Vicarious Suffering and Evangelization

Catholicland’s distinguished blogmaster, SWP (who is also a contributer to this blog), quoted today certain words of Pope Benedict regarding evangelization and suffering. “This is…the meaning of the parable of the grain of wheat that fell on the earth: Only through a process of tormented transformation does one obtain the fruit and see the solution,” he said.
The wisdom Benedict gives us here is the fruit of our knowledge of God in Christ: Throughout Christ’s public ministry, he manifests himself by preaching, teaching, and great signs and wonders–drawing many faithful (yet sinful) disciples to himself. Yet there are many who have eyes but cannot see, and have ears but cannot hear. Or, rather, it is not just “many,” but it is the many who do not recognize God in their midst.

But this is not the end of the story. The most important and effacacious act of the Lord is, at this point, yet to be accomplished–his “hour” had not yet come, the hour in which he is given over into the hands of sinners and the power of the devil. Here the many who rejected him are included together with those who accepted him, for in the Cross, Christ vicariously suffers and dies for the sins of all.

In his old book The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, the future Pope Benedict outlines the three obligations or missions laid upon each Christian in relation to the non-believer. The first is missionary activity, and Benedict wisely includes the “holy discretion” required for proper evangelization in his description. (As he says, the Church “must not try to catch men with the word unawares, as it were, without their knowing it. She has no right to draw the word out of a hat, like a conjuror. And she must recognize that there are places where the word would be wasted, thrown away, if it were spoken.”)
The second is agape–Love, which is directed at non-believers directly, or indirectly (by the shining witness of the love between Christians).
The third, and “highest” mission of the Christian for the un-believer is vicarious suffering done in Christ and as Christ has done. The basic law of Christ’s own life (to give his life as a ransom for many) is also “the basic law of all Christian discipleship.”

When Pope Benedict says “Only through a process of tormented transformation does one obtain the fruit and see the solution,” he teaches us that our mission to the world, consisting of love and proclamation of the gospel, is supported by the Cross. Our efforts are purified and made effective by the vicarious suffering of Christ infused into our lives by his grace when we accept it and willingly walk it with him.

From The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood:
“It is in her defeat that the Church constantly acheives her highest victory and stands nearest to Christ. It is when she is called to suffer for others that she acheives her highest mission: the exchange of fate with the wayward brother and thus his secret restoration to full sonship and full brotherhood.”


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