Suffering can lead to self-knowledge, intimacy with God, panelists say


The power of "The Passion of the Christ" is its effectiveness in helping people understand that their personal suffering, when united to Christ’s, can lead to self-knowledge and a greater intimacy with God.

That was part of the message four panelists shared at a public forum on Denver's Auraria Campus March 18. The forum, sponsored by the local Christian Life Movement, invited participants to consider Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" and suffering in the contemporary world.

Four Catholic speakers gave presentations and answered questions about suffering prior to the viewing of a video on the making of the film.

Fr. Andreas Hoeck addressed suffering from a biblical perspective. The professor of sacred Scripture at Denver's St. John Vianney Theological Seminary explained how thoughts on suffering have evolved in the Old Testament. He pointed out that in the Book of Genesis, suffering is seen as a consequence of sin, and in Ezekiel, suffering is a means of atonement for sin, reported the Denver Catholic Register.

Fr. Hoeck said each of the major views of suffering in the Hebrew Scriptures is important to consider when reflecting on Christ's suffering.

"Suffering finds its full meaning in the person of Christ," who suffered on behalf of all humanity for the atonement of all sin, said Fr. Hoeck, adding that Jesus' Passion and death were the fullest expression of God's love, reported the Register.

Mimi Eckstein addressed Mel Gibson’s film from a psychological perspective. The director of the archdiocese's Respect Life Office said the film has impacted recent discourse on suffering because of how it affects the viewer, evoking “compassion, respect, and even awe," reported the Register.

Modern psychology alone, without faith, cannot give an effective answer to the question of human suffering, she added.

Francis Maier commented on the film’s successful portrayal of the details of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion and death. The chancellor of the Archdiocese of Denver said the beauty of Gibson's film is that "it gives you an intimate taste that suffering is a doorway to something much, much more," reported the Register.

José Ambrozic, director of the St. Malo Retreat and Conference Center, spoke on the overall meaning of suffering. Although people tend to avoid suffering, Ambrozic said, a solution to the “problem” of suffering can only be found in "understanding the part suffering plays in our lives," not in avoiding it. 

The panelists encouraged participants to shift their views of suffering and see it as a “potentially great and redeeming treasure,” reported the Register. Although suffering is not desirable in itself, they said, individual suffering, when united to Christ's, can lead to self-knowledge and intimacy with God.

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