When Pilate was set down upon the judgment-seat, his wife sent
Unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man:
For I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of
(St. Matthew 27. 19)
There is a good deal of silence that descends upon the Christian Church during Holy Week. The silence is meant to come, no doubt, as a response to the Passion and Crucifixion of the Son of God. Holy Week has been set aside from the time of the early Church to ponder our Lord’s suffering in silence. If we approach this time with a determined silence and stillness, we will, no doubt, find that it will interrupt and confound the usual course of human reason and its expectations, as it tears and wrenches the human heart from the fulfillment of its usual desire. Then, if we sustain the stillness, and with a quiet mind ponder the unfolding drama of Holy Week, the blanket of divine otherness might begin to warm our souls, clothing them with the Word that desires to love us into death and new life.
Following Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem He had told his Apostles: All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. (St. Matthew 26.31) This Word that was made flesh would be rejected on a number of different levels. Men always find excuses for refusing to allow the Word to be made flesh in them. In the interests of political expedience, Pilate will believe that he has rid the world of a fleeting religious nuisance. The Jews’ self-righteous indignation will be justified…or so they think. His Disciples will abandon Him out of confused fear and cowardice. Peter will deny Him, and Judas Iscariot will betray Him.
In the lections for today, we already begin to see and hear the truth that will emerge through the trial, arrest, and condemnation of Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate, Governor of Judaea, will attempt to bring temporal calm and stillness out of earthly chaos and confusion, on what should be just another peaceful Friday afternoon in a relatively obscure outpost of the Roman Empire. He seems a reasonable and just enough man, who is neither drawn to nor impressed by the strange religion of the Jewish Aristocracy, which has interrupted his day. He is commissioned with enforcing the Pax Romana –the peace of Octavian Augustus that has civilized the world through Roman Law. So he will do his best to treat the problem of this Jesus of Nazareth as expeditiously as possible with a kind of Stoical calm and indifference that made Rome famous. With all the might of Caesar’s power behind him, he will attempt to banish the Jews back to their religious ghetto. Judge Christ yourselves, he commanded, or send Him to Herod….(St. John xviii. 31) Then another kind of stillness, silence, and peace will emerge from this Christ he interrogates. Pilate marvel[s] greatly. (St Matthew xxvii, 14) His wife has the spiritual sense to warn him to have nothing do with that just man (Ibid, 19) and in a sense he will try to do just that. The crowd will become restless and demand that Barabbas be released and Jesus be crucified. Pilate’s conscience is nevertheless stirred, for he finds no evil or crime in the defendant. Why, what evil hath he done? (Ibid, 23) Let Him be crucified, they cry. In response to the passionate envy that will threaten further chaos and anarchy, we shall read that, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see you to it. (Ibid, 24) The Jews will confess: His blood be on us, and on our children. (Ibid, 25)
Many people, Christians and others, have no time for Jesus of Nazareth, for the Word of God’s Love in the flesh. As T. S. Eliot reminds us, Christ speaks to them and us:
O my people, what have I done unto thee.
Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the daytime and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice
(Ash Wednesday: Eliot, v.)
But for those who can become contemplatively still and quiet by God’s Grace, the sound and sight of the God’s Word of Love will emerge through the suffering and death of Christ His Son. From the unmoving and silent center –the heart of the Son of God who will be suffering and dying not only to the world, the flesh, and the devil enfleshed in others, but also to Himself, the Word will be seen and heard. It will be perceived and received, slowly, even imperceptibly, by those who have chosen to believe and to follow. And the light shone in darkness and/ Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled/ About the centre of the silent Word. (Ibid) For though the world and its words will assault and kill Jesus Christ, the Word of God endures, to be spoken from the center and through the stillness of His unchanged and unaltered desire for all men’s salvation. For this Word made flesh –this Jesus Christ– always sees and hears, and then reveals and expresses His Father’s will to the world. He came from God and He will return to God. But not before He willingly offers himself to God and man by becoming the wall of division that must be broken down. For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. (1 Cor. v. 21)
This morning, with St. Paul, we remember that though He was in the form of God, He did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2. 6-8) Jesus Christ empties Himself of His humanity, in order that pure powerlessness might be placed back in the hands of God, the maker and molder of all new life. He will not desperately grab for, grasp at, or clutch to to His Divinity in the hour of His human impotence and desperation. Rather He prefers to obey, fear, and follow God with all the humanity that remains to Him. He will become the Man who once again is the servant of God because God’s will and Word alone suffice to secure Man’s unbreakable union with Him. He will be one with the Word of the Father that He sees and hears. This is the only Word that can reveal and manifest the eternal Desire of God for His people. This is the Word of Love that conquers hate, the Word of Good that conquers evil, and the Word of Truth that conquers falsehood.
This week, I pray, that each of us shall make time to travel up with Jesus to His Cross. We can travel with the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. John looking and listening in silence and stillness, wondering at the Word. This Word of God in Christ will, mostly, be silent. Pilate marveled, and so will we. We shall contemplate what sin does to the Word of God’s Love in the flesh, who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth: Who, when He was reviled, reviled not again; when He suffered, He threatened not; but committed himself to Him that judgeth righteously (1 Peter 2. 22, 23). This is a Love that first touches and moves the still and silent hearts of those who remain faithful to Him. This is the Love that was first seen and heard in miracles and parables, and now from the Cross persists in revealing Himself to the world in perfect power, as forgiveness and love. This is the Love whose forgiveness will make the enemies of today into the friend’s of God’s tomorrow.
This week, let us listen to the silent Word of God’s Love alive in the heart of the dying Saviour. Let us listen as the Word of Love makes innocent suffering and death the occasion for His persistent pursuit of our salvation. Let us listen to the Word of Love that calls us into death. Let us be determined to die in the embrace of Love which offers Himself to God and to us in one knot of fire that purges away all cruelty, malice, malevolence, ill will, envy, and pride. Let us be determined to leave our old sinful selves behind that the new Man in all of us may be made alive. And let us remember, in stillness and silence, as we comtemplate the Word of God’s Love in suffering and death, that, as R. S. Thomas writes,
It’s not that He can’t speak;
who created languages
but God? Nor that He won’t;
to say that is to imply
malice. It is just that
He doesn’t, or does so at times
when we are not listening, in
ways we have yet to recognize
He gave power unto the sharp thorns to enter and most cruelly wound His divine and trembling head; He empowered the bonds and bitter cords to bind Him fast unto the pillar and ties His hands together; . . . He gave unto the hard nails power to pierce and enter His tender feet and the hands wherewith He had given light unto the blind and hearing unto the deaf; . . . He empowered the lofty cross that it should bear Him on high, . . . He caused the vinegar and hyssop to make bitter his mouth; He caused (oh, marvellous to hear!) the lance to enter and pierce through His divine side and heart.
Angela of Foligno: The Book of Divine Consolation.
Some interpreters of Genesis suggest that when man fell, he fell into the physical and visible universe that surrounded him and away from the intangible and invisible God. And it is not hard to see how this view might arise. Man is moved by what is nearest and closest to his senses, so the argument goes, and thus he was taken in by the creation. The beauty, comeliness, sheer grandeur, and novelty of creation (and himself for that matter!) elicited from him an obsessive passion and desire for knowledge. The colors, shapes, sizes, textures, dimensions, timing, spacing, and relations of all substances that filled nature literally possessed him. He fell victim to it all, and through knowledge, he was tempted to conquer, subjugate, and refashion it…for himself. Somehow a universe, full of interdependent and coinherent particulars, devoured him. He fell prey to an irresistible cosmos and knowledge was the only means for his survival in its grip.
