’, and only after Peter’s divine inspiration in responding to Christ’s question “Who do you say that I am?”[4] do we see a clear shift in the momentum and progression of Mark’s Gospel to an understanding within the disciples of who Christ is. This is an important shift because it shows the inability of the disciples to recognize Christ, not only as who he is, but what he has to do. As we move further throughout Mark’s Gospel, three separate times Jesus foretells of his death and resurrection[5] and each time is met with frustration and confusion from the disciples. This raises a difficult point; the disciples have come to know who Christ is yet they are afraid of completely following him to the cross. Only Mary has seemingly committed herself fully to Christ in discipleship following him to the cross, as Pope St. John Paul II writes ‘always by his side is the Mother, that she bears her whole life to suffering. In her, the many and intense sufferings amassed in such a way that they were not only proof of her unshakable faith but also a contribution to the redemption of all.’[6] This particular look at Mary offers an immense look into understanding who Christ is, even unto Calvary, and knowing what that means. Mary as a disciple not only fully and willingly commits herself to Christ but in doing so also becomes a faithful example of discipleship. Her imagery and presentation throughout the Gospels shows the fullness of consecrated discipleship to Christ in knowing who he is and following the Way of the Cross, the “Via Dolorosa,” to Calvary. It’s clear to see in Mark’s Gospel that knowing Christ is more than recognizing that he is the Son of God, the Messiah, it calls on the faithful to also acknowledge Christ’s sacrifice and suffering, Christ’s destiny.


As we continue to answer the questions posed in Mark’s Gospel, we next need to know and understand Christ’s destiny. Several times throughout the course of Mark’s writing Christ confronts the discipleships specifically about his destiny and foretells his death and resurrection, each time being met with confusion and frustration. Starting in Mark 8:31 we see Jesus foretell the suffering and rejection her must endure before being killed and rising again, and immediately Peter rebukes him. Christ’s reaction at first seems extreme as he says to Peter “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men” (Mark 8:33), we’ll come back to this later on. In Mark 9:30, Jesus again confronts the disciples again saying that the ‘Son of God, will be delivered into the hands of men, and be killed’[7] and rise again after three days, and the disciples are “confused and afraid to ask him” (Mark 9:32). Finally, in Mark 10, Jesus foretells his death and resurrection for a third time, this time in much greater detail. However, the response to Christ’s third revelation is a request from James and John, the sons of Zebedee, to be seated at the hands of Christ in glory, offering themselves in humble servitude, in Mark 10:35-45. “But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the chalice that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able” (Mark 10:38-39) Jesus later on continues “But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:43-45). In this response it is important to pay close attention to how Christ encounters their desire to serve him fully, with an insight into the true destiny and fulfillment of his mission. Christ came that he may give his life as a ransom for many. For the first time the disciples begin to see the true calling of knowing who Christ is. This understanding of uniformity to God’s will, servitude and humility to death, as St. Alphonsus de Liguori says in Uniformity with God’s Will, “The essence of perfection is to embrace the will of God is all things, to untie to God’s will amidst wrong and pain.”[8] Coming into union with God’s will, living out the life of Christ, from mission to Calvary, from mercy to the cross, and rising again with him. We read in Romans 6, a discourse from St. Paul, on baptism and its relationship with our participation in the dying and rising of Christ. This brings us to the final question posed in Mark’s Gospel, which asks ‘What is a disciple?’


