FAQ: Why the Passion?
Over the next few weeks, we would like to share with you some reflections from our nuns on common questions about the Passion of Christ, redemptive suffering and penance, and some aspects of cloistered contemplative life. We hope these may answer some of your questions, or help you to respond to the questions of others!
Question #1: If God, the Holy Trinity, is love, why was the suffering of Jesus in His Passion and death on the Cross necessary for the salvation of mankind? God could have “snapped His fingers” and saved us. Did the Father will that Christ suffer instead?
With the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), we can affirm that God is love. Paragraph 221 states: “God Himself is an eternal exchange of love, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He has destined us to share in that exchange.” Keep in mind that last part: “He has destined us to share in that exchange.”
It is also true that God could have just snapped His fingers and decided to save us, and in fact, even one drop of Christ’s Precious Blood would have been enough to redeem the whole world. God could have chosen to save us in any way possible. God chose, in a sense, to make the Passion and Death necessary for the redemption of the world.
First, let’s look again at the Holy Trinity, the communion of Divine Persons Who existed from all eternity. In the life of the Trinity, each of the Divine Persons gives Himself completely to the other in an eternal exchange of love. The Persons of the Trinity are completely happy in this eternal exchange of self-emptying love.
Now recall that in the Book of Genesis, God made man in His image and likeness. We, too, are called to this self-emptying love for God and for one another. This complete self-giving love should have been easy and even enjoyable for us if it were not for original sin and the Fall of mankind. After the fall, man became turned in on himself. He became distrustful of God and tension entered into his human relationships. In this fallen and sinful world, on this side of eternity, self-emptying love becomes a sacrificial love, a suffering love.
Jesus Christ came, emptying Himself completely. St. Paul describes this so beautifully in his letter to the Philippians: “Though He was in the form of God, [Jesus] did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at. Rather, He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that He humbled Himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:6-8). So, the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity becomes incarnate and He doesn’t just prick His finger and shed a drop of His Blood, but He completely gives everything that He has to the last drop of His Blood. He was pouring Himself out in love from all eternity in the Trinity, and now this is what Jesus Christ does in His human nature.
This kind of love was unprecedented in human history until Jesus Christ came. We would not have known about this kind of love if Jesus had not given Himself completely for us. Yet, this is what the Trinity is: a communion of Persons in an eternal exchange of complete self-giving love! Jesus while He was redeeming mankind was also revealing the mystery of the Trinity to us and the inner life of God, and since we are all called to partake in this life of the Trinity for all eternity and we could not know to love in this way on our own, it was necessary that Jesus Christ not only redeem us but also teach us how to live the life of love that exists in the Trinity.
God the Father had a redeeming love for us. He did not want any of us to be lost for all eternity. God the Son was of course always perfectly united to the Father, and knowing the Father’s will, He offered Himself to redeem us (see paragraph 606 & 607 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The will of the three Divine Persons is perfectly aligned and so while we speak of the Father’s redeeming love, we can also say that God the Son and God the Holy Spirit willed this – since ultimately we are speaking of one God.