St. Paul has made a spectacular claim in this Sunday’s second reading: There is something lacking in Christ’s sufferings. How could this be? How could Christ’s suffering on the Cross be lacking anything? Where could we possibly find a better example of a complete gift of self, a total outpouring of love? What more perfect suffering could there possibly be than that of the only Son of God?
When St. Paul says that he is filling up what is lacking in Christ’s suffering, he is not saying that there is anything imperfect in Christ’s suffering, or that somehow his own suffering is better than Christ’s, but rather that Christ’s suffering, His redemption of us poor sinners, must be extended through time. What is lacking in Christ’s suffering is that it be made to apply to us, since it was for us in the year 2016, as well as people of all times and places, for whom Christ desired to suffer on the Cross. Yes, as he suffered on the Cross, Christ thought even of you as He gave His life out of love for you.
There are two principal ways in which Christ’s sufferings are made present in time. The first is through our daily sufferings, which is why St. Paul rejoices in his sufferings. Every time that we make a small sacrifice or forgo our own desires out of love for another and for Christ we participate in His sufferings, which means that not only do we participate in His suffering, but we also participate in His redemption. Those sufferings become sources of grace for us and for those for whom we offer them. This is why Holy Mother Church directs that we offer some sacrifice every Friday, because through suffering, Christ’s redemption is made known. During the season of Lent that Friday sacrifice is directed as giving up meat, but during the rest of the year we can choose another sacrifice. But we are still obligated to choose some sacrifice every Friday of the year in order that we might participate in Christ’s sufferings out of love for Him and love for those for whom we offer up these voluntary sufferings.
The other important way that Christ’s sufferings are extended in time is through the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. At Holy Mass, we are transported to the foot of the Cross at Calvary, along with our Mother Mary and the Beloved Disciple, St. John, and we are fed with the fruit of that sacrifice, the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ. The Holy Mass, then, is not a community gathering like any other we might attend. We should not see it primarily as an opportunity for socializing or even experiencing community. Rather, it is our opportunity to be at the foot of Calvary, to participate in Christ’s redeeming work through His death and resurrection, and to offer worship to Almighty God in thanksgiving for this immense display of love for us poor sinners. This is the core of the Holy Mass, and this is why it is so important that it is extended through time as the action of the priest makes present once again Christ’s most august sacrifice.
St. Paul tells us that through this extending of Christ’s sacrifice in time, “God chose to make known the riches of His glory.” This too is what happens at Holy Mass – we are simultaneously present at Calvary and also at the eternal banquet in Heaven. We join with the heavenly choirs of saints and angels as we sing the Sanctus, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts!” Being simultaneously at the foot of the Cross and rejoicing with the saints in Heaven, we see the way that Christ suffered for us and also the great victory that His suffering won – His place at the Father’s right hand and our ability to enter that heavenly reward with Him, which is the whole goal of the Christian life and should be the litmus test of everything we do – Will this help me get to Heaven? We are here at Holy Mass because we want to go to Heaven, and we know that worshiping Almighty God and receiving His only begotten Son in Holy Communion will help us to get there.
In some way, offering Christ’s sacrifice in the Holy Mass is the duty and privilege of all Christians. As the priest holds up the paten (the flat disk with the large host) and the chalice at the offertory (while you are singing the offertory hymn), you should place yourself on that paten and in that chalice, desiring that your life, with all that you suffer and all that you offer to the Lord, might accompany Christ’s sacrifice in being pleasing to God the Father and meriting to be transformed into a source of grace and mercy, just as the bread and wine are transformed into Christ’s body and blood.
While all Christians are called to have a close and intimate relationship with Christ’s sacrifice in the Eucharist, a particular role is reserved for certain persons whom Christ particularly desires to draw to Himself, just like Mary Magdalene in the Gospel today, about whom Our Lord says, “Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from Her.” Here of course I am referring to Our Lord’s chosen priests, whom the Lord calls to a particular conformity to Him so that they might be able to stand in His place in extending His redeeming sacrifice through time. So at this time I want to ask Michael Grasinski, who as you know is preparing as a seminarian to do just that as he continues to discern whether God is calling Him to the priesthood, to share some thoughts with us about his time at St. Charles this summer.
The Rev. Royce V. Gregerson
St. Charles Borromeo Parish, Ft Wayne, Ind.
XVI Sunday Through the Year