From Eden to the Empty Tomb
Thomas A. Droleskey
Life and death. Each of us is born to die. But the passage of a body from conception to physical death is only part of the story of a human life. Every human being has a rational, immortal soul that God infuses into him at the moment of his conception. That soul is the animating principle of the human body. It is the state of the soul which determines where the body will spend eternity after the Second and Final Coming of Our Lord at the end of time. And it was to make it possible for all souls to live in the glory of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that Our Lord endure His fearful Passion and Death.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, is the New Adam. His death on the Cross put an end to power of sin and death forever. His perfect obedience to the Father's will canceled out the disobedience of the first Adam in the Garden of Eden. The shedding of His Most Precious Blood on Calvary paid back the blood-debt that finite beings owed their Infinite Creator. His forty hours in the tomb prior to His Resurrection on Easter Sunday give us the hope of eternal joy. He underwent His death so that we could live. Yet nearly 2,000 years after He instituted the New and Everlasting Covenant of the New Passover from death to life, so few of His followers truly understand how they are to fashion everything in their lives--and in that of their societies--in light of the mysteries of our redemption.
There is a simple explanation for the fact that most baptized Christians do not understand the mysteries of salvation: they have never been instructed in them. If people do not understand what happened in the Garden of Eden, then they will have no understanding of their own identity as fallen creatures in need of redemption. And if they do not understand their identity as fallen creatures in need of redemption, then they will look to everything except the true religion instituted by Our Lord at the Last Supper to save them from the problems of the world. Like many of the people of Our Lord's time who were looking for a political or secular savior, so are many people today looking for their salvation in all of the wrong places, especially in politics, politicians, political parties, ideologies, and in government programs.
The truth of the matter is, of course, that the Triune God--the Infinite Being, the Uncreated Good, the Uncaused Cause--created both the invisible and the visible worlds out of love. He is a community of love consisting of three Divine Persons, each with His own distinctive identity and mission. The love of each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity for each other is meant of its nature to be bestowed on others. He created the angels, pure spirits with possessing an intellect and a will, out of love. And He created human beings out of love. But God's love is not an act of sentimentality. Not at all. God's love is an act of the Divine Will. He created angels and men out of love so that they would love Him, their First and Last End. He willed their good, which is the possession of His glory for all eternity.
However, God created angels and men as free beings. He wanted his creatures to choose to serve Him out of love, a return of love to Love Himself. Although He knew that certain of the angels, headed by Lucifer, would make an irrevocable choice against Him, God bestowed a free will upon angels in order to show forth His omnipotence. He wanted to teach men that it was the misuse of free will that caused the rebellion of Lucifer. And He wanted to teach them that it was Lucifer's hatred of Him that would impel the fallen angel to lead them to misuse their free wills against Him.
Satan hates God. He knows God and he hates Him. "Non serviam est!" ("I will not serve) is the devil's motto. Our ancient adversary knows God, hates Him, and refuses to serve Him, the very antithesis of the purpose of human existence, which is, naturally, to know, to love, and to serve God here on earth in order to be happy with Him for all eternity in Heaven. The devil hates us because we are made in the image and the likeness of the One he hates, namely, God. That is why he wants to deceive us into mimicking him by disobeying God and serving ourselves--to the detriment of ourselves and those around us. The Master of Lies and the Prince of Darkness was permitted by God to tempt our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve had been created by God and placed in a world of Original Innocence. They possessed the preternatural gifts of a perfect human nature, one unspotted by sin. They had a superior intellect and a superior will. And they had a delicate balance between their higher rational faculties and their lower sensual passions. Adam and Eve were in harmony with God, and they were in harmony with each other. They were in harmony with the natural world. There was work without sweat and painless child-birth. The Gates of Heaven were opened to them.
God commanded only two things from our first parents. He asked them to love Him in return for all that He had bestowed upon them, including life itself. And He commanded them not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He knew full well that they would succumb to the allure of the tempter. But He wanted the human race to understand that His love for us is so perfect that He will never force Himself upon us. He wants us to choose to love Him of our own free wills. And He wants us to realize how the misuse of our free wills leads to unhappiness and misery, that we are utterly lost without Him and His Holy Church. He wanted us to know that our souls face eternal death without Him.
