There seems to be red everywhere. A quick look at some social media today might reveal a number of photographs and avatars in red as people express their hopes that the Supreme Court might redefine marriage.
After seeing these pictures this morning, I walked over to the church to pray as I do most mornings. As I sat in the pew and looked into the sanctuary, I was struck by a color: red. My heart felt heavy as I pondered and prayed. Then I opened my breviary and noticed its color, too: red. My mind turned to the many comments I’ve read about the ongoing debate about marriage, but my heart turned to the missing fundamental cornerstone: Jesus Christ.
In all of these debates, in all of these circles, I rarely hear of the talk of true love, I rarely hear of Christ’s love for us. When I sat in the church this morning, that’s the only place my heart would let me go. Reflecting on today’s Gospel, I felt Jesus’ own heavy heart: “Jesus was deeply troubled” (John 13:21). My heart was heavy, too.
This week is never easy. The celebration of the Sacred Triduum requires me to go to the very depth of my being in search of answers. Indeed, the question of suffering is not easily answered. In my admittedly short life, this celebration of the Sacred Pasch is the only answer I’ve found to the question of suffering.
Seeing this red everywhere reminds me of that fact of our existence: the world is in suffering. Perhaps the entire debate of marriage has arisen from the suffering experienced within family structures. With so many broken homes that contain so many broken hearts, we’ve begun to ask if love itself is broken. “If love is broken, then marriage is too,” our society seems to say.
But sitting in church this morning surrounded by red, I realized once again that love is not broken; it’s just in need of further redemption and purification. So many years ago, the world experienced evil and suffering. As Jesus mounted the wood of the Cross, He showed the world the answer to the question of evil and suffering: God suffered, too. The beauty of the Cross, the beauty of this Sacred Pasch, is that Jesus redeemed suffering and allows us to participate in His redemption by suffering with Him.
This is what the color red represents. We are suffering. Violence tears apart nations, families are torn apart by broken love, and men and women suffer in their attractions to each other.
Seeing all this red, I fail to believe that love is broken; it’s just in need of redemption and purification. That’s why we celebrate this Holy Week. Jesus’ Church stands by marriage and defends its dignity because of love–redemptive, sacrificial love. She supports men and women in their suffering, bringing them to the Cross for redemption.
The goal should not be for the Church or the State to redefine marriage. After all, God created it and all God created is good (cf. Gen. 1:31). Instead, the Church, we, must help each other bear our sufferings and bring them to Christ so that He can redeem them. The Church doesn’t seek to take away all suffering. Instead, she seeks to redeem it through Jesus because we preach Christ crucified (cf. 1 Cor. 1:23).
Men and women are not defined by their desires. It’s a bit sad that our culture seeks to define a person’s worth or dignity based on the object of sexual desire and its expression. As fallen creatures, all our desires have gone awry, including our sexual desire. It’s easy for this desire to be focused on the things of earth rather than the things of heaven. However, we learn that our desires in this world are simply a shadow of the intimacy and relationship we desire to have with God, our creator.
We often feel trapped by these fallen desires, but Christ gives us the ability and the freedom to no longer be defined by them and to experience the freedom that comes from being sons and daughters of God (2 Cor. 6:18). Jesus’ redemption on the Cross provides us with the ability to participate in the act of redemption by suffering with Him.
Men and women who struggle with, especially those who suffer because of, their sexual attraction have an incredible opportunity. They have the potential to reveal to the world the purpose of sexual attraction: that our desire for union with another person is a foreshadowing of the desire for real intimacy with God. Christ reveals to us that his Cross is a moment of closeness to His Father (cf. John 17). By allowing their desires to be redeemed, especially through suffering, they can reveal to the world the power of the Cross and the beauty of the Lord’s Resurrection.
As a priest confessor, I’m most fully aware of human suffering, especially as it relates to desire and attraction. No one is perfect and no one is without suffering caused by desire. That’s evidenced by the people who line up to seek the Lord’s mercy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation day after day. My goal as a priest, and the goal of the Church as a whole, is to bring those sufferings and desires to Christ so that He can redeem them. This is what I witness as a priest: that Christ redeems our suffering and brings us the hope of resurrection!
I do not support the redefinition of marriage for a number of reasons, but among them is this: I do not want take away from men and women who suffer in any way with their sexual desires of any orientation the opportunity to participate in the redemption of the world by uniting their cross to the sufferings of Christ. Christ constantly invites us to pick up our Cross and follow Him. This includes those with same-sex attraction, those with heterosexual attraction, and those who struggle with having no attraction at all. Marriage exists as a natural good in and of itself, and it has been elevated to the level of a sacrament by Jesus Christ. Attempting to change the definition will not decrease or end the suffering that men and women experience. Instead, that suffering caused by desire must be brought to Christ in an act of sacrificial love because He alone alone can redeem suffering and give it purpose. When desire is heavy like the Cross, it’s an opportunity for sacrificial love that can be united to Christ crucified, and thus suffering can reveal God’s eternal plan of redemption.
Our goal is to celebrate the Resurrection at Easter. However, He said, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Don’t be afraid of the Cross! Don’t put it down or walk away from it. Instead, pick it up and head towards Calvary in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It seems like love is broken. Love is not broken; it’s just in need of further redemption and purification.
This Triduum, we see red; and its most appropriate. Red is the color of suffering, it’s the color of Redemption, it’s the
color of love.