DEAR FATHER | Jesus’ Passion was part of God’s divine plan

This highly theoretical question has been pondered by many a great mind through history. It all boils down to this: Could Jesus have simply declared to the whole human race that all their sins were forgiven without His suffering on the cross? We're tempted to say yes, if that were God's will, because nothing is impossible for God (Luke 1:37).

On the other hand, God created this universe with a certain order and structure, and, in order to be consistent with the established principles of the order of the universe, it seems likely that the way Christ saved us is the only way it could have been done. This opinion is argued two ways. First is the whole point and purpose of the Incarnation itself. Was it necessary for God to take human form in order to save us? The consensus has always favored an affirmative response. But why? Because, as Jesus said, "The Son of Man must suffer greatly ..." As God, Jesus was incapable of suffering, and so He had to assume a human nature in order to even have the ability to suffer.

Second is Our Lord's pleading in the Garden of Gethsemane, even sweating blood, begging the Heavenly Father to find some other way to save the human race, thus sparing Him the horrors of His Passion. Yet, despite all that, the Father denied His own Son's request. Could there be any other reason for that denial than that no other way was possible? Consider, too, that each time Satan tempted Jesus, he was trying to coax Him away from the cross; even he knew that the cross would end his reign! This is why Jesus called Peter "Satan" when he tried to dissuade Him from the cross (Matthew 16:23).

Given that the Passion is a fact, it's more important for us to understand the reason for it than to speculate about an alternative ending to the Gospel story. Traditionally, we understand that the redemption Jesus won for us on Calvary teaches us three things: 1) the evil of sin, 2) the need of satisfaction and 3) God's immense love for us.

1. On the cross, Jesus literally made our sins visible. So often, people rationalize and minimize their sins by claiming that "no one is hurt by them," or "everybody's doing it," and so on. On His cross, Jesus showed us exactly what sin does, how severe its consequences, and that there is no victimless sin, because He Himself is its victim.

2. Sin causes damage, and all the forgiveness in the world does not fix it. For example, say you broke a window on my rectory and apologized for it. I'd forgive you, of course, but that doesn't repair the window. Fixing it requires some kind of suffering. Scripture states, "without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins" (Hebrews 9:22). It's an easy point to understand. Say there's a teenager who's constantly getting into trouble, and every time his parents hires a lawyer to get him out of it. There's tons of forgiveness, but the teen risks turning into a juvenile delinquent. Until there are consequences for bad behavior, there won't be a straightening out. Forgiveness alone is insufficient. That's why there's always a penance attached to the forgiveness received in Confession.

3. The question is often asked, "Does God care about me?" To find the answer, all one need do is look at the crucifix. Would anyone ever endure that for you if He didn't love you deeply, personally and intensely?

Msgr. Mitas is pastor of St. Angela Merici Paris in Florissant. 

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