Daily Archives: April 2, 2010
Through Mary he received his humanity, and in receiving his humanity received humanity itself. Which is to say, through Mary he received us. In response to the angel’s strange announcement, Mary said yes. But only God knew that it would end up here at Golgotha, that it had to end up here. For here, in darkness and in death, were to be found the prodigal children who had said no, the prodigal children whom Jesus came to take home to the Father.
Watch and listen to it all.
O holy and ever-blessed Jesus, who being the eternal Son of God and most high in the glory of the Father, didst vouchsafe in love for us sinners to be born of a pure virgin, and didst humble thyself unto death, even the death of the cross : Deepen within us, we beseech thee, a due sense of thy infinite love; that adoring and believing in thee as our Lord and Saviour, we may trust in thy infinite merits, imitate thy holy example, obey thy commands, and finally enjoy thy promises; who with the Father and the Holy Ghost livest and reignest, one God, world without end.
Listen to it all.
Lord Christ, who didst enter into thy triumph by the hard and lonely way of the cross: May thy courage and steadfast loyalty, thy unswerving devotion to the Father’s will, inspire and strengthen us to tread firmly and with joy the road which love bids us to take, even if it leads through suffering, misunderstanding, and darkness. We ask it for thy sake, who for the joy that was set before thee endured the cross, despising the shame, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer.
Yet in the crucified Jesus we see revealed another kind of grandeur: our own greatness, the grandeur which belongs to every man and woman by the simple fact that we have a human face and heart. In the words of Saint Anthony of Padua, “Christ, who is your life, hangs before you, so that you can gaze upon the cross as if in a mirror”¦ If you look upon him, you will be able to see the greatness of your dignity and worth”¦ Nowhere else can we better recognize our own value, than by looking into the mirror of the cross” (Sermones dominicales et festivi, III, pp. 213-214). Jesus, the Son of God, died for you, for me, for each of us. In this way he gave us concrete proof of how great and precious we are in the eyes of God, the only eyes capable of seeing beyond all appearances and of peering into the depths of our being.
As we make the Way of the Cross, let us ask God to grant us this gaze of truth and love, so that, in union with him, we may become free and good.
The story of the salvation of the dying thief is a standing instance of the power of Christ to save, and of his abundant willingness to receive all that come to him, in whatever plight they may be. I cannot regard this act of grace as a solitary instance, any more than the salvation of Zacchaeus, the restoration of Peter, or the call of Saul, the persecutor. Every conversion is, in a sense, singular: no two are exactly alike, and yet any one conversion is a type of others. The case of the dying thief is much more similar to our conversion than it is dissimilar; in point of fact, his case may be regarded as typical, rather than as an extraordinary incident. So I shall use it at this time. May the Holy Spirit speak through it to the encouragement of those who are ready to despair!
Remember, beloved friends, that our Lord Jesus, at the time he saved this malefactor, was at his lowest. His glory had been ebbing out in Gethsemane, and before Caiaphas, and Herod, and Pilate; but it had now reached the utmost low-water mark.
Stripped of his garments, and nailed to the cross, our Lord was mocked by a ribald crowd, and was dying in agony: then was he “numbered with the transgressors,” and made as the offscouring of all things. Yet, while in that condition, he achieved this marvellous deed of grace. Behold the wonder wrought by the Saviour when emptied of all his glory, and hanged up a spectacle of shame upon the brink of death! How certain is it it that he can do great wonders of mercy now, seeing that he has returned unto his glory, and sitteth upon the throne of light! “He is able to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” If a dying Saviour saved the thief, my argument is, that he can do even more now that he liveth and reigneth. All power is given unto him in heaven and in earth; can anything at this present time surpass the power of his grace?
It is not only the weakness of our Lord which makes the salvation of the penitent thief memorable; it is the fact that the dying malefactor saw it before his very eyes. Can you put yourself into his place, and suppose yourself to be looking upon one who hangs in agony upon a cross? Could you readily believe him to be the Lord of glory, who would soon come to his kingdom? That was no mean faith which, at such a moment, could believe in Jesus as Lord and King. If the apostle Paul were here, and wanted to add a New Testament chapter to the eleventh of Hebrews, he might certainly commence his instances of remarkable faith with this thief, who believed in a crucified, derided, and dying Christ, and cried to him as to one whose kingdom would surely come. The thief’s faith was the more remarkable because he was himself in great pain, and bound to die. It is not easy to exercise confidence when you are tortured with deadly anguish. Our own rest of mind has at times been greatly hindered by pain of body. When we are the subjects of acute suffering it is not easy to exhibit that faith which we fancy we possess at other times. This man, suffering as he did, and seeing the Saviour in so sad a state, nevertheless believed unto life eternal. Herein was such faith as is seldom seen.
