Sunday, 6 September 2009

Considerations on the passion of Jesus Christ - Chapter 1

Necessity of a Redeemer and His Qualities – The Incarnation of the Word – Errors of the Jews – Prophecies.
Adam sinned and rebelled against God, and, being the first man, and the progenitor of all men, he fell into a state of perdition, together with the whole human race. The injury was done to God; so that neither Adam nor all the rest of mankind, by all the sacrifices that they could have offered, even of their own life, could furnish a worthy satisfaction to the divine majesty which was offended. To appease this there was need that a divine person should satisfy the divine justice. Behold, then, the Son of God, who, moved to compassion for men, and excited by the bowels of his mercy, offered himself to take human flesh, and to die for men, that he might thus give to God a complete satisfaction for all their sins, and obtain for them the divine grace which they had lost.
Our loving Redeemer thus came into this life, and became man, in order that he might find a remedy for all the miseries which sin had brought upon men. At the same time, he chose to lead men to an observance of the divine precepts, and thus to the acquisition of eternal life, not only by his instructions, but also by the example of his own holy life. For this end Jesus Christ renounced all honors, delights, and riches, which he might have enjoyed upon this earth, and which belonged to him as Lord of the world; and he chose for himself a life of humility, poverty, and tribulation, until he died in anguish upon a cross.
The Jews were possessed with a delusion that the Messiah would come upon earth to triumph over all his enemies by force of arms, and that, having conquered them, and acquired the rule of all the earth, he would make his followers rich and glorious. But if the Messiah had been what the Jews imagined him to be, a prince triumphant and honored by all men as the sovereign of all the earth, he would not have been the Redeemer promised by God, and predicted by the prophets. This he himself declared, when he replied to Pilate, My kingdom is not of this world.1 On this St. Fulgentius writes: “Why, Herod, art thou thus troubled? This king who is born is not come to conquer kings in battle, but wonderfully to subdue them by his death.”2
The Jews had two false notions respecting the Redeemer whom they expected; the first was, the idea that the spiritual and eternal blessings with which the prophets foretold that the Messiah would enrich his people, were earthly and temporal blessings: There shall be faith in thy days; the riches of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord, that shalt be thy treasure.3 These were the blessings promised by the Redeemer: faith, the knowledge of virtue, and holy fear. These were the riches of the salvation which he had promised. Besides this, he promised that he would bring medicine for the penitent, pardon for sinners, and liberty to the captives of the devil: He hath sent Me to bring tidings to those who are meek, that I should heal those who are contrite of heart, and preach pardon to the captives, and liberty to those who are in bondage.4 The other delusion of the Jews was, that what was predicted by the prophets respecting the second coming of the Saviour when he should come to judge the world at the end of ages, was to be understood of his first coming. David wrote of the future Messiah, that he would conquer the princes of the earth, and beat down the pride of many, and with the force of his sword would subdue the whole earth: The Lord, upon Thy right hand, shall beat down kings in the day of His wrath; He shall judge among the nations; He shall shatter the heads of many upon the earth.5 And the prophet Jeremias wrote: The sword of the Lord shall devour from the one end of the earth to the other.6 But all this is to be understood of the second advent, when he shall come as a judge to condemn the wicked.