Such would be an explanation that might lay the blame for man’s Fall on what is other than himself, in this case, nature. And the author of Genesis is only too aware of the natural tendency of man to blame his sin on something or someone else. Responsibility or accountability is not one of man’s stronger suits. And the origin or cause of sin is what Genesis is all about. Far from providing a scientific account of evolutionary being which only progressively hews out forms of goodness that meet the needs of an emerging human nature, Genesis describes man’s regressive descent from the knowledge of God's Goodness that rules all things to willful rejection of it in disobedience. The Good manifests itself in the creation and preservation of all things. Man’s appropriation of it should have come through submission to its rule and governance. And, thus, the Goodness that rules and governs nature, and reveals itself through it, cannot be the cause of man’s sin. The Divine wisdom, power, and, quite frankly, love that inform and define and then move and guide all things to the fruition of their appropriate ends or natures cannot be blamed for man's evil choice. There must a cause for evil or sin that is other than the Goodness that informs and defines the universe.
As we said last week, traditional commentary locates the cause of sin in spiritual desire. Another word for desire is will. The author accounts for the sin of the first man, Adam, in the spiritual realm of the soul. Sin originates as an idea or notion. The author of Genesis then pictures the idea externally and visibly. In form and matter its natures is best illustrated in a creature whose motions are slithery, subtle, and supple. Thus the serpent or snake. Man, here moved by his sensitive and vegetative soul–Woman, finds its obedience to God weakest in relation to his senses and the external world. In the snake she finds herself outside of herself with that potential flexibility that might enable her to wrap herself around the objects of her desire and emerge with impunity because she is pursuing an object that, under normal circumstances, is needful to human preservation. So the idea, at first heard as the Commandment of God, now becomes subject to her curious desire. A piece of fruit, she thinks, is such a small and insignificant thing. Surely it could not lead to any form of harm or suffering.
Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: or God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Gen. iii. 1-5)
The snake insinuates itself into situations with utter facility, and escapes with equal ease and impunity. She learns what a snake can do with a mouse; she might do the same with God’s law for her being. Eve's thoughts move from snake to herself and back again. What God allowed for a snake, he might permit for her in relation to his Word. Wouldn’t mice overrun the world were it not for snakes? Should God’s Word and Power be known through man’s interpretive appropriation of it? Was man not made in God’s image and likeness to be as God, knowing good and evil? (Genesis iii. v) Such were the prior thought and imagination that went to work within Eve prior to her decision to control and manage the Good for herself. Sin’s cause is intellectual and rational, and its symbol and sign is the forbidden fruit. Through it, the human soul separates and alienates itself from way to be ruled and governed by the Good of God.
Of course, Eve’s access to the rational truth is through Adam, the man. But she clearly has separated herself from his rational obedience to God and has chosen rather to be moved and determined by the serpent. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise….(Gen. iii. 6) The serpent works on the woman’s potential vulnerability to nature, the earth, appetite, feeling, emotion, and sensation. Her nature then overcomes the man’s rational will, and the serpent seduces them both. Notice how the serpent or Satan tempts through what is closest to man's natural need to satisfy earthly hunger, and divinizes it for the woman. Thus he corrupts man by seducing him into thinking that the objects of appetite and sensitive delight could never sever or divide him from God.
But the problem is not with eating fruit. The problem is with disobedience. The fruit is symbolic as what differentiates God's wisdom, power, and love from man's created potential. Of course, in the end, the serpent is right in that both Adam and Even come to know good and evil and cannot bear or endure the double knowledge! But this knowledge for man means death. What else could it mean? Only a world ruled only by God's Goodness can yield life. A world ruled and governed by God and no-God yields both life and death.
Cast out the bondwoman and her son; for the son of the
bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of Freewoman.
So brethren we are not children of the bond-woman,
but of the free.
(Galatians iv. 31)
The Epistles and Gospels for the Lenten season prepare us to receive the liberating power of Jesus Christ more fully as we approach Holy Week. In this time of the Church’s year, we are invited to follow Jesus more closely in our hearts and minds, as we discover our true desire and love- the desire and love with which God made us to love Him and one another. But we cannot discover our love for God and our neighbors until we first remember God’s love for us, as shown in the life of his Son. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 10) Or even more poignantly, We love Him, because He first loved us. (1 St. John iv. 19) What we struggle to see, ponder, even question, and perceive then in Lent is the eternal love of God in the heart of Jesus Christ which desires to carry us into death and beyond.
However, when we say into death most men’s minds go to the termination of their earthly physical natures. Their thoughts jump to that end. And, of course, Lent might be about that, but not for now. For now Jesus, the Love of God made flesh, desires to take us into a prior death. And if we do not endure this prior death, well, then at the other death, it will be too late. Why? Because long before our physical frames conk out, our spiritual natures must have died to this world and come alive to God. What we mean by the prior death is a spiritual death; this is a death that we choose and will here and now- a death to sin, death, Satan, or anything separating us from the knowledge and love of God. So Lent is all about spiritual death. At the end of this season we come to the Cross and the death of Jesus Christ. If we have been dying to ourselves as we approach that Hill of Calvary and the Cross of our Saviour, I think that we will discover the nature of his death. And in his death, I believe that we shall appreciate a death like none other ever known to human experience. If we have died to ourselves, we shall be invited into his death. And there, I pray, we shall begin to experience the presence of Divine Love at work reconciling us to God.
But back to our prior death. We are roughly three weeks out from Calavary, and as we journey deeper into our spiritual death, it is always necessary to behold, over and against us, the refreshing new life that will replace it. This is Refreshment Sunday or Laetare Sunday. The Latin comes to us from the ancient introit to the Mass, Laetare Jerusalem, O be joyful, Jerusalem. And St. Paul tells us this morning in his Epistle to the Galatians that Jerusalem which is above is free, and is the mother of us all. (Gal. iv. 26) Thus today is known also as Mothering Sunday. And we wear rose-colored vestments today, because in Medieval Europe the Popes used to send roses to the Monarchs of Europe in mid-Lent as a sign of the joy that Mother Church anticipates. Henry the VIII received three of them in his lifetime. I wonder if he gave them back when he broke with the Papal See! Laetare means rejoice, and on this Sunday we are reminded that we die to ourselves in order that we might rise, lift up our voices, rejoice and praise God as we approach Easter. Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her: rejoice with joy for her, all ye that mourn for her: That ye may suck and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations; that ye may milk out, and be delighted with the abundance of her glory. Thus saith the Lord: As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you: and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah lxvi. 10-13)
So today as we die to ourselves, we begin to open to our Alma Mater, our Nourishing Mother. Jerusalem which is above is free, the mother of us all, and she ministers to us here through Mother Church. Mother Church then cares for us, teaches and admonishes us, feeds us on God’s Word and Sacraments, as she leads us out of our death and into birth. Ye must be born again, said Jesus to Nicodemus. And he did not mean that a man should enter into his mother’s womb and be born again that way. Jesus says that unless a man be born of water and the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born again. (St. John iii. 5-7) This birth that Jesus Christ brings to us through Mother Church is the new beginning of our lives in the Kingdom of Heaven. This birth is made possible from above, as the free Holy Spirit of God generates new life within the womb of Mother Church, and so in your soul and mine. Beloved, now are we the sons of God. (1 John iii. 2) Jesus says, Behold, I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5)
By receiving the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, Mother Church desires to bring us out of death and into birth or new life. But the problem is that we are tempted to remain as children of the bondwoman…born after the flesh…and in bondage. (Gal. iv. 23,25) It seems that we so easily fall back into bondage, under the elements of the world. (Gal. iv. 3) doing service unto them which by nature are no gods (Gal. iv. 8). Think about it. How often have we used our Christian beliefs to justify an obsession with perishable and impermanent treasures and ideas. Supposed Christians pay lip service to the Gospel Truth and yet inwardly and spiritually are more accurately children of the bondwoman…born of the flesh, who persecute those born after the Spirit (Gal. iv. 29). The problem is not with the world but with Christians who are too alive to it, and not dead to themselves and being born again from above.
The world will never know that freedom and love that God offers to us from above, if we who are below, in the Church, are not receiving and revealing it! This problem is not new. St. Paul rebukes the Galatian Church in his own day for the same insouciance and indifference, and he rebukes us today. My little children, I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you…(Gal. iv. 19) cries St. Paul to his flock. My brothers and sisters, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1 St. John iii. 18) says St. James.
