Death is inevitable but we know neither the day nor the hour, with the interesting difference that the “space” where our soul will leave our body is already there, waiting for us to come at a particular moment when God will cut short our days. Death is the moment when “space” and “time” meet. Within seconds, we shall leave this world and enter into the mystery of eternity.
How meaningful that Christ tells us repeatedly: “Watch and pray.”
However, the link between love and suffering is still deeper. The very moment that we fall in love we also become conscious that the sufferings of the loved one – whatever their nature – become our own. It is inconceivable that when a loved one suffers, we “protect” ourselves from these sufferings, put on blinders so that his pains shall not disturb our inner calm. As mentioned above, suffering is indeed man’s arch fear.
When the loved one suffers, the lover wants to suffer with him. His sufferings are our sufferings; his pains are our pains; his death is our own death. This has, once again, been poignantly expressed by Gabriel Marcel.
As ever sin brings about its own punishment, one of the terrible curses of shutting one’s heart from loving from fear of being “wounded”, and discover how very weak and vulnerable we are, is to opt for a heart of stone instead of a heart of flesh. Once again this approach is the very antithesis of Christianity.
These mysterious paradoxes are the warp and woof of a religion based on God’s love for his creatures. The lover not only wants to suffer with the loved one; moreover, he would resent it if the latter concealed his sufferings – of whatever kind – to “shield” him from suffering. Understandable as it is, the lover should realize that the beloved wants to drink the chalice with the one who has conquered his heart.
This has been powerfully expressed by a relatively little known French poet: Jean de Rotrou: “L’ami qui souffre seul fait un injure a l’autre” ("He who chooses to suffer alone, offends his friend." Venceslas). This is a precious thought. There might, however, be one exception. Let us assume that the beloved is himself very ill, and that the news that the one is loved is also facing dreadful trials of whatever nature, would not give him “le coup de grace.” Then delay would be legitimate. The crucial thing is to know that the one we love wants to share our trials – that he is spiritually “there.”
One thing is certain: one can measure the depth of love by the willingness to suffer with the beloved.
The Gospels make it luminously clear: the flight of eleven of the apostles when Christ was arrested was a sad proof of how imperfect their love was. It is to the honor of the holy women that nothing, absolutely nothing, could have prevented them from following Christ to Golgotha. Could they help Him? No.
Their love was proven by the fact that they were there. We are told that Mary, His mother, was standing at the foot of the Cross. That she, all pure, all holy, should share in his agonizing pains, must have been for the Savior Himself more agonizing that the nails in his hands and feet. He loved her above all creatures, from the very moment of His conception and the sublimity of the bond uniting them is of such nature that we shall need to grow new organs to be able to fully appreciate its divine quality.
I repeat: to see her suffer with him must have been possibly the most refined of all conceivable sufferings. He wanted to spare her, yet this was the price she had to pay for her “fiat” – her acceptance of becoming His mother was mysteriously linked to her full acceptance of the crucifixion that in the course of time, she would endure with him.
This should, once again, make it abundantly clear that on this earth, love and suffering are intimately bound.
(Column continues below)
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But the climax of the depth of this bond is fully revealed in the words of Christ at the last supper. “There is no greater love than to give one’s life for one’s friends.”
At age five, I had a first inkling of this truth. I was deadly sick with double pneumonia at a time when antibiotics were unknown. Small as I was, I was conscious that I was close to death. I recall as clearly as it were yesterday, that my anxious mother bent over my little white wooden bed, and murmured; “Darling, how I wish I could suffer this for you.” I was so weak that I did not even open my eyes; I did not say “thank you” but, once again, I recall with incredible clarity that I said to myself: “Don’t ever forget this. This is true love.”
I have not forgotten.
This experience was duplicated when more than once friends came to me shattered by grief, having just learned that one of their children had a chronic disease which today, has no cure. They said to me sobbing: “How I wish I could take it from him.” This implies a consciousness of what an unfathomable gift that life is.
A society, like ours, which has opted for death is doomed; it has sealed its own demise. In his autobiography, G. K Chesterton writes the following words: “Thus, among the juvenile verses I began to write about this time was one called ‘The Babe Unborn’ which imagined the uncreated creature crying out for existence and promising every virtue if he might only have the experience of life.” (p. 91) He also tells us that he was immensely grateful for existing, without knowing to whom his thanks should be addressed. At that time, he was a “young” unbeliever.
That murder has been legalized in our society (that is, to give a place to “other people’s murder”) means that it has dug its own grave.