"Into Thy Hands I commend my spirit." |
When we personalize the Passion we understand better the immeasurable magnitude of God's love for us, wretched sinners that we are.
Our Lord breathed His last on the wood of the Holy Cross, having fulfilled the will of His Father to pay back in His own Sacred Humanity the blood debt of our own sins which was owed to Him in His Infinity as God. The obedience of the new Adam canceled the disobedience of the first Adam. For just as the first Adam had stretched out his arms to a tree and thus merited death, so did the new Adam stretched out His holy arms to a tree to bestow upon us that which we do not merit, eternal life. It was with the Redemptive act, which is re-presented in an unbloody manner in every celebration of the Sacrifice of Calvary which is the Mass, that our Lord breathed His last and commended His spirit to His Father in Heaven.
The treasures contained in the mystery of our redemption are inexhaustible. Thus, although this reflection will doubtless contain material I have written in the past, it is a new effort on my part to provide some food for meditation on this Good Friday and the beginning of the great Paschal season of rejoicing.
The human mind cannot fathom the greatness of the Blessed Trinity. Not even one of the greatest minds in the history of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, could plumb the depths of the mystery of God and of His ineffable love for us, his erring, ungrateful creatures. Our puny, finite minds can never truly understand or explain the Infinity and Perfection of the Blessed Trinity. We can, however, come to a limited understanding and appreciation of God and of what we owe Him as His creatures.
God is pure intelligence. He is pure will. He knows all things. He willed the existence of all things, visible and invisible. The great designer of the universe, God created the visible world to be inhabited by rational creatures who bore within their souls His divine impress. And it was to delight these rational creatures that He created all of the lesser species on the face of this Earth, to say nothing of the grandeur of the heavens above us. As One Who is pure love, God wants us to delight always in the wonder and magnificence of His creative work.
Consider, for example, fish. That's right, fish. Sharon and I were waiting in a fast food restaurant, which features one of her favorite delicacies, fish tacos, one evening after we had moved my lecture program from northern California to southern California in mid-February. The restaurant featured an aquarium with several varieties of fishes. Each was a different kind of fish, replete with different colors and features. "To think," I noted to Sharon, "that God willed these creatures into existence with all of their shapes and sizes." Indeed. Part of the reason God willed these creatures in to existence was so that we would have an appreciation, however small and incomplete, of the pure intelligence and will which are responsible for the order of creation in which we live our lives in this vale of tears.
Consider, also, dogs. Although the last pet my family owned died in October of 1981, I will always be the son of a veterinarian. We cannot "love" animals in that they do not possess rational souls and cannot "love" us. However, we can have affection for and attachment to them, especially for those who are given us by God to be our companions. Animals have associative, not rational, intelligence. They have mortal, not immortal souls. Each species, though, has its own characteristics. There are differences even within breeds of dogs, such as my favorite breed, beagle hounds (the proper name for beagles). There are beagles with different bone structures and coloring, although almost every beagle is affectionate and noisy. Even in this small way God shows us His incomprehensible majesty. The same is true, obviously, with the rest of the created world, given to us by God to be enjoyed in a moderate way commensurate with the pursuit of our Last End.
If we can come to have some small idea and appreciation for the pure intelligence and pure will responsible for lesser beings, it is a matter of no small importance to meditate upon what God wrought when He performed the zenith of His creative work by creating Adam out of the dust of this earth in the Garden of Eden.
God knows all things. He knew that our first parents would disobey Him and thus lose their birthright to Heaven. As He exists outside of time and space, God has always seen the beginning and the end of the world. However, we live in time and space in this vale of tears. It was thus God's will for us to come to realize how much He loved us by permitting our first parents to fall from the state of Original Innocence in the Garden of Eden so as to make necessary His own coming in the flesh in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb at the moment of the Incarnation and dying for us on the wood of the Holy Cross. It is in this realm of the Order of Grace, the order, if you will, of our Re-Creation on the wood of the Holy Cross that we are to meditate so profoundly all throughout the season of Lent, but especially during Passion Week and now, especially, at the end of Holy Week.
A careful, thoughtful, sustained meditation on the events surrounding our redemption must center first of all on realizing that God has known from all eternity that each one of us would exist at a particular moment in salvation history. He has willed our existence, knowing everything about us, including the destiny of our souls (which is the mystery of His own divine foreknowledge co-existing with our human free will). We do not take the next breath without His willing it. We are incapable of persisting in a state of sanctifying grace without Him. It is thus so important to meditate upon the redemption wrought for us by our Divine Savior on the wood of the Holy Cross on an individual basis. Our Lord would have become incarnate in His Blessed Mother's womb and died for us on the wood of the Cross if there was only one human being who came into existence after the Flood. It is important to personalize our meditation on the redemption so as to appreciate how much we are loved and how vital it is for us to cooperate with Love Himself in order to pursue our Last End in light of our First Cause. For the sake of illustration, I am going to discuss this in the first personal singular (you can substitute your own "I" for each reference I make to the first person singular).
Our Lord entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday for you and for me. Oh, I was in that crowd to welcome Him with joy. However, I was also in the crowd on Good Friday five days later when my sins cried out for His condemnation and Crucifixion. Our Lord instituted the priesthood and the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper for you. He agonized in the Garden of Gethsemani over what my sins would cause Him to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His fearful Passion and Death. I handed Him over to the Romans for thirty pieces of silver. I ran away from Him in fright, denying Him three times before the cock crowed. I denounced Him with false and contradictory statements in His mockery of a trial before the Sanhedrin. I slapped His holy face. I rent my garments while accusing the co-eternal Word of having blasphemed. I led Him away in leg irons to spend the night in jail. Yes, my sins, my ingratitude, my pettiness, my impurity, my pride caused the God-Man to suffer the indignity He endured in the late hours of Holy Thursday and the early hours of Good Friday.