The Devil appealed to Eve's pride when he manifested himself as a serpent in the Garden of Eden. He wanted Adam and Eve to be robbed of their birthright of the possession of the vision of God in Heaven. He wanted them to be in a state of war with God and with each other. He wanted them to live lives of despair. He wanted them to hate God as he did.
Eve, the Mother of the Living, did as the serpent wanted, eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, believing that she would be like unto God, knowing all things. Adam did as she had requested, and his act of disobedience irreparably wounded human nature itself. Original Sin entered the world. Adam and Eve lost the preternatural gifts that had been bestowed upon them by God at their creation. Their intellects were darkened and their wills weakened. The delicate balance between their higher rational faculties and their lower sensual passions was overthrown in favor of the passions. All of the problems of the world--death, disease, injustice, war, poverty, work with sweat, painful childbirth, hatred, gluttony, envy, lust, anger, pride--descended upon the human race. Man had disobeyed the Infinite Being.
God did not abandon His creatures, however. He knew that He would personally enter human history to redeem them, to make it possible for men to overcome the effects of original sin and actual sin in the world if they cooperated with the graces He would win for them on the wood of the Holy Cross. "O happy fault, O necessary sin, which made possible so great a Redeemer," the Easter Exsultet proclaims. Yes, the felix culpa of Adam and Eve made it possible for us to know how much God loved us, that the Father would send His only-begotten Son to be made flesh in the virginal and immaculate womb of our Blessed Mother.
In the mystery of His Divine Providence, God wanted to prepare the human race for the redemption. He works in His time, not ours, something that we have to be reminded of all times, especially in light of the difficulties Holy Mother Church is facing at the early beginnings of the Third Millennium. All of the pages of the Old Testament point to the First Coming of Our Lord. They detail how meticulously God prepared His Chosen People for His own entry into human history in order to redeem the human race.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God chose Abram, a nomadic sheep herder, to be the father in faith of many people. Elongating his name to Abraham, God made a covenant with Abraham, as he had with Noah at the time of the flood. God promised to give Abraham, whose old wife Sarah was beyond her child-bearing years, descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky. Why did he choose Abraham? Why did He choose the Hebrew people to be the instrument by which He would prepare the whole of mankind for the redemption? That is a mystery. There is no human explanation for it. Why did God favor Abel's offering over Cain? Again, a mystery. But it was in God's ineffable Providence to choose Abraham, the patriarch who is invoked in The Roman Canon as our "father in faith," to build up a people singularly his own.
In a foreshadowing of the Redemption itself, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, Isaac, on a pyre of wood. Abraham did not know why God was asking him to do such a thing. But He trusted in the word of God. God had asked him to make a sacrifice of his son. Who was he to deny the request? He trusted that God had some greater design beyond human comprehension. And by showing his desire to obey God without question and without delay, Abraham proved himself to be faithful. The sacrifice he was asked to make was a foreshadowing of what the Father had planned to redeem us by offering His only Son on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Christians are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. His physical descendants formed the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which were sold into slavery in Egypt through Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. The Hebrew people spent 440 years in cruel slavery in Egypt, symbolic of the captivity of the human race to the Devil by means of original sin (and also symbolic of each person's captivity to the Devil prior to receiving the Sacrament of Baptism). They grumbled and they complained, wondering when their liberation would occur. Many of them thought that God had abandoned them.
God showed his favor on the Hebrews when He chose Moses to lead them out of their captivity to the Promised Land. It was to Moses that God definitively revealed Himself as the one and only God (Abraham believed that he had been visited by the true God, but he and the Hebrews remained polytheistic until God spoke to Moses face-to-face). Although he considered himself to be ill-equipped to speak to the oppressor of his people, the Pharaoh, he accepted the assignment that God had given him to lead his people to freedom. As one of the several foreshadowings of Our Lord found in the Old Testament, Moses was the one with whom God established the Covenant of the Old Dispensation, the one that would last until Our Lord established His New and Everlasting Covenant at the Last Supper.
The Covenant of the Old Dispensation was inaugurated with the first Passover, an event recounted in The Book of Exodus. The Hebrew people sprinkled the blood of lambs on their doorposts so that the angel of death would "pass over" their houses as every first-born male in Egypt was struck dead. As St. Paul noted in his Letter to the Hebrews, the blood of animals can save no one. But the use of the blood of lambs during the first Passover was a foreshadowing of the fact that each of us is now signed with the Most Precious Blood of the Lamb of God, He Who takes away the sins of the world, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And the ritual Passover meal was symbolic of the Eucharist, the fruit of the eternal Sacrifice offered to the Father by the Son on the wood of the Cross--re-presented to us in an unbloody manner today in every sacrifice of the Mass.
