Doing penance for each other

The Pope made some important comments on his trip to Portugal last week which have a fairly direct bearing on the abuse scandals so much in the news these days.  Benedict’s response, as we might expect, touches on the spiritual aspects of the scandal and has some pretty deep implications for all of us.  Here’s what the Holy Father said:

[A]ttacks against the Pope or the Church do not only come from outside; rather the sufferings of the Church come from within, from the sins that exist in the Church. This too has always been known, but today we see it in a really terrifying way: the greatest persecution of the Church does not come from enemies on the outside, but is born from the sin within the church, the Church therefore has a deep need to re-learn penance, to accept purification, to learn on one hand forgiveness but also the need for justice. Forgiveness is not a substitute for justice. In one word we have to re-learn these essentials: conversion, prayer, penance, and the theological virtues. That is how we respond, and we need to be realistic in expecting that evil will always attack, from within and from outside, but the forces of good are also always present, and finally the Lord is stronger than evil and the Virgin Mary is for us the visible maternal guarantee that the will of God is always the last word in history.

In earlier comments, too, Benedict talked about the need for doing penance, something fundamental to our identities as Catholics but which, I have to admit, I don’t normally give much thought to.  Among my generation of Catholics I’m probably not alone in being a little clueless about what penance is or why we do it.

On one level, of course, penance is a way of demonstrating the sincerity of our repentance from sin.  This isn’t the same thing as trying to “prove” to God that we’re sorry; it has more to do with making the transformation in our lives real, translating our feelings of contrition into some sort of concrete action.  On this level, we need our penance more than God does.

Penance can help repair the damage done by sin, but this reason only goes so far.  After all, we can repent of our sins, change our ways, and receive God’s forgiveness, but we can’t change the past.  Some things are simply beyond our human powers to make right.

The Church is facing this reality right now.  In our American Catholic institutions we have put into place stringent policies to protect children from harm.  We’ve paid out millions of dollars in damages.  But, as much as has been done to ensure that such abuse will never happen again and that victims will be compensated, we can’t change the fact that the abuse happened.  And that is a terrifying reality.

It’s terrifying because it represents an evil over which we are powerless.  We’re confronted by other such evils in the world, our own sins but also “social sins” which we might oppose but in the end are not able to defeat.  In the face of such massive evil, and our own powerlessness before it, we have three options:  despair; delusion (either pretending the problem doesn’t exist or it’s not that bad); or, finally, turning to a power greater than ourselves.

Only God’s mercy and justice can right past wrongs.  Only he can defeat the evil that would otherwise overwhelm our efforts.  It’s out of the realization that we ourselves are powerless—but God is not—that a second, perhaps deeper, level of understanding penance emerges.

Christ defeats evil definitively on the Cross, but we still struggle to carry that victory into every place in our lives and in the world.  Penance is a way of bringing Christ’s suffering, bringing his Cross, into our lives.  Understanding this helps to make sense of what might, on the surface, seem to be Paul’s very strange remark in the Letter to the Colossians that “in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” (Col. 1:24).

Pope Benedict is pointing toward a spirit of penance as the way to bring Christ’s healing victory on the Cross into those places in the Church where evil has overwhelmed us.

Over the past few weeks I have read plenty of commentaries telling the Pope or the bishops or the Vatican what they should or shouldn’t do right now.  Some of this advice is genuine, some blustery self-righteousness.  But the sort of healing that is needed is not something that the Pope or the bishops can provide for us because it’s not the sort of thing that any human power can provide.  We, the Church, right now need God’s help.  We need the Cross.

The Cross is not something that a better Vatican PR operation will provide; nor will legal settlements; nor even better policies, as necessary as those things are.  It’s a grace that can come from God alone.  But the Cross is also a sign of hope—the sign of hope—precisely because it is not dependent on any earthly power.  My brothers and sisters, forgive me for preaching just now, but we can do penance too.  We can pray for the Church’s healing.  We can fast.  We can go without luxuries, and even necessities, and we can give alms.

Penance is not just about “making up” for our own sins.  It’s not something we only have to do for ourselves.  Jesus suffered for everyone’s sins, and it is the job of all of us in the Church to do penance for each other and for the world.  These moments of crisis, of sin and suffering within the Church, should make us feel more acutely the wisdom behind John Donne’s great line:  “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind.”