When the prophets spoke of the first advent, in which he would accomplish the work of redemption, they most clearly foretold that the Redeemer would live upon this earth a life of poverty and contempt. This was what was written by the prophet Zacharias, when speaking of the life of Jesus Christ: Behold thy king cometh to thee as a just one, and the Saviour; He is poor, and sitteth upon an ass, and upon a colt the foal of an ass.7 All this was specially fulfilled when he entered into Jerusalem sitting upon a young ass, and was honorably received as the desired Messiah, as St. John writes, And Jesus found an ass and sat upon it, as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Sion, behold thy king cometh to thee, sitting upon an ass’s colt.8 We know, also, that he was poor from the time of his birth, being born in Bethlehem, a place of no celebrity, and in a cave: And thou, Bethlehem Ephrata, art little among the thousands of Judah; from thee cometh forth to Me He who is the ruler of Israel; and His going forth is from the beginning, and from the days of eternity.9 This prophecy, also, is referred to by St. Matthew and St. John.10 Further, also, the prophet Osee writes: From Egypt I have called My Son;11 which was fulfilled when Jesus Christ was carried as an infant into Egypt, where he remained about seven years, as a stranger in the midst of a barbarous race, far from his kindred and friends, which was sufficient to make his life one of poverty. And so, also, he continued to live the life of the poor when he had returned to Judea. He himself had foretold, by the mouth of David, that throughout all his life he would remain poor and afflicted with toils: I am poor, and in the midst of labors from my youth.12
Almighty God could not consider his justice sufficiently satisfied by all the sacrifices that men could offer, even of their own lives; and therefore he ordained that his own Son should take a human body, and become a victim worthy to reconcile him with men, and obtain salvation for them. Sacrifice and oblation Thou wouldst not, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me.13 The only-begotten Son offered himself willingly to be a sacrifice for us, and came down on earth in order that he might accomplish the sacrifice with his death, and thus complete the redemption of man. Then He said, Behold, I come; in the volume of the book it is written of Me, that I should do Thy will, O God!14
The Lord said, speaking to sinners, Why should I strike you any more?15 This God said in order that we should understand, that, however much he might punish those who offended him, their punishments would never be sufficient to make reparation to his offended honor; and therefore he committed it to his own Son to make satisfaction for the sins of men, because his Son alone could give worthy compensation to the divine justice. Therefore he declared, by Isaias, speaking of Jesus being made a victim for our sins, For the wickedness of My people I have stricken him.16 Nor was he satisfied with a light satisfaction, but chose to see him consumed with torments: The Lord willed to exhaust Him with weakness.17
O my Jesus, O victim of love, consumed by pangs upon the cross to atone for my sins, I am ready to die with grief when I think that I have so often despised Thee, after Thou hast so much loved me. Oh, suffer it not that I should continue longer ungrateful for Thy goodness. Draw me wholly to Thee; grant it through the merits of that blood which Thou hast poured forth for me.
Figures of the Old Testament – Other Prophecies – Thanks Due to the Father and to the Son.
When the divine Word offered himself to redeem mankind, there were before him two ways of redemption, the one of joy and glory, the other of pains and insults. At the same time, it was his will, not only by his coming to deliver man from eternal death, but also to call forth the love of all the hearts of men, and therefore he rejected the way of joy and glory, and chose that of pains and insults: The joy being set before Him, He endured the cross.18 In order that he might satisfy the divine justice for us, and, at the same time, inflame us with his holy love, he was willing to endure this burden of all our sins; that, dying upon a cross, he might obtain for us grace and the life of the blessed. This is what Isaias intended to express when he said: He Himself hath borne our pains, and carried our sorrows.19
Of this there were two express figures in the Old Testament; the first was the annual ceremony of the scape-goat,20 which the high-priest represented as bearing all the sins of the people, and therefore all, loading it with curses, drove it into the desert, to be the object of the wrath of God.21 This goat was a figure of our Redeemer, who was willing to load himself with all the curses deserved by us for our sins; being made a curse for us, in order that he might obtain for us the divine blessing. Therefore the Apostle wrote in another place, He made Him to be sin for us, who knew not sin, that we might be made the justice of God in Him.22 That is, as St. Ambrose and St. Anselm explain it, he made him to be sin who was innocence itself; that is, he presented himself to God as if he had been sin itself. In a word, he took upon himself the character of a sinner, and endured the pains due to us sinners, in order to render us just before God. The second type of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ offered to the Eternal Father for us upon the cross was, that brazen serpent23 fixed to a tree, by looking upon which the Jews who were bitten by fiery serpents were healed. Accordingly, St. John writes: As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that every one who believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.24
We must here notice that in the Book of Wisdom, the shameful death of Jesus Christ is clearly foretold. Although the words of the passage referred to may apply to the death of every just man, yet, say Tertullian, St. Cyprian, St. Jerome, and many other holy Fathers, that they principally refer to the death of Christ. It is said: If He is the true Son of God, He will accept Him, and deliver Him.25 These words exactly correspond with what the Jews said when Jesus was upon the cross: He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him, if He will have Him; for He said, I am the Son of God.26 The Wise Man goes on to say, Let us try Him with insults and torments (that is, those of the cross), and let us prove His patience; let us condemn Him to the most shameful death.27 The Jews chose the death of the cross for Jesus Christ, because it is shameful, in order that his name might be forever infamous, and no more held in remembrance, according to the other text of Jeremias: Let us cast wood into His bread, and wipe Him out from the land of the living, and His name shall be remembered no more.28 How, then, can the Jews of the present day say that it is false that Christ was the promised Messiah, because his life was ended by a most shameful death, when the prophets themselves foretold that he should die with a most dishonorable death?
