When faced with our own suffering and the sufferings of others, we often ask "Where is God?" Such pain and suffering in this sense is an obstacle to life, love, happiness and intimacy. We see it as something to be avoided at all costs and we do our best to disassociate ourselves from the reality of it as much as we can. "We often shut down in the face of human misery because we feel our helplessness, our weakness, our inability to act. It is easier sometimes not to show emotion than to join in the human valley of tears" (I. Delio, The Humility of God, 89). Yet, in this avoidance of pain and suffering, are we not only avoiding these feelings but also avoiding the fullness of life and avoid the presence and approach of God?
Ilia Delio challenges this limited perception of things: "If we could only realize that suffering and death are parts of the greater fullness of life, we would run to embrace them for that is what we seek, the fullness of life. If we could only realize that suffering and death are part of God's creation, we would accept them, for we desire to become a new creation. If we knew that pain and suffering touch the heart of God, we would allow them to touch us as well, for what we seek is God's heart of love. But since we have closed our minds to these truths, pain and suffering prevail" (Ibid., 90).
They prevail, she tells us, in the sense that they make us immune to God by making us doubt his presence and goodness. Thus, our God becomes the God of the deists and of modernity - disinterested, uninvolved, impotent. In this pointed critique, Delio reminds us that the God of St. Francis and St. Bonaventure, the God of the saints, is one "who is so bent low in love for every creature and all creation that God goes to the depth of human suffering - the cross - to show his love and to bring all those in darkness to the embrace of love. To live in relation to . . God, to be God-like, is to participate in the sufferings of the world, to be compassionate" (Ibid., 90). While we often view pain and pleasure as psychic opposites, the saints viewed suffering as a participation in the suffering of God. To stand outside of the suffering of our age, to stand outside of our own suffering, is not to live. It is to stand apart from God. Love and suffering are the pathway into God and if we are to understand God's involvement in the world of sorrow we need to consider how love intertwines with suffering in the crucified Christ (Ibid., 91). Only when we approach and allow ourselves in our own suffering to be touched deeply by the compassionate God in His Sacred Suffering, in Christ Crucified, will we become the compassion of God in the world.
Delio captures this beautifully: "Compassion is so deep and closely connected to others that the truly loving person breathes in the pain of the world and breathes out compassion. The compassionate person identifies with the suffering of others in such a way that she or he makes a space within the heart, a womb of mercy, to allow all suffering persons inside and to embrace them with arms of love. What we see . . . is that the compassion begins with God who is humbly bent over in love in the cross of Jesus Christ. Love is the power of God that embraces fragile suffering humanity and transforms death into life" (Ibid., 92).
The Heart of God is a Womb of Mercy and our hearts must become so. This is where we must approach and meet God; in the reception and giving of compassion. To discover this God of passionate love is to discover and understand the Trinity of love.
Again, Delio beautifully writes: "The self-gift of the Father to the Son reflects a self-emptying already within the heart of God in such a way that we may think of the cross first in the heart of God before it is in the heart of creation. The very act of creation reflects something of a 'divine crucifixion,' for in creation God reveals his power to be his unconditional love for the world. The act of descending into what is nothing (creation) in order to express Himself . . . is God's humility, his condescension, his going outside his own riches to become poor. The cross is key not only to sin and human nature, but to God himself. The cross reveals to us the heart of God become it reveals the vulnerability of God's love. . . .That is why the mystery of cruciform love of the Son leads us into the very heart of the mystery of God. For the Trinity of love is poured out in the mystery of the crucified Christ and only through the mystery of Christ do we enter the heart of the Trinity" (Ibid., 94).
This love is more than a "presence" that we can approach with confidence, but rather God betrothes himself forever to us precisely in and through suffering and death. St. Bonaventure, in a letter to Poor Clare nuns, describes the nuptial relationship as follows:
"Indeed, no sorrow was ever comparable to Yours, O Lord Jesus Christ! Your blood was shed so abundantly that Your whole body was soaked with it . . .why did You let Your blood pour forth in a river when a single drop would have sufficed for the redemption of the world? I know, Lord. I know in all truth that you did this for no other reason than to show the depth of Your love for me.
Christ on the cross bows his head waiting for you, that he may kiss you; His arms outstretched, that he may embrace you, his hands are open, that he may enrich you; his body spread out, that he may give himself totally; his feet are nailed, that he may stay there; his side is open for you, that he may let you enter there" (Ibid., 94).
With arms outstretched, the kiss and embrace of Christ in a broken world is the fullest expression of the vulnerable love and mercy of God. We can approach this infinite Love, because God takes the risk in loving us and invites us into his love. "This is a God who gets so 'foolishly close' that the boundaries between what is human and what is sacred become blurry. Suffering . . . is a door by which God can enter in and love us where we are, in our human weakness, our misery and pain. When we let go of our defenses, our egos, and our walls of separation, God can embrace us in the fragile flesh of our humanity. . . God bends down in the cross to share our tears out of a heart full of mercy and love - and we are caught up in his embrace" (Ibid., 96).