The Christian faith has shown us that truth, justice and love are not simply ideals, but enormously weighty realities. It has shown us that God —Truth and Love in person—desired to suffer for us and with us. Bernard of Clairvaux coined the marvellous expression: Impassibilis est Deus, sed non incompassibilis—God cannot suffer, but he can suffer with. Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way—in flesh and blood—as is revealed to us in the account of Jesus’ Passion. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God's compassionate love—and so the star of hope rises.
Spe Salvi 39
Reflection – So this is the crux of the matter (pun somewhat intended) in this whole business of suffering and our relationship to it. That God cannot suffer sounds hard and off-putting to us, but it follows upon our understanding of the nature of God. Suffering always flows from a lack of something in us, a privation, an imperfection; God is perfect and lacks nothing.But this perfect and hence impassible God also lacks nothing in terms of love for his creatures. And so God who cannot suffer can suffer with—can have compassion. And this is the whole Christian revelation, the whole Christian mystery. God comes to us and makes himself able to suffer by assuming a human body and soul.
We’re starting Advent this evening, a new liturgical year with (in the English world) a new translation of the Mass to accompany it. Advent is the season where longing for the second coming and joyful anticipation of the celebration of the first coming mingle together.
But you can see how these two are related. We long for the second and final coming of Christ, because this is our true and deepest hope. The world continues on its path of suffering and death, darkness and sin, and we are all borne along on this current, even as we turn to Jesus moment by moment. We long for a true liberation, a true resolution to the crises and chaos of the world alienated from God.
We can have a true hope in the midst of this because, while we look forward to the final coming of Christ, we look back to that little baby born in Bethlehem, that little slip of a thing, that piece of human flesh and bone, shivering in the cold of the stable, fleeing to Egypt from Herod’s hatred, living among us in Nazareth, dying among us on Calvary.
Because God came into our world and did all this, and so opened heaven for all the faithful, we have a sure and certain hope that he will come and finish the job, so to speak, come and wrap all of creation up in his perfect love and justice, put an end to all hatred and war and cruelty, and draw all men and women who will to enter the eternal dance of love and joy.
The baby of