Sunday, March 21, 2010

On the Threshold of Passiontide



Reconciling Man and God – The New Deed
          When Isaiah prophesies reconciliation between God and His people he talks about a “new deed” on God’s part, something unprecedented to make one forget the past. There’s this same newness come to fulfillment in the Gospel account from St. John today as we witness how Jesus faces the question of the Law and the woman brought to Him caught in the act of adultery. The “accuser” is cast out and God in Christ reigns supreme, offering life to this woman. The fullness of life and truth is ours in Christ. We need to bind ourselves to Jesus and thereby opt to share in His victory. I cannot help but think that many folks would like an answer to the question, “But how concretely do I bind myself to Christ?”
St. Paul in Sunday’s Second Reading from his letter to the Philippians helps us understand and respond as we should to God’s “new deed” in Christ Jesus. He shows us how to take hold of Christ, be with Him and share His victory.
“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him…
“All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead…
“I can assure you, my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:8-14)
There is much to be said, but let a few scattered thoughts suffice, consonant with the spirit of this penitential season! One of the most urgent needs of our age and of the Church in our age is to recover the good old-fashioned Catholic notion of making reparation: “All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death.” In bygone eras making reparation for our sins and the sins of others was even in a sense child’s play. Apart from religious orders, whose very raison d’être was reparation for the sins of others especially of their own people, reparatory sacrifices in union with Jesus on the Cross were something which ordinary folk also took on and performed (spiritual bouquets are a familiar and lighter aspect of the same notion). The words “reparation for sin”, especially for the sins of others, ring foreign or hollow today. How many small children today have even an inkling of what little Blessed Francisco of the three children of Fatima (not yet a century ago) perceived in terms of the value and significance of assuming penances voluntarily and interceding for sinners in order that more might share in the glory of Christ’s resurrection for having tasted the bitter cup of His Passion? The last fifty years of Church history in many Western countries have something of rupture about them as the air of them has been clouded by an error or dumb refusal which in many cases deprives the Cross of its splendor and centrality in the lives of the baptized. “Crux Spes Unica”, apart from the Latin, is a motto needing no small amount of unpacking for most Catholic adults living today.
“I believe nothing can happen that will outweigh the supreme advantage of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For him I have accepted the loss of everything, and I look on everything as so much rubbish if only I can have Christ and be given a place in him…
          These days I’m reading the early chapters of St. Augustine’s City of God in which he takes pagan critics to task who chided Rome’s Christians for not choosing suicide over the shame of defeat and subjection (with all its indignities) by the invading barbarian hordes. There’s freshness in St. Augustine’s words about the inviolability of human life and real determination in his description of the Christian as one whose heart is set on the world to come. I find it appropriate and even enlightening reading in the face of much of the bad or critical press being heaped on the Pope and the best of our bishops these days. To my mind, in much of the mainstream media you only find negative criticism and refusal much as it was in the mouths of Rome’s pagans in St. Augustine’s time, men who survived the sack of the city by feigning Christianity and seeking sanctuary in the city’s churches, only to turn around and criticize their temporary fortune or reprieve in a vane attempt to gain the upper hand in the intervening chaos.
Pride and expediency, not even pragmatism really, would seem to be dominating sentiments which steer the course of many choices which are at best neo-pagan but perhaps better labeled nihilist. Pope John Paul II, of blessed memory, spoke of a culture of death, but perhaps there is value in focusing more on the spirit of alienation which closes eyes and hearts to one’s neighbor, denying our accountability for those at a disadvantage, and hence bringing about what ends up being a dog-eat-dog existence. It is not that long ago in the first stages of the world economic crisis that we were shocked and enraged by gigantic severance packages for the board of directors which escaped depletion where simple workers’ pension plans did not. Look around and see today if you can deny that the harm done to so many still hasn’t turned the hearts of some few and powerful to thoughts of justice, solidarity and charity. It would seem that the conspicuous consumption programs on TV still have their ratings, seemingly people are still repairing their homes for a quick sale and a big turnover (I thought the real estate bubble had burst?) and the poor sturgeon and the blue fin tuna are still on the endangered species list thanks to hearty appetites and the sky is the limit prices some people will pay for caviar and sushi… An acquaintance of mine has no complaints about being able to move his inventory of top-end champagne and I’m seeing more BMW’s in traffic than ever before too. What’s the matter, Father? Can’t I have my favorite Friday fish?
          You’ll notice I used examples far from my own tastes and inclinations (except perhaps the BMW). Even though I have no need, I’d be more apt to covet a flashy Blackberry or a luminous IPhone than I would anything culinary, raw or cooked. True enough, the godless hang on such things and God’s children should be able to use them with a certain detachment, while not looking down on those who are less fortunate. The point to be made in clinging to Christ and to His Cross as our only hope is another however.
“All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death. That is the way I can hope to take my place in the resurrection of the dead…
There is urgency to getting in and running the race. We need to get started. You don’t have to be Christian to be an ascetic and it is therefore it is important that I move beyond being a so-called “good Christian”. The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of reparation in the strict sense as born of justice, my obligation to repay what I have stolen and to restore another’s good name. My call today is for a return to something more than the popular piety of a bygone era. I think it is a good Catholic spirituality the loss of which constitutes an impoverishment. If “Sister” didn’t tell us in class years ago that it was a duty, she certainly made a convincing appeal to us children not to limit ourselves to making reparation for theft and detraction, but rather to join Jesus on the Cross in making up for the sins of the world.  I think that this Sunday’s Second Reading might be supportive of my thesis as well. What else could St. Paul be getting at?
“I can assure you, my brothers, I am far from thinking that I have already won. All I can say is that I forget the past and I strain ahead for what is still to come; I am racing for the finish, for the prize to which God calls us upwards to receive in Christ Jesus.”
Let us give the Cross of Christ its pride of place in Passiontide. It should be child’s play, now shouldn’t it?

1 comment:

Msgr. Michael said...

This is my favourite time of the year. Always has been...from when I was a child. Thanks for the beautiful post.

"Vexilla Regis..."

Oh BTW... I think I can cross the amice line too. But, I am, just a tad younger than you !