Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Because Christ Sacrificed Himself So That We May Live

Here we are on Tuesday of what we call Holy Week. During this week, way back in the year 33 AD, the forces of human justice, lobbied aggressively by the interested parties of the Pharisees and Sadducees, convinced the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, to sentence Jesus to death on a cross. And though the whole mess was a tragic setup, it was all done officially and lawfully.

I can think of many things today that are official and lawful and very tragic. Here's an example. A friend of mine who is serving in the army in Afghanistan sent me this message today:

Just finished a ceremony for 6 soldiers we lost to a suicide bomber this weekend. Say a prayer for their family and friends when you lay down tonight.

And I will pray for their souls too. But I can't do much more than that. In fact, in order to avoid being sucked into the vortex of despair, I try to pay attention to that which I can have an impact on more than on that which I cannot. I have to filter out much of what goes on in the world to do that. And paradoxically, that is one of the reasons why I am a Catholic today. Not that this post can explain that in any meaningful way.

Sts. Anthony the Great
and Paul of Thebes
Or maybe it can. In the past I've written about the saints known as the Desert Fathers and Mothers. They were hermits, and yet they got together with their brethren for Mass. Now I'm not sure how often they did this (once a week? once a month? whenever they ran low on water?) but I'm pretty sure it wasn't daily. Then, after celebrating the Eucharist, they headed back to their respective cells or wherever it was that they holed up. Back to making baskets, or mats, and back to praying and studying the scriptures. And back to their own battles against the wiles of the devil.

In other words, they went about their business in a solitary fashion in the way that each one of us must do as well. Perhaps the word "must" is too strong, but I don't see any other way. Because hanging with the popular crowd, or the world-at-large, isn't going to provide you with the opportunities to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." Being carried along with the world, see, you'll forget that the reason Christ allowed Himself to be crucified was so that you could inherit eternal life. He died so you could be redeemed.

But none of that makes sense to the world, because it admires strength, fears death, and abhors weakness. As the Holy Spirit reminds us through the words of St. Paul,

The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the learning of the learned I will set aside." (1 Corinthians 1:18-19)

Thérèse as Joan of Arc
I recently saw something that St. Thérèse of Lisieux said that illustrates the love of God for us and why the world doesn’t understand it,

Let us suppose that the son of a very clever doctor, stumbling over a stone on the road, falls and breaks his leg. His father hastens to his aid, and binds up the fractured limb with all the skill at his command. When cured, the son shows the utmost gratitude...and with good reason.

This must have been how the Apostles felt after Our Lord's Resurrection. She continues the story,

But, on the other hand, suppose that the father, knowing that a large stone lies on his son's path, anticipates the danger, and, unseen by anyone, hastens to remove it. Unconscious of the accident from which such tender forethought has saved him, the son will not show any mark of gratitude for it, or feel the same love for his father as he would have done had he been cured of some grievous wound.

And neither will you or the world. But the Little Flower goes on to say,

But if he came to learn the whole truth, would he not love his father all the more?

And that "whole truth," the Good News, is what the apostles gave their lives up for, dying deaths as martyrs while sharing Christ's message with the whole world.

But that message didn't go with them to their graves because the Church they started lives on to carry out the work until the end of time. Thanks be to God.

Update: The Last Testament of Dom Christian