It’s important to note that as we try to answer the question of who Christ is, we must also understand his destiny, his sacrifice and his suffering, giving up his life for the ransom of many. What does this mean for the Christian life? What does this mean for discipleship? When St. Paul speaks of baptism in Romans 6 he speaks of the dying and rising in Christ that we participate in that free us from the slavery of sin and death and allows us to come into full uniformity with God’s will, slaves of obedience and righteousness. As Jacques Philippe says “freedom can only be found by submitting to God, in the ‘obedience of faith’ that St. Paul speaks of.”[9] The question posed in Mark’s Gospel challenges us to know Christ fully, even unto to Calvary in his suffering and sacrifice, and only in the fulfillment of living of the life of Christ fully can we come to understand completely what true discipleship in Christ is. Throughout Mark’s Gospel the disciples are fearful and even strongly opposed to Christ going to Calvary, showing that they are still unaware of what true discipleship is. Again, we look to Mary who shows true and unwavering devotion and love to Christ and following him to Calvary. We see Mary present throughout scripture at Christ’s side, at the wedding at Cana as his ministry begins even faithfully to the cross as all the other disciples run and flee in fear, unable to fully submit to God’s will. Ven. Fulton J. Sheen writes on her devotion: “Nowhere in Scripture is it ever said that Mary loved her son. Words do not prove love. But that love is hidden under the submission of her mind to him and her final injunction to us: “Whatsoever he shall say to you, do ye.”[10] Only through the resurrection of Christ and commission of the disciples do we see the posed questions of Mark’s Gospel begin to come to fruition within the disciples, ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is a disciple?’, seeing Christ risen from the dead resounded the divine inspiration needed within them to full submit to the uniformity in God’s will just as Mary had in her Magnificat. The human characters in Mark’s Gospel have a hardness of heart because of the fear of following Christ even unto Calvary, so much so that even after Christ had visited two of the apostles after rising from the dead, the others still found fear and disbelief. “And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. Afterward he appeared to the Eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen” (Mark 16:13-14). It’s important to note that their fear and hardness of heart left them destitute and unable to fully submit to God’s will, living as Christ did.


We find throughout Mark’s Gospel an inability to recognize who Christ is. However, as readers of Mark’s Gospel, we begin to see a picture take form of who Christ is, especially when Christ asks the disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ” (Mark 8:29). Again in this moment Mark shows that Jesus is Christ and leads us to begin answering the question of discipleship. These two questions posed by Mark, ‘Who is Jesus?’ and ‘What is a disciple?’, lay the pathway for a progression throughout his Gospel that details the disciples, and all human characters, growing in understanding of Christ and struggle to fully grasp the meaning of discipleship and willingness to fully commit to that calling. The fear that restricts them from believing in Christ, the fear that keeps them from acknowledging him, the fear that leads them away from the cross, is unrivaled by the outpouring of Christ’s ministry and constant teaching to the disciples and the ever-present and true lasting actions of our Mother Mary. The story line that progresses throughout Mark’s Gospel comes to fruition only in the final verses as the disciples finally and fully commit themselves in full and willing discipleship to Christ as he comes to them after rising from the dead, defeating sin and death, and commissions them to preach the gospel to the world.


Todd Mesler, Jr.




Bibliography

● Benedict. The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels. Ijamsville, MD: Word Among Us, 2009. Print. 59.

● Liguori, Alfonso Maria De' Uniformity With God's Will. N.p.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; NetLibrary, 2000. Print. 8.

● Paul, John. On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering = Salvifici Doloris: Apostolic Letter of John Paul II. Boston: Pauline & Media, 1984. Print.

● Philippe, Jacques. Interior Freedom. New York: Scepter, 2007. Print. 14.

● Sanders, Fr. William. "How Did the Stations of the Cross Begin?" EWTN. N.p., 10 Mar. 1994. Web. 03 Mar. 2016.

● Sheen, Fulton J. Seven Words of Jesus and Mary. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1945. Print. 91.

● The Holy Bible NRSV

[1] Sanders, Fr. William. "How Did the Stations of the Cross Begin?" EWTN. N.p., 10 Mar. 1994. Web. 03 Mar. 2016. [2] Benedict. The Joy of Knowing Christ: Meditations on the Gospels. Ijamsville, MD: Word Among Us, 2009. Print. 59. [3] See Mark 1:9, 13, 14, 17, 25-26, 31, 44. [4] Mark 8:29 [5] Mark 8:31, 9:30, 10:32 [6] Paul, John. On the Christian Meaning of Human Suffering = Salvifici Doloris: Apostolic Letter of John Paul II. Boston: Pauline & Media, 1984. Print. [7] Mark 9:31 [8] Liguori, Alfonso Maria De' Uniformity With God's Will. N.p.: Christian Classics Ethereal Library ; NetLibrary, 2000. Print. 8. [9] Philippe, Jacques. Interior Freedom. New York: Scepter, 2007. Print. 14. [10] Sheen, Fulton J. Seven Words of Jesus and Mary. New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1945. Print. 91.



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