In English, there is a famous mantra that goes, “No pain, no gain.” If you want to succeed, you have to work hard. If you’re a student and you want to graduate with flying colors, you have to study well. If you’re an athlete and you want to win in competitions, you have to train regularly. If you’re overweight and you want to shed off some pounds, you have to exercise and lessen your food intake. “No pain, no gain.”
There is, however, another mantra, which, though not as famous, also carries much truth. It goes, “Not all pain is gain.” This tells us that pain is not a guarantee of success. Not because we’re aching, we’re on the right track. In bodybuilding, for instance, there are proper exercises for toning particular muscles. You can spend the whole day tiring yourself out, but if you’re doing the wrong exercises, you will not get the results that you desire. “Not all pain is gain.”
My dear friends, today, allow me to use these two mantras as a springboard for our reflection. These two mantras represent two perspectives, two ways of looking at the Cross, two ways of interpreting the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first mantra, “No pain, no gain,” places pain front and center: pain is important; pain is needed; pain is the crucial factor in accomplishing what needs to be accomplished. Thus, the more pain there is, the better.
Looking at the Passion from this perspective, the focus is on the suffering of Jesus. Being scourged at the pillar. Being crowned with thorns. Being asked to carry a heavy cross. Being whipped along the way. And, eventually, being crucified on the cross. Those among you who have seen Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of the Christ,” would know how successful it was in showing us the brutality of what Jesus had to go through.
The pain of Jesus, however, was not only physical, it was also psycho-emotional. Seeing the very people he ministered to turn against him. Seeing Judas betray him. Seeing his disciples abandon him. Seeing Peter deny him. All these must have contributed to Jesus’ feeling of abandonment, of betrayal.
Ultimately, however, Jesus’ pain was also spiritual. Hearing Jesus cry out to the Father, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” we know that Jesus had reached his spiritual low. He was not only abandoned by his followers, He was not only abandoned by his friends, He also felt abandoned by His Father. At that moment, He must have been so spiritually desolate, so alone, so low.
Using the mantra “No pain, no gain,” then, the conclusion is: Since Jesus suffered all these physical, psycho-emotional, and spiritual pain, then, He must have truly gained our salvation. The question, remains, however: Is it really pain that saves us? Did Jesus gain our salvation through the pain he suffered?
This brings us to the second mantra: “Not all pain is gain.” Looking at the Passion from this perspective, we are invited to look beyond the pain. We are invited to ask, “If not all pain is gain, then what is it about Jesus’ pain that truly gained our salvation?” The focus, therefore, is not the suffering per se. The focus, rather, is the reason for the suffering. Why did Jesus suffer? Why did Jesus endure the pain? Why did he go through what he went through?
To all that, there is just one answer: love. Jesus suffered because he loved. Jesus endured pain because of love. He willingly went through the passion because He loves us. It is love that saves. It is love that redeems. It is love that truly matters.
Many times, we focus too much on the pain and the suffering of the cross. We forget that more than being a symbol of suffering, more than being a symbol of pain, the cross, really, is a symbol of love. On the cross, Jesus showed the extent of His love for all of us. He loved us so much that He was willing to die for our sake.
“Not all pain is gain.” Only pain, embraced out of love, gains our salvation. Only pain, embraced out of love, truly saves.
My dear brothers and sisters, when Jesus asks us to follow His example, when He asks us to take up our cross daily, I hope we can all keep this in mind. He is not asking us to be masochists. He is not asking us to flagellate ourselves. He is not asking us to have ourselves crucified. He is simply asking us to love, and, if that love entails suffering, to endure that suffering for the sake of love.
I invite you to look back at your life. I’m sure each and every one of you here has endured pain, in one way or another. I want you to recall these moments of pain, these moments of suffering. And I invite you to ask, “Which among these pains did I endure out of love? Which among these pains did I bear because I loved?”
In our world, there are many pains not rooted in love, which we are, in fact, called to fight against. The pains of children who are hungry because of unjust social structures. The pains endured by victims of violence, of natural and man-made calamities. The pains of laborers who are exploited by their employers. These pains are pains that do not bring forth gains, and we must work together to eradicate them.
There are pains, however, that are worth celebrating. Pains rooted in love. Pains patterned after the very pains endured by Christ on the cross. The pains of a mother at childbirth. The pains of parents who work hard to provide a bright future for their children. The pains of a friend who willingly listens to a friend who is suffering. These pains are pains borne out of love. These are the pains we are called to embrace.
My dear brothers and sisters, this Good Friday, we are invited to recall the suffering that our Lord Jesus endured. This does not mean, however, that we should stop there. We are invited to go deeper, to go beyond the pain, to see that at the root of the pain freely embraced is a deep love for each and every one of us. This is what we celebrate. This is what makes Good Friday “good.” This is the reason why even in our Lord’s death, we claim victory. The triumph of the cross is the triumph of love, and this is why we venerate it.