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 Spirit, 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 Messiah 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 Tetrach. 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. 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, 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 1996r, "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 the woman 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 the woman, 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 personae Christi. We must never be slow to recognize how our sins wounded Our Lord once in time, how they wound His Mystical Body, the Church, 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 satisifed.
"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" (Matthew 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" (John 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" (John 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" (John 6:69-70).
No, Jesus of Nazareth, known to be the son of Joseph the Carpenter, was not what the world expected the messiah 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.