Cultural privilege has resulted in spiritual complacency

Father John A. Kiley

Modern mankind is clearly scandalized by suffering. The distressingly high abortion rate in this country and throughout the Western world is sure testimony to the contemporary world’s abhorrence of any inconvenience. Men do not want to provide for unplanned children and women do not want to raise unexpected offspring. Hence, abortion is a handy way to avoid the suffering that might come when careers have to be altered, expenses have to be met, and living arrangements have to be adjusted. Abortion is preferable to stress. The high divorce rate throughout the western world is again a testimony to the contemporary person’s aversion to suffering. Challenges, even conflicts, are to be expected in every marital relationship. Forgiveness, understanding and reconciliation are essential to the married life. But modern society has no time for long range resolution. Hence a 40 percent divorce rate maintains in the USA.

Society has lately taken a very conciliatory attitude toward sexual anomalies. Living a chaste, single life in response to some gender confusion or living a chaste, single life in dealing with some irregular sexual attraction are unimaginable options in present-day Western society. Living situations that were previously unspeakable are now offered and legislated as answers to the exceptional challenges that some persons face. And of course on a wider scale, the whole issue of artificial contraception results from an abhorrence of any thought of sexual restraint. Self-control is a manner of suffering quickly discounted by the modern man or woman. Again, cohabitation forestalls the enduring commitment implicit in marriage. End of life issues are another challenge that modern humanity faces with much uneasiness. Physician-assisted suicide and perhaps suicide in general are understood by some as society’s best response to enduring pain and final agony. And for life’s lesser discomforts, the deadly popularity of opiates is another testimony to society’s displeasure with suffering.

How contrary to all this present day disgust with suffering are the valiant words of Jesus Christ who had just been betrayed by his friend Judas Iscariot. St. John recalls the Last Supper scene: “When Judas had left them, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and God will glorify him at once.” Jesus appreciates his moment of glory to be not his Resurrection nor his Transfiguration nor his Ascension. Jesus knows that his true moment of glory is his crucifixion. It is Jesus on the Cross who reveals most powerfully his total obedience to the Father’s Will. It is Jesus on the Cross who declares most vividly his complete dedication to the salvation of mankind. It is Jesus on the Cross who proclaims most forcefully that adherence to the truth outweighs any personal consideration. It is Jesus on the Cross who strongly validates the words of Ss. Paul and Barnabas from this Sunday’s first reading: “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Perhaps previous generations and certainly previous centuries took suffering and distress more in stride than modern society because their alternatives were few. Older generations expected life to be brief and brutal so they turned life’s sufferings into opportunities for interior growth. Life’s assorted sufferings became occasions to identify with the crucified Christ. And of course abortion, divorce, cohabitation, contraception and suicide were unthinkable in yesterday’s highly Christian society. Perhaps the blessings showered upon modern society have not turned out to be the boons that they first appeared to be. Modern life’s physical benefits have generated a sense of spiritual entitlement that curdles in the face of suffering. Cultural privilege has resulted in spiritual complacency. Challenge and stress indeed scandalize modern man. A truly good God would never countenance any suffering.

In the 1960s and 70s it became fashionable in some parishes to replace the Crucified Christ in the sanctuary with an image of the Risen Christ, hands raised in triumph, wounds well-healed, clothing in neat folds. The message was clear. The era of suffering and expiation was over; the moment of fulfillment and victory has arrived. This message of spiritual success has proven wholly premature. It is still “necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”