The Blood that Cleanses

The Blood that Cleanses

Passion Sunday

In today’s Gospel, Our sweet Saviour admonishes the Pharisees: He who is of God hears the words of God; therefore you hear them not because you are not of God. St Gregory in his commentary on this passage admonishes us all to examine our conscience to see if we hear the words of God. There are those, he says, who make sure not to hear the word of God; they carefully avoid going to church or hearing anything that has to do with God; His word never even reaches their ears. Then there are those who are may very well hear with their ears, but will not allow their mind and heart to be moved – the word of God falls on deaf ears, like drops of water on plastic which prevents it from refreshing the soil. Then there are those who receive God’s word with good will and even shed tears or compunction for a time, but after weeping they return to their evil doings.

If we discover that in our lives there are dark areas that we have not surrendered to the Lord; if we must admit that we fall into mortal sin every now and then, be it a sin of the flesh such as impurity or gluttony or drunkenness, or sins of the mind such as coveting other people or other people’s possessions, or if we do not acquit ourselves of our duties to God such as going to Sunday Mass, seeking the truth and living according to it, practicing penance and giving alms, then it may be that we are not really hearing the word of God. It might reach our ears, but it does not penetrate our heart, and therefore we are not really listening. It is then time to repent, to turn back to God, to ask His forgiveness and start over in newness of life. This particular liturgical season of the year is most suited to such a step of heartfelt conversion, especially when we still have fresh in our minds the great message of the Gospel stories of the prodigal son, the woman taken in adultery, and the resurrection of Lazarus, symbol of our own resurrection from sin.

The first step to such newness of life is to acknowledge our failings and our utter incapacity to mend things on our own. It is to be conscious that we do not have it within ourselves to fix what is wrong; on our own, we are utterly helpless and hopeless. That is precisely why the Lord has given us His word, and asks us to take it to heart. In the words of Holy Scripture God Himself speaks to us. If we will but spend time reading, listening, meditating His word, the very mind and heart of God will gradually take over in our lives. As the very first psalm teaches us: Blessed is the man whose will is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he shall meditate day and night. He shall be like a tree which is planted near the running waters, which shall bring forth its fruit, in due season.

His word teaches us to pray, not just occasionally, but at all times. The Lord Himself is clear about that. You ought always to pray and not lose heart, He tells us (Lk 18:1). And St Paul repeats the Lord command to pray without ceasing. In other words, God has given us His word and that word tells us to pray without ceasing, for in such prayer we will find salvation. Let’s not forget those strong words of the French Jesuit priest de Ravignan, (1795-1858): “Believe me, my dear Friends; believe an experience ripened by thirty years in the Sacred Ministry. I do affirm all deceptions, all spiritual deficiencies, all miseries, all falls, all faults and even the most serious wanderings out of the right path — all proceed from this single source: a lack of constancy in prayer. Live the life of prayer; learn to bring everything, to change everything into prayer: pains and trials, and temptations of all kinds. Pray in the calm; pray in the storm; pray on awaking and pray during the daytime. Going and coming, pray! Tired out and distracted, pray! Whatever your repugnance may be, pray! Pray, that you may learn to pray. “Teach us, O Lord, how to pray” (Luke 11:1). “But I cannot pray!” That is a heresy. Yes, you can always pray. If you feel a disgust for, nay, a horror of prayer, pray on, pray in spite of yourself, against yourself. Beg for the courage in prayer that our agonizing Saviour merited for you by His pangs in Gethsemane and upon Calvary. Pray, for prayer is the strength that saves, the courage that perseveres, the spiritual bridge cast over the abyss that joins the soul to God.”

Constant reading of Holy Scripture and continual prayer are also the means to obtain that the Precious Blood of Jesus will be poured out upon us, that Blood of which today’s epistle reminds us: If the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of a heifer, being sprinkled, sanctify such as are defiled to the cleansing of the flesh: how much more shall the blood of Christ, who by the Holy Ghost offered Himself unspotted unto God, cleanse our conscience from dead works, to serve the living God?

So it is to the precious Blood of our Saviour that holy Mother Church turns our gaze as we are about to commence our ascent of Mount Calvary.  That Blood alone can save us. It alone can purify us. It is the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant, which brings to an end all the ritual sacrifices of the Old Law, and which is renewed on our altars at each Holy Mass. It is the blood without which there is no forgiveness of sins, as St Paul expresses elsewhere in the epistle to the Hebrews. It is the blood that gives victory over demons, which gives courage to martyrs, purity to virgins, strength to confessors. It helps those in peril, gives relief to the burdened, consoles those in sorrow, gives strength to the dying and is the pledge of eternal life.

Reading God’s word, praying continually for the Blood of Jesus to purify us, this leads us to the most perfect form of prayer which is the liturgy of the Church and the celebration of the sacraments. With Holy Week at our doorstep, recourse to the sacraments, especially the sacrament of penance or confession and that of the Holy Eucharist are the greatest means of salvation and perfection. Through penance, the Blood of Jesus purifies our soul of sin. Through Holy Communion that Blood is received to be the sweet delight and strength of our souls, that Blood which so moved St Therese in a well-known passage that it is good to meditate upon: “One Sunday, looking at a picture of our Lord on the Cross, I was struck by the blood flowing from one of the divine hands. I felt a great pang of sorrow when thinking this blood was falling to the ground without anyone’s hastening to gather it up. I was resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross and to receive the divine dew. I understood I was then to pour it out upon souls. The cry of Jesus on the Cross sounded continually in my heart: ‘I thirst!’ These words ignited within me an unknown and very living fire. I wanted to give my Beloved to drink and I felt myself consumed with a thirst for souls.”

In company then, with the saints and the whole Church, let us intensify our love for God’s word in Holy Scripture and our resolve to pray constantly so that the Blood of Jesus may purify us more and more and make us worthy of the eternal kingdom. Amen.