The picture on the top of this article is one of my favorite religious images. It’s an icon of the resurrection, specifically, of Jesus’ descent into “the place of the dead.” This is the event we remember every time we say the line in Apostles’ Creed, about Jesus “descended into hell.” After his death, Jesus went to the place where the righteous figures from the Old Testament were waiting for the Messiah to defeat sin and raise them to Heaven.

Notice in this icon that Jesus is clothed in the white robes of resurrection, and the robes are flowing upward, like he’s dramatically breaking through the ceiling of Hell to rescue the souls waiting there. The two people Jesus is holding onto are Adam and Eve, the people who started this whole mess in the first place.

When we reflect on Jesus’ passion and death we often focus on how our sins caused Jesus to suffer this way. There’s a lot of truth in this kind of reflection, the Catechism says “our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross” (CCC 598). However, I think we also sometimes forget that Jesus freely suffered and died because of how much he loves us. The Catechism goes on to say, “In suffering and death [Jesus’] humanity became the free and perfect instrument of his divine love which desires the salvation of men. Indeed, out of love for his Father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death” (CCC 609).

Jesus didn’t become man and die on the cross in order to scold us and make us feel bad about our sins. He did all that to show us how much God loves us, how good God is. Jesus suffered through all the torture and humiliation because that’s how desperately he loved Adam and Eve…that’s how desperately he loves me. The cross is a symbol of God’s goodness!

Go back to the icon and notice the skeleton in chains there at the bottom. This figure represents sin and death. Suffering and death are not part of God’s plan for us, rather, they are things that God allows because of our free choice to reject God and reject life. Jesus came as a conquering king. He came to bring about the Kingdom of God and to destroy sin, suffering, and death. God didn’t create these terrible things but he took them upon himself. Everything that causes us to suffer, everything that kills us, Jesus freely let kill him. Then he defeated them.

This isn’t merely an historical event. God wants to enter into every one of our deaths, into everything that kills us, whether it’s illness, suffering, depression, loneliness, etc., and transform it. And he wants to do that right now, not just after we die and go to Heaven.

God became man, God suffered on a cross, so that we may experience healing, so that we may be restored, so that we may receive the Holy Spirit, so that we may become God.  Jesus didn’t come to simply being us back to the Garden of Eden, he came to transform us, glorify us, and share his Divine Life with us.

And this transformation isn’t our work, it’s God’s work. We cannot heal ourselves or make ourselves holy, but God can. And all God asks for is our consent, our cooperation. We can stop carrying these burden ourselves. We can stop trying to be perfect. We can stop beating ourselves up when we struggle with a habitual sin. We just have to surrender our sins and weaknesses to God and let him transform us step by step. We don’t have to convince God to love us, forgive us, heal us, or transform us. We just have to let him.

As we celebrate Easter I encourage you to take a few moments and reflect on this infinite love that God has for you personally. Ask the Lord how he wants to heal you, how he wants to transform you next. Reflect on what’s keeping you from accepting that next step. Is it sin, fear, shame, or feeling unworthy of his love? Surrender all of that to the Lord and let him heal you.

I want to end by sharing a passage from the pope’s recent letter to young people. I encourage you to open your heart to our Holy Father’s words and let them settle deep there.

“The very first truth I would tell each of you is this: ‘God loves you’. It makes no difference whether you have already heard it or not. I want to remind you of it. God loves you. Never doubt this, whatever may happen to you in life. At every moment, you are infinitely loved.

…For him, you have worth; you are not insignificant. You are important to him, for you are the work of his hands. That is why he is concerned about you and looks to you with affection…He does not keep track of your failings and he always helps you learn something even from your mistakes. Because he loves you. Try to keep still for a moment and let yourself feel his love. Try to silence all the noise within, and rest for a second in his loving embrace.