In all the other times of her sometimes painful—but still wonderful and graced—history the Church has found healing and renewal in the prayers and penances of the saints.  And now is the time for us—for all of us—to rise to that call.

34 Responses to Doing penance for each other

  1. Thank you, Anthony. Here are a few thoughts of mine on the topic of penance.

    1. The 12 Step Program of recovery from alcoholism and addictions includes penance. It’s in Steps 8 and 9: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” The person in recovery recognizes that a harm was done and cannot be changed. Making amends is a way of trying to bring balance into the relationship. Even if it is not possible to make amends directly, a person in recovery can do something that, on a spiritual level, brings balance into the broken relationship.

    2. The Church has always spoken of “reparation” in conjunction with penance. In my explanations of the traditional formula of the Morning Offering I like to explain “reparation” as “repairing the damage” that sin has caused.

    Pope Benedict XVI, in his second encyclical “Spe Salvi,” wrote about justice, reparation, and grace in Numbers 42-44. Quoting Theodor Adorno of the Frankfort School, he wrote that “true justice–would require a world ‘where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone.'”

    How is that possible? Only, as you pointed out, on the Cross. The Holy Father continues: “God now reveals his true face in the figure of the sufferer who shares man’s God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent sufferer has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can begin to grasp it through faith. Yes, there is a resurrection of the flesh. There is justice. there is an ‘undoing’ of past suffering, a reparation that sets things right.”

    In the next paragraph, Pope Benedict elaborates on this mystery: “God is justice and creates justice. This is our consolation and our hope. And in his justice there is also grace. This we know by turning our gaze to the crucified and risen Christ. Both these things–justice and grace–must be see in their correct inner relationship. Grace does not cancel out justice. It does not make wrong into right. It is not a sponge which wipes everything away, so that whatever someone has done on earth ends up being of equal value.”

    As members of the Body of Christ, we continue the work of repairing the damage that sin has caused by sharing somehow in the mystery of the Cross. Or, as St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church…” (1: 24). In most cases the work of reparation will involve “offering up” the suffering that is an inevitable part of human life.

    3. It seems to me that penance is part of all religious traditions and in that way could be called a “spiritual instinct” that all humans, as spiritual beings, have. Penance is a way that we “pray” with our bodies, whether it be through fasting from food or some other ascetical practice. This became very clear to me when I worked among the Lakota people of South Dakota and witnessed the “inipi” or sweat lodge where the participants offered their discomfort and suffering as an intercessory prayer for individuals and the tribe. There was a strong sense of “communion” as participants would pray “Mitakuye Oyasin” (“All my relatives”) and seek, through their personal purification, the good of their families, friends, and all creation.

    Thank you again for your reflection on something that is often misunderstood and therefore ignored–the topic of penance.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

      For those of our readers who aren’t familiar with Fr. Kubicki’s work at the Apostleship of Prayer, let me take this opportunity to give a little plug for this important Jesuit ministry. You can check out their website here:

      As you can tell from the above reflections, the Apostleship of Prayer offers a lot of excellent spiritual resources.

  2. Qualis Rex says:

    Anthony – another hard-hitting post. I’ve often speculated that the current crisis of the church is a direct cause and effect from the errant and wayward implementation of novelties and corruptions carried out in the nebulous “spirit of Vatican II”. The “fruits” of this were immediate; mass exodus from the clergy and religious orders as well as Catholics in the pews. It is now no secret that the scarcitiy of priests coupled with a very blatant agenda on who would be “best” for the priesthood based on certain tendencies left an atmosphere of “eh? whaddyagonnado?” when it came to abuse. I could name examples, but I think we’re all quite aware of the specifics at this point.

    But was it not the laity who was also to blame? Why was there no outcry when the seminaries were being emptied? Why did people remain silent as their Catholic identity was being stolen and burried? I think the short answer is because a perceived large weight was removed from their backs. No longer did they have to worry about guilt, obedience and morality. I think it was s deadly tacit tradeoff; the penalties and calamities of which would be bequeathed to their children.

    For this reason, penance is most definitely applicable to all. God moves on His own time. But I’m certain He recognizes and acknowledges true penance. So, whether we live to see the results, as our beloved Pope instructs, it does work to bring a greater victory.

