Suffering as the Freedom of Love

Before the eschaton, suffering is how love attains the freedom to redeem as Love and not mere sympathy.

In an age and time where love is a byword for emotionalism, and life is bought and sold to the most popular bidder, and the most sacred of human emotions are peddled and manufactured how else might a revolutionary kingdom establish room for itself in the world? By making friends with every cheap emotional outburst and showboating contender for lord of benevolence and good feeling? Certainly not.

Love that is not forged in the fires of redemption through suffering cannot be free. It is only suffering that can free human love from the shackles of emptiness and bring them into the fullness of life by co-fraternity with the Crucified God.

Before that great and final day, the sufferings of the children of Christ help them find solidarity, not with the rich, the powerful, the elite and the wise, but with the poor, the weak and the neglected.

Unfortunately, in our most current day “social justice” has become a buzzword. It has become popularized and appropriated without the proper formation of virtues that make possible real justice. As our Blessed St. Augustine said in his materwork of Western Literature, and in one of the seminal documents of the Church’s witness The City of God book XIX ch. 23:

Justice is found where the one supreme God rules an obedient City according to His grace, so that it sacrifices to none but Him…where this justice does not exist there is certainly no association of men united by a “common sense of right and by a community of interest”

My friends, my concern is that it is not possible to properly humanize where there is no worship of the Triune Lord. The language of sacrifice is particularly apt for our discussion because in the Continental imagination, and most especially in America, the talk of freedom is always tied to the idea of sacrifice. We have seen a rise in social concerns larger than perhaps even the original Social Gospel movements. However, while there are many causes and much good being done, there is little justice. To be sure, some readers might misunderstand me as some sort of crazy fundamentalist who would gladly enforce conversion by mandate via the opening statement of this paragraph but that is not my intention at all.

What I am attempting to delineate is that while the social justice movements are a good force, they can quickly be mistaken for the actual beacon of hope in declining empires and failing states. It is the great illusion of the modern world that religion is a taint upon society that restricts the freedoms of the individual and is a drug for the weak and the senseless. These empires hold up their academies and their cultures as defenses against the light and life of the gospel, but only to their own detriment, and the destruction of all they hold dear. Nothing but the crucified Christ can bear fully the responsibility and identity as the source of all justice. God’s spoken answer to the injustice of the powers that be is not revolutionary Barabbas movements, or taking arms. It is a crucified Jesus, a bread and a table, a hope, and a reality. Christ has given the true beacon of hope, the steady Rock. This beacon of hope, this bulwark of Truth and Beauty is none other than the community of the Crucified God.

Justice must be free if it is to be justice at all. Like love, justice must be separated from the throes of illusion and suffer in order to find solidarity among those for whom Justice is of the utmost importance. Our concept of justice must find solidarity among the outcast, the impoverished, the weak, and the neglected. Suffering allows us to perceive what is right, because we have first seen what is true. Once our love is liberated from the power of illusions and set free from sympathy to be truly love, then justice can flourish, because we know, that the power of justice can only be fully realized in the presence and power of Love. This love is not any love, it is not mere triviality of sentiment, it is the Triune, crucified-glorified Love encapsulated in the entire history and witness of the Church and Her Christ. This love liberates and mobilizes us for Justice.

Freedom for justice means freedom brought in subservience and solidarity to the least, and it means freedom for the power of the gospel. We can have no illusions about the necessity of social justice, but the answers to social justice must finally and fully come from the Church, the Spirit and the Sacraments, or else we have conflated with a world of idols and established false gods. Social justice for the witness of the church does not end with providing the needs of the poor, though it certainly never precludes this. The poor we may always have, but that does not mean we shall overlook them in favor of some falsely “higher priority.”

Many powers have risen to make social justice possible by stripping it of personalism, of virtue and intent to restore the dignity of the individual forming a business model and a market out of handout and welfare systems that are nothing but contempt masquerading as sympathy in many cases. We must continue these ministries of helps, by all means. But the means by which we continue should be returning to a robust catechetical cycle and establishing the prominence of discipleship and character formation.

We must restore the dignity of the individual and expose the truly public life of the Church, her politics, which is the right and public order of her worship. This public worship is none other than the continued liturgical life outside the mass through the liturgy of the hours and the administration of charity that dignifies rather than demeans. This worship which culminates in the mass works alongside the acts of charity that call the Church and those relating to her back to the virtues. The virtues of charity, truth and communal relationship, of righteousness and repentance. Where the is no virtue, there is no worship.

If we are to dignify those who are in need of help, handouts will accomplish nothing without raising them to the dignity of being able to stand on common ground and behold each other face to face. If we are to enter the Third World with the intent to truly humanize and establish true Justice, it can never be apart from the intent to establish a right and proper order of worship that invites participants from among the peoples.

This worship is for God, which will not always or even often mean meaningful for us. As Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “God has not called me to succeed. He has called me to be faithful.” In order to establish true Justice it need not have the mark of success by whatever standards that the business models and encroaching markets may wish to possess them with. Instead, it will mean, personalism and true charity above all else, always creating a new room for face to face meetings of Justice between victim and oppressor.

What determines the justice we have is the quality of the love we shed abroad in behalf of the poor and of the weak. As our Lord has said “As you did unto the least of these…” The City of God in our midst, or the Church, is only just insofar as she remains a collectivity that Loves God and always invites others into this participation. Love to the Christian is not merely a private subjective experience it is a determining factor in the Church’s politics, and her charity. Her public life as well as the internal lives of her communities are determined by this love shaped in justice shaped in love.

If we are to build true commonwealths in the Third World, we must do so with the utmost intent to suffer with them, with our institutions contributing personally and forming virtue among the peoples. We must embrace the dark night of the soul in truth, instead of in jest. To do so will mean, being a people dispossessed of possessions, and possessed of virtue. Without the virtue formations necessary for true Justice, social justice becomes a tragic parody, and a mere extension of the power of materialism instead of the right and worthy gift of God found in and through Christ and His Spirit.

Without a liturgical character shaped by the Church, social justice is mere triviality. To establish a Justice shaped by the Church means providing bread aware that Christ Himself is the bread which we are providing, and it means recognizing that Christ Himself is whom we are feeding with what resources we have. Yet, we give thanks to the Father and share as best we can knowing that this God will embrace us and provide abundantly wherever the is a multitude seeking the Lord and his presence.

Before the Final Day, there is certainly much work to be done and much suffering to be endured, but let us face such disappointments and pains with hope, knowing that these sufferings are enshrouded in the Spirit of Redemption and well able to liberate our Justice from the selfish intents we impose on it. Such suffering liberates our love to be love, and until the end, this suffering is a reminder that no servant is greater than the Master.

The crucified Lord is Our Hope, his body in our midst is the great justice-maker, and the life he gives seeks to take form in us, making us gods in this life and the life of the age to come. He has become what we are so that we might become what He is. So too when we suffer for the sake of love, we descend in the night of solidarity in order to become as the weak and the poor and the broken, but it is so that we might truly become as He is.

Poverty is not merely a suggestion, it is a command, and it is a virtue. Solidarity is no suggestion to the faint of heart. Let us act accordingly, suffering to acknowledge the freedom and power of Love to speak to us on its own terms.

Before the eschaton, suffering is how love attains the freedom to redeem as Love, and we will do well to remember this.

Let us pray.

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