The Cross as the Answer

Although he was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb. 5:8-9).⧾

The reading of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to St. John on Good Friday is a climax of the liturgy of Lent. For all of us who believe in Christ as Son of God and Our Saviour, wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities it is a draining experience to listen attentively and with devotion to so brutal an ending of our Lord’s earthly life. ‘It is finished’ (Jn. 19:30). These words bring to an end the mission that was His from the very foundation of the world. At the Last Supper, in what is known as the farewell discourse, Our Lord said to His disciples: ‘the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from the Father and have come into the world’ (Jn. 16:27). Devoutly recalling His Sacred Passion, we acknowledge that Our Lord is the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him (Heb. 5:9). We obey, that is, we listen to His every word and utterance so that we might enter more fully into this mystery in which is revealed the truth about God and man; of human nature wounded by sin, yet redeemed, healed and renewed by the Son of God.

The Sacrifice that Our Lord has offered is an eternal sacrifice. St. John Fisher explains: Christ first offered sacrifice here on earth, when he underwent his most bitter death. Then, clothed in the new garment of immortality, with his own blood he entered into the holy of holies, that is, into heaven. There he also displayed before the heavenly Father that blood of immeasurable price which he had poured out seven times on behalf of all men subject to sin… All who have embarked on true contrition and penance for the sins they have committed, and are firmly resolved not to commit sins again for the future but to persevere constantly in that pursuit of virtues which they have now begun, all these become sharers in this holy and eternal sacrifice (From the commentary on the psalms by Saint John Fisher, bishop and martyr, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p. 352). May it please God to number us among those who pursue the life of virtue and to grant us the grace of perseverance so as to become sharers in this holy and eternal sacrifice.

In the Sacred Paschal Triduum that began with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate this holy and eternal sacrifice; and both sacramentally and mystically we share in it. This is our privilege and indeed our obligation if we wish to be Our Lord’s faithful followers. St. Augustine further explains how it is that we are able to share in this sacrifice: Our Lord had no power of himself to die for us: he had to take from us our mortal flesh. This was the way in which, though immortal, he was able to die; the way in which he chose to give life to mortal men: he would first share with us, and then enable us to share with him. Of ourselves we had no power to live, nor did he of himself have the power to die. Accordingly, he effected a wonderful exchange with us, through mutual sharing: we gave him the power to die, he will give us the power to live (From a sermon by St. Augustine, bishop, Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. II, p.432). When this power to live is fully operative in our life we do great things for God and man and it is therefore more than right to speak of a Christian exceptionalism. This is by no means an exaggeration but an affirmation of the majesty and power of God’s grace at work in the hearts of all who believe.

The Saints teach us through their words and especially through the example of their lives that we must be conformed to this Mystery not simply intellectually or spiritually but also physically. The human person is a unity of body and soul; consequently, as the Church’s sacramental praxis clearly shows, the physical is the means by which the spiritual is conveyed to us. Pope St. Leo the Great teaches, Our Lord brought about His work of human redemption enlarging our humanity without diminishing his divinity (Ep. 28 as Flavianum). As we celebrate the Paschal Mystery, fully aware that the liturgy of these holy days possesses a special sacramental power and efficacy to foster the Christian life (Pope Pius XII), let us keep in the forefront of our thoughts and prayers how it is that our participation in this Mystery continues to enlarge our humanity. On this day more than any other day, we should contemplate the words of the Apostle: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20). These words speak of deep union and of conformity, of gratitude and of great wisdom. St. Paul also says, But far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world (Gal. 6:4). This is the wisdom of the Saints that we must make our very own especially in these times when the ways of the world have in far too many places become the ways of a Church that seems to have lost her way.

As we labour under the burden of a health dictatorship, we continue to grapple with solutions to our problems that demand a compromise, a cost. The fundamental tenets of our sacramental praxis are being compromised and denied. This is not inconsequential. We must therefore all the more look to the Cross of our Saviour and affirm that the Crucified Christ is both the power of God and the wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). We believe this firmly and truly and this is the belief that fashions our life. We therefore, glory in the Cross because the Word of the Cross, the Way of the Cross, and the Sacrament of the Cross, that is to say the Eucharist, are a complete program of life for us; and not us alone but indeed for the whole world.  Everything that we need to know for life is revealed to us through the Passion of Our Lord. When we begin to appropriate this truth then the Mystery of the Cross defines our life in its totality.

