As we prepare ourselves to enter into the passion with Jesus this Holy Week, I thought it would be interesting to examine the word “passion” and how we often misapply the word to various aspects of our lives, ignoring at times the original meaning of the word.
The original meanings of the word “passion” from the Latin are "suffering, enduring, undergo, experience.”
This Holy week, there is no question that Jesus’ passion involves intense suffering. He suffers the loss of his friend Judas. He suffers in the garden, so much that an angel is sent to comfort him and he literally sweats blood. He suffers upon finding His closest friends, who are supposed to keep watch, asleep. He suffers when the people He came to save turn on Him, preferring the release of Barabbas (literally “son of the father,”) rather than Himself, an innocent man, who is literally THE Son of THE Father. He suffers seeing His mother suffering for and with Him. He suffers when only one thief, crucified with Him, seeks repentance and the other doesn’t. And of course, He suffers during his beatings and crucifixion.
We often hear people say we should be compassionate with those with different views than us. For example, in our spiritual sexual battle in society, we are told we should be compassionate with those who find themselves questioning their sexual desires (homosexuals) and gender (transgenderism.) I agree we should be compassionate, but those that condemn us for not exhibiting compassion are misunderstanding the root of the word. To be compassionate to these and all people means we are called to “suffer with” them, NOT to agree with their views or sins. The best way we can suffer with them (show them compassion) is to walk with them as they carry their crosses. We don’t approve of their decisions, or agree that the church needs to change the truth given to it by Jesus. Instead we are called to pray for and with them, provide ministries to help them understand and live with their sexual disorders, and to love them. We are compassionate when we suffer with them, NOT when we try to turn them from the natural suffering that life deals all of us when we choose sin due to our differences in thoughts, feelings, or beliefs. While some think we are unloving in not approving of their sins, we are in fact being most loving when we are compassionate and suffer with them. We all have disordered sexual affections, and we all suffer as a result of these. But just as we don’t ask society to approve of adultery, lust, or pornography, so too do we not approve of any sexual disorder that turns us away from God’s loving teaching affirming our birth gender, proper outlet for sexual desires outside of a proper marriage, or a twisting of the original meaning of marriage. To do so is in fact unloving and not showing compassion in the true sense of these terms (and I’m not suggesting ignoring people’s plight; sometimes the most compassionate thing we can do is to help someone find a good Catholic counselor who can help them understand their sexual feelings and find the solution that best respects their state as a beloved child of God.)
The term “passion” or “passionate” is also often applied to physical, sexual intimacy. We may hear of “passionate love making;” used societally, it usually implies love making where we abandon all our cares, get “hot and heavy,” and simply “go for it.” While there’s nothing per se wrong with this more physical understanding, if we turn to the root meaning of “passionate,” we again see a deeper meaning to marital lovemaking.
If we really experience passionate lovemaking (which should happen EVERY time we make love with our spouse,) we literally “suffer with” our spouse. We suffer with our spouse by “knowing” intimately our spouse’s fears, pains, secrets, embarrassing moments, and sins. We suffer each and every day with all of the little irritations we might feel in our marriage and life in general. We suffer and endure everything about our spouse due to our marital covenant. Our passionate lovemaking reflects a total giving and enduring of our spouse. We passionately love when we open ourselves to total abandonment, carrying the cross of our spouse, and laying it all open in a naked and unafraid manner on the marriage bed. And if we’re lucky, we experience a resurrection moment in our lovemaking as our suffering is brought to completion and we are made whole by being “compassionate” with our marriage partner, healing us from life’s daily irritations. Just as confession is healing from sins, lovemaking can be healing from our struggles through shared compassion, where our actions show our forgiveness to our spouse.
So yes, this week we enter into the passion of our Lord, suffering and enduring with Him. Just as He opened himself for us, we open ourselves to each other by exhibiting compassion with those who may suffer from various spiritual disorders and with our spouses in our most intimate of acts. Without compassion and a sharing of the suffering, we can’t experience true growth, satisfaction, understanding, happiness, and fulfillment. God’s gift to us is to allow suffering for many reasons, one of which is to allow those around us to share in our suffering and resurrection. By suffering with another, we share in each other’s humanity and divinity, growing in holiness. We are not in this alone. Jesus had a helper in carrying His cross. We have helpers and can be helpers as well. Jesus’ suffering was lessened due to the sharing (compassion) of Simon of Cyrene; we can have our suffering lessened and lessen the suffering of others through our loving compassion. Agreeing with sinful behavior is not compassionate because there is no shared suffering, no shared resurrection, and no shared growth. We may not be able to alleviate all suffering, but we can share in it by being compassionate.