Objectively, the Redemption has been accomplished by Christ once for all time; subjectively, its effectiveness would need the cooperation of each individual (including everyone to be born down the centuries), because man is intelligent and free. In this sense, all human history is, and will be until the end of time, the history of redemption.
We will not reach heaven (holiness, sanctity, perfection, union with God, beatitude, our eternal happiness, “the one thing necessary”[Lk 10:42]) unless we intelligently and willingly want it—that is what authentic human freedom is for—and this desire for sanctity must pervade and determine the direction or trajectory of all that we are, all that we think and do and have. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength” (Mk 12:30). This means uniting oneself with Christ, imitating Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:1), becoming “the body of Christ, member for member” (1 Cor 12:27), to be “With Christ, nailed to the cross”, and able to say, “It is now no longer I that live but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:19-20).
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) writes: “Voluntary expiatory suffering is what truly and really unites one to the Lord intimately. When it arises, it comes from an already existing relationship with Christ. For, by nature, a person flees from suffering. And the mania for suffering caused by a perverse lust for pain differs completely from the desire to suffer in expiation. Such lust is not a spiritual striving, but a sensory longing, no better than other sensory desires, in fact worse, because it is contrary to nature. Only someone whose spiritual eyes have been opened to the supernatural correlations of worldly events can desire suffering in expiation, and this is only possible for people in whom the spirit of Christ dwells, who as members are given life by the Lord, receive his power, his meaning, and his direction. Conversely, works of expiation bind one closer to Christ, as every community that works together on one task becomes more and more closely knit and as the limbs of a body, working together organically, continually become more strongly one….the love of the cross in no way contradicts being a joyful child of God. Helping Christ carry his cross fills one with a strong and pure joy, and those who may and can do so, the builders of God’s kingdom, are the most authentic children of God…Only in union with the divine Head does human suffering take on expiatory power.” (Edith Stein: Essential Writings, ed. John Sullivan, O.C.D.,
: Orbis Books, 2002, p. 130; italics mine) New York
It is natural to abhor suffering. But suffering is integral to our human nature—not only to our “wounded” human nature but also to our “authentic” human nature, because man is, in essence, the union of spiritual soul and material body. All matter tends towards disintegration; our material bodies will eventually fail, and therefore require a separation from our spiritual souls—death—in principle, a process necessarily painful because of the intimate union of body and soul in man. It is only by uniting them with Christ’s that our own sufferings can make sense or have meaning—so as to be bearable to the rational mind—as a means for sanctification, the way to our eternal happiness. Thus, our Lord says, “my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Mt 12:30).
Our Lord Himself said: “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Mt 16:24). There is no Christianity, no sanctity, without the cross—which is understandably “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) of every age and culture. “The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle” (CCC, No. 2015). We need to do penance, for our sins and those of others, as the Apostle Paul says: "In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church" (
Meditating on and living the Passion of our Lord helps people to value more the Redemption it accomplished—each of us has been “purchased at a great price” (1 Cor 6:20)—and so grow in our “desire”, our willingness, our hope, to benefit from it, to overcome the natural aversion to suffering, and to convert our little crosses of everyday into a means for growing in union with God. May we also learn to rally more closely around the Blessed Virgin Mary, especially in the dark loneliness of all the “good Fridays” and “black Saturdays” of our lives, so as to be around to share in the joy of the Queen of Heaven at the Resurrection of her Son and at the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.