And so as we die to ourselves we acknowledge and offer up our weaknesses, temptations and the sins that so easily beset us. We admit that we are not where we should be spiritually. We claim and confess that our Christian language is halting, its expression in our lives too often confused and confusing, its place and role uncertain and insecure. We repent of this over and over again as we struggle to die to ourselves and come alive to Jesus Christ. Mother Church nourishes and cares for us in this process of transformation. She gives us faith, God’s unearned gift, from the lips of Jesus Christ, who says, fear not, only believe. (Luke viii. 50) She gives us hope, For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. (2 Cor. iv. 16) She gives us love. For I am persuaded, says St. Paul, that neither life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor power, nor things present nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. Viii. 38,39) Mother Church has the Divine Gifts which shall overcome death with new life, sin with righteousness, alienation with reconciliation, bondage with freedom. All of these things she offers to us from the Holy Bridegroom and her spouse- Jesus Christ.
This Sunday- Laetare Sunday, Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday, prepares us to receive more of the love that God will show us as we enter Passiontide. Holy Mother Church nourishes and strengthens us as we die to the world, the flesh and the devil, and undergo new birth. Holy Mother Church promises to fill us with the bread of heaven- like the miraculous loaves and fishes in this morning’s Gospel reading, with nothing less than the love of God, in Jesus Christ, who will offer himself completely to us and for us as we ascend to Jerusalem, and the hill of Calvary. For thus saith the Lord; As one whom his mother comforteth, so will I comfort you, and ye shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Is. lxvi. 13) Amen.
IT is BY THE PASSION OF CHRIST THAT WE HAVE
BEEN FREED FROM THE PUNISHMENT DUE TO SlN
Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our
sorrows. Isaias liii. 4.
Christ Jesus wants to take us into himself and bear our infirmities, weaknesses, wounds, hurts, pains, temptations, and all struggles of the body, soul, and spirit. Christ wants to realign our minds and hearts with our Heavenly Father’s will for us. And thus we must offer to Him the whole of our being. The whole of our being is not our Sunday best; it is each one of us at his worst. We must come to the Cross of Jesus that our temptation not to forgive and not to be forgiven and whatever generates the will to both be crucified in Him. The Crucifixion is not past history as some Christians conveniently conjecture. The Crucifixion is now since you and I are members of the Body of Christ. Christ is our Head and His Body continues to suffer crucifixion to sin on earth. ‘The disciple is not above his master; but everyone that is perfect shall be as his master.’ (St. Luke vi. 40) Let us enter into the life of the Crucified One that He may bring us into His death. Let us enter into the death of the Crucified One that we may begin to rise into the new life that He makes, beginning only with His Calvary.
By the Passion of Christ we are freed from the liability to be punished for sin with the punishment that sin calls for, in two ways, directly and indirectly. We are freed directly inasmuch as the Passion of Christ made sufficient and more than sufficient satisfaction for the sins of the whole human race. Now once sufficient satisfaction has been made, the liability to the punishment mentioned is destroyed.
Christ died once for all for the sins of the whole world. First He brings our old human nature to Death. He pays the price for sin. He frees us from the punishment that human nature deserves in its collective sin against God through disobedience and idolatry. He has made sufficient satisfaction for all sin in all time. He has become the price that sin must pay, in His one oblation of Himself once offered, as the only full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world. So in Him human nature takes on sin, takes in sin, and thus destroys it through a heart perfectly united to the Father’s will and thus in whom and for whom sin and death will die. ‘Therefore He said…A body thou hast prepared for me.’ (Hebr. X. 15) The new body of human nature is dead to the world, the flesh, the devil, and itself. The new body of human nature is alive to the Father. In Him, sin, death, and Satan are dead. Will we enter into this Death that is new life? Will we experience the power of this Death that grinds to powder all that threatens to trample down the plantation of God’s Grace in our souls? Will we allow this Death to drive away the birds of prey that would devour His sacrifice in us? Will we become enter into this Death that we may participate in the new body of human nature that Jesus is forever making?
We are freed indirectly inasmuch as the Passion of Christ causes the sin to be remitted, and it is from the sin that the liability to the punishment mentioned derives. Souls in hell, however, are not freed by the Passion of Christ, because the Passion of Christ shares its effect with those to whom it is applied by faith and by charity and by the sacraments of faith. Therefore the souls in hell, who are not linked up with the Passion of Christ in the way just
mentioned, cannot receive its effects.
Will we go to Hell or come into the Death that leads to everlasting life. Christ’s Sacrificial Death frees us ‘indirectly’ because for the remission of our sins to be perfected, we must embrace repentance, sorrow, contrition, and satisfaction. We cannot enter the Death of the new body of human nature unless we turn from all idolatry and idiolatry. We cannot pay the price for our sins. But we can see them, know them, name and claim them, and then release them into the Body of Christ’s death. For the Crucified One to make His Death effectual for us, we must desire to enter into His death. We are not the puppets or tools of a cruel and unpredictable God. We have the minds to see the Dying Jesus and to seeing our dying selves. If we would cleave to the one and reject the other, we must freely will or choose to become living members of the Body of Christ. Thus upon entering this Body, we shall die as Christ begins to come alive. Thus His Holy Spirit brings us into Crucifixion. Those in Hell have not desired to be members of this Body because they have not believed and hoped in God’s saving charity and love. But we need not wonder who they are. It is none of our business. Our business is to be freed from sin by paying attention to our own. We must confess and repent in order that the Christ’s Death may become our own. We must leave no stone unturned in the examination of our past sinful lives. We must confess that we have hurt not only ourselves but many others. We must confess that we are ‘chief, the chiefest, the greatest of sinners’. We must ask Christ to make some small place or space for us, underneath the feet of His elect, to do some menial but useful chore in the Body of His Death.
Now although we are freed from liability to the precise penalty that sin deserves, there is, nevertheless, enjoined on the repentant sinner a penalty or penance of satisfaction. For in order that the effect of the Passion of Christ be fully worked out in us, it is necessary for us to be made of like form with Christ. Now we are made of like form with Christ in baptism by the sacrament, as is said by St. Paul, We are buried together with him by baptism
into death (Rom. vi. 4). Whence it is that no penalty of satisfaction is imposed on those who are baptised. Through the satisfaction made by Christ they are wholly set free. But since Christ died once for our sins (i Pet. iii. 18), once only, man cannot a second time be made of like form with the death of Christ through the sacrament of baptism. Therefore those who, after baptism, sin again, must be made like to Christ in his suffering, through some kind of penalty or suffering which they endure in their own persons.
Practically speaking the aforementioned reconciliation with God through the Death of Christ must be embraced externally and visibly in the new body of human nature, which is the Church. So in Holy Baptism our Original Sin is eradicated. We are regenerated and born again and anew from above by the Holy Spirit of God the Father and God the Son. Truly we become members of the Body of Christ Crucified. We must be incorporated into the Body of Christ through Sacraments since we are not meant to be men of fear who come to Jesus under the covering of night, like Nicodemus. We must ‘not hide our candles under a bushel’ (St. Luke xi. 33) but let them shine into the world ‘that they who come us may see the light’, And so we should ‘not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner, against sin, the world, and the devil; and to continue Christ’s faithful soldiers and servants unto [our] life’s end.’ (BCP 1928, p.280) But our new birth into the new body of human nature must be protected and defended so that we can grow up and into adulthood as mature members of the same body. If we sin, we must endure the punishment for our sins and suffer the correction and discipline that our spiritual elders and mentors lay upon us for the riddance of vice and the generation of virtue. If we are not punished for our sins, we cannot be made better. We must feel the shame, guilt, and horror that accompany their arrival and presence in our lives. We must feel the shame, guilt, and horror of having chosen to embrace them while claiming to have been born again and from above through Baptism. And so we must endure the punishment necessary for their eradication and annihilation in our lives. Punishment and suffering enable us to be more reliable and ready members of the new body of human nature. Punishment and suffering enable us to desire the therapeutic motions of the Holy Spirit which incorporate us into the Death of Jesus Christ. ‘Speak death to my sins’ we plea. And He does if we are resolute and determined.
