Passiontide which begins today again brings before our eyes the great and at once awful mystery of the cruel death of our Beloved Saviour. If we love Him in the least, or even if our heart is not so hardened that it cannot compassionate with One so cruelly and unfairly treated, then we may ask ourselves, “was there no other way to redeem the human race”? The question has been asked before, in particular by St Thomas, who replies that strictly speaking, yes, God could have redeemed the human race in many other ways. But, he adds, there was no more suitable way, and for this he puts forth five arguments (Summa theologiae, IIIa, 46, 3).
First, he says, because of the passion of Christ man knows for sure and without a shadow of a doubt how much God loves him. Who can contemplate the sufferings of the Lord, knowing that they have been inflicted for us, without feeling compelled to give Him love for love?
Second, the passion of Christ give us the example of the virtues most necessary to us, namely obedience, humility, constancy, justice, and others. That is why St Peter tells the first generation of Christians and through them us: “Christ also suffered for us, leaving you an example that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pet 2:21).
The third reason, says the Angelic Doctor, is that by suffering for us, Jesus not only delivered us from sin, but also merited sanctifying grace for us, thus reestablishing us in God’s friendship and opening for us the path to eternal glory in Heaven.
A fourth reason is that, when man sees Christ suffer in this way, he is moved to refrain from sin, for he knows how truly terrible a thing it is to sin if the Son of God had to die on the gibbet of the cross in order to atone for it. That is what allowed St Paul to write to the Corinthians: “You are bought at a great price; glorify and bear God in your body” (1 Cor 6:20).
Last, but not least: as man had been overcome by the devil and had thus been brought low to death, it was most fitting that a man also vanquish the devil and death by undergoing death. And that brings us to the heart of Holy Week and Easter Week, to the precise instant that unites them in the Holy Sepulchre: by dying, He destroyed our death, and by rising He restored our life. And that was done by a man like us! No ordinary man, for sure, but a real and true man with flesh, blood and bones and human soul. The victory is henceforth ours and we have no reason to fear the devil who has been conquered by the passion of Christ.
“Thanks be to God, says St Paul, who has give us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor 15:57), so that if we unite our life and death with that of Jesus, we too will conquer the evil one.
So let us, during these holy days, be generous both in contemplating the sufferings of our dear Jesus and in offering up serious penances for our sins and those of the whole world. St Leo the Great reminds us: “Sure and steadfast is the hope of promised blessedness for one who is a partaker of the sufferings of the Lord”. No, Christ has not done it all; he wants us to do our part and bring to completion His passion for the sake of His body, the Church (see Col. 1:24).