  3. Henry says:

    Great post Anthony. Reflecting on what you wrote prompted me to note that in my own experience, penance only makes sense (and is attractive) when it is linked to love – and Fr. James alludes to this by using the vital word “relationship.” For, as Qualis alludes, I note that when it’s divorced from love it’s merely a juridical act that crushes me, etc. It seems to me that the Little Flower has some great insights into this. Anyway, just some random thoughts before I get ready to ride the subway to work – elaboration to follow.



  4. Pete Lake says:


    Great post. You are a real pastor. The movement of the Holy Spirit is evident in your writings. You speak about penance, in the context of the abuse crisis, as someone who obviously loves the Church. I accept the generous invitation to do penance and to pray for the Church’s healing, through the intercession of Our Holy Mother and Saint Joseph.

  5. Luisa says:

    Having been raised by nuns -& some intelligent ones among them, thank God -I’ve always found ‘penance’ difficult to understand. I find it perfectly understandable to undergo with as much patience and fortitude as possible the suffering life inevitably brings to us, trying to make sense of suffering in general and my own suffering by casting it with Christ’s and hoping it may be taken into account for my own good and that of humanity. So far, so good.
    But ever since I was a child I found the nuns’ pious talk about self-inflicted, often gory, ‘penance’ very difficult to stomach. It smacks of the bloodthirsty, primitive God of the Old Testament -and of necrophiliac, masochistic tendencies which betray a twisted religious sense of the body and the despise of many things related to it, i.e. women, sex & so forth.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Luisa – what you consider “gory” or “bloodthirsty” (I don’t know where you got necrophiliac tho, so I’m thinkinig you just threw that one in for shock value) is in fact the human existence. We are made up of flesh and blood. God gave us these bodies. They are His, and of course should be treated with respect. But it is in fact an act of asceticism to divorce yourself from the pain and pleasures of the body in order to gain a closer focus on God. So, if someone choses to whip themselves because they like the feeling (masochism as you call it out) then this is not penance. If someone choses to do so in order to achieve a state in which pain or fear does not dominate their existence, then this is a noble cause.

      Each of us as Christians may be called to pick up the cross. How many of us could literally do so?

  6. Luisa says:

    Thanks for being so perceptive and answering with such theological depth…
    I still do not think the pursuit of suffering per se is a valid Catholic attitude -life brings enough pain as it is and I cannot see why a loving God would want us to indulge in self mortification.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Luisa – you missed it. Once again, the pursuit of suffering “per se” (which means “for itself”) as I said is masochism. Suffering for a cause such as penance or to remove pain/fear from achieving your goals of being closer to God is much different.

      Let me take this down to another level: anytime you do not indulge your body with something you crave, you suffer. If your body craves nicotine because you give up smoking, you suffer. Even if you are 500 lbs and your body craves a twinkie but you decide not to eat it, you suffer. In other words, in the natural course of human existence, even when we do what is right, we suffer albeit to varying degrees.

      Take this one step further; what if after consciously rejecting nicotine or any other foreign substance AND any food other than the bare minumum to keep yourself functioning you are asked to donate a kidney to save someone’s life. Given you no longer indulge your body and are no longer attached to such material comforts as nicotine, do you think it would be harder or easier for you to make a sacrifice to save someone else’s life? And I’m not asking if you could make this decision without abstaning/suffering beforehand– just if you think it would be easier.

      Like you said; life brings pain. But it also brings great joy. Sometimes suffering for the sake of penance and understanding there is reaso for it allows you to experience a much higher degree of joy and closeness with God.

  7. crystal says:

    We’re confronted by other such evils in the world, our own sins but also “social sins” which we might oppose but in the end are not able to defeat.

    The sin that’s not addressed here is the sin of the church covering up the abuse. Thart sin, lying to the detriment of others for the benefit of oneself or one’s institution, does seem like something over which we have control and which we can defeat if we have the will to do do.

    I understand people who have done wrong doing penance, but I don’t understand the idea of people who have not done wrong doing penance for others. This reminds me of the idea of praying for people in purgatory to take time off their sentences, which I find just odd. Can you explain more about this?

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Hmmm. Interesting that someone who claims to be Catholic would find a basic tenet of the church “just odd”. I guess it’s just more proof that many of our co-religionists are in dire need of catechesis regarding the faith they claim to profess.

