The Divine Kenosis, Self-Gift and Sacrifice

Christ of Saint John of the Cross (

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil. 6:14). ⧾

Our second reading includes an ancient canticle or hymn that summarizes for us the Mystery of the Cross: Christ Jesus…emptied himself… He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11).  This hymn is both a witness to the faith of the earliest Christians and a summary of what the Church believes about Christ Our Lord. We call this Christology. The hymn successfully evokes all the phases of Our Lord’s existence: from His pre-existence as the eternal Word of God, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, to His Incarnation, Passion and lastly, His glorification and exaltation as Lord. When we gaze upon the Crucified Lord we see before us the most concise and comprehensive statement about the Word made flesh. Jesus emptied himself. The term that is given to this self-emptying is kenosis, a Greek word that expresses the self-abasement or humility of the eternal Word of God in the Redemptive Incarnation.

Christ Jesus…emptied himself… He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – death on a cross (Phil. 2:6-11). In the kenosis, our Lord’s glory as the eternal Son of the Father is withheld, hidden. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass this kenosis is re-presented for us sacramentally, and both His divinity and humanity are both hidden; veiled in the sacramental signs of bread and wine. We who receive the Holy Eucharist are taken up in this oblation, this self-emptying; and this dynamic becomes the animating principle, the rhythm as it were, of our life in Christ. We also empty ourselves in imitation of Our Saviour; and so we give ourselves in love in a variety of ways, mindful that self-giving, sacrificial love is the means to our fulfillment for we are created in the image and likeness of God whose Trinitarian life is self-surrender and love. In becoming Man and in dying for our salvation, Jesus our Lord reveals to us the true nature of God who wills to share His life with us and the Mass is the means by which this transformative union with God is most effectively brought about. Our self-offering in union with the offering of Our Lord is the fullest expression of our participation in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. St Paul exhorts us: I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship (Rom. 12:1).

A life centred on the Eucharistic Sacrifice of Christ Our Lord is a participation in this Mystery of God’s self-giving and self-emptying love. When we approach this Mystery with humility and devotion, with longing and generosity, our lives become devout, Eucharistic, and we reflect the goodness of God. Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is essential to Christian life, a devout life. The Saints whom we venerate and imitate were men and women who made this Eucharistic love of God real and tangible through their participation in our Lord’s kenotic Mystery.

What I have enunciated or explained in a few words is what we might define as a theology of sacrifice; an attempt to understand the Mystery of Christ and Christian life by consequence, in light of the Cross. Is there any other way to understand this Mystery? I would answer no; and the witness of history would concur. The witness of history however also includes the many efforts made to empty the Cross of Christ of its power (Cf. 1 Cor. 1:17); of the efforts made to fashion a form of Christianity that conforms to the values of the world. Authentic Christian life is a sacrificial life, a life of conformity to Christ Crucified through grace, imitation and love. So the Apostle further exhorts us: Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Rom. 12:2).

This past week we celebrated the memorial (September 23) of St. Pius of Pietrelcina, or Padre Pio as he is more commonly known. Padre Pio bore the stigmata or wounds of Christ for over fifty years. These wounds never became infected but they bled; and they conformed this priest to the Passion of Our Lord in a manner that was altogether unique, mystical. Yet, in every other way, Padre Pio was conformed to the Mystery of Our Lord’s Sacrifice as you and I are. In this sense, his life was very ordinary; so much so, that when he died in 1968, Pope Paul VI said of him: Look at what fame he had, what a worldwide following gathered around him! But why? Perhaps because he was a philosopher? Because he was wise? Because he had resources at his disposal?  It was because he said Mass humbly, heard confessions from dawn to dusk and was – it is not easy to say it – one who bore the wounds of our Lord. He was a man of prayer and of suffering. It is expected of us that we too need to be faithful to our tasks, to be humble before God and to acknowledge the Reality of Our Lord’s Eucharistic Presence with reverence and humility for as we worship, so we become.

If you will believe it each and every one us is like Padre Pio both in his exceptionalism and his ordinariness. Each one of us is the result of a thought of God. Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary (Pope Benedict XVI). Herein lays our uniqueness. And each one of us is called to make our own the words of the Apostle as they specifically refer to us: 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).

This understanding or approach to Christian life as fundamentally and authentically sacrificial is certainly at odds with the spirit of the world but it is also at odds with current trends of thought and action in the Church herself. You know that there are forces at work within the Church, infiltrators who wish to reduce the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, to a ‘spiritual arm’ of the New World Order. We have experienced and continue to endure concerted efforts to rob the sacraments and especially the Eucharist of their sacred and supernatural character This coming Saturday, the First Saturday of the month, we will have a morning of recollection during which we will further reflect on authentic Christian life in light of what we know of the third secret of Fatima. What we know of the third secret appears to be unfolding today; and we need to be prepared for what may soon come. Our Lady had entrusted a secret to Lucia, one of the Fatima seers. Though instructed to reveal this secret to the world in 1960, the pope of the time did not do so; and you will agree that the life of the Church and of the world itself since then have been modified in radically unexpected ways – and not for the better. I encourage you to attend this morning of prayer and reflection; so that we may face the challenges of our days with a view to perseverance in our Faith.

The truth of Christ remains the same. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8). For this reason, we must abhor and fight against any and all efforts to rob the Cross of its power and be satisfied with a generic expression of our faith that weakens and undermines the gospel. If we wish to establish our lives on the firm foundation of the truth of Christ, we must make every effort to know the mind of Christ, to be conformed to His Sacred Heart and especially in this time, to be sheltered in the Immaculate Heart of Mary, our sure refuge and the way that will lead us to God.