Led by a column of fire at night and by a cloud during the day, Moses marched the Chosen People to the Red Sea, where there were to cross over to commence their desert journey to the Promised Land. The parting of the waters of the Red Sea was a real event in the history of salvation. But we participated in that parting of the waters when we were baptized. For just as the Pharaoh and his army were swallowed up by the waters of the Red Sea when Moses used his staff to signal the wall of water to come crashing down upon them, so is it the case that the Devil and his minions are swallowed up by the waters stirred up in the baptismal font. We are freed from captivity to him just as the Chosen People were freed from their captivity to the Pharaoh.
Human nature being what it is, however, the Chosen People did not remain grateful to God for long. They grumbled about the harsh conditions of the desert, muttering that they were better off in slavery to the Egyptians. Are we any better? Having been freed from captivity to original sin, how many of us patiently endure the crosses that we are asked to bear? How many of us slowly give ourselves back to the service of the Devil by slipping into venial sins over and over again? How many of us excuse our own spiritual sloth, satisfied with doing the minimum, satisfied with giving First and Last Things only a passing thought now and then? How many of us feel enslaved by our baptismal calling and not by sin?
The desert journey of our spiritual ancestors is symbolic of several things. It is in the first place symbolic of the desert journey of life. We are called to wander in this vale of tears without grumbling. We are called to be faithful in the midst of great trials. We are called to be satisfied with the true manna come down from Heaven, the Eucharist, and to long for no other food. And we are called to realize that the Ten Commandments are written on the flesh of our hearts, being content to worship the true God Who has Revealed Himself entirely in the Person of Our Lord.
The Chosen People worshipped the Golden Calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They grumbled so loudly about the manna that had come down from Heaven that God sent them quail to feed them. They got sick of the quail! Their grumbling at the waters of Meribah and Massah resulted in their being bitten by seraph serpents. Many of them died. They repented of their grumbling, being healed by looking at the bronze serpent Moses had made. He lifted high the bronze serpent to heal the people of the wounds they had suffered from the seraph serpents. We are called to look upon Our Lord, Who was lifted high on the Cross to heal us of the wounds caused by our sins.
Although Moses died before the Jews entered the land of Canaan (a result of his having complained about the stiff-necked people God had entrusted to his leadership), the desert journey was completed in forty years. But it was a short time thereafter that they began to worship false gods. Their leaders frequently were most concerned about pursuing the political lusts of their heart rather than being faithful to the Mosaic covenant. Even King David, chosen from the fields to shepherd God's chosen flock, became drunk with his own power and influence for a time, forgetting Who it was Who had chosen him to be king.
This is true, of course, even in our own day. Those who should know the true faith serve the false gods of public opinion and personal political expediency. Materialism and hedonism are rationalized as being consonant somehow with the faith. Both the spirit and the letter of the law written on the flesh of our hearts are ignored. The consequences of all of this in our day is eerily similar to those which faced the Jews: social disarray and anarchy. Over and over again, though, God spoke to the Chosen People through the Prophets--and through all of the events of their history. Micah, Amoz, Hosea, Nathan, Gad, Daniel, Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were among the prophets God used to speak about the coming of the Messias. But there are none so blind as those who refused to see. As Scripture tells us, they had eyes but could not sea, ears but could not hear. The Chosen People expected the Messias would liberate them from political bondage, never more so than when they were suffering under the cruel oppression imposed by their Roman occupiers. It was as though they had learned almost nothing from the Exodus or the Babylonian captivity. No, they were still looking for the political Messias. And aren't many people looking for such a Messias today?
There are few passages in the Old Testament which describes the sort of Messias that would redeem the human race more telling than those found in Chapters 52 and 53 of the Book of the Prophet Isaias.
"See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted. Even as many were amazed at him--so marred was his look beyond that of man, and his appearance beyond that of mortals--so shall he startle many nations, because of him kings shall stand speechless; for those who have not been told shall see, those who have not heard shall ponder it.
"Who would believe what we have heard? To whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; there was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, one of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem.
"Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, while we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins; upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed. We had all gone astray like sheep, each following his own way; but the Lord laid upon him the guilt of us all.
