Why Jesus suffered

Question: My daughter-in-law was watching “The Bible” on TV and said she did not understand why had Jesus to suffer so much. I am not sure how to answer why his Father made him go through so much. 

Rose Haynick, Florida

Answer: One of the difficulties in understanding why Jesus suffered for sinners is that many of us, especially in the modern world, tend to think of sin only in legal terms as the breaking of some abstract rules. But sin causes real harm and has real effects, and these must be healed. Something actually has to happen. 

For example, let us say that you see me near the edge of a cliff and warn me to take three steps to the right. But let us also say that, out of rebellion, I take three steps to the left, and slide down a great cliffside into an abyss. I lie there, injured and utterly incapable of ever rescuing myself.  

Let us then say, in my humiliation and pain, I cry out and ask you to forgive me. In your mercy, you say ‘yes.’ And that is forgiveness. But in order to be healed and restored, you will now have to expend great effort to come down the cliffside, care for my wounds and carry me out of the abyss. 

As I hope you can see by this analogy, my sin was not simply the breaking of rule. Deep and devastating effects happened in my life, and I was incapable of restoring myself. And this was our state; we were dead in our sins (see Col 2:13). We were incapable of ever restoring or healing ourselves. 

Jesus, therefore, not only brought us God’s forgiveness, but also extended the effort and agony to come down, heal our wounds and lift us up. This was a great and painful effort. Our sinful disobedience had brought us suffering and death. Jesus took up that suffering and that death in order to restore us, even to elevate us to a higher place. 

The horrible suffering of Jesus shows us very clearly how awful sin really is, how it disfigures, wounds and even brings us death. These are realities, and Jesus takes them up in order to heal them and carry them away for us. We tend to make light of sin today. It is no light matter, and to remember that we do well to look to any crucifix and see what love cost him.

Celebrant’s seat

Question: I recently saw the picture of Pope Francis seated near the back of the chapel instead of up front in the special chair for the celebrant. I am moved by this humility, and I wonder why must the priest sit up front during Mass.  

Name withheld, San Diego, Calif.

Answer: To clarify, Pope Francis was seated in the back of the chapel before the sacred liturgy. Once the liturgy began, he vested and moved forward to the celebrant’s chair. 

The celebrant of the Mass sits up front in virtue of the fact that he acts in persona Christi. Hence, the celebrant’s chair, and the priest being seated in a prominent, visible place in the sanctuary, is not honoring of “Father Joe Smith” the man, but, rather, of Jesus Christ who acts in and through the priest, who is configured to Jesus by holy orders. 

In this sense, through the Sacrament of Holy Orders, the priest in the liturgy is a kind of sacrament of the presence of Christ.   

It is Christ who is honored and who has a prominent seat. Jesus Christ is the true celebrant and high priest of every liturgy. 

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to msgrpope@osv.com. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.