Our Lord knew in His Sacred Divinity from all eternity that I would do all of this. He knew that I would wash my hands of Him, scourge Him at the pillar, crown Him with thorns, and mock Him with the Roman soldiers. He knew all of this. Yet He opened not His mouth to defend Himself. He did not condemn me. It was His will to redeem me, to shed every single drop of His Most Precious Blood to make it possible for me, a sinner, to know an unending Easter Sunday of glory in Paradise. He made excuses for me from the Throne of Divine Mercy which is the Holy Cross. He forgave me as I caused Him to fall three times on the Via Dolorosa. And He saw in His Infinity as God each one of my sufferings, my pains, my aches as He offered Himself up to the Father in Spirit and in Truth, thereby redeeming every moment of my life and giving each moment of my life an eternal dimension to it. His love for me is such that He wanted all of the good I do and evil I endure to be a cause for the remission of the punishment due my sins if only I unite them all to His self-same Sacrifice, presented to us in an unbloody manner every day in the Mass.
It was not enough for the God-Man to suffer and die as a result of my sins. He had to see how His own Most Blessed Mother's Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart was pierced with the sword of sorrow which had been prophesied by Simeon as He was presented in the Temple as an infant. He saw how ungrateful and unmindful I am of His Mother's suffering with Him in perfect communion with His. He saw how slow I am to invoke her motherly intercession, to surrender the merit of whatever good I am able to accomplish by means of His grace to her, to work for the triumph of her Immaculate Heart and for the building up of the City of Mary Immaculate on earth, to honor her as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix, and Advocate. He saw how ready I am again and again to wound our Lady's honor by sinning against her Immaculate Heart, how slow I am to pray and to trust in her motherly love. Oh, yes, our Lord saw how indifferent I would be even at the Sacrifice of the Mass, how shallowly I interiorize the mysteries contained therein, especially the fact that all of the souls of the just are present mystically at every Mass, including the Blessed Mother.
Despite all of this, though, our Lord loves me. He endured His Passion and Death for love of His Heavenly Father and for love of me alone. He wants me to understand that He has conquered the power of sin and eternal death forever. "O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?" He wants me to understand that there is nothing I can endure on the face of this Earth which is equal of what one of my least venial sins caused Him to suffer in His Sacred Humanity on Holy Thursday and Good Friday. He wants me to detest sin, to seek to root it out from my life entirely for love of Him and of His Most Blessed Mother, to say nothing of the right ordering and salvation of my own immortal soul. He wants me neither to despair of my salvation nor to presume it, working, as Saint Paul exhorted us to do, out my salvation in "fear and in trembling." He wants me to be an adorer of His Real Presence and a supplicant of His forgiveness in the hospital of Divine Mercy which is the confessional, and therefore to be an administrator of that mercy to those who do me wrong. He wants me to realize that it was His will from all eternity to save me from myself, my disordered self-love and my natural inclination to slide into the farthest reaches of Hell. He wants me to adore Him, to thank Him, to petition Him, and to be ever mindful of my need to make reparation for my sins, a reparation that is only possible as a result of His perfect obedience to the Father unto the point of commending His spirit at the hour of His death. He wants me to reach the highest place in Heaven possible below that of His most Blessed Mother, to scale the heights of sanctity by bearing my own daily crosses for love of Him on my own personal Via Dolorosa.
Obviously, our Lord died for each one of us. However, it is so very important for us to personalize the events of our redemption. There is no better way to do that than by taking this time seriously, intensifying our prayers, our fasting, our mortifications, our spirit of self-denial. We need to attend Mass daily during these times, participating in a spirit of great fervor in the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Maundy Thursday and the Liturgy of the Passion on Good Friday. And if at all possible, we should make every effort to hear Holy Mass on the evening of Holy Saturday (which in the Traditional rite begins around 10:00 p.m. with the Service of the Fire and the Easter Vigil readings, culminating with the Mass itself; it is usually the case that the Consecration takes place just around Midnight on Easter Sunday), thereby affording us an opportunity to celebrate the season of our Lord's Easter victory over sin and death with particular joy and gratitude.
The great season of rejoicing which is Easter was made possible only by God's redemptive love for you and for me. May these coming weeks be on occasion for us to meditate upon how much we are loved by God, how much He endured to redeem us, and how grateful we should be for having access every day (except Good Friday and Holy Saturday) to the Mass, which is the unbloody perpetuation of the Sacrifice of the Cross and the foretaste of Heavenly bliss.
Sharon and I (and our unborn child) send each of you our prayers for a Blessed Easter Triduum and glorious Easter season. As this is being written, we are in southern California, from which we will depart on Passion Sunday to make our way in our motor home to commemorate Holy Week at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary in Denton, Nebraska, and to await the birth of our baby, which, if he cooperates, will take place in Sioux City, Iowa, around Divine Mercy Sunday, April 7, 2002 (which is the due date). Please keep Sharon and our child in your prayers during these final few weeks of Lent. The lecture program will resume in Cincinnati and Lafayette, Indiana, in May and June, respectively, before we return to the New York City area in July.
Alleluia! He is Risen-for you and for me. May each of us be ready to say with our Lord, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit."
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives
March 29-31, 2002
volume 13, no. 60
CHRIST or chaos