by Richard Rhor
By the grace of God, saints and holy ones of every century still got the point of the transforming power of the path of descent, but only if they were willing to go through those painful descents that Catholics called the “way of the cross,” which Jesus called “the sign of Jonah,” which Augustine called the “paschal mystery,” or the Apostles Creed called “the descent into hell.” Without these journeys, there’s something you simply don’t understand about the nature of God or the nature of the soul.
“Can you drink of the cup that I am going to drink?” Jesus said to James and John, who still wanted roles. “We can!” they responded, and he said, to paraphrase, “Indeed, you will and you must, but roles are not my concern” (see Matthew 20:22-23). Religion is largely populated by people afraid of hell; spirituality begins to make sense to those who have been through hell—that is, who have drunk deeply of life’s difficulties.
Christians speak of the “paschal mystery,” the process of loss and renewal that was lived and personified in the death and raising up of Jesus. We can affirm that belief in ritual and song, as we do in the Eucharist, but until people have lost their foundation and ground, and then experienced God upholding them so that they come out even more alive on the other side, the expression “paschal mystery” is little understood and not essentially transformative.