Is the Pascal Mystery like an Onion?

Jim Consedine

I believe encountering the Pascal Mystery – the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus – is a similar process to the peeling of the onion. There is something about an onion that gives insight to this most central of Christian beliefs.

An onion is a very ordinary simple vegetable, common and accessible to all. It is simple in its structure. It has no flashy flowers like the showy geranium, no beguiling scent like the rose, no cluster of fruit like the potato. It is available to even the most humble person.

We commence preparation by clearing off its rough plain skin. As we begin to peel from the outside to access the inner core, our eyes become somewhat stung by the aroma. Indeed we can be quickly reduced to tears. Our whole being becomes affected as our emotions are brought into play to combat this effect. As we further peel back the layers, more and more of the juices attack our eyes. More and more we suffer by our action. However, we are motivated by the rewards for persistence which will come later with cooking and eating.

Finally, we access the very core of the onion where the most powerful aroma lies. From here, the maximum juice is sprayed around our faces. We are engaged completely for the moment in our encounter with it. Now the process is complete. With the onion spread out in parts before us, it is ready for its primary purposes: to provide food for our sustenance, to marinate our taste buds and to give us life-giving energy.

When we initially encounter the Pascal Mystery in our journey to Christ at its centre, we commence by peeling back some things which hinder our progress. We need to clear away the debris surrounding our lives. Inevitably, peeling back the layers of our own lives can sting us – one way or another. Reconciliation is the special sacramental rite available for such clearance.

As we peel back layer upon layer and enter more deeply into the Pascal Mystery, we can suffer in ways similar to Christ on his journey to Calvary and the Resurrection. It is a major paradox of Christian life that the more we engage with the Pascal Mystery and seek Christ, the greater the suffering can be.

After further peeling back things that impair our faith journey, we start getting near the centre of the Mystery where Christ is the epicenter around which all else circumnavigates. And just like getting to the centre of the onion, we can now engage the very core of the Pascal Mystery and experience the rich presence of Christ.

Here the aroma is rich and bountiful, even though it can still contain a sting. Being there is not all joy and light. Often the closer we get, the greater the suffering. How do we explain this? It reflects the fact that the Crucified Christ is still with us in our world and suffers in our needy neighbour. It is part of the Pascal Mystery to understand this dimension. Christ is still among us and still suffers 2000 years after Calvary. We still find Christ in refugee and squatter camps, in a million lonely flats in inner cities including our own, in thousands of hospitals and prisons. Wherever human beings suffer, Christ suffers.

The deeper we engage to ease that suffering, the more inextricably we are drawn into the Pascal Mystery. And the greater our own suffering can be. But it is not all struggle and hard work. There are other fruits to experience. There can be great joy at the heart of the Pascal Mystery, great inner peace and a sense of fulfillment. Indeed, all the fruits of the Spirit are available there in abundance. The Risen Christ rejoices wherever His Kingdom of love, justice and peace is lived in our time. And we can rejoice too.

Whenever people choose to live the Gospel seriously, to love their neighbor radically, to seek justice and reach out to the needy, there the Pascal Mystery is lived in our time in its fullest.

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