Recollect, also, that he was surrounded by scoffers. It is easy to swim with the current, and hard to go against the stream. This man heard the priests, in their pride, ridicule the Lord, and the great multitude of the common people, with one consent, joined in the scorning; his comrade caught the spirit of the hour, and mocked also, and perhaps he did the same for a while; but through the grace of God he was changed, and believed in the Lord Jesus in the teeth of all the scorn. His faith was not affected by his surroundings; but he, dying thief as he was, made sure his confidence. Like a jutting rock, standing out in the midst of a torrent, he declared the innocence of the Christ whom others blasphemed. His faith is worthy of our imitation in its fruits. He had no member that was free except his tongue, and he used that member wisely to rebuke his brother malefactor, and defend his Lord. His faith brought forth a brave testimony and a bold confession. I am not going to praise the thief, or his faith, but to extol the glory of that grace divine which gave the thief such faith, and then freely saved him by its means. I am anxious to show how glorious is the Saviour””that Saviour to the uttermost, who, at such a time, could save such a man, and give him so great a faith, and so perfectly and speedily prepare him for eternal bliss. Behold the power of that divine Spirit who could produce such faith on soil so unlikely, and in a climate so unpropitious.
”“From a sermon of C.H. Spurgeon preached on April 7, 1889
O all ye, who pass by, whose eyes and mind
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blind;
To me, who took eyes that I might you find:
Was ever grief like mine?
The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread:
Was ever grief like mine?
Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?
1. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do! (Luke 24:34)
2. This day thou shall be with me in Paradise. (Luke 24:43)
3. Woman, behold thy son…. Behold thy mother. (John 19:26, 27)
4. My God, My God! why have you forsaken me? (Matt 27:26; Mark 15:34)
5. I thirst! (John 19:28)
6. It is finished. (John 19:30)
7. Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit. (Luke 24:46)
–In the wisdom of the Church, these words have always been seen as a central resource for prayer, thought and meditation on the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day.
O Christ, who by the thorns pressed upon thy head hast drawn the thorns from the sorrows of this world, and given us a crown of joy and peace: Make us so bold as never to fear suffering, nor to suffer without cheerfulness in thy service; to the glory of thy holy name.
There by some wrinkled stones round a leafless tree
With beards askew, their eyes dull and wild
Twelve ragged men, the council of charity
Wandering the face of the earth a fatherless child,
Kneel, at their infidelity aghast,
For where was it, somewhere in Syria
Or Palestine when the streams went red,
The victor of Rome, his arms outspread,
His eyes cold with his inhuman ecstasy,
Cried the last word, the accursed last
Of the forsaken that seared the western heart
With the fire of the wind, the thick and the fast
Whirl of the damned in the heavenly storm:
Now the wind’s empty and the twelve living dead
Look round them for that promontory Form
Whose mercy flashed from the sheet lightning’s head;
But the twelve lie in the sand by the dry rock
Seeing nothing–the sand, the tree, rocks
Without number–and turn away the face
To the mind’s briefer and more desert place.
–Allen Tate (1899-1979)
The Fathers of the Church were fascinated by a phrase from Psalm 45 (44) ”“ traditionally held to be Solomon’s wedding psalm ”“ which was reinterpreted by Christians as the psalm for the marriage of the new Solomon, Jesus Christ, to his Church. To the King, Christ, it is said: “Your love is for justice; your hatred for evil. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above other kings” (v. 8). What is this oil of gladness with which the true king, Christ, was anointed? The Fathers had no doubt in this regard: the oil of gladness is the Holy Spirit himself, who was poured out upon Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit is the gladness that comes from God. From Jesus this gladness sweeps over us in his Gospel, in the joyful message that God knows us, that he is good and that his goodness is the power above all powers; that we are wanted and loved by him. Gladness is the fruit of love. The oil of gladness, which was poured out over Christ and comes to us from him, is the Holy Spirit, the gift of Love who makes us glad to be alive. Since we know Christ, and since in him we know God, we know that it is good to be a human being. It is good to be alive, because we are loved, because truth itself is good.
In the early Church, the consecrated oil was considered a special sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit, who communicates himself to us as a gift from Christ. He is the oil of gladness. This gladness is different from entertainment and from the outward happiness that modern society seeks for itself. Entertainment, in its proper place, is certainly good and enjoyable. It is good to be able to laugh. But entertainment is not everything. It is only a small part of our lives, and when it tries to be the whole, it becomes a mask behind which despair lurks, or at least doubt over whether life is really good, or whether non-existence might perhaps be better than existence. The gladness that comes to us from Christ is different. It does indeed make us happy, but it can also perfectly well coexist with suffering. It gives us the capacity to suffer and, in suffering, to remain nevertheless profoundly glad.