St. Augustine insists upon finding the internal and invisible cause of sin since it is always a consequence of reason and free will. Man turns from God and looks at himself, imagines independence from his Maker, and chooses to tempt fate in eating the forbidden fruit. Much later in Scripture Christ Jesus reminds us that those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. (St. Matthew xv. 18) Evil emerges then from the soul or spirit that is within a man. Thus, with our primal progenitors an internal and invisible sin preceded and caused its outward manifestation. By the time that Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they were already moved and defined by sin. Their freedom of choice is not thwarted by God. He knows that in the moment that they eat of the fruit they shall surely die.
So what was that original, spiritual sin that overtook and redefined man in the Garden of Eden? Proverbs teaches us that before destruction the heart of man is haughty. (Prov. xviii. 12) St. Augustine teaches us that the fall that happens in secret inevitably precedes the fall that occurs in broad daylight. (DCD xiv. 13) And most commentators agree that this was the sin of pride. Pride here is synonymous with hubris or arrogance. It is negative and destructive, and denotes that swelling or inflation of self-importance that longs to lord it over everyone and everything. St. Thomas Aquinas tells us that it is an inordinate desire to excel or surpass. (S.T. i. ii. 84. 2) Pride is thus unmeasured and immoderate passion for the attainment of the self’s good. It is self-love that is no longer measured and moved by love of the Good. As the self swells, the pursuit of the Good is converted into the passion for my good. Man forfeits his subjection to God and raises himself above that which is appointed to him according to the Divine rule or measure, against the saying of the Apostle "But we will not glory beyond our measure; but according to the measure of the rule which God hath measured to us." (2 Cor. x. 13) Wherefore it is written (Sirach x. 14): "The beginning of the pride of man is to fall off from God" because, to wit, the root of pride is found to consist in man not being, in some way, subject to God and His rule. (ST ii. ii. 162. 5) Pride is contempt for and aversion to the Divine governance of man’s nature. Through it man decides to become the molder and fashioner of his own good or end, refusing to acquiesce in God’s will for his nature.
So man becomes a sophist. A sophist is one for whom truth is relative –i.e. truth is what is useful for and productive of happiness for the individual. The end is individual happiness or contentment; the means is whatever thought, word, or work ensures its acquisition. The happiness of this character-state depends wholly upon treating everyone and every thing as useful tools in the acquisition of selfish ends. Pride engenders the delusional belief that the self can exist apart from all and subject to none. It convinces a man that he is free, independent, and unaccountable. In its most extreme form, it excludes friendship with both God and man.
As it is pictured in Genesis, it does, however, reveal its own weakness. Eve might have thought that she could eat of the forbidden fruit without harm and in isolation from God and even her husband. But something within moved her to share it with Adam. Maybe that something was the inherent and natural truth that man cannot help but relate to and depend upon others. Perhaps pride, after all, is not as strong and self-reliant as it thinks itself to be. Perhaps even this primal and mortal sin reveals man’s need for the other, and thus for a principle beyond his own fragile nature. As perverse as this may sound, even the blame-game that follows the discovery of sin reveals a need for others to bear its burden and censure. Pride is at first concealed. But with the forfeiture of Divine co-inherence, human nature is so psychologically fragile and weak that it needs a false god in the other to justify and excuse its choice.
Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.
(St. Luke xi. 28)
The point of our journey up to Jerusalem in this holy season of Lent is not only to see and behold with spiritual eyes the love of the Word [that] was made flesh and dwelt among us (St. John i. 14), but also to hear the same Word. So we go to Jerusalem to hear what the Word of God in the flesh has to say to spiritual sickness and disorder and then also to spiritual hardness of heart, obduracy, and ill will. What Jesus says or does not say is all-important for a true understanding of the salvation into which He is drawing all who will desire it. For when the ears of sinful men are opened to the Word of God, not only can they learn of His will but also they can experience the power of His love. So the Word of God in the flesh is not only educational but spiritually salubrious, sanctifying, and salvific.
So our theme for this Sunday is spiritual hearing. Our understanding of it is found in this morning’s Miracle of the Dumb or Mute Man. Prior to the reading of this passage from St. Luke 's Gospel, the Apostles had been hearing Jesus’ discourse on petitioning God the Father in prayer. Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. (St. Luke xi. 9,10) Jesus reinforces the Father 's desire to respond to their asking by reminding them that, If [they], being evil, know how to give good gifts unto [their] children: how much more shall [the] heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him? (Ibid, 13) And then on the heels of this, Jesus comes upon a dumb or mutant man. Here is a man, He shows His disciples, who can neither hear, nor speak, nor ask. The dumb cannot speak in any rationally coherent way but can only laugh, scream, yell, and groan. If he had been suffering from this physical disability alone, his chief handicap would have been that physical deafness which prevents a man from uniting rationally with the world around him through speech.
But what we find is that there is a more insidious reason or cause for this man’s inability to hear and to speak. He was possessed of a demon. Jesus was casting out a demon and it was dumb. (Ibid, 14) The real sickness that afflicted the deaf and dumb man was demonic possession. Had this not been the case, Jesus might only have performed a bodily miracle. But this man’s sickness was psychic and spiritual. And so Jesus expels the demon. He does this, no doubt, to teach His Apostles and us something about the nature of that evil which threatens both to possess and to overcome any man in this life. And so He will never treat the symptoms of spiritual disease and sickness alone, but will rather attack and overcome the source and origin of the evil. This man can neither hear nor speak because the devil has possessed and sickened him. The devil divides men from God and men from other men. His spiritual aims are as present to our world as to that of the New Testament. And thus what we must desire from Jesus is that Divine power which alone can overcome and banish those demons, which threaten to rule and govern our spiritual lives and dissuade us from union and communion with God. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake.(Ibid, 14)
But asking for and receiving the healing of one demon is never enough. We read that when the deaf mutant was healed, He spake. (Idem) And yet what did he say? Nothing. No sooner has one demon been banished from the life of the healed man who desires to speak –to thank Jesus and to ask questions about how he should now live the new life that had been given to him, than other demons worse than the first threaten to interrupt and destroy his healing. Where are they, you might ask? They are in the hearts and souls of those who attack Jesus and His miracle of mercy. But unlike the demon that possessed the deaf and mute man, these demons are concealed. They are so hidden to the souls of the malevolent attackers that these adversaries of Jesus don’t even know what they are saying. The demons have so effectively inured and acclimated them to sin that they don 't recognize that they too are possessed! These men believe that they are religiously related to the world around them through their piety and good works, and yet while they might lead moral and upright lives, they have become the unwitting enemies of God and His goodness.
So once Jesus has healed the demon-possessed deaf and dumb, the people wondered. But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. (Ibid, 14-16) See how far wickedness has advanced in the lives of these men! Jesus responds to them: Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? (Ibid, 17,18) Jesus makes it clear that the devil has no desire to overcome and banish himself. He wishes rather to secure man’s division from God and from all other men. So, on all levels, the devil is determined to bring men to despair of all spiritual healing, sanctification, and salvation. Because he is divided from the goodness of God he hates all those who find union with it.
Jesus continues. If I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. (Ibid, 19, 20) Romano Guardini tells us that Jesus replies: Don’t you see how I war against Satan? How can you say that he works through me, which is the same as saying that we join forces to found one kingdom? (The Lord, Regnery, p. 119) Those who attack God’s healing power are Satan’s demonic friends who frantically attempt to set up a kingdom of appearances and disorder. (Ibid, 117) These men have blashphemed against the Holy Ghost [by turning] against the heart of God; Jesus is saturated with the essence of God. To accuse Him of working through the power of Satan, is to touch the absolute in ill will. (The Lord, Regnery, 120) These men are possessed by ill will and the mortal sin of envy. The spiritual goodness, health, and healing that Jesus brings into the world elicit nothing but malevolence, jealousy, and a burning hatred from their hearts. Jesus proclaims that He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth. (Ibid, 23) Christ Jesus has come to scatter, confuse, confound, and destroy Satan’s Kingdom, which may not be divided against itself, but will be divided and conquered assuredly by this One who is possessed by God.
