On Saturday, April 1, Pope Francis was discharged from Gemelli University Hospital after recovering from bronchitis. Then, on Sunday, he gave a beautiful homily on Palm Sunday and the suffering of Jesus.

Pope Francis said there were three types of sufferings that Jesus endured: the suffering of the body, the suffering of the soul, and the suffering of the spirit. “Before dying, he cries out: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  The forsakenness of Jesus. This is the most searing of all sufferings, the suffering of the spirit.  At his most tragic hour, Jesus experiences abandonment by God.”

For me, it is unfortunately easy to relate to the sufferings of Jesus, especially suffering of the soul. My mother passed on 15 years ago and that has left a hole in my heart in my life. My father is slowly dying from Parkinson’s and dementia and my sister seems to want nothing to do with me. Sometimes I don’t even know if I want anything to do with me. But all of us will be asked to bear sufferings like these at some point. And Jesus is our close companion.

The suffering of the spirit Jesus endured is on another level.

We find it hard even to grasp what great suffering [Jesus] embraced out of love for us.  He sees the gates of heaven close, he finds himself at the bitter edge, the shipwreck of life, the collapse of certainty.  And he cries out: ‘Why?’  A ‘why’ that embraces every other ‘why’ ever spoken.  ‘Why, God?’. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’


Perhaps this suffering isn’t so hard for me to relate to, either. In an age of deconstruction and “the nones,” feeling the total abandonment by, or at least an extreme distance from, God is widespread. What is the meaning of our suffering? How can we possibly carry it all? Why should we carry it all? Where is God? 

Deceptively, the answer sounds simple, Jesus is there. But that is what His sacrifice means: love for us that bridges every distance we could possibly feel.

Every one of us, hearing of Jesus’ abandonment, can say: for me.  This abandonment is the price he paid for me.  He became one with each of us in order to be completely and definitively one with us to the very end.  He experienced abandonment in order not to leave us prey to despair, in order to stay at our side forever.  He did this for me, for you, because whenever you or I or anyone else seems pinned to the wall, lost in a blind alley, plunged into the abyss of abandonment, sucked into a whirlwind of so many ‘whys’ without an answer, there can still be a hope: Jesus himself, for you, for me.  It is not the end, because Jesus was there and even now, he is at your side.  He endured the distance of abandonment in order to take up into his love every possible distance that we can feel.  So that each of us might say: in my failings, and each of us has failed many times, in my desolation, whenever I feel betrayed or betrayed others, whenever I feel cast aside or have cast aside others, whenever I feel forsaken or have abandoned others, let us think of Jesus, who was abandoned, betrayed and cast aside.  There, we find him.  When I feel lost and confused, when I feel that I can’t go on, he is beside me.  Amid all my unanswered questions ‘why…?’, he is there.

This closeness of Jesus is the answer, given in the crucifixion, to the distance, despair, and suffering that we experience in our own lives. “That is how the Lord saves us, from within our questioning ‘why?’  From within that questioning, he opens the horizon of hope that does not disappoint.” Jesus’ moment of utter abandonment yielded the greatest triumph of hope. We can thus say with confidence in any situation, “I know this looks and feels bad, but I know my God will come for me, that He will comfort me.” Yes, we should feel the weight of sin and death this Holy Week, but it should move us to a profound hope in our God who does not leave us orphans (Jn 14:18).

Not only should Jesus’ experience of suffering and abandonment lead us to a profound hope, but it should also move us outside of ourselves to all who are abandoned.

Jesus, in his abandonment, asks us to open our eyes and hearts to all who find themselves abandoned.  For us, as disciples of the ‘forsaken’ Lord, no man, woman or child can be regarded as an outcast, no one left to himself or herself.  Let us remember that the rejected and the excluded are living icons of Christ: they remind us of his reckless love, his forsakenness that delivers us from every form of loneliness and isolation.  Brothers and sisters, today let us implore this grace: to love Jesus in his abandonment and to love Jesus in the abandoned all around us.  Let us ask for the grace to see and acknowledge the Lord who continues to cry out in them.  May we not allow his voice to go unheard amid the deafening silence of indifference.  God has not left us alone; let us care, then, for those who feel alone and abandoned.  Then, and only then, will we be of one mind and heart with the one who, for our sake, ’emptied himself’ (Phil 2:7).  He emptied himself completely for us.

In imitation of Jesus, let us empty ourselves for each other and for God.


Image by Pietro Lorenzetti through Wikimedia Commons

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Theresa Zoe Williams is a writer with credits all over the Catholic inter-webs. She received her BA in Theology, Catechetics/Youth Ministry, and English Writing from Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has contributed to the books Catholic Hipster Handbook: The Next Level and Epic Saints: Wild, Wonderful, and Weird Stories of God's Heroes. And has written her own book, A Catholic Field Guide to Fairy Tale Princesses. She is Pennsylvanian by birth, Californian by heart, and in Ohio for the time being. Yinz can find her on Twitter @TheresaZoe.

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