Someone said recently that the trouble with most Catholics is that we have not been shocked by the Gospel. Because we grew up with it, we don’t notice how shocking it really is. When Jesus told his disciples that he, the Son of God, the Saviour sent to redeem the world, was going to suffer, be rejected and put to death, they couldn’t believe it. What a mad idea! Why would the all-powerful God let this happen? We ask the same question when someone we love suffers pain or even dies.
We don’t want to suffer ourselves and we don’t understand why anyone should suffer, especially someone we love. It is the way of the world to want always to protect ourselves and our own from any pain or deprivation. But we can’t succeed for ever in avoiding suffering: it is part of the human condition, it will catch up with us sooner or later.
Jesus opens our eyes to the strange truth which is at the heart of the Gospel message: because he has entered into the depth of suffering for our sake and broken the hold that death has over us, it is possible that accepting suffering and death can lead, miraculously, to new life. In fact, he says, there is no other way to the eternal life he has won for us.
Only by giving up our self-centred attitudes can we come into the freedom he promises, and that means giving up our prejudices and fears too: as St Paul says, because we are all children of God through faith in Christ, there are no more distinctions between types of people. That’s pretty shocking, too, when you think about it.
This week we are all asked to make a decision about whether Britain should remain part of the EU or leave. How should we make such a decision? What should persuade us? Fear of being worse off financially? Fear of strangers and immigrants? Or the desire to be part of something greater, to work together with others for the good of everyone?