The clearest proof of the reliability of Christ’s love is to be found in his dying for our sake. If laying down one’s life for one’s friends is the greatest proof of love (cf. Jn 15:13), Jesus offered his own life for all, even for his enemies, to transform their hearts. This explains why the evangelists could see the hour of Christ’s crucifixion as the culmination of the gaze of faith; in that hour the depth and breadth of God’s love shone forth.
It was then that Saint John offered his solemn testimony, as together with the Mother of Jesus he gazed upon the pierced one (cf. Jn 19:37): "He who saw this has borne witness, so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth" (Jn 19:35). In Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, Prince Myskin sees a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger depicting Christ dead in the tomb and says: "Looking at that painting might cause one to lose his faith".
The painting is a gruesome portrayal of the destructive effects of death on Christ’s body. Yet it is precisely in contemplating Jesus’ death that faith grows stronger and receives a dazzling light; then it is revealed as faith in Christ’s steadfast love for us, a love capable of embracing death to bring us salvation. This love, which did not recoil before death in order to show its depth, is something I can believe in; Christ’s total self-gift overcomes every suspicion and enables me to entrust myself to him completely.
Lumen Fidei 16
Reflection – We continue our Tuesday read-through of the encyclical Lumen Fidei. Here we see the very heart of faith laid out: the believing heart and mind contemplating the death of Christ on the Cross for us. The Cross is, indeed, the glory of God revealed, because it is the love of God revealed, and God’s love is his glory—the inner splendor of the Trinity, made manifest in the man Jesus who is the Son of God and whose deepest reality is expressed in this suffering and death out of love for us.
All this talk on this blog and elsewhere about mercy and sin, good and evil, the tough issues of our times, and Pope Francis’ penetrating and thoughtful words on all those subjects—it seems to me that none of this talk really goes anywhere unless it is conducted, so to speak, on Calvary, at the foot of the Cross of Jesus.
We cannot talk about sin except in that light: this man, who is God, died for my sins and yours. We cannot talk about mercy except in that light: the mercy of God is freely given, but look at what that mercy means! God became a man and died for us. We don’t really understand the whys and hows of it all… but that is how mercy came to us. It is no easy breezy ‘get out of jail free’ card, although it is free, and does get us out of jail… but God died for it.
We cannot understand questions of moral good and evil except at the foot of the Cross. God took on Himself the greatest evils humanity is capable of, and lay still under the blows and lashes and nailings… and this great evil became the locus of the greatest good imaginable, a world reborn, humanity saved, gates of heaven opened, eternal life and joy bestowed. Again, the whys, the hows… we just don’t know. But it is our faith.
The whole ‘context’ Pope Francis is calling us to present, as we present the hard truths of moral good and moral evil and things the world would rather not hear about right now, is precisely this context. God died for our sins and that death has won us mercy, forgiveness, and fullness of life. We are indeed sinners, all of us, every last one of us, and it is no part of the Church’s mission to evaluate greater and lesser sinning, to figure out who the realllly bad sinners are and who are just 'kind of' sinners.
Nonsense! We are all sinners… but in a very real sense it doesn’t matter. So I’m a sinner! So you’re a sinner! One great crying out of ‘Jesus, mercy!’, one good confession, one good act of contrition, and goodbye sin, hello mercy. All through the blood of Christ, all through the power of the Cross.
The alternative is the path of endless, fruitless, and increasingly frantic self-justification. Well I had to… well it’s not really a sin because I read a book somewhere that says it’s not… well he had it coming to him… well I’d do it again, and I’m not sorry… well but if I hadn’t done it, bad stuff would have happened… well I think God understands…
Oh, God understands all right. He understands we are sinners, that we rebel and twist and turn and disobey and do whatever we think is right regardless of the moral law and justify it all away in the contortions of our minds. God understands… and He dies for us, so that His mercy is available, one act of repentance away, one confession, one crying out for it.
This is the glory of God, that all the human evil in the world, every bit of cruelty and greed and lust and vicious appetite is all overcome by one act of divine love, one total outpouring of divine goodness, one death of one man who is God, for us. Amen.