And Jesus accepted such a death. He died to pay the price of our sins; and therefore, as a sinner, he desired to be circumcised; to be redeemed with a price when he was presented in the temple; to receive the baptism of repentance from the Baptist; and lastly, in his Passion, to be nailed upon the cross to atone for our guilty wanderings: to atone for our avarice, by being stripped of his garments; for our pride, by the insults he endured; for our desires of power, by submitting himself to the executioner; for our evil thoughts, by his crown of thorns; for our intemperance, by the gall he tasted; and by the pangs of his body, for our sensual delights. Therefore, we ought continually, with tears of tenderness, to thank the Eternal Father for having given his innocent Son to death, to deliver us from eternal death: He spared not His own Son, but delivered him up for us all; and how shall He not also with Him give us all things?29 Thus said St. Paul; and thus Jesus himself said, in the Gospel of St. John: God so loved the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son.30 On this account, the holy Church exclaims on Holy Saturday, “Oh, wonderful is it which Thy love has done for us! O inestimable gift of love, that to redeem a servant, Thou shouldst give Thy Son.”31 O infinite mercy, O infinite love of our God! O holy faith! How can he who believes and confesses this, live without burning with holy love for a God who is so loving, and so worthy of love?
O eternal God, look not upon me thus overwhelmed with sins; look upon Thy innocent Son hanging upon a cross, who offers Thee the many pangs and insults which he has suffered, that Thou mayst have mercy upon me. O God, most worthy of love, and my true lover, for the love of this Thy Son, so beloved by Thee, have mercy upon me. The mercy I ask is, that Thou shouldst give me Thy holy love. Oh, draw me wholly to Thyself, from the mire of my corruption. Burn up, O Thou consuming fire, all that Thou seest impure in my soul, and that hinders me from being wholly Thine.
Let us give thanks to the Father, and let us give equal thanks to the Son, that he has been willing to take upon him our flesh, and, together with it, our sins, to offer to God, by his Passion, a worthy satisfaction. It is on this account that the Apostle says that Jesus Christ has become our mediator; that is, that he has bound himself to pay our debts: Jesus is made the mediator of a better testament.32 As the mediator between God and man, he has established a covenant with God, by which he has bound himself to satisfy the divine justice for us; and, on the other hand, has promised to us eternal life on the part of God. Therefore, in anticipation of this, the Preacher warns us not to forget the grace of this divine surety, who, to obtain salvation for us, has been willing to sacrifice his life. Forget not the grace of the Surety, for He hath given His soul for thee.33 It is to give us the better assurance of pardon, says St. Paul, that Jesus Christ with his blood has blotted out the decree of our condemnation, in which the sentence of eternal death stands written against us, and has nailed it to the cross on which he died to satisfy the divine justice for us.34
O my Jesus! by that love which caused Thee to give Thy blood and Thy life upon Calvary for me, make me die to all the affections of this world; make me forget everything, that I may not think of anything but to love Thee and give Thee pleasure! O my God, worthy of infinite love, Thou hast loved me without reserve, I desire to love Thee also without reserve. I love Thee, my greatest good; I love Thee, O my love, my all.
The Death of Jesus Christ is our Salvation. It is an Instruction and an Example; it is a Motive of Confidence and of Love.
