Our suffering brings us closer to Christ Print
Bishop Morlino's Column
Thursday, Feb. 06, 2014 -- 12:00 AM
This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.

Dear friends,

You’ve been right at the heart of my prayers in the recent days and weeks. In addition to my usual prayers for your growth in the virtues of faith, hope, and love have been prayers for your warmth and safety, as well as for your joy in these frigid days!

I have been very fortunate to take some time for rest and renewal in warmer climes, as I’m blessed most always to do in January. (There are a number of things for which I am grateful to my predecessor, Bishop Bullock, but on a personal level, I’ll always remain grateful for his wise advice — and precedent — that I take my time for vacation in January, and not in the summer!)

I don’t take for granted for a moment the blessings that I’ve received. I’m grateful and I’m hopeful that such moments of leisure can prepare me all the more for my service.

And so it is with only the slightest sense of irony that the Lord has drawn to my mind the following three words and phrases from our readings this past Sunday: purification, suffering, and a sign of contradiction. And each of those words accompanies the readings, in order. Purification is spoken of in the first reading — Mal 3:1-4; suffering in the second reading — Heb 2:14-18, and a “sign of contradiction” in the Gospel reading — Lk 2:22-40.

Feast of the Presentation

This past Sunday happened to fall on the Feast of the Presentation, which is an important feast day, but that feast is tied directly to the Feast of the Purification of Mary and Joseph, according to the custom. In order to be purified, Mary and Joseph had to present Jesus in the Temple and offer Him to the Lord. That’s how they were purified, by a presentation of Jesus.

The Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple is a beautiful, Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, but I think we often skim past it without really reflecting upon it.

The act of Joseph and Mary presenting to God the Father their most precious gift (a gift which was given to them by the Father, through their faithfulness) offers us an example of the means by which we also undergo our own purification.

Offering God our faith in Jesus Christ

The most precious thing each of us has to offer God is our own faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. Our offering, just like Joseph and Mary’s, is tied to Jesus’ offering.

The Presentation in the Temple was a foretelling of the sacrificial presentation of Christ by Himself to the Father on the Cross. The presentation of Jesus in the temple, with a sacrifice of two turtle doves, according to Adam’s sacrifice, is a foretelling of the self-presentation of Jesus to the Father, on the Cross. So this purification leads to suffering, because the presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph foretells the self-presentation of Jesus to the Father on the cross, very subtly.

Becoming close to Jesus through suffering

That’s why our second word is “suffering.” In that Second Reading from Hebrews, we’re told that Jesus became our High Priest (the one who offers sacrifice to God on our behalf) by identifying with us, especially in suffering.

Jesus is particularly close to us, and we are particularly close to Him, when we are suffering. When we are suffering well, we are closest to Jesus, because we are closest to Jesus on the cross. So, our call to be purified is a call to suffer with Jesus on the Cross, and in that way be drawn as close to him as possible.

Suffering is a mystery and also a gift

So suffering is a mystery, but it’s also a gift. And that’s why Blessed John Paul the Great was always saying from his window, up to the time that he was no longer able publicaly to speak, “I thank God for my suffering.”

And that’s where the path of holiness takes us. The path of holiness takes us to the point where, by the grace of God, not by anything of our own, we’re able to thank God for our sufferings, instead of complaining about them, instead of asking, “why me?” It is better to ask, “why not me?” For the Lord is asking, “why do you deny yourself this opportunity to be close to my Son, Who purifies you through suffering?”

If suffering does not enter into our lives, we miss the opportunity to share in the life of Jesus. And all that we need to be like Jesus is to suffer like and with Him — in a way that purifies and that allows Him to be our High Priest.

Church will also go through a time of suffering

And the Gospel of this past weekend says just that, when Simeon says to Mary, your Son will be a “sign of contradiction — and you yourself a sword will pierce.” And remember, Mary is the model of the Church and the mother of the Church. So Simeon is saying this to the Church herself, and he is foretelling for the Church that she too is called to suffer, to have our hearts pierced, by being a sign of contradiction, like Jesus and with Jesus.

Without a doubt that’s where we are to today. The Church really is called to suffer by being a sign of contradiction, by standing up for life from conception until natural death, by standing up for marriage as the life-long union of the husband and the wife with openness to children. We are a sign of contradiction by standing up for our religious freedom and the rights of parents and of the family.

Also known as Candlemas Day

The Feast of the Presentation and of the Purification is also known as “Candlemas Day,” a day on which candles for the year were traditionally blessed.

In this way, it’s also a sort of “feast of light.” This is appropriate, of course, because the way that we (with Mary and like Mary) present a sign of contradiction to the world is like providing a purifying light to the world.

The feast of this past Sunday tells us exactly who we are as Church and what we can expect. We want to be holy, we want to be like Mary, but in order to do that we must be purified and that purification costs serious suffering, which draws us as close as we can possibly be to Jesus. That’s the story of this beautiful feast.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. May God continue to bless each and every one of you! Praised be Jesus Christ!