      Catholic Catechism 1032

      This teaching is also based on the practice of prayer for the dead, already mentioned in Sacred Scripture: “Therefore [Judas Maccabeus] made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin.”607 From the beginning the Church has honored the memory of the dead and offered prayers in suffrage for them, above all the Eucharistic sacrifice, so that, thus purified, they may attain the beatific vision of God.608 The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead:

      Let us help and commemorate them. If Job’s sons were purified by their father’s sacrifice, why would we doubt that our offerings for the dead bring them some consolation? Let us not hesitate to help those who have died and to offer our prayers for them.609

  8. therese says:

    “I understand people who done wrong doing penance but I don’t understand the idea who have not done wrong doing penance for others.”

    And who are these people “who have not done wrong”, for heaven’s sake? There were only 2 such persons on earth who’d fit that description, Jesus & Mary. The rest of us, everyone, have all ‘done wrong’. The rest of us, everyone, are all responsible for the wrong done by every other person in the Body of Christ. St Paul explains this in very easy to understand language by telling us that, when one part of our body hurts, the whole body hurts. This isn’t a cute analogy for the Body of Christ, this is truth. We all “live & move & have our being” in Christ.

    So, when I do penance (which doesn’t have to be “gory”, it only has to be done with love, as the Little Flower tells us), then I am helping to in some way alleviate the suffering of the Body of Christ. Because of Blessed Mother’s insistance on this point over & over again in her apparitions (e.g., at Lourdes: “Penance, penance,penance!”), I have to believe that this isn’t a nice-to-do practice of a believing Catholic but a need-to-do.

  9. crystal says:

    Purgatory seems to me to be a construct – there’s no reference to it in the NT, is there?

    I don’t understand how doing penance for another person is helpful to that person or how it can absolve them in any way. I’d think that what would matter would be their own change of heart?

    I am a Catholic, but I never said I was a good one 🙂

    • Purgatory is one of my favorite subjects, so here are some of my thoughts….

      I think Purgatory has more to do with purification than punishment. Our sins carry effects and consequences that affect us and others. Those effects need to be healed and purified.

      The Scriptural reference for Purgatory is 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15. Paul says that Jesus Christ is the one foundation upon which we build our lives. Then he goes on to talk about life as a building project. Using analogy (the only way to talk about these mysteries of the afterlife), he talks about the various building materials one can use. Then he says that the Day of the Lord will reveal each person’s work. He writes: “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each one’s work.” He adds: “But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved, but only as through fire.” I take that to mean that anything in our lives that is not worthy of God will be purified.

      The “fire” is not punishment but purification. And the “fire” could be God. Hebrews 12: 29 says that “our God is a consuming fire.”

      Pope Benedict writes about all this in his second encyclical “Spe Salvi” and I would refer you to sections 45 to 48 where he discusses Purgatory in very creative ways. He says that some theologians think that “the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself,” thus echoing Hebrews 12: 29. He speculates that we should not think of “doing time in Purgatory” (my words) because, as he puts it: “It is clear that we cannot calculate the “duration” of this transforming burning in terms of the chronological measurements of this world. The transforming “moment” of this encounter eludes earthly time-reckoning—it is the heart’s time, it is the time of “passage” to communion with God in the Body of Christ.” And he writes poetically of our spiritual connection with people who have died and how our prayers (and penance) can help in their process of purification. I can’t help sharing a long quote here:

      “The belief that love can reach into the afterlife, that reciprocal giving and receiving is possible, in which our affection for one another continues beyond the limits of death—this has been a fundamental conviction of Christianity throughout the ages and it remains a source of comfort today. Who would not feel the need to convey to their departed loved ones a sign of kindness, a gesture of gratitude or even a request for pardon? Now a further question arises: if “Purgatory” is simply purification through fire in the encounter with the Lord, Judge and Saviour, how can a third person intervene, even if he or she is particularly close to the other? When we ask such a question, we should recall that no man is an island, entire of itself. Our lives are involved with one another, through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone. The lives of others continually spill over into mine: in what I think, say, do and achieve. And conversely, my life spills over into that of others: for better and for worse. So my prayer for another is not something extraneous to that person, something external, not even after death. In the interconnectedness of Being, my gratitude to the other—my prayer for him—can play a small part in his purification. And for that there is no need to convert earthly time into God’s time: in the communion of souls simple terrestrial time is superseded. It is never too late to touch the heart of another, nor is it ever in vain.”