"Though he was harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; like a lamb led to the slaughter or a sheep before the shearers, he was silent and opened not his mouth. Oppressed and condemned, he was taken away, and who would have thought any more of his destiny? When he was cut off from the land of the living, and smitten for the sin of his people, a grave was assigned him among the wicked and a burial place with evildoers, though he had done no wrong nor spoken any falsehood. [But the Lord was pleased to crush him in infirmity.]
"If he gives his life as an offering for sin, he shall see his descendants in a long life, and the will of the Lord shall be accomplished through him. Because of his affliction he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he shall bear. Therefore I will give him his portion among the great, and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty, because he surrendered himself to death and he was counted among the wicked; and he shall take away the sins of many, and win pardon for their offenses" (Is. 52:13-15; 53:1-12).
"Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up a righteous shoot to David; as king he shall reign and govern wisely, he shall do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah shall be saved, Israel shall dwell in security. This is the name they give him: 'The Lord our justice'" (Jer. 23:5-6).
Ezekiel prophesied of the Good Shepherd:
"For thus the Lord God: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark. I will lead them out from among the peoples and gather them from the foreign lands; I will bring them back to their own country and pasture them upon the mountains of Israel. In good pastures will I pasture them, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing ground. There they shall lie down on good grazing ground, and in rich pastures shall they be pastured on the mountains of Israel. I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord God. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal [but the sleek and the strong I will destroy], shepherding them rightly" (Ez. 35:11-16)
The new Israel, the new Zion, as we know, is the Church. It is through her that Our Lord shepherds us to the true Promised Land of Heaven. And it was to give birth to her from His Wounded Side on the wood of the Holy Cross that He personally entered human history at the Incarnation, fulfilling all of the promises that had been made about Him in the Law and in the Prophets.
Our Lady, having been preserved from all stain of original and actual sin when she was conceived in her mother's womb, became the singular vessel of honor through which the Logos, the Word, would enter human history. Denying Himself nothing of the human experience save for sin, Our Lord condescended to spend nine months in the tabernacle of Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb. The world was expecting the Savior to manifest Himself thunderously from a mountainside. But He came as a helpless embryo, unseen to the human eye. He came to do His Father's will. He came to offer Himself up as the blood-offering in propitiation for our own sins. But He came in such a way as to reveal Himself gradually to the creatures He was about to redeem. He wanted us to have faith in Him.
It was complete trust in the word of God that prompted Our Lady to undertake the arduous trip to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who in her old age was expecting the last of the Old Testament prophets, St. John the Baptist. The unborn John leapt for joy when he heard the voice of the Mother of God pierce his ears in his mother's womb. It was at that moment that John was cleansed of all original sin, enabling him to serve as the pure precursor of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
Prompted by the Holy Ghost, Our Lady proclaimed the Magnificat, which is recited (or, more accurately, which should be recited) at Evening Prayer by every priest and deacon and religious in the world.
"My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; because he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaid; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed; because he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name; and his mercy is from generation to generation to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, his servant mindful of his mercy. Even as he spoke to fathers--to Abraham and to his posterity forever" (Lk. 1:46-55).
The promise made to Abraham was being fulfilled. And when Our Lady's time had arrived, she and St. Joseph made their way to Bethlehem, the City of David, where the prophet Micah had prophesied that the Messias would be born. There was no room for Our Lord in the inn on the night of his birth. Is there any room for Him in the inns of our hearts? In the life of our society? In our politics, our government, our laws, our entertainment?
The re-creation of the world, which had begun at the Incarnation, reached a turning point when Our Lord was born in the cradle in the stable in the cave in Bethlehem. Born in the wood of the manger to die on the wood of the Cross. Yes, born in a manger, a feeding trough, only to make the instrument of His execution the true manger from which we would be fed His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Born amidst the manure of the barn animals to die atop the dung heap known as Calvary. Born in anonymity to die in ignominy, considered a criminal and a blasphemer by all but a handful of people. Born in poverty to die in poverty. Born in obedience to the Father's will to do the Father's will, indeed, to be the Father's will for us all. Given birth painlessly by Our Lady only to watch her writhe in great pain as she gave birth to us as the adopted sons and daughters of God at the foot of the Cross.