In a word, whatever blessing, whatever salvation, whatever hope we have, we have it all in Jesus Christ, and-in his merits; as St. Peter says, There is salvation in none other; for there is no other name under heaven given among men in which we must be saved.35 Thus, there is no hope of salvation for us except through the merits of Jesus Christ; from which St. Thomas and all theologians36 conclude, that, since the promulgation of the Gospel, we are bound to believe explicitly, of necessity, not only by precept, but by the necessity of the truth, that it is only through the means of our Redeemer that we can be saved.
All the foundation, then, of our salvation consists in the redemption of man wrought out by the divine Word upon earth. We must, therefore, reflect that although the actions of Jesus Christ upon earth, being the acts of a divine person, were of an infinite merit, so that the least of them was enough to satisfy the divine justice for all the sins of men, yet nevertheless the death of Jesus Christ is the great sacrifice by which our redemption was completed; so that, in the holy Scriptures, the redemption of man is attributed chiefly to the death suffered by him upon the cross: He humbled Himself, and was made obedient to death, even the death of the cross.37 Wherefore the Apostle writes, that in receiving the Holy Eucharist, we ought to remember the Lord’s death: As often as ye shall eat this bread and drink this cup, ye shall show forth the Lord’s death till He come.38 But why does he mention the death of the Lord, and not his incarnation, birth, or resurrection? He speaks of his death because this was the suffering of greatest pain and greatest shame that Jesus Christ endured, and that completed our redemption.
Hence St. Paul says, I have determined that I would know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.39 The Apostle well knew that Jesus Christ was born in a cave; that, for thirty years, he inhabited a carpenter’s shop; that he had risen from the dead, and had ascended into heaven. Why, then, did he say that he would know nothing but Jesus crucified? Because the death suffered by Jesus Christ on the cross was that which most moved him to love him, and induced him to exercise obedience towards God and love towards his neighbor, which were the virtues most specially inculcated by Jesus Christ from the chair of his cross. St. Thomas, the angelic Doctor, writes: “In whatever temptation we fall, in the cross is our protection; there is obedience to God, love to our neighbor, patience in adversity; whence St. Augustine says, “The cross was not only the instrument of death to the sufferer, but his chair of teaching.”40
O devout souls, let us labor to imitate the Spouse of the Canticles, who said, I have sat under the shadow of Him whom I desired.41 Let us place often before our eyes, especially on Fridays, Jesus dying on the cross; and let us rest there for a while, and contemplate with tender affection his sufferings, and the love which he bore to us, while he continued in agony upon that bed of pain. Let us also say, I have sat under the shadow of Him whom I desired. Oh, how sweet is the repose that is found by souls who love God in the midst of the tumult of this world, and in the temptations of hell, and even in fears of the divine justice. when they contemplate in solitude and silence our loving Redeemer, as he hangs in agony upon the cross, while his divine blood flows forth in drops from all his limbs, stricken and laid open with stripes, and thorns, and nails! Oh, how the desires of worldly honors, of earthly riches, of sensual pleasures, depart from our minds at the sight of Jesus crucified! Then does there breathe from that cross a heavenly gale, which sweetly detaches us from earthly things, and lights up in us a holy desire to suffer and die for love of him who has been willing to suffer and die for love of us.
O God, if Jesus Christ had not been what he really is, the Son of God, and true God, our Creator and supreme Lord, but a mere man, who would not be moved to compassion at the sight of a youth of noble blood, innocent and holy, dying through the strength of his torments upon a shameful tree, to atone for sins not his own, but those of his enemies themselves, and thus to deliver them from the death which was their due? How, then, is it that the affections of all hearts are not drawn to a God who died in a sea of insults and pains for love of his creatures? How can these creatures love anything but God? How can they think of anything but being grateful to him who is their so loving benefactor?
“Oh, if thou knewest the mystery of the cross!”42 said St. Andrew to the tyrant who sought to induce him to deny Jesus Christ because Jesus had been crucified as a malefactor. “Oh, if thou couldst understand, O tyrant, the love which Jesus Christ hath borne thee, in being willing to die upon the cross to make satisfaction for thy sins, and to obtain for thee eternal happiness, certainly thou wouldst not labor to persuade me to deny him; but thou thyself wouldst abandon everything that thou hast and hopest for upon this earth, in order to please and satisfy a God who has so loved thee.” What have not so many saints and holy martyrs done, who have left all for Jesus Christ! Oh, shame unto us! how many young virgins have renounced the marriage of the great, royal riches, and all earthly delights, and have willingly sacrificed their life to return some recompense of love for that love which was shown to them by this crucified God! How is it, then, that the Passion of Jesus Christ makes so little impression upon so many Christians? It results from this, that they apply themselves so little to consider what Jesus Christ has suffered for love of us.