      What I like most about this quote is that Pope Benedict writes against the tendency toward individualism that is so much part of our times.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      That part was clear enough. Don’t get me wrong.

  10. Gregory B says:

    Will the jesuits do penance for the insulting comments made by Father James
    Martin, S.J in his blog?

    Father James Martin, S.J., writes:

    Pope Benedict XVI’s comments last week in Fatima, Portugal, in which he stated that abortion and same-sex marriage were ‘some of today’s most insidious and dangerous threats’ to the common good seemed oddly discordant. The equation of abortion, something that clearly is about a threat to life, with same-sex marriage, which no matter how you look at it, does not mean that anyone is going to die, is bizarre. A good friend of mine, who is gay, recently resigned from a position at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he said, with great dismay, that ‘abortionsamesexmarriage’ had become one polysyllabic word among some of his bosses.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Gregory – I think the point here we cannot miss is at least ONE soon-to-be Jesuit IS doing penance and “gets it”. Whatever misguided and errant acts of disobedience some Jesuits do, we cannot fault the entire order anymore than we can fault the entire church. We MUST do as our beloved Pope asks and continue to pray for priests (and those aspiring for the priesthood). It is not beyond the realm of possibility that under the new generation and after the “old guard” is gone, the Jesuit Order can once again regain its place as Defensor Fidei and return to the values and orthodoxy on which it was founded by Saint Ignatius (pray for us!).

      In sum, give props where props are due.

  11. Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:

    My compliments and gratitude to everyone who has contributed so far to this discussion for bringing up some very interesting points.

    Crystal and Luisa point out what a difficult concept “penance” can be for us today. It’s not something we understand intuitively and certainly not something our culture helps us to understand. Some Catholic practices regarding penance can seem quite foreign to us (even to us Catholics) and might even require us to overcome some of our unacknowledged biases to understand. There are a large variety of penitential practices in the Church’s spiritual patrimony, and we aren’t all called to participate in all of them, though I do think we are called to a certain amount of openness and generosity of understanding to those who might engage in practices different than our own.

    That said, the idea of suffering for another’s sin can’t be entirely foreign to any of us, since we believe this is exactly what Jesus did. There are different ways of explaining this, and I can offer a stab or two at the idea if you like, but I’d wager you already have an understanding of what this means yourselves and that might be the best place to start.

    Qualis has been talking about what I would call “asceticism,” which meant originally, I believe, “training.” Just as training for a marathon involves a certain amount of discomfort, training in developing any virtue might require some uncomfortable practices to overcome our vices. So, for example, fasting from desserts might help us develop self-control, which is a virtue that can be exercised in many situations, some more serious than the buffet line!

    But there’s also penance as “reparation” as Fr. Kubicki pointed out. I’m suggesting that penance in this sense always also pushes us toward penance as union with Christ, since only Christ offers true reparation. Remember, we aren’t seeking suffering for the sake of suffering, which would be just masochism and, frankly, sick. Christ’s suffering is redemptive suffering, so any time Christians engage in penance it must be out of a desire to join in that redemptive work of Jesus.

    You might think about it this way: if we love someone, we want to be with them even in their most difficult moments. Being with them doesn’t mean just passive observance, it means feeling what they are feeling. Being with Jesus on the Cross means sharing (albeit usually in small ways, such as fasting, sleeping on the floor, giving up smoking for a day, etc) in his suffering. This suffering comes out of love, and this is exactly what he did when he saw us (humans) suffering because of our sins on earth.

    Does this help get us to the point where we can see how doing penance for other people makes sense? When we become members of the Church we are no longer entirely individuals because we are all united to Christ. We even take on a certain responsibility for each other and each other’s salvation. Since we believe in life after death, this responsibility and mutual interdependence extends to the souls in purgatory and in heaven (remember, the saints pray for us too). We help each other, pray and do penance for each other, because we realize that the salvation of us all is dependent on the single great act of Penance of Jesus.

    Regarding all of these topics, if you’re sincere in exploring them more, as I believe you are, I highly recommend Benedict’s encyclical Spe Salvi, which is not too long but contains a lot of good insights about heaven, hell, purgatory, and penance:

    If you prayerfully read a few paragraphs per night over a week or two, I think you’ll find it very enriching.