Our Lord's Most Holy Face radiated all of the glory of His Sacred Divinity when He lay in the crib in Bethlehem. Our souls once radiated His glory when we were baptized, freed from our captivity to the Devil. But our sins marred that Most Holy Face, making it almost unrecognizable by the time St. Veronica wiped It as He walked on the Via Dolorosa on the road to Calvary. The Cross hovered over Bethlehem. For it was to bear the Cross that Our Lord made his humble entrance in the City of David.
The great and the powerful hated Our Lord almost from the moment He was born. Herod the Great. Herod the Tetrarch. Pontius Pilate. The Pharisees. The Sadducees. The Sanhedrin. And even after His Death and Resurrection, many of the great and the powerful hated Him and His Holy Church with a vengeance. Nero. Diocletian. Trajan. Henry VIII. Cromwell. Marx. Freud. Lenin. Hitler. Stalin. The Freemasons. Mao. Deng. Clinton. He was born to be a sign of contradiction, as Simeon prophesied to Our Lady at the Presentation. And He was to die as a sign of contradiction.
Each one of us is called to be a sign of contradiction. Our Lord told us that we would be hated as He was hated. He told us that we would be persecuted as He was persecuted. He told us that we would be handed over to kings and governors on His account. All will hate us because of His Name, He said. He was hated from the moment of his birth. He is hated today.
The hatred of Herod the Great was so great that He ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in his quest to destroy the Infant King, Our Lord. But it was not yet His time. The Holy Family fled to Egypt, the very place where the Chosen People from whom Our Lord had taken His Sacred Humanity were enslaved for 440 years, living there for a year and one-half. Rich in symbolism, the Redeemer left His exile in Egypt to return to Nazareth, where He spent nearly thirty years living anonymously, doing the work of a manual laborer, redeeming all things about our ordinary existence.
Each of us lives an ordinary existence. It is in that ordinary existence that we prove ourselves to be friends or enemies of Our Lord and His Holy Church. Do we bear our share of the hardship which the Gospel entails? Do we seek to sanctify every moment of our lives? Do we live in the consciousness of the Divine Presence, always keeping in mind that we could be called home to give an account of our lives at any moment? Do we fulfill the duties of our state-in-life with joy and punctuality? Our Lord did. If it was good enough for Him, it should be good enough for we grumblers as we stumble about in our own desert journey of life.
Our Lord left His home, although His Blessed Mother was never far from Him. She was with Him to the end, as is noted in great detail in Our Mother of Sorrows. He left to be baptized symbolically by his cousin, St. John the Baptist, who had been preparing the way for His Public Ministry. "He must increase, I must decrease," said the Baptist. His work was over. Our Lord's had just begun.
Noah spent forty days and forty nights in the ark. The Chosen People spent forty years in the desert. Our Lord spent forty days in the desert, praying and fasting before He assumed His Public Ministry. The forty days of Lent prepare us to be more willing to cooperate with the graces won for us by Our Lord by the shedding of His Most Precious Blood. For we are able to resist the Devil as Our Lord did when He was tempted in the desert. We are able to walk the rocky road that leads to the narrow gate of Life Himself.
Our Lord left the desert to call His Twelve Apostles, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. He called them by name. He called each of us by name when we were Christened, when we were baptized. He gave them a mission to bring all people into the true Church, a mission that we received in baptism--and reaffirmed when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. He called the Apostles, knowing full well that they were full of shortcomings, that they would be slow to understand Him, that all but one of them would run away from Him during His Passion and Death. He calls us, knowing that we are crooked lines, men who are in constant need of forgiveness.
Our Lord taught and preached for three years prior to the events of Holy Week. He performed His first miracle at Cana, turning the water into wine at the wedding feast there at the request of His Most Blessed Mother, a foreshadowing of the transubstantiation of wine into His Most Precious Blood at the Last Supper. He cured the lame, restored sight to the blind, healed the leprous, made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He expelled demons. And He raised the dead. But His physical miracles were always signs of the fact of His Sacred Divinity, that He had the power to forgive sins.
Indeed, one of the enduring themes of His Public Ministry was forgiveness and mercy. He came to give it to us unworthy vessels of clay. He expects each one of us to give it others, freely and unconditionally. "Neither will your sins be forgiven you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." As the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J., said at a conference in Detroit, Michigan, in 1996, "God permits us to sin so that we can so mercy to each other."
