The True Normal

The True Normal

Good Friday

The passion of our Blessed Saviour leaves no one indifferent. The divine catastrophe inspires any number of sentiments, among which sorrow, compassion and shame are the foremost. We feel sorrow for the shear sight of the spectacle. An innocent man put through a form of execution that is comprised of some of the most refined cruelties the human heart has ever contrived. Unless we are totally bereft of humanity, we feel compassion. We are not only appalled, but we are moved to feel sorry for Him, and we wish to weep with and for Him. The sentiment of shame can be a collective shame as when we say that we are ashamed that humanity is capable of such cruelty. But more to the point, we feel shame because we know through faith that if Our Lord suffered so much it was due to our sins. All these reasons explain why this day is one of universal mourning and sadness and why the liturgy is marked by them in all its aspects.

As good and appropriate as these sentiments may be, we must not remain there, for the passion of Christ inspires many other sentiments as well. In particular it has sparked a tremendous outpouring of love for the Man who accepted to die for our sins. Whenever we admire the prodigious accomplishments of the saints, what we are admiring is essentially the love which animated them.

Already St Paul, in writing to the Galatians, was able to express himself this way: I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Gal 2:20).

He loved me and gave Himself for me. That is the truth that has never ceased to light fires in the hearts of so many disciples of Our Lord throughout the centuries. The realisation that what He endured, He endured it for me. He was crucified for me.

Imagine you are trapped in a house on fire. There is no way out, no escape. Seized with anguish and besides yourself with frenzy, you see your own horrible death approach until the moment you lose consciousness. Some time later you awake in your bed. You try to reconstruct what happened, but are not able. It is then that you are told that a close friend had risked his life to save you at the last minute. But he did not escape. That person gave his life so that you could live. What gratitude would you not feel for such a person. That person is none other than Jesus. He saw that we were lost, stray sheep all heading towards perdition. And so He stepped in and took our place. And He died. He did not escape. And yet, unlike in the proposed scenario, we are the ones who lit the fire that killed Him.

After the shock, the amazement and the gratitude, our heart is then filled with a love that knows no bounds. We want to pay Him love in return. We want to give Him back something of what He has given us. The soul who has weighed this in a balance, and who is not entirely bereft of humanity, can only wish to give itself to Christ, to let Christ take over in our own life.

St Paul’s expression says it all:  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. The life that I have, I have come to realise that it no longer belongs to me. He saved me and He died. And therefore I want Him to take over in my life. I want to give Him, as it were, a new existence in my very own life. I want Him to drive my life, to command it, to reign in every aspect of it.

It is the realisation of this truth that has raised up the heroes whom we call saints. In particular it has inspired that specific category of saints called the martyrs. Christ gave Himself for me; I want to give myself for Him and for souls that He loves. And it does not matter how much it may cost me. No, actually it’s only if it costs me my life that I will be utterly satisfied. Such love supersedes all rational calculations. It does not fit into the register of what most would consider to be normal. Well, in that case, the saints were not normal.

Sometimes I wonder if it is not the effort to be normal in terms of what the world understands that has deprived the Church of her power to convince and to convert. How can a religion be “normal” when its founder was so madly in love with us as to have handed over His life for His sheep. Yesterday, I mentioned the discourse on the good Shepherd, how Jesus had insisted that He Himself was in control. It was at the end of that discourse that some of the crowd said: This man is possessed by the devil, he is mad (see John 10:20). What man would lay down His life for a sheep?  Would you? Jesus did, and what’s more, for the very sheep who put Him to death. No, there is nothing “normal” about Christianity. Christianity supersedes the normal; it is built on another,  superior form of divine logic that the world simply cannot understand. This is why dialogue with the world gets nowhere. This is what every generation of Christian understood until the middle of the 20th century. And since that day, the Church finds herself backed more and more into a corner, unable to defend her own doctrine, for she has made worldly wisdom her guide and no longer speaks with the fire of love that Christ lit in her heart on this day. My dear Friends, if the Church is to recover from her present crisis, She must cease to be “normal”.

The norm in the true Church of Christ is expressed by what the same St Paul writes to the Colossians: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of His body, which is the Church (Col 1:24). That is the true norm, the true normal in the  Church: to want to be like Christ, to what to suffer with Christ, to want to be rejected by the world with  Christ. If we do not have that desire, my friends, then we cannot pretend to be Christians, or if we do, we run every single day of our lives the risk of compromising our every belief to appease a world that cannot, that will not, understand the logic of Christ.

I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1 Cor 2:2). Such is the wisdom of the saints. The world has its own message, but as servants of Christ we have no message but His: Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than mankind, and the weakness of God is stronger than mankind. (1 Cor 1:22-25).

If we find this daunting, let us turn to the Mother of Sorrows at the foot of the cross. Let us accompany her to the holy sepulchre tonight and let us ask her to convince us of what is truly normal for a Christian. Let us beg her for the grace to be madly in love with Christ and to never again be taken in by the sirens of a fallen world. Like Ulysses, let us remain firmly attached to the mast of the sacred doctrine that has been handed down to us, and let us be prepared, every day of our lives, to live for it and to die for it.

Let us also turn to all the holy martyrs who have spilled their blood for the Name of Christ, and let us ask them for the manly courage and the folly of love which made them such great heroes. Let us rejoice in our sufferings and fill up in our own flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ for the Church and for souls.