Lawrence P. Grayson
It was the sixth hour on the 14th of Nisan in the Hebrew year 3790 – in the future, under the Gregorian calendar, it would be remembered as noon, Friday, April 7, 30 A.D. Large crowds were entering the walled city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover, which would begin at sundown. Opposing the flow of pilgrims were three men carrying wooden beams, who were accompanied by a group of Roman soldiers, Jewish high priests, a few relatives, friends, and curious onlookers. They exited the city through the Gennath Gate and struggled up a nearby rocky hill called Golgotha. At its crest were three upright timbers. Each was about six feet high and shaped so that a grooved crossbeam could be fitted on top.
Two of the men were criminals; the third was innocent and had done nothing to deserve punishment. All three were to die.
When they reached the hilltop, the soldiers disrobed Jesus, the innocent one, and tossed him to the ground. They placed the lumber under his neck and extended his arms. The executioner quickly drove a long, square nail though each wrist into the beam. Four soldiers lifted the wooden bar, raising the condemned man from the ground, and placed it on the upright. One of his feet was placed over the other and both nailed to the vertical beam. A sign with his name and charge against him was affixed over his head. The same procedure was followed for the other two prisoners.
The bright noon sky began to darken. The crucified men were in intense agony as their lives slowly ebbed away. By one o’clock, most of the curious had left. Jesus raised his eyes toward heaven and cried out in a loud voice, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” This petition was meant not only for those who condemned, persecuted and crucified him, but for all of humanity – for those through the ages whom he came to save, but who receive him not; for those who hear the Word, profess to believe it, but prefer a congenial life, without self-restraint, sacrifice or mortification; for those who want Christ’s religion without the Cross. The appeal was an act of supreme love. Jesus, the Son of God, as then-Father Joseph Ratzinger said, “loves us not because we are good, but because he is good.” If we are to be followers of Christ, we must love in the same way.
The word “love” is overly used in our language and as a result the concept of love, as exhibited by Our Lord, is poorly understood. It is used in place of enjoy, as in “I love sailing.” It is used to denote erotic attraction and filial affection, as well as a profound attachment and deep concern for the well-being of another person. This last meaning for love is a willful, rather than emotional, act which recognizes that every human being has an inherent dignity as a creature made in the image and likeness of God. That is the type of love, which the Greek’s called agape, that is demanded of Christians.
In contrast to other-centered, sacrificial love, so much of what is done and approved of in today’s society is the result of its self-focused antithesis. Contraception uses another person for one’s immediate pleasure. Pornography satisfies one’s own erotic desires. Cohabitation involves no binding commitment to another. Abortion sacrifices a child for freedom for oneself. Euthanasia purposely destroys a God-given life and the value it is meant to provide, often to eliminate pain or a burden.
Today, too few people are willing to make the commitment and sacrifice required for Christ-like love. Too few professed Catholics truly live according to the teachings and example of Christ, even if they abide by obligatory devotions. Their faith does not affect their ideas, attitudes, priorities, decisions and actions. As a body, they are indistinguishable from the general populace.
They relegate their faith to an occasional Mass – only 24 percent attend weekly -- and the rest of the time exhibit a practical agnosticism, living as if God has no effect on their lives. They willing ignore and even deny Church teachings, and have so compartmentalized their minds that they can say, “I am personally opposed to abortion (or …, you name the evil), but will not prevent others from having one. This disposition is palatable because it imposes no obligation on the individual to publicly live the faith, to make the sacrifices that faith and Christ-like love demand. It does not interfere with one’s drive for self-gratification and material success.
Faith is more than a set of dogmas to be acknowledged; rather it is a way of life, a way whose ends are not the temporal comforts of this world, but the fulfillment of the reason we were created -- to gain an eternity in the kingdom of God. What Catholics need is a re-evangelization of their beliefs. They must learn once again what it means to be Catholic, to understand the timeless truth of its doctrines, to develop the moral values and commitment to live their lives in accord with the faith.
Jesus, the Son of God, came into the world to pay through suffering the ransom for man’s sins. On the Cross, he fulfilled his task, the work of Redemption was complete. As three o’clock approached, he uttered, “It is finished,” and soon after bowed his head and died. While thousands were beginning the ritual of Passover by spilling the blood of lambs in the temple area as an offering to God, the Lamb of God offered his blood as a sacrifice for the salvation of man.
Although the doors of heaven have been opened, we must earn the right to enter. Being a disciple of Christ requires commitment. After his Resurrection, Christ asked Peter, “Do you love me?” This is a question we all must answer, not only in words, but with deeds.
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Published April 2016