If we persevere in the acquiring of the knowledge of this Mystery, thereby living it and loving it in the Sacrament of the Cross, the Eucharist whose institution was commemorated in the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, and celebrating it, then we will have arrived at the truth of Christ, the truth of God. The self-giving love of God that the Eucharist makes present for us not in symbol, but in reality and in mystery is the way of the Christian. We have to pattern our lives on this mystery for in the light of this mystery all things are judged and known by the measure of God’s redemptive love. The sacred liturgy is the manner in which we participate in this Mystery sacramentally. Our mystical participation in this one eternal sacrifice however, as the adjective indicates, is mysterious, intimate and rightly, perhaps known only to God alone. And if we dare to trust in the Providence of God at work in our lives, as difficult as the events of our lives may sometimes seem, God’s loving plan will enable us in the totality of our being, body and soul, mind and spirit, to become one with Our Saviour in His Paschal Mystery; intimately united with Him in the ongoing work of redemption and salvation.

There is no greater work than this to engage our earthly life.

We participate mystically in this holy and eternal sacrifice by uniting to it the sacrifice of our own personal suffering; be it physical or psychological, moral or spiritual. This is what is most lacking in our Catholic Church today: adorers who worship the Father in spirit and in truth; and yet, it such that the Father seeks. The Church has been most painfully impoverished through the denial of the theology of sacrifice and by extension, through a dearth of those among us who both understand and participate mystically in the Mystery of the Redemption as it continues to unfold in our time. The poverty of our liturgical and sacramental life these past fifty years and especially in this last year, has weakened us to the point that most Catholics, clerical and lay, have but a superficial understanding of the Mystery of the Cross, if not an outright aversion to it. We have arrived at this point by degrees: through the denial of the inerrancy of Sacred Scripture, contempt for Sacred Tradition, an  infantile and silly liturgy, contempt for the life of prayer and contemplation, a generally irreverent and casual approach to the things of God, indifference, hostility towards the Church’s moral law. The list is by no means exhaustive. All of this and much more have brought us to the moment of truth of sorts that the world and the Church have faced in the last year. What is left of the Church? Who has made the effort this year to be united with Our Lord in His Paschal Mystery?

We have been sifted like wheat and the sifting continues; and it is now the hour for us to resolve to be united with Our Lord in His hour.  So we commit ourselves anew on this holiest of days to walk along the path of devout humility in the footsteps of the Saviour looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Heb. 12:2).  In the face of the world’s hostility, of incomprehension and contempt, even from those who claim to be members of the household of the faith, let us bravely resolve to make our own the endurance of the saints, doing everything that we can to defend, affirm and promote the divine content of the Christian Faith which rests upon our belief in the divinity of Our Saviour Jesus Christ.

To follow the Saviour is to share in salvation (St. Irenaeus, Against the Heresies); but it is also to share in the work of salvation. Blessed is the faithful disciple of Christ who arrives at this truth, appropriates it and endeavours to be firmly rooted in it; for then Mystery of the Cross has truly become for him the measure of all reality and no lie of any kind can deceive him. The Cross is the revelation of God’s very nature; for this reason the Cross is the key to understanding all reality, including the reality of our personal existence with its lights and shadows, successes and failures, strength and weakness. We follow Christ Crucified, the power of God and the wisdom of God; and this power and wisdom are likewise ours. The faithful disciple can only respond to Love Crucified with a crucified love. This mutual sharing of Love is the only hope for a fallen world. May it be the source of all our thoughts and deeds; that like the faithful few, the faithful remnant at the foot of the Cross, we in our time may be both a leaven and a summons to a humanity today immersed in the darkness of cleverly crafted lies and deceptions. We resolve anew on this holy day to follow Our Saviour along the path of devout humility, the path of true contrition and penance and resolve also to persevere constantly in that pursuit of virtues so as to become both in word and in deed sharers in this holy and eternal sacrifice. ⧾