Suffering Outside The Camp

Suffering Outside The Camp

Good Friday

Jesus suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by his own blood. Let us then go to him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that he bore. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come (Heb 13:10-14). These words of the apostle were addressed to those Hebrews who recognised Jesus as the Messiah and were suffering persecution from their compatriots for their faith in Him. They needed to be encouraged because their brothers of blood were rejecting them as no longer worthy to be part of God’s people. The apostle points out to them that Jesus too was rejected, and to such an extent that He could not even die within the walls but was pushed outside and there left to die like a pagan. Since that is the case, he says, then we too should go outside the camp to be with Him and to bear our part of the reproach that He received.

So we are brought back once again to what we were saying last night, namely, that Christ wants more than just a memorial of His love for us. He wants more than just for Christians to remember how much He loved them and did for them. We need to go outside the camp, to bear the reproach He bore. Our lasting city is not here, but in the world to come.

It was not long after these words were written that the city of Jerusalem was razed to the ground by the Roman emperor and those very same Jews who had rejected the Christians found themselves rejected and scattered to the four winds until the end of time. It was a terrible lesson in how devastating it is to reject God’s visit.

Let’s consider, for our part, that the very same attitude the Jews had towards the Hebrew Christians is often repeated in the Christian Church by those who do not want to rock the boat and who do not want to allow others to rock it either. With a certain frequency in history, we can notice that the mass of believers tends to drift into a certain ambivalence about the essentials of the faith, an attitude of nonchalance with regard to who we are and what we do. And just as frequently, we find that the Holy Spirit raises up souls to shake off that indolence, to put their necks out and bravely accept criticism for their staunch defence of what is true.

Indeed the natural bent of human nature is to let oneself go to easier living, to softer ways, to more lenient teachings that flatter our egos. Think of how God raised up Catherine of Siena to go to Avignon and brink the pope back to Rome, or of Joan of Arc whom God inspired to lead the French armies and crown their king. Just imagine what people must have been saying to Catherine: “you presumptuous young lady, who are you to tell the pope what to do?” Or to Joan: “you foolish little girl, to think you could lead an army in battle, let alone to victory. Go back to your home and your infantile games!”. But in both cases, those young women stood firm against everyone and against all odds, and they achieved what God sent them to do, for God was with them.

Indeed, how often does not the Church as a whole find itself in the situation we read about this morning in the book of Lamentations: Her gates are sunk into the ground… the law is no more, and her prophets have found no vision from the Lord (Lam 2:9). Thy prophets have seen false and foolish things for thee: and they have not laid open thy iniquity, to excite thee to penance: but they have seen for thee false revelations. (Lam 2:14). And to counter the dreams of false prophets, God sends true prophets to say with Jeremiah:  Thus saith the Lord: Stand ye on the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, which is the good way, and walk ye in it: and you shall find refreshment for your souls. And they said: We will not walk. (Jer 6:16). Walk ye in the old ways.  Yes, for the old ways are safe, they are sure, they lead to God, but they lead outside the camp, outside the walls of our comfort zone. They lead to Calvary, as they did for Catherine and Joan.

Why would we not compare their situation with ours? It is a secret for no one that traditionally-minded Catholics are looked down upon as being out of step with the modern world. Tolerated for the moment, it is made clear to us that we should get in step with the so-called aggiornamento. That the world would say so is no surprise, but that our fellow Catholics would say so, that hurts, just like it hurt those Jews to be excluded outside the city by their own brethren.

But we cannot do and say otherwise than we do. We say what we see. We preach what has been handed down. We worship with our ancestors, at the risk of suffering rejection outside the camp. It matters not to us, for here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come. And because of that, with St Paul we shrink not from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God (Act 20:27).

For us, there can be no compromise with the revolution in the church, no compromise with even the resemblance of error, no compromise of God’s word, no mixing it with ambiguities so that everyone may be pleased with what they hear. No tinkling of ears, no flattering of egos, for that cannot save. We must not only stand with the truth, but be seen as standing with the truth.

As we raise our eyes today to the crucifix, let us ever be mindful that it would have been so easy for Our Lord to talk His way out of the crucifixion. Everyone of his hard words to the Pharisees could have been sugar-coated and semi-retracted to make way for dialogue and accompaniment. But there was none. There was only truth, pure truth, never the plausible lie, meaning the diabolical illusion of half-truths and compromises.

Nor should we be disturbed, for the Lord does not leave us tempore superborum sine adiutorio without help in the time of the proud (Sir 51:14). No, He does not leave us without help. Even when close friends and collaborators abandon us, the Lord sends others. The apostles ran away in the hour of trial, but the Eternal Father sent Veronica, Simon the Cyrenean, the women of Jerusalem, the Good Thief, the Centurion, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea. All He wants to see from us is a bit of courage, the resolve to stand firm and undertake whatever He entrusts us with, at any cost.

As we gaze upon the crucified One today, let us pray with St Ignatius:

Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve as You deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, the toil and not to seek for rest, to labour and not to seek reward, save that of knowing I do Your most holy will.

Let us go forth therefore to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For, we have not here a lasting city: but we seek one that is to come (Heb 13:13-14).

Brussels – The Crucifixion paint by Jean Francois Portaels (1886) in St. Jacques Church at The Coudenberg.