The deaf and mute who is now able to speak is silent and wholly possessed by Jesus’ rebuttal of Satan and his friends, learning what He must do to be truly healed not only for a season but for the whole of his life. Jesus continues: When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. (Ibid, 24-26) The man learns from Jesus that most religious people take pride in their own moral victories over demons. Because they have not been overcome by God's Strong Man and deprived on the armour [of their own good works] in which they trusted, their souls are in danger of greater demonic possession. St. Cyril says this of Jesus accusers and all who will not be overcome habitually by God's Strong Man, Jesus Christ: The devil finds their hearts empty, and void of all concern for the things of God, and wholly taken up with the flesh, and so he takes up his abode in theme. And in this way it comes to pass that [their] last state is worse than the first. And so, the dog has returned to its own vomit, and the sow that has washed to her wallowing in the mire. (Cyril: PG 72, col. 699.)
This morning St. Paul gives us a recipe for blessing that comes through true and lasting healing. It blends with Jesus’ final words in today 's Gospel: Yea, rather, Blessed are they that hear the Word of God and keep it. (Ibid, 28) St. Paul tells us that we must walk in love, as Christ hath loved us, and given Himself for us. (Eph. v. 2) The love of God in Jesus Christ alone will heal us of all our demons. But that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith (Eph. iii. 17), we must flee debauchery, impurity of every kind, and covetousness...[and] filthiness, foolish talking, [and] jesting. (Ibid, 3,4) We must not be deceived with the vain words of the quacks and charlatans who these days pass for authorities on anything. We should have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them; for it is a shame even to speak of those things which [these days] men are doing in secret. (Ibid, 12) And, as Calvin says, Let us [never] then suppose that the devil has been vanquished by a single combat, because he has once gone out of us. On the contrary, let us remember that, as his lodgment within us was of old standing…he has knowledge and experience of all the approaches by which he may reach us; and that, if there be no open and direct entrance, he has dexterity enough to creep in by small holes or winding crevices. (Calvin’s Comm’s; Vol. xvii)
So today let us hear the Word of God in Jesus Christ who comes to identify and overcome all our demons. For, The Word of God is disillusioning; it penetrates and unmasks our fantasies and lies; puts the finger on our devils; it shatters our illusions. (Par. Serm) Then we shall remember that we were sometimes darkness, but now are…light in the Lord. So let us walk as children of light (Eph, 8) because we know that the Kingdom of God is come upon us. (Luke, 20)
When St. Augustine describes Adam’s Fall he reminds us that Adam surrendered his desire to obey God’s Word exclusively. Nevertheless, Adam did not lose all being, but when he had turned towards himself his being was less real than when he adhered to Him who exists in a supreme degree. (D.C.D. xiv. 13) Turning away from God, then, does not mean losing all life or existence, but means choosing existence in and through the self, which is closer to nothingness –the ex nihilo or out of nothing, than to God’s pure being. God alone made man a something, and the something that remains after the Fall is the effect of a choice to refuse the life that God alone gives. The result is, as we all know, death, for perpetual life for man was contingent upon obedience to God.
Augustine tells us also that man is tempted by the serpent or Satan to sin only after man had already started to please himself. (D.C.D. xiv. 13) Man had turned away from God and was beginning to enjoy his independence. That independence, according to Augustine, establishes a character that is then susceptible to Satan’s suggestions. For man the absence of goodness as pure potency was meant to be actualized as something good, new to him as meaningful being only in reference and service to the Creator. All created substances are made to be returned to God through the articulation that man’s mind gives to them. Man is a viator or traveler; through his mind knowledge and understanding are generated to travel back to God. What he learns and knows inwardly and spiritually and then appropriates and uses externally and visibly are derived in complete dependence upon God’s being and knowing.
When the good is circumscribed to serve the selfish interests of man, what rules and governs him is a limited form of the good whose perfection never transcends time and space because the vision or understanding of its meaning is distorted and incomplete. The serpent proclaims: Ye shall be as gods. Man is flattered and puffed up with the thought of an enhanced independence. And yet he forgets that to be created gods will be of inferior quality to what he has forsaken –participation in the Uncreated Goodness of God. Augustine tells us that by aiming at more, man is diminished, when he elects to be self-sufficient and defects from the one who is really sufficient for him. (Idem) Adam wants more than life with and through his Maker. Adam chooses to go at it on his own. So he has fallen into a world of goodness and its absence, or of good and evil. This means that his body, soul, and spirit are now subject to a reality that can be seen, known, and experienced both within God and without God. And because he has isolated his self-interest from God’s will, man has discovered a potentiality for his individuality apart from its vocation and calling within Creation. So too has he discovered the potential idolatry of all other things. Now all things can be known and experienced as isolated gods apart from their respective roles in a perfectly functioning well-ordered whole.
Then the eyes of both were opened and they perceived that they were naked. (Gen. iii. 7) To be naked was nothing of any substance prior to the Fall. To be naked after the Fall is a feeling and sensation of self-conscious isolation from all else and all others. The sin is internal and invisible but elicits a sudden shame as the self-consciously isolated self senses that the whole of the outward and visible world must be staring at it! Man desired to see what was forbidden, and as a result he could not withstand the vision and experience of a multiplicity of lesser gods now only too willing to accentuate and possess his new-found individuality. The inner self was deprived of that clothing of holiness and righteousness and so was deserted by the Grace which it had offended by pride and arrogant love of its own independence. Casting their eyes upon their bodies, man –the male and the female, they felt a movement of concupiscence which they had not known.(D.G.A.L. xi. 31)
For human independence man pays a high price. Death is a logical consequence of life without God’s sole rule and governance. Death is embraced in the moment of disobedience. Thereafter human life becomes a journey into death. But man’s shame reveals a residual attachment to the forsaken good. God never ceases to be God and so will respond to man’s acknowledgment of his own sin. The way of reconciliation and return will be arduous and demanding. But God’s plan and purpose for man remain the same. The difference lies in the human appropriation of it. That will take a redemption and sanctification of human nature that is beyond man’s power. But God will respond in due time with a recipe of reconciliation that reveals a love that far surpasses all sin and will bring good out of evil.
When St. Augustine describes the Fall of Man, he reminds us that the eating of the forbidden fruit is an outward and visible effect of an inward and spiritual cause that preceded it. Nothing in creation compels a man to sin necessarily. The sin germinates and grows in the mind and then the heart before manifesting itself externally and visibly. So the first sin is committed inwardly and invisibly. The sin is pride. Augustine tells us that our first parents fell into disobedience because already they were secretly corrupted; for the evil act would never have been done had not an evil will preceded it. And what is the origin of our evil will but pride? For 'pride is the beginning of sin' [Ecclus. x. 13) And what is pride but the craving for undue exaltation? And this is undue exaltation, when the soul abandons Him to whom it ought to cleave as its end, and becomes a kind of end to itself. This happens when it becomes it own satisfaction...This falling away is spontaneous; for if the will had remained steadfast in the love of that higher and changeless good by which it was illumined to intelligence and kindled into love, it would not have turned away to find satisfaction in itself...The wicked deed...the transgression of eating the forbidden fruit was committed by persons who were already wicked. (DCD, xiv. 13) And let us not be mistaken; Augustine is not saying that man is created evil or predisposed to it by reason of his nature. Man, like all other creatures, is made good to serve the Good. But he turns away from it inwardly and spiritually by an act of will. And so Augustine wants to know what caused Adam to turn away from the Good?(Idem)
Augustine suggests that man's turning away from God might have something to do with the fact that he was made out of nothing. The problem is that when man turns toward himself and away from God he turns towards the nothingness. Man's being has meaning and definition only in relation to God's creative goodness. So when he turns from God, he becomes less real. His being is now seen apart from God's munificence. Of course, man does not lose his being entirely in turning away from God. But he does come closer to nothingness. He still exists and so has being. But his being is now divorced from its root and source. The Divine creative intentionality for his being is challenged. Its meaning and purpose are now explored and discovered in the absence of God's goodness -i.e. without the Divine wisdom, love, and power that made him to be something. And thus man has disobediently forsaken his origin and end through pride, and instead of rising has fallen because he has imagined his potentiality apart from God. Humility exalts the mind, and self-exaltation abases it. (Idem)
So it would seem that Adam or Man was bent on making something out of nothing without recourse to the Divine illumination and wisdom. Perhaps it would be better to say that Man intended to make something new out of nothing. Now, of course, everything that man could discover from creation would indeed be new to him if he had remained faithful and obedient to God. His innate desire to discover the truth of the universe and God from the creation is not evil at all. The problem was that he wanted to go at it on his own and without God's guidance. He wanted to be original, when, as we all know, He couldn't! You can't be original unless you are the Origin. Everything that man is made to learn and understand is already existing as perfectly present to the mind of God. To be sure, that it is waiting to be discovered and given articulation and usefulness is excitingly attractive. But man was made to see both the ability to discover and what is discovered as gifts of God's Grace to be embraced and cherished as part of nature that could share in God's knowledge of and desire for them.