However, the compassion of Our Lord for sinners is no expression of mere human sentimentality, as many would have us believe today. Far from it. When He came upon Saint Mary Magdalen as she was caught in adultery, Our Lord asked if anyone ready to cast stones was without sin. As each man dropped the stone he was about to cast at Lazarus's sister, Our Lord told her that no one had condemned her--and that He did not do so. However, He told her to go, and sin no more. True compassion, Our Lord was teaching us, understands the weakness of fallen human nature. But it never reaffirms another person--or us--in that which is sinful. God's grace is sufficient for us to resist temptation.
Forgiveness was the keynote of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father stands ready to forgive us at any moment of our lives if only we have the humility to acknowledge our sins in the hospital of Divine Mercy, the confessional. For it is in the Sacrament of Penance that the merits of the shedding of Our Lord's Most Precious Blood are applied to us through a priest acting in persona Christi. We must never be slow to recognize how our sins wounded Our Lord once in time, how they caused Seven Swords of Sorrow to be thrust through and through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, how they wound the Church Militant on earth today, and how they make us less capable of shining forth His love in the world. Our Lord's Throne of Forgiveness, the Cross, reminds us of how much we have offended Him--but how limitless His mercy is if only we seek it out.
All of this was hard for the people of His time to hear. Theirs was a merciless age. Their hearts had been hardened. That is why it was difficult for them to endure what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Every one of the Beatitudes contradicted the prevailing spirit of the times. Indeed, they contradict the prevailing spirit of our times, do they not?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall possess the earth.
"Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
"Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.
"Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice's sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."Blessed are you when men reproach you, and persecute you, and, speaking falsely, say all manner of evil against you, for My sake.
"Rejoice and exult, because your reward in great in heaven; for so did they persecute the prophets before you" (Mt. 5:3-12).
Our Lord came to tell people that the problems of the world were caused by sin, that they had to undergo a daily conversion of mind, heart, and soul. There is no once and for all solution to the our own problems or those of the world. The state of the world depends upon the state of individual souls. Therefore, it is important for us to remember that we are, as Our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, the salt of earth and the light of the world. We are called to add His seasoning, His leaven, if you will, in the midst of this fallen, fractured world. We are called to provide His light shining through us into this darkened will. And each of us is called to take up our cross on a daily basis, deny our very selves and follow Him through His Holy Church.
Most of this was pretty difficult for the people of Our Lord's time to understand and accept. Our Lord had not come to be popular, however. He did not come to preach a theology of ecumenical indifferentism. He proclaimed Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. People either loved Him or they hated Him. There was no middle ground. Some, like the rich young man in the Gospel of St. Mark, walked away because they did not want to give up their possessions. Others did not want to reform their lives.
Perhaps the major turning point in Our Lord's Public Ministry came when He gave the Eucharistic Discourse after the miracles of the loaves and fishes. As recorded the Gospel of St. John, Our Lord proclaimed Himself to be the True Manna come down from Heaven.
"I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the desert, and have died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that if anyone eat of it he will not die. I am the living bread that has come down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he shall live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world. . . .Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, you shall not have life in you. He who eats My Body and drinks My Blood has life everlasting and I will raise him up on the last day. For My Flesh is food indeed, and My Blood is drink indeed. He who eats My Flesh, and drinks My Blood, abides in Me and I in him. As the living Father has sent Me, and as I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also shall live because of Me. This is the bread that has come down from Heaven; not as your fathers ate the manna, and died. He who eats this bread shall live forever" (Jn. 6:48-52, 54-60).
Many of the Jews found what Our Lord said very hard to accept.
"From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him" (Jn. 6:67). Sadly, even some Catholic priests and religious no longer believe in the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Eucharist. St. Peter spoke for those of who do believe in the Real Presence when the Master asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave him too. "Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of everlasting life, and we have come to believe and to know that thou art the Christ, the Son of God" (Jn. 6:69-70).
No, Jesus of Nazareth, known to be the son of Joseph the Carpenter, was not what the world expected the Messias to be. He taught with authority. His miracles proved His Sacred Divinity. The scribes and the Pharisees did not know how to deal with him, especially after a lot of people began to follow Him after He raised his friend Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. He had to be done away with, His message obliterated. Little did the plotters realize, however, that they were helping to fulfill the Father's plan for their own redemption which He had in mind at the very moment of creation.
