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Identifying with the Crucified

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a great contest of suffering. At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction; at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated. You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, knowing that you had a better and lasting possession. Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised. For, after just a brief moment, he who is to come shall come; he shall not delay. But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him. We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life. (Hebrews 10:32-36)

The suffering to which the sacred author refers in this passage from the Letter to the Hebrews is associated with the persecutions which Christians endured at the hands of non-believers. You may remember that I wrote some time ago when we first started reading the Letter to the Hebrews that the author was writing to a community which was experiencing a lack of confidence because of these persecutions. In this passage, he reminds the community of the reward that awaits those who are faithful. In modern parlance, this is called "deferred gratification." The individual endures a period of distress for the sake of a future reward. Those who are without faith may refer to this as "pie in the sky" thinking.

Notice that the author refers us to the fact that only those who have the gift of faith can place their confidence in the notion of gratification. Indeed, it is the gift of faith that makes it possible for us to endure any kind of suffering, any kind of pain. Of course, the example given to us by our crucified Savior is the foundation of that faith.

There is a rather familiar and famous image of St. Francis of Assisi kneeling at the foot of the cross with his arms wrapped around the feet of Jesus, nailed to the cross. The artist wanted to convey in a graphic way something that St. Francis tried to teach his followers; namely, that if we wish to be identified with Jesus, then we must follow in his footsteps to Calvary. St. Francis practiced extremes in mortification of his body. Yet his biographers also record that he suffered a disease of the eyes that caused him great pain. The medical treatment for this disease in the 13th century involved cauterizing the blood vessels in his temples with hot branding irons. Though medical practices of the 21st century have become far more refined, those of us who suffer with chronic pain and/or disability can, I daresay, identify with the pain this must have caused. Yet, St. Francis clung to the cross. May the same be said of us.

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