As we all know, man has been busy making something new out of nothing for centuries. He has judged himself to be the final arbiter and judge of what is good and what is evil, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is not, and so on...ad nauseam. And so where does that leave him? Well, as we can all see rather clearly, in Hell. Hell is alive and well to the minds and hearts of those who no longer feel after God to find Him. Hell is the attempt to live without God. What defines the lives of most men in this post-modern age? Another word for Hell? Nothingness. Man is moved and defined by nothing. Nothing bothers or irritates, or even excites and inspires him. Nothing is the matter, because Nothing matters. And despite the protestations of those who try to make something matter, there is clearly nothing that binds men together these days except for an absence of Goodness, an absence of Truth, and an absence of Beauty. Should anyone try to assert the primacy of absolute truth, beauty, or goodness in the post-modern jungle that man indwells, he is judged to be bigoted, prejudiced, and closed. But what is so funny about it all, at the end of the day, is that it is only through the Judaeo-Christian understanding of reality that the freedom to choose nothing is thinkable. Nevertheless, Jews and Christians alike have been busy denying the God who has given them the freedom to reject Him for quite some time....opting for nothing.
It will interesting to see in the coming years to see just how much of this nothingness will last. Nothing comes from nothing. The logical effect of it all might be mass-suicide, though even post-modern lobotomized lunatics still draw the line at selfish self-preservation. So what then? Anarchy. And what after that? Well, temporally perhaps, and eternally for certain, Something that the worshipers of nothingness will experience as far, far worse than obedience to the God who alone can make something true, beautiful, and good out of nothing.
THAT THE PASSION OF CHRIST BROUGHT ABOUT ITS EFFECT BECAUSE IT WAS A SACRIFICE
A sacrifice properly so called is something done to render God the honour specially due to Him, in order to appease Him. St. Augustine teaches this, saying, Every work done in order that we may, in a holy union, cleave to God is a true sacrifice, every work, that is to say, related to that final good whose possession alone can make us truly happy. Christ in the Passion offered Himself for us, and it was just this circumstance that He offered Himself willingly which was to God the most precious thing of all, since the willingness came from the greatest possible love. Whence it is evident that the Passion of Christ was a real sacrifice.
Human life is intended to relate to God via or by way of sacrifice. The sacrifice of the self is necessary so that God might rule and govern human life. Self-sacrifice is the fruit of obedience and humility. Without the self’s sacrifice a man can never be moved rightly by the wisdom, love, and power of God. But this sacrifice is impossible for man perfectly without the Grace of God in Jesus Christ. So a man must pray that he might be incorporated into the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s living Body. In His Passion, Christ perfectly sacrificed and surrendered His human nature to the purposes of God’s will. He did so not out of onerous compulsion or bounden duty. He freely willed to give His life to God and to all men. He gladly chose to offer that sacrifice which alone could become the pattern and form of the new life that He desired to make in those who would follow Him back to the Kingdom of the Father. Christ Jesus sacrificed Himself for us because He loves the Father perfectly and He loves us perfectly. And so He desires to come alive in us that through His Holy Spirit His Passion might endure and persist until the end of the ages as what alone enables us to be sanctified and saved.
And, as He himself adds later, the former sacrifices of the saints were so many signs, of different kinds, of this one true sacrifice. This one thing was signified through many things, as one thing is said through many words, so that it may be repeated often without beginning to weary people. St. Augustine speaks of four things being found in every sacrifice, namely a person to whom the offering is made, one by whom it is made, the thing offered and those on whose behalf it is offered. These are all found in the Passion of Our Lord. It is the same person, the only, true mediator Himself, who through the sacrifice of peace reconciles us to God, yet remains one with Him to whom He offers, who makes one with Him those for whom He offers, and is Himself one who both offers and is offered.
Old Testament sacrifices made by the Saints were signs and types pointing to the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ. They are ‘on the way’ to Calvary. They are kinds of sacrifice that desire the full and complete effect of Atonement. Atonement is restitution or satisfaction made for the sinful human condition. Atonement makes man one with God again, mends the breach, and reconciles sinful man to God. Perfect Atonement comes only through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ offers to the Father His whole being on behalf of all men. What He sacrifices is any right to self-determination and self-rule. What He sacrifices is a self that might exist apart from God through self-knowledge and self-love. Thus He sacrifices His being, knowing, and loving to God. He becomes at once the offerer of the Sacrifice and the Sacrifice offered. He is both the priest and victim in the offering. He is the Giver and the Gift. He is both the love of God for man and the love of man for God perfectly united in one offering and sacrifice. He provides Himself as the Victim in order to swallow up the Sacrifice’s death into new life.
It is true that in those sacrifices of the old law which were types of Christ, human flesh was never offered, but it does not follow from this that the Passion of Christ was not a sacrifice. For although the reality and the thing that typifies it must coincide in one point, it is not necessary that they coincide in every point, for the reality must go beyond the thing that typifies it. It was then very fitting that the sacrifice in which the flesh of Christ is offered for us was typified by a sacrifice not of the flesh of man but of other animals, to foreshadow the flesh of Christ which is the most perfect sacrifice of all.
Old Testament sacrifices rightly used animals and not men to point to a perfection that they could not effect or actualize. As holy as God might have made the Old Testament Saints, their sacrifices could never fully reach the level of perfection found in the self-oblation of Jesus Christ the God-Man. And the same might be said for the Saints who live after the salvific events of Christ’s historical atonement. As men, the Saints can never sacrifice as Christ has done. Christ is the true Sacrifice. He is the reality of Sacrifice. He is the Sacrifice of God for Man and Man for God. This is why it is essential that the Saints see that their Sacrifice comes only through the all-atoning offering of Jesus Christ. So the Saints must pray that they might ‘become very members incorporate in the Mystical Body of Christ’. In so doing, they pray that the Grace of Christ’s Holy Spirit might bring Christ alive in them that they through Him might die to the world, the flesh, and the devil and thus come alive to God the Father. His Sacrifice then becomes theirs as they partake of His power to continue the good work that He has begun in His Passion and Death. His Sacrificial Death becomes their own, as they become His own, and they become members of His suffering and dying Body.
Because since it is the flesh of human nature that is offered, it is a thing fittingly offered for men and fittingly received by men in a Sacrament.
It is ‘human flesh’ or ‘human nature’ that is sacrificed for all men in Christ’s ‘one oblation of Himself once offered.’ The whole of ‘human nature’ is brought to death in Christ’s death. In that death the old and fallen nature dies and a new and spiritual nature is being made alive. Fallen Human nature is what must die. But Christ alone can carry sin, death, and Satan to their proper ends and into death because they are nothing to Him and thus He alone has power to do so. Christ then invites us into His all sufficient-Sacrifice by offering us His Body and Blood in the most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. In this Sacrament His Sacrifice is given to us that we also may then ‘offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, as a living sacrifice' to God.
