Sunday, 24 March 2013

Passion and Passion

Today we begin our Holy Week journey with Jesus, following the Way of the Cross. It’s a week when people like me, who are a clear ‘T’ or Thinking type personality, have to let our intellectualising take second place to our emotions. We need to feel first, and then strive for some modest measure of understanding afterwards.

Once again I’m indebted to that great saint, Francis of Assisi, for showing the way. For beyond the sentimental image of Francis preaching to the birds and befriending the animals is the reality of a man who took the Way of the Cross into the heart of his life. When Francis prayed that he might feel in his own body as much as he could humanly bear of what Jesus felt on the cross, he did so not out of perverted masochism, nor even like those contemporary flagellants who sought to punish their bodies as an expiation of sin. Francis embraced suffering because he knew that this was the only way in which he would be able to feel in his own body as much as he could humanly bear of the love that held Jesus to the cross, and held him there with a force no nails could equal. What Francis had found was that the cross is not some intellectual solution to the questions of Judgement and Salvation, instead it is the place where divine love shows itself in its fullness, and so doing conquers all.

If two individuals as different as St Paul and St John can be united in placing love at the apex of their theology, then we need to accept Francis not as just some medieval mystic, but as one of our prime theologians. But it’s a theology that forms and grows in the heart long before it finds a lodging place in the mind. And so my focus this Holy Week, and one I commend to you, is to so enter into the Passion of Christ that we enter also into the heart of his love, into that more contemporary understanding of the very word ‘passion’. Yet, as one whose faith ever seeks understanding, I want to take with me on this week’s journey a particular question, the question of why there must be suffering at all.

For I think I’ve received a glimpse that such answer as there may be lies in that preeminence of love. Can it be that the world is as it is, with all the pain, evil and corruption that afflicts it, because in no other world could love be freely given and freely received? Can it be that the true question is not that of how a God of love can allow bad things to happen, but of how great must be the love that can know, feel and embrace all that suffering, and taking it, transform it into more love?

David Walker
David Walker is Bishop of Dudley in the diocese of Worcester

Posted by David Walker on Sunday, 24 March 2013 at 6:00am GMT | TrackBack
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"Can it be that the true question is not that of how a God of love can allow bad things to happen, but of how great must be the love that can know, feel and embrace all that suffering, and taking it, transform it into more love?" - David Walker -

The good Bishop of Dudley here clearly enunciates what is at the heart of the 'mystery of suffering'. It is a fact of life here on our planet. It can either be redemptive or blasphemous. We can choose whether or not we can identify with the suffering of other people (and with Christ), or to reject its redemptive aspect.

Blessed Francis, I believe, was ready to share in the suffering of others for Jesus' sake - and thus to harness its redemptive power to love.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 24 March 2013 at 7:55am GMT

Thank you David for a thoughtful piece for this coming week.
It is so good to "come across " you again.
Please could you let me have your e-mail address.
Thank you
Eric (you might not remember me of course)

Posted by: Eric Armitage on Sunday, 24 March 2013 at 9:27am GMT

Thank you for this reflection +David. The tussle between intellectual thinking and love for God and neighbour is one that I experience every day. A timely exhortation for me to take the lead of love though Holy Week.

Posted by: Roger Antell on Sunday, 24 March 2013 at 11:37am GMT

Thanks for comments so far. Having penned this piece my day was actually dominated by being the lead spokesman across most UK national media challenging the anti-immigration sentiment that is sweeping through mainstream UK political parties at present, especially over Housing allocations (of which Eric is far more of an expert than me).

Eric, best way to get in touch is to tweet me at @bishopDudley alternatively look me up via our diocesan website www.cofe-Worcester.org.uk I do remember you and owe you a great debt for modelling how Christian faith and social action cohere.

Posted by: David Walker on Sunday, 24 March 2013 at 11:05pm GMT

Thank you David. I cannot cope with the sole idea that Jesus' suffering redeemed us, but His Love - oh yes, amen to that

Posted by: Una Kroll on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 at 1:04pm GMT

Thank you for this very sensitive piece.
It reminds me of something in one of Jim Cotter's collections ..
'"Words of God"? Forgive me for having created a world in which so much pain has to be allowed if I am truly to be a God of Love and enable you to love with a love that is worthy of the name.'

But the sheer quantity of innocent suffering still makes this hard I find.

Posted by: David on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 at 4:06pm GMT

Sorry to sound a dissentient note. This piece doesn't even begin to probe the questions of evil and suffering.

Posted by: John on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 at 9:04pm GMT
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