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“Ask a Priest: Christ’s suffering and dying on the cross…”
Q: What did Christ accomplish by suffering and dying on the cross? -J.M.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your question touches on a core truth of Christ’s mission in the world. As “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” Christ by his death on the cross accomplished the definitive redemption of men (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 613). His is also the sacrifice of the new covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling man to the Almighty through the “blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (also see 613). Sin offends an infinitely good God, and we as finite creatures could never fully make up for our transgressions; it took God himself to pay the price for our redemption.
Soberly the Church notes that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured” (see Catechism, 598). Indeed, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus (see 598).
Not all is dark, however. Christ inaugurated the kingdom of heaven on earth. This fulfilled God the Father’s will “to raise up men to share in his own divine life” (see Catechism, 541). The Father does this by gathering men around his Son, Jesus Christ. This gathering is the Church. In a striking way, Christ would accomplish the coming of his kingdom by his death on the cross and resurrection (see Catechism, 542). “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32).
In other words, by suffering on the cross and rising from the dead (we can never separate the Crucifixion from the Resurrection), Jesus gave us hope — hope that God’s love for each one of us is so unconditional and so powerful that we can always count on it, in spite of our sins and sinful tendencies.
All this carries a practical aspect for our daily lives. Christ’s passion and death gives a new meaning to suffering. We can offer our own suffering back to Christ and unite it with his redemptive passion. By “offering it up,” we can help turn suffering into something valuable.