Because, since the flesh of Christ was able to suffer and to die it was suitable for immolation.
Christ Jesus was truly man and so he identified perfectly with the human condition. Thus because He possessed two natures in His one Person, He could carry our flesh through to its natural end and by Grace transform and redeem its end into the spiritual beginning of the new life. Suffering and death become essential to the human nature and character that would be saved. Suffering and death become necessary habitual moments of conversion and sanctification in the salvation journey.
Because since that flesh was itself without sin, it had a power to cleanse from sin.
Because He did not commit any sin, Christ alone has the power in and through the flesh to cleanse it from all sin and uncleanness. In and to His flesh sin is dead, nothing, and thus meaningless and powerless. Thus Human Nature is on its way back to God through Jesus Christ. In and through the flesh He is the new Adam or the new Man whose progeny can come alive to God once again as His power rules and governs a new human nature and a new body of humanity. By way of choice and free will a man may say ‘Yes’ to God through Christ, and thus become part of the Body of Human Sacrifice to God.
Because being the flesh of the very offerer, it was acceptable to God by reason of the unspeakable love of the one who was offering his own flesh.
God gladly accepted Christ’s sacrifice because he offered himself completely back to the Father. He offered His whole Person back to the Father in loving obedience and with a desire that His sacrifice might open the door of Heaven to men once again through His faithful and pure flesh. He prays that others will come to the Father through His flesh. ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. (St. John vi. 53-57)
Whence St. Augustine says, " What is there more suitably received by men, of offerings made on their behalf, than human flesh, and what is so suitable for immolation as mortal flesh ? And what is so clean for cleansing mortal viciousness as that flesh born, without stain of carnal desire, in the womb and of the womb of a virgin ? And what can be so graciously offered and received as the flesh of our sacrifice, the body so produced of our priest ?"
To suffer and die innocently, in and through all purity of intention, resolution, determination, and desire, is to die truly to the Lord. The self is dead to the judgment of the world, the flesh, and the devil. The self offers itself on behalf of others who, for the moment, envy and hate Him, reject, deny, betray, and abandon Him, and kill and crucify Him. And yet still He loves God so perfectly and men so earnestly that He will love them both to the point that He himself must die to their sin and come alive to God’s future for them. This He does, that through His death they might find life, light, and love. Through His death, when they awaken to perceive His love, they shall find new life through Him. Through Him they shall find the new life that loves God and all men always. Thus they will become members of that suffering and dying Body that alone can rise, ascend, and step into the Glory of the Father’s embrace.`
Diogenes Laertius (3rd century Greek historian) tells us that Aristotle, in answer to the question What is a friend? answered, A single soul dwelling in two bodies. And such would be the conclusion that the great Greek philosopher would make according to his principle that friends share an identity, a being or essence if you will. They share a common vision, and through a common desire they long to apply it to their lives. The known truth is for Aristotle, of course, that wisdom that can be gleaned from contemplation of the divine and applied to human life. So friends who exchange good will of the highest form, embrace what they see in God with each other. Each wills the good of those they love objectively but also derives pleasure when friends experience the same goodness. What is desired is for goodness to abound. And in loving their friends, they love their own good, for the good man in becoming dear to another becomes that other’s good. (NE 1157 b 33,34) What then is exchanged in good will is a known, desired, and imparted goodness, which for Aristotle always means an imitation of divine life.
Of course, in all of his studies, Aristotle discovers much about the nature and essence of God- whom he calls the First Cause, the Unmoved-Mover, Self-Thinking Thought, and so on. And he is always at pains to translate what is known about God into practical wisdom for life in the earthly state. But what seems frustrating to him- and no doubt to any man seeking God through human reason alone, is the distance and difference that exists between God and man. For while human reason can come to know much about God, and can indeed be moved by what he knows, there is a limit to the relationship between God and man. And this is where friendship comes in.
Aristotle could not imagine that friendship with God was possible. Why would he? God is vastly superior to man in every way. And true friendship, following the lines and lineaments of human reason, exists between equals, who share, again, a common nature and vision. God is infinite, perfect, unchangeable, eternal, almighty, and impassible. As such, the best that Aristotle could say about God’s love, it that he loves by being loved. He is rather like a magnet. In so far as He loves, He does so simply by being Himself, and that means by being radically unlike the man who contemplates His being. God is superior, and man is inferior. Any rational relationship in friendship between God and man is, truly, unthinkable to Aristotle. The life of the gods is too high for man, he writes. The best that man could achieve is imitation of the divine through the appropriation of virtue in the city of man or the human community. The best that human reason can produce is friendship in community, where what is known of God is applied to others.
As such, of course, Aristotle provides us with a wonderfully inspiring model for godly life. Man who discovers divine virtue can then apply it to others through good will and benevolence. Virtues like temperance, prudence, fortitude, and justice can mould and shape relationships and even imperfectly perfect a city or state. And yet, something is missing. The God whom Aristotle knows is not a friend. He is no doubt a kind of Father who gives his children the tools with which to infuse the world with happiness. But the Father does not become a friend. Friendship with God must come from God himself. The logic is there, but the potential has yet to be actualized in Aristotle's time!
Through the self-emptying life of Jesus Christ the life, light, and love of God the Father are received and then passed on. What this means is that Jesus Christ the man was always subjecting His human nature to His Divine Nature in order to reveal the life, understanding, and will of God the Father to all mankind. And so what He surrendered was all self-loving, self-willing, and self-seeking so that He could reveal God’s Word in [His] flesh perfectly to the world. Of course, God’s Word is His intended-meaning and purpose for man, the communication of His expectation for the creature now revealed fully in the life of His Son.
So Jesus Christ is the tabernacle through which God’s desire for men should be revealed. When we say this we mean that Jesus Christ willingly allows himself to be that vessel through whom we see and hear both what God wants for us and how He will effect it. From the beginning of the ages, God has never ceased to yearn for His human creation. That the Divine desire is known mostly only from the disability of the Fall does not vitiate the eternal nature that spawns this Love. God is love. He lovingly creates and His lovingly redeems. Had man not fallen, He would have desired to better him through a process of amelioration from good to better to best. Evil is not necessary to the progressive perfection of the species. God’s love is His nature. And His nature is the willing of pure goodness through pure wisdom.
But it is from the perspective and vantage point of the Fall that we must learn of God’s desire. Man –the Adam, falls. What is God’s response? Silence? No. He comes a-calling. He asks, Where are you? –not because He does not know but because He demands accountability and a confession. God the Word summons and interrogates the sinner. God always desires to have a Word with us. Our vocation is to know that however we stand in relation to His Word, He longs for that ongoing and habitual dialogue that brings us out of sin and into holiness. He never ceases to address us if we have the ears to hear. Sometimes we hear the Word as love, compassion, and pity for our condition. Sometimes we must hear the Word that judges, punishes, and corrects us. So we need to hear its prognosis of our condition and its recipe for our sanctification and betterment. Sometimes we hear the Word that best turns our hearts to thanksgiving and gratitude, and even praise and adoration of God.
God’s Word expresses the fact that He will never abandon us. Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid…for the Lord thy God, He it is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee. (Deut. xxxi. 6) He can’t, for He is everywhere: Whither shall I go from thy spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence. If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. He desires us and has created us to desire Him. Like as the hart desireth the water-brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God. My soul is athirst for God, yea, even for the living God: when shall I come to appear before the presence of God? (Ps. xlii. 1,2) God intends that His one Life should be known in the Light of His Love, and embraced then as what can perfect our love for Him and our neighbors.