Yes, less than five days after Our Lord was welcomed triumphantly as He entered Jerusalem He was subjected to treatment as a common criminal. Hailed as a King to the shouts of "Hosanna in the highest" on this very day, the first Palm Sunday nearly two millennia ago, only to be reviled and scorned by the same crowd with the words "Crucify Him!" The crowd that laid palm fronds in the path of the beast He rode into Jerusalem mocked Him as He hung on the Holy Cross: "If Thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross. In like manner also the chief priests with the scribes and the ancients, mocking, said : He saved others, Himself He cannot save: if He be the king of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe in Him; He trusted in God, let Him now deliver Him if He will have Him; for He said: I am the Son of God. And the self-same thing the thieves also that were crucified with Him reproached Him with" (Mt.) The popularity of Our Lord with the fickle crowd was very fleeting, which is why we have to enter Holy Week with a determination to be faithful to Him and to resist sin to the point of shedding point.
Holy Week is a week of contrasts. In it is compressed the entirety of salvation history, as noted in part one of this reflection. In it is compressed the entirety of each of our lives.
Our Lord invites us on Palm Sunday to welcome Him during Holy Week not with palm frond extended from our hands but with hearts and souls cleansed by the bath of His Most Precious Blood in the Sacrament of Penance. He invites us on Palm Sunday to grow in our fervor for love of Him in His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, instituted this very week for our spiritual nourishment and our adoration. He is inviting us to walk along with Him on the Via Dolorosa to help Him carry His Cross, keeping company with His Most Blessed Mother on the Via Dolorosa and at the foot of the Holy Cross - and to keep vigil at the empty tomb for His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Holy Week is about love. Our Lord came into the world, conceived as a totally helpless embryo in His Blessed Mother's virginal and Immaculate womb, because of His desire to do His Father's will, to redeem sinful men. He takes our place before the Sanhedrin this week to regain what was lost for us by our first parents in the Garden of Eden. He accomplished all of this nearly two millennia ago-and continues His saving work today in each offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass out of the highest of all loves: to will the good of each human soul, the ultimate expression of which is their salvation. And human salvation would have been impossible if the Word had not become flesh and dwelt amongst us in order to die on the wood of the Holy Cross and pay back the debt of sin that we owed God in His infinity but could only be paid back by Infinity Himself in His Sacred Humanity.
Each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in the drama that unfolds during Holy Week. But, then, each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in our own lives. Often we are Saint John the Evangelist - faithful to the end. More often than we would like to admit, however, we are vacillating and boastful Peter, exclaiming that we will defend Our Lord with all of our strength but shrinking from that boast of fear, pride, weakness or malice. There are other characters whose names are not mentioned in the accounts of the Passion contained in the Gospels. And it is perhaps these nameless characters who best exemplify our own ambivalence about following Our Lord consistently in every aspect of our daily.
Consider, for example, the people who not only jeered Our Lord as He hung on the Holy Cross but those who walked by with utter indifference to what was happening before their very eyes. Isn't it true that it is really those people who best reflect us most of the time? That is, a lot of us say we're too busy to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or to go on pilgrimages or to make the sacrifices we need to make (which might involve driving many hours and many miles) to protect our souls by attending the Immemorial Mass of Tradition and fleeing from everything to do with conciliarism and its false shepherds. And there are times when we don't think in supernatural terms about the events of our own daily lives, thereby demonstrating an indifference to First and Last Things more often than we would like to realize.
Yes, there are times in our lives when we cry out "Give us Barabbas" and deliberately choose to expel the life of grace from our souls by committing mortal sins. However, the way the Devil usually tempts human beings away from the interior life of grace is slowly, imperceptibly through spiritual sloth. We forget to pray. We forget to the read Scriptures and solid works of the spiritual masters, such as Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year and Father Frederick Faber's The Foot of the Cross and The Precious Blood. Indeed, we plunge headlong into everything that is secular, permitting ourselves to be influenced little by little by the spirit of the world, a spirit that is in direct contradiction to that which is conducive to the salvation of our immortal souls. Lukewarmness thus spreads like a unseen cancer, one that devastates the soul and causes a slow but steady rejection of a disciplined life of prayer and penance and self-denial.
May each of us this Holy Week withdraw from the world, assisting from the Mass of the ages on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, entering deep into the Triduum on Holy (or Maundy) Thursday, when we commemorate His institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, when we keep Him company in His Real Presence to console Him for having endured even the thought of coming into contact with our sins that caused Him to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Agony in the Garden on the Mount of Olives.
Reflections on each of the days of the Paschal Triduum will be published later this week.
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.
See also: A Litany of Saints