    And while the name “purgatory” doesn’t appear in the Scriptures, the practice of praying for the dead and offering reparation certainly does (Maccabees is often cited, as is 1 John); doing so was also a part of the Christian tradition from the very, very beginning. Of course, such practices don’t make sense unless we believe that the dead undergo some sort of purification/preparation/growth/perfecting (call it what you will) after death. So in this case, we have a practice universally recognized by the Church from the beginning as part of our Christian life and mission, and then afterwards theologians came up with the vocabulary to talk about it. That may count as a “construct” but it’s one of those “constructs” (like the Trinity!) that come out of revelation and we can’t dismiss.

  12. crystal says:

    Thanks, Fr. Kubicki – very helpful explanation. I’d agree that the fire which both burns and saves is Christ himself. I do actually pray for those who are dead, although I’m not sure exactly why. I guess I believe Jesus doesn’t need me to remind him to do his absolute best for them. Maybe it’s just a way of me sharing with him how much I care for them?

    But I don’t really understand redemptive suffering. I know this is a sort of minority opinion, but I’d like to believe, as Ken Overberg SJ wrote, that Jesus didn’t come here to suffer and die for our sins, but to reveal God to us.

  13. Pete Lake says:


    That’s a fine point. Christ didn’t come here to suffer and die for our sins simply for the sake of suffering and dying. He is, after all, God and, therefore, could have saved us from our sins without suffering and dying if He so chose. But precisely because out of love for us he chose to reveal God to us, who is Love, Christ suffered and died, and by his life, his suffering, his death and his resurrection He showed us the Father, He showed us Love. There is no greater love than to lay down’s life for another. When we suffer, we are able to participate and share in Christ’s own suffering, which is redemptive because it allows to share (in a special way) in God’s Love. This is why Bishop Sheen would say that the shadow of the Cross was always with Jesus, even from the moment of His birth.

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Ah, yes. Arcbishop Sheen, Requiescat in Pacem.

      Where have you gone, Oh, Archbishop Sheen?
      The faithful need you more than you will know…
      Whoa, whoa, whoa…..

  14. crystal says:


    I see it differently, I guess. I see Jesus as coming to show us God in himself, and being murdered because he cared more about sharing that with us than about staying alive. But I don’t see his death as the defining of his mission, just the expression of his committment.

    When we suffer, we are able to participate and share in Christ’s own suffering, which is redemptive because it allows to share (in a special way) in God’s Love.

    I understand the concept of compassion – suffering with – but about the idea of sharing Jesus’ suffering, I agree with David Bentley Hart who wrote The cross of Christ is not, after all, simply an eternal validation of pain and death, but their ovethrow. I imagine Jesus, like everyone who loves another, would not want them to suffer in the way he has – he came to save us from suffering and death.

    I think I mentioned this before, but an interesting discussion between Hart and some Catholic guys can be found here – link

    • Qualis Rex says:

      Jesus did NOT come “to save us from suffering and death”. On the contrary, He commanded we take up the cross. He also warned us that following Him would not be easy at all (brother against brother etc). And last I checked, none of us is spared from death, which is still a reality in the human existence. I really don’t know where you came up with that one.

      His death AND RESURECTION were the defining moments of His mission, since without them there would be no Christianity. And it is due to this sacrifice and atonement for OUR sins that we may experience ETERNAL life. But this does not mean we do not experience death beforhand. Once again, really scratching my head at that one there.

  15. Pete Lake says:


    I think we’re on the same page, except I think we need to be clear on what you mean when you say that Christ “came to save us from suffering and death.” He did. He came to save us from the power of sin, suffering, and death over us. But though we are saved from the power of sin, suffering, and death over us, we will still experience sin, suffering, and death — and, like the Saints and marytrs — we can do so with joy (think of St. Stephen at his stoning) in the hope of own easter. I hope that makes sense. Here are three examples from the Scriptures that I think help us in understanding this (two from this week’s readings).

    St. Paul to the Romans:

    Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?
    We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.
    For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.
    We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.
    For a dead person has been absolved from sin.
    If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him.
    We know that Christ, raised from the dead, dies no more; death no longer has power over him.
    As to his death, he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God.
    Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as (being) dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus.

    Jesus, in the Gospel of John, praying to the Father in the presence of the Apostles:

    “Lifting up his eyes to heaven, Jesus prayed, saying:

    “Holy Father, keep them in your name

    that you have given me,

    so that they may be one just as we are one.

    When I was with them I protected them in your name that you gave me,

    and I guarded them, and none of them was lost

    except the son of destruction,

    in order that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

    But now I am coming to you.

    I speak this in the world

    so that they may share my joy completely.

    I gave them your word, and the world hated them,

    because they do not belong to the world

    any more than I belong to the world.

    I do not ask that you take them out of the world

    but that you keep them from the Evil One.”

    Jesus, in today’s reading, to St. Peter:

    Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger,

    you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted;

    but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands,

    and someone else will dress you

    and lead you where you do not want to go.”

    He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God.

    And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”

  16. crystal says:

    I see what you mean. Thanks, Pete.

  17. crystal says:

    Qualis Rex,

    What I meant to do was make a distinction between a theology of the cross and atonement, and a theology of the incarnation. That article I mentioned by Ken Overberg SJ is pretty long but it sums up what I meant.

    But here’s a bit from John O’Malley’s book, “What Happened at Vatican II” that also makes the distinction …..

    “[…] two broad theological traditions. The so-called Augustinian (or eschatological) tradition, which the Germans wanted to make sure was given its due, was more negative on human capabilities and on the possibility of reconciliation between “nature and grace.” Luther, of course, is the best known and most outspoken proponent of such a “theology of the cross,” and at the council observers from that tradition felt the schema did not take enough account of sin. Karl Barth was the theologian who had articulated that theology most effectively in the twentieth century and had influenced especially German-speaking bishops at the council.

    The other tradition was more dependent on the theology of the Eastern Fathers of the church and took its Western form most notably in Aquinas. In it the Incarnation was the key mystery, through which all creation was reconciled and raised to a higher dignity than before. Although some German-speaking theologians helped prepare the theological aspects of the text, people thought of it as “French.” In its elaboration Rahner had clashed with Congar and Daniélou, and he was, along with Ratzinger, a leader in the German opposition to it. Even some French bishops, however, felt that in its present form the schema did not adequately address the negative aspects of contemporary culture. Two Polish bishops — Klepacz and Zygfryd Kowalski — painted a dire picture of the decadence and sinful pride of the world.”

    I’m just saying that Jesus was executed because of what he preached and what he did. Suffering and dying wasn’t his aim, it was a consequence of his aim. To take up the cross is not about suffering and dying like Jesus suffered and died, it’s about living the way Jesus lived, or so I think.

    • Anthony Lusvardi, SJ says:


      I’ve been meaning to respond to some of the issues that you’ve raised here, even though I realize by now I won’t be able to do justice to all of them.

      As a way of thinking of the place of role and function of the Cross, I think it’s important not to place it in opposition to the Incarnation or make it seem somehow extraneous to the Incarnation. I think it was Hans Urs von Balathasar who pointed out that, for God, the greater self-humbling was in becoming man to begin with, rather than suffering and dying in a humiliating way. If we try to understand the Cross without the Incarnation, we end up with violence and not much else, but likewise, if we try to understand the teachings of Jesus without the Cross we end up with some kind of banal moralism because so much of what Jesus taught was about his Passion and death. And, most importantly, we don’t get to the Resurrection unless we go through Calvary.

      Catholicism understood in all its force makes many (though by no means all) either/or distinctions seem beside the point. That’s why I’m a little uneasy with many of the paradigms used to understand Vatican II which rely too much on seeing it as a struggle between opposing camps (political or intellectual). We can get an exciting narrative by doing so and perhaps even gain some insights, but on the whole such readings can also lead us away from what’s most fundamental.

      Anyway, thanks for your continued comments and thoughtfulness.

  18. crystal says:

    Tony, thanks 🙂

  19. Qualis Rex says:

    sa-WEEEEEET!!! : )

    Well said, Anthony. And not to open up a “Vatican II brand can-o’-worms”, but I’d like to add that while the opposing camps you refer to often wave the Vatican II flag to validate or raly against a given subject, there is really only one sticking point, and that is NOSTRA AETATE. Sometime if you are brave enough you may wish to have a crack at it : )

  20. Jess Kuepfer says:

    This is bizarre! Imho he was superb acting in Two and a Half Men, but possibly it was mainly because he was simply just playing himself:-)

  21. […] we are Catholics (giving us a sociological marker of Catholic identity).  They also remind us that doing penance is part of what being Catholic means.  Penance is an act of justice, a way of making right what […]

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