Prior to the Incarnation, there was a sense in which the Word was made flesh in men, in so far as the faithful were ruled and governed by it as preparation for its perfect redemptive communication in Jesus Christ. Of course, the Word was made flesh then as what was present to but other than the man who looked forward in faith and hope to unity with it. With the coming of the Saviour, the mind and desire of God are seen and heard by the person of Jesus Christ and communicated to those with the eyes to see and the ears to hear. The Word is made flesh perfectly in the Person of Jesus Christ, at first as what is communicated to be apprehended externally and visibly. God’s intention then becomes a work and a labour of God calling all men after and into Himself through the humanity of His Son. Every aspect of Jesus Christ’s life is the disclosure and manifestation of God’s verbal summoning for all men to find Him there. Come and see. (St. John i. 38, 39) Come follow me.(St. Matthew iv. 19) He makes the blind to see, the deaf to hear, and the lame to walk. What is the point of it all? He says, Come and see. He teaches men to love their enemies and to bless those who curse them. What does it mean? He says, Come and see. He suffers mockery, mimicry, stripping, whipping, scourging. He dies unjustly on the gibbet of Calvary. What does it mean? Again He says, Come and see. Come and see to discover and know the spiritual truth that lies at the heart of the Son of Man. Come and see to discover how and in what way God’s Word lives perfectly in the flesh. What we shall discover is that for God’s Word to live in the flesh, He must be always dying intentionally to the flesh in order to come alive to will of God the Father for the flesh.
So if the choices and movements of Christ’s life will mean anything to us, we must Come and see. If we do, we shall begin to penetrate and comprehend the breadth and depth of God’s love for us. And in encountering that love, we shall be touched and moved by beauty- a beauty that will never leave us the same, but forever changed, altered, and moved to embrace and treasure more of it. God is forever speaking to us. Will we desire that His Word might be made flesh is us so that we too become the sons of the Most High Father? Will we desire to be members of the Mystical Body of the Word forever being made better and new because this is the end and meaning of our human nature?
When post-moderns think of caritas or charity, their minds jump to acts of benevolence or philanthropy. Charity in our world tends to be associated with material giving that is above and beyond what the government does. But the word charity comes to us from the Latin caritas, which means affection, love, and esteem. As the Christians appropriated it, it came to mean dear, costly, expensive, or precious.
To the men and women of Jesus’ time, the word would have referred to something that was hard to come by, and yet when attained, to be treasured and valued above many other things. But Caritas as a virtue soon gained supreme importance to early Christians because of its perfect Incarnation in the life and mission of Jesus Christ. Particularly, Caritas came to mean that love and mercy of God that was embodied perfectly in Jesus Christ's one oblation of Himself once offered for the sins of the whole world. Caritas then is revealed as the costly love, the precious mercy, and the dear sacrifice that God would make for all men in His own dear Son in order to reveal His desire for their salvation.
For St. Paul, caritas or charity is a virtue that Jesus offers to the members of His newly forming Body as what us most needful for its effectual sanctification and salvation. Without charity, our conversation or business -mental, verbal, and tangible, fails to reveal and manifest the source and font of our being, knowing, and willing. Without caritas our religion is meaningless, since its absence makes a mockery of faith and hope. We cannot have faith in and hope for ultimate union and communion with God if we do not love Him with the love through which He love us, all other men, and the whole of creation. If we love Him without loving all neighbours, then we love Him for ourselves selfishly. We are in for the taking but not for the giving! Without charity, all gifts of knowledge, prophecy, and understanding will be spiritually useless. Without charity, good deeds, alms’ giving, even the oblation of life become dramatic expressions of self-promotion emerging from sadly underdeveloped and retarded egos.
The caritas or charity of the Father, expressed through the Son, and ours through the Spirit suffers much and is kind to all. It is not green with envy and jealousy. It is not driven by a need to puff up and inflate the self over and against others. It does not try to convince its neighbours that its enlightenment makes it indispensable to their religion. It does not gossip or think evil of others. It does not rejoice in others’ sufferings or failings. It bears other men's burdens by loving them in Christ and hoping and praying for their sanctification and salvation.
Charity is essential for salvation. It is God’s to give. If we will not receive it, in the end times we shall not be embraced in His everlasting arms. Faith and hope are temporary virtues that stretch forth to find the love of perfect friendship with God. Charity is the virtue that moves all of reality centrifugally from God's heart. It is a necessary means to our end.
If we have trouble putting it on, we had better start asking why. Perhaps we have been hurt in some way so that we have never really been loved or have been loved in those strange fashions that tend to confuse the mind and harden the heart. Whatever the reason might be, we must go to the Lord Jesus with this problem. We must ask Him to help us to love our neighbours as ourselves. We must pray Him to help us to love ourselves as He loves us.We must ask Him then to help our love to broaden into forgiveness so that we can begin to believe that the God who is converting us not only can but desires to convert all others also! So we must hope for all men's salvation. And then we must pray for ways to reveal and disclose Christ's love to others so that we might elicit from them the same love, which, God knows, we need as helps and aids in our journey to the Kingdom!
He is no unkind physician who opens the swelling, who cuts, who cauterizes the corrupted part. He gives pain, it is true, but he only gives pain, that he might bring the patient on to health. He gives pain, but if he did not, he would do no good. (St. Augustine: Sermon xxvii)
Last week we contemplated the temptations that Jesus withstood on our behalf in order to draw us deeper into His love for God our Heavenly Father. And I pray that we came away with a real sense of His desire to serve God alone and to fulfill His will for us. This week we shall come to see and grasp the nature of sin and our powerlessness over it. I pray that we shall come to learn that all sin whether subtle or palpable threatens to control us. I pray too that we shall find deliverance from it through persistent and humble submission to the Lord’s judgment of our condition and the faith that He makes to ensure its cure.
This morning we read in the Gospel that Our Lord Jesus Christ comes to the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.(St. Matthew 15. 21) He comes to the borders of the pagan Gentile world –a place which had only heard of Him and the promises made to God’s chosen Jewish people. Sin brings all of us to the borders of paganism, alienation from God, potential despair, and threatening unbelief. And yet this spiritual place is never far from Jesus. Whoever and wherever a person might be, Jesus comes to those who struggle to confront and overcome sin. And in order to liberate them from the chains of evil, He will elicit faith, clarify desire, and heighten the hope of the person who then opens to His healing.
And so in this morning’s Gospel we read that a heathen woman seeks out Jesus and His disciples. As we said, His reputation had spread to the lands outside of Israel. The Jews had brought their sick to Him, those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatics, and He healed them. (St. Matthew 4. 24) She had heard of this news, and so she would see Jesus. (St. John 12. 21) She does not waste any time, but cuts to the quick, for she cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. (St. Matthew 15. 22) She comes not for herself, but for another. She bears the burden and pain of her daughter’s illness within her heart. Her daughter’s misery is her misery. She will learn that Jesus’ misery is our misery. She implores His mercy, and finds something that surprises us. –That He answered her not a word. (Ibid, 23) Jesus is silent. As St. John Chrysostym has said, The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds His remedies. (Homily LII: Vol X, NPNF:I)
The Syro-Phoenician woman implores Jesus’ healing power for her daughter. But this is not enough. Jesus will elicit more from her in order to teach us about true faith that desires His Grace –the suppliant posture of the earnest seeker who would secure His benefit. The Apostles cannot see what Jesus is up to. They have been with Him for some time, have witnessed what He can do, but prefer to keep Him for themselves, so that seeing, they see, and do not perceive. (St. Mark 4. 12) Evidently, like many Christians, they settle for the Jesus whose presence comforts them and is best enjoyed when left undisturbed! Send her away, for she crieth after us. (St. Matthew 15, 23) As far as they are concerned He might heal her daughter or not; their chief end is to be rid of this pestiferous nuisance. Theirs is that heartless granting of a request, whereof most of us are conscious; when it is granted out of no love to the suppliant, but to leave undisturbed his selfish ease from whom at length it is exhorted. (Trench: Gospel) And yet, Jesus will not be hurried by this woman. He will engage her, for He knows that in her heart there is a faith that needs to be revealed and expressed for the benefit of all.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: