“If to be warmed,” T.S. Eliot reminds us in Four Quartets, “then I must freeze / And quake in frigid purgatorial fires / Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.”
In short, it is only by our willingness to pass through the dark night of a cross that cannot be circumvented that we may find ourselves looking without shame upon the face of God. “For love to be real,” Blessed Mother Teresa warns, “it must cost, it must hurt, it must empty us of self.” And it is never too soon to get started. Nor, come to think of it, too late””unless one is already dead. (“It is too late!” cries Longfellow, the poet, lamenting the swift passage of time. But then adds: “Ah, nothing is too late / Till the tired heart shall cease to palpitate.”) And since, as Leon Bloy reminds us, “Christ will remain in agony until the end of time,” there may yet be time.
And so, as always, it will require the mindset of a servant; one who in looking to be first must search out the last. That at least is how Jesus sets about explaining the hidden peripeties of the gospel, showing us by his life and death how “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for the many” (Mt 20:28).