…The second great truth is that Christ, out of love, sacrificed himself completely in order to save you. His outstretched arms on the cross are the most telling sign that he is a friend who is willing to stop at nothing….The same Christ who, by his cross, saved us from our sins, today continues to save and redeem us by the power of his total self-surrender. Look to his cross, cling to him, let him save you, for ‘those who accept his offer of salvation are set free from sin, sorrow, inner emptiness and loneliness’” (Christus Vivit 112-119).

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  1. Avatar Anthony Fisher says:

    Finished Christus Vivit on Wednesday evening. I am still not exactly sure how, but I need to use chapter 4 (the section you quoted at the end) as some sort of reflection for the youth group (maybe on a retreat? I don’t know–but its simplicity and its directness, making absolutely clear what the message of Christianity means for you individually–it is just so beautiful!)

    And I want to reread Chapter 7 (the one on Youth/Young Adult Ministry) again–figure out the best insights into how to adapt it in my own ministry.

  2. Avatar Joaquin Mejia says:

    Wonderful article! The Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Christ should always remind us of God’s love for us.

  3. Avatar Ashpenaz says:

    A question that I’ve had for a long time–do sin and disease exist? If God created everything, and everything He created is good, then how do sin and disease exist? How did they get created? If we say they are a result of the Fall, does that mean Adam–a human–had the power to create something God couldn’t create? And also, if sin and disease came into being after the Fall, does that mean God didn’t finish creation and rest on the 7th day? If I–a human–can “sin” something into existence that God wasn’t able to create, that means I’m more powerful than God, so why would I need Him? If I created sin and disease, then why would I need God to uncreate it? And if God did create sin and disease, then why should I fight it? I’m fighting God. If God created sin and disease, then I should just accept it–not use medicine, not try to be a better person. I realize this is all very confused, but I’ve never understood how sin and disease “exist” in a world where God only created good.

    • Avatar Anthony Fisher says:

      The Thomistic tradition (not necessarily equated with the Tradition of the Church–but it has been very favorably held in the tradition) would say that Malus (Evil, Bad, Sickness) is a privation of a Goodness/Being (which are interchangeable) which should be there. A three legged dog is suffering from an evil (malus) not because he is plotting to become Hitler, but because he has three legs when he ought to have four. I can feel bad (malus) not because I am a sinner (though I am that), but because the presence of this cold is the absence of health which should be there. If a person does an evil action (malus, or more specifically, pecattum), they are not creating something new, but there is some deficiency in the act they are doing. Insofar as the dog, I, and the person who does the evil action ARE (that is, exist), they are Good. (Good again, being interchangeable with Being). But insofar as we are not living fully/being what we were made to be (whether through our active choice [something we rationally chose/sin] or something we passively experience [sickness, natural disasters, et cetera]) there is Evil/Malus (not a being, not a real thing, but that lack that is in some created thing.)

      God does not create the lack/the privation. And we did not create it. Rather, it “exists” because we are not fully living up to our proper ends/our purposes. And because we cannot by our own strength fill up that lack “He saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of His own Mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, Which He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by His grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life.” (Titus 3:5-7 RSV)

    • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

      Ashpenaz,

      Literally speaking, God did not create sin. Sin is a result of God having created us as beings who have free will. With free will comes the choice for us to either love and obey God or to turn away from Him and disobey Him. (Of course, sin being the latter.)

      Sometimes, in my most anguished moments, looking at both my own sins *and* at the wider evil in the world, I am honestly tempted to wish that God *had not* created us with free will… but the alternative would be for us to have been created by God as, basically, amoral robots who had *no choice* but to obey God… and God desires our love, freely chosen and given. He does not want us to be automatons.

      As for disease and death, human disease and death are the results of the Fall (which was again, freely chosen) of the first humans into sin. If the first humans had never fallen into sin, there would be no doctrine of original sin, and we would all still live in a world of unfettered happiness and unbroken fellowship with God.

