Life in Abundance

In the Gospel, Jesus promises, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)  That assurance is the most sublime and consoling promise this side of eternity.

When all is well and we are experiencing the blessings of happiness and good fortune, we readily accept the teaching. Coupled with good health, a normal and happy family, and a reasonably secure job – the earnest practice of the Faith brings an authentic sense of gratitude and spurs us on to greater devotion and generosity.

But when faced with family or marital difficulties, job insecurity, or chronic health problems, we may be tempted to doubt this promise of Christ. How is it possible to live a life of abundance in Christ while enduring great sorrow and deprivation? Most of us are tempted to lose faith under these circumstances and the promise of “life in abundance” may seem to be a cruel hoax. An intelligible response is necessary.

When Saul fell to the ground on the road to Damascus, he heard the voice of Jesus:  “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)  Jesus reigns in heavenly glory, yet the account clearly implies that Jesus Himself suffers when Christians are persecuted. Saint Paul will develop the teaching, making it clear Jesus is not an absentee landlord: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) Christ continues to dwell among us in His Church, His Mystical Body.

Saint Peter nudges us closer to reconciling suffering with an abundant life in Christ. In Christ, suffering is elevated by grace and takes on new meaning: “If you are patient when you suffer for doing what is good, this is a grace before God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his footsteps.” (1 Peter 2: 20-23)

Hence, suffering members of the Mystical Body of Christ share in His redemptive suffering. This helps us understand Saint Paul’s rather startling declaration that he now rejoices in his sufferings:  “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.” (Col. 1:24)

When we suffer, Christ suffers with us in His Mystical Body, and our suffering participates in the meaning given it by Christ on the Cross.  Our suffering in Christ mysteriously continues the work of redemption.

Crucifixion by Peter Gertner, 1537 [Walters Museum, Baltimore]

The Father is not a cruel taskmaster. In the Book of Wisdom, we read, “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living.” (Wis. 1:3)  Consider the anguish of Abraham in the Book of Genesis as he brings his son Isaac up the mount for sacrifice. When the angel of the Lord holds back the hand of Abraham, the Lord reveals that He does not delight in Abraham’s anguish. He delights in Abraham’s obedience. Nevertheless, Abraham’s anguish validates and magnifies the strength of his obedience of faith.

Isaac, of course, is a figure of Christ the Son, and Abraham is a figure of the Father. So it is reasonable to conclude that the Father does not “delight” in His Son’s redemptive suffering on the Cross, nor does the Father delight in our suffering. The Father “delights” in the obedience of His Son, an obedience that is not diminished by suffering and death itself. The courage and suffering of Christ further witnesses to the supreme excellence of His obedience to the Father.

The excellence of His obedience is magnified by His freedom.  During His trial, He tells Pilate, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” (Mt. 26:53)  Jesus immediately reveals the reason He accepted the death sentence:  “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Mt. 26:53) Scriptures are “fulfilled” when Jesus willingly accepts His death in obedience for our redemption and salvation.

Jesus invites us into the mystery of sacrificial love:  “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  (John 15:13) We begin to sense the mystery of the greatness of such love in our own life experiences. Under extreme circumstances, good parents risk their lives for their children; and there are countless accounts of soldiers, policemen, and others who risk their lives not only for their comrades but for complete strangers. Even a hyper-secularized culture like our own celebrates the dignity of such selfless acts of love.

But the love of Christ and life in His grace can be lost, so Jesus teaches, “If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.” (John 15:10) Obedience and the suffering that often comes with it, demonstrate that courage, conviction, and a clear conscience sustain the joy of life with Christ:  “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:11)

The most significant command of all is given at the Last Supper: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”  (Luke 22:19)  Our obedience with God’s grace is rewarded with the Word again taking Flesh, the Eucharist:  Holy Communion, the source, and summit of the Christian life.

The Lord’s “life in abundance” purifies and elevates all earthly delights and sorrows. It is a life of courage, conviction, clear conscience, and communion with Him, with our very flesh sanctified by His most sacred Body and Blood. It is never too late to live His life of abundance with steadfast hope and true joy.

Father Jerry J. Pokorsky is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington. He is pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Great Falls, Virginia.