“ For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”
With this Sunday the Church enters into Passion tide, that time of the year when our gaze is focused on the salvific sufferings of Our Blessed Lord. We are draped in colours of penance, we have veiled our statues and our crucifixes, all to inspire our hearts with sentiments of mourning. We mourn all that Our Lord had to suffer for us, and we wish to unite ourselves with Him by offering our own sufferings and those of the world. St Paul’s words to the Colossians: I fill up in my flesh the sufferings that are wanting to the passion of Christ (Col 1:24) teach us that even though the Lord has done His essential part without which we could not be saved, we are all called to unite with Him the aches and pains of each day, taking our small part in His passion. The Head of the Mystical Body has done His part, we the members of that same Body must also add our drop of water to the bitter chalice of His sufferings. At this time, many are suffering from disease, and the whole world is suffering from forced solitude and confinement. Let’s not miss the opportunities we have of atoning for our sins and those of the world, and let’s not dream of some other cross – the one Divine Providence allots to us is the one that we need. In a private conversation yesterday with the Archbishop, he expressed his conviction that one of the good effects of the present crisis is to revive within us a deeper, personal prayer life. So many have been accustomed to only social expressions of the faith. Today they are obliged to remember that, in the end, what really matters is our personal relationship with Our Lord. If the entire world has been forced into a quasi-eremitical life, it may be precisely because it was the only way God could make his voice heard.
In today’s Gospel, Our Lord says to 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 the Great, in his homily on this text, points out the serious nature of those words, and invites us all to reflect: Do we hear the words of God? Do we really listen? Do we allow ourselves to be convinced? If not, he says, it is because we are not of God. But what does it mean to not be “of God”? God’s voice rings out to all men of every nation. He speaks through the beauty and harmony of creation. Everyone can come, if they are sincere and upright, to the knowledge of the existence of God and His goodness. God speaks through creation. But He has spoken preeminently through His Son. The words of the Gospel are spirit and life. They give life. They raise the spiritually dead to a new life. If someone refuses to listen to those words, it is to be feared that he has stopped up his ears and does not want to hear. Such a person is not of God. Our duty as Catholics is to pray that all will hear the word of Our Lord, that they will allow their heart to be, as it were, cracked open, so that God may enter, so that all may eventually be “of God”. The Passion of Our Lord is the source of all grace, and it is there that we must go to draw grace for ourselves and for others.
Today’s Mass also stresses Our Lord’s divinity. “Before Abraham came to be, I AM”, He tells the Pharisees, declaring Himself to be none other than Yahweh, the God who revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exodus 3:14). It is of the greatest importance that this truth be clearly accepted and professed: Jesus Christ is God in Person. As we enter upon the contemplation of all that He suffered, we must ever remind ourselves of the dignity of the man who is suffering. Jesus Christ is God in Person. This means that God Himself has accepted to suffer for our sins. He who is eternal came into time. He who is eternal life has accepted to die.
His sufferings were the greatest that anyone has or can have in this life. There is no human suffering that is foreign to Him or that has not been assumed by Him in His own flesh. The texts of the psalms which are interspersed throughout the liturgy from now till Easter continually present us with the anguish of the Messiah in the throes of persecution and death. Let us contemplate, let us pray these texts during these holy days. If we want to know what Jesus was thinking, how He was praying, during the Passion, we need only read the psalms that are given to us by the sacred liturgy at this time.
But we must also remember that it is precisely because of the dignity of His Person that those atrocious sufferings have achieved the most wondrous redemption of the human race. As the Epistle to the Hebrews puts it in today’s epistle: “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? … He is the Mediator of the new testament, that by means of His death… they that are called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance” (Hb 9:13-15).
His Blood is what purifies us. That Most Precious Blood which was poured out on Calvary, which is poured out on the altar at each Holy Mass, it is that Blood which wipes us clean of all our sins, and makes us fit to perform the acts of public worship which give glory to God and save many souls.
My dear friends, let us not allow these days to pass without much spiritual profit on our part. If we are ill ourselves, if we are confined at home, if we are frustrated by what may seem excessive precautions, if our temporal affairs are at risk by the economic stress, whatever our pains, let us make sure that we offer them up in union with the Passion of Our Lord for the salvation of the world. I fill up in my flesh the sufferings that are wanting to the passion of Christ. If we do so, we may very well find ourselves repeating with Our Lord, in the offertory verse: “I confess to Thee, O Lord, with my whole heart: I shall live and keep Thy words” (Psalm 118). Vivam – I shall live, for Christ is my life and to die is gain (Ph 1:21).