      I hate that disease and death exist. I have already lost so many of my loved ones at a fairly young age (I’m 45), and I have both personally experienced, and seen, a good bit of deep suffering. These things honestly tear at my heart at times. I was also born with the physical disability of Cerebral Palsy and use a wheelchair for much of my daily living.

      With all of the above being said, I cannot *imagine* (or, better said, I don’t *want* to imagine!) having to live in a world where sin exists, and human beings can harm each other so terribly and suffer so much, but there is no death and no afterlife… and therefore, we are simply cursed to go on living forever in that world. Christ came into this world, as God incarnate in the flesh, and He died for our sins and rose again, and with Him, we can have joy and peace, even as we fight and struggle in this world where evil often *seems* to win… but it does not finally win, because Christ defeated death, rose again, and will return to have the last word over all evil and suffering!

      • Avatar M. says:

        I was wondering all the time, the idea that Adam and Eve were the cause of all our suffering so to speak…they sinned, it’s not our fault, that’s why we are in this mess… my kids were asking. then it dawned on me. If Adam and Eve had not sinned they and their children would have gone on living forever, is that correct? We don’t know how long they were in the garden before they sinned. It could have been centuries? It seems like one of us eventually would have sinned, anyway. In some sense it seems like with our creation sin was sort of inevitable? Maybe the temptation was to “create” out of nothing, as G-d was able to do. Only to discover that the only thing they could create our of nothing was nothingness or lack, that is, a situation where G-d doesn’t dwell in it- thus sickness, disease, etc. Ashpenaz got me thinking. Good questions.

        • Avatar Jane says:

          I wondered for a long time, what is it about the NATURE of Original Sin that makes it so that it must be passed onto us?

          • Avatar Christopher Lake says:

            M. and Jane,

            From all that I have read from theologians and apologists on the subject, it does seem that if the Fall had never happened, there would have been no need for the first humans, or their children (or us, for that matter), to ever die. Without the Fall, logically, human fellowship with God would never have been broken, and sin never would have entered into the world, with all of its terrible, tragic results. The temptation that Adam and Eve faced was, in a way, the same temptation that each one of us faces before committing a sin of a particular kind (especially for the first time)– i.e. the temptation to taste (experience) what we never should– that which God has clearly forbidden for our own good.

            As for what it is about the nature of Original Sin that means that it must be passed onto us, I admit, this is mysterious, and I am no expert on the doctrine– but one of my very favorite Catholic apologists, Dr. Peter Kreeft, has written that Original Sin is a kind of spiritual version of how the AIDS virus often works, in that it can be “passed on,” even to babies who have no choice in the matter, but its effects are very real and harmful for those who have it. Of course, the analogy is imperfect. Most humans don’t have AIDS, but other than Jesus and Mary, we humans all have Original Sin. It is a very, very serious “condition,” but thanks be to God that through baptism, the Eucharist, and confession, we have what is needed to fight joyfully, not by our own strength, but by God’s grace, against sin, Original and otherwise!

  4. Avatar Chris dorf says:

    This is the Gospel passage I would love to have place before the mines of every alternative right conservative Christian in the world at this very moment in history as it relates directly to the title of this essay:
    Love for Enemies
    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbo and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
    If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
    –Matthew 5:43-48

  5. Avatar Jane says:

    Now that you have drawn our attention to this icon, I am seeing it EVERYWHERE! And I LOVE it. Thank you for bringing it into my attention even more so than before today. Happy Easter! Christ our Savior is risen! ! God Bless you 🙂

    • Avatar M says:

      One of the things I love about the icon is that Christ is pulling Adam and Eve out by the wrists. That is on purpose in the icon.

      • Avatar Jane says:

        I love that about the icons as well, M. It’s as though He is saying to them, “Come out from your tombs. I did it. I have freed you. The long night is over. I have won the victory for you. Get up! Hurry! I want to show you everything I did for you and for the whole world from your generation down to this one!”

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