O my Redeemer, I have been of the number of these ungrateful ones! Thou hast sacrificed Thy life upon a cross that Thou mightest not see me perish, and have I repeatedly been willing to lose Thee, an infinite good, by losing Thy grace? At this time the devil would have me believe that it is impossible that I should be saved, by bringing my sins to my remembrance; but the sight of Thee crucified, O my Jesus, assures me that Thou wilt not drive me from Thy face, if I repent of having offended Thee, and desire to love Thee. Yea, I repent, and desire to love Thee with all my heart. I detest these accursed pleasures, which have caused me to lose Thy grace. I love Thee, O Thou who art infinitely worthy of love, and I desire ever to love Thee; and the memory of my sins will serve to inflame me the more in the love of Thee, who hast come to seek me when I fled from Thee. No; I desire to be separated from Thee no more, and not to cease to love Thee, O my Jesus.
O Mary, refuge of sinners, thou who hast so much shared in the sufferings of thy Son in his death, pray to him to pardon me, and to give me grace to love him.

1“Regnum meum non est de hoc mundo.” – John, xviii. 36.
2“Quid est quod sic turbans, Herodes? Rex iste, qui natus est, non venit reges pugnando superare, sed moriendo mirabiliter subjugare.” – S. de Epiph. et Inn. nece.
3“Et erit fides in temporibus tuis; divitæ salutis. sapientia et scientia: timor Domini ipse est thesaurus ejus.”
4“Ad annuntiandum mansuetis misit me, ut mederer contritis corde, et predicarem captivis indulgentiam, et clausis apertionem.” – Isa. xxxiii. 6; lxi. 1.
5“Dominus a dextris tuis, confregit in die iræ suæ reges; judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas; conquassabit capita in terra multorum.” – Ps. cix. 5.
6“Gladius Domini devorabit ab extremo teræ usque ad extremum ejus.” – Jer. xii. 12.
7“Ecce Rex tuus veniet tibi justus et Salvator; ipse pauper et ascendens super asinam et super pullum filium asinæ.” – Zach. ix. 9.
8“Et invenit Jesus asellum et sedit super eum, sicut scriptum est: Noli timere, filia Sion; ecce Rex tuus venit sedens super pullum asinre.” – John, xii. 14.
9“Et tu, Bethlehem Ephrata, parvulus es in millibus Juda: ex te mihi egredietur, qui sit dominator in Israel; et egressus ejus ab initio, a diebus æternitatis.” – Mich. v. 2.
10Matt. ii. 6; John, vii. 42.
11“Ex Ægypto vocavi Filium meum.” – Os. xi. 1.
12“Pauper sum ego et in laboribus a juventute mea.” – Ps. lxxxvii. 16.
13“Hostiam et oblationem noluisti, corpus autem arasti mihi.” – Heb. x. 5.
14“Tunc dixi: Ecce venio; in capite libri scriptum est de me, ut faciam, Deus, voluntatem tuam.” – Heb. x. 5-7.
15“Super quo percutiam vos ultra?” – Isa. i. 5.
16“Propter scelus populi mei percussi eum.” – Isa. liii. 8.
17“Et Dominus voluit conterere eum in infirmitate.” – Isa. liii. 10.
18“Proposito sibi gaudio. sustinuit crucem.” – Heb. xii. 2.
19“Vere languores nostros ipse tulit, et dolores nostros ipse portavit.” – Isa. liii. 4.
20Lev. xvi. 5.
21“Factus pro nobis maledictum.” – Gal. iii. 13.
22“Eum, qui non noverat peccatum, pro nobis peccatum fecit. ut nos efficeremur justitia Dei in ipso.” – 2 Cor. v. 21.
23Num. xxi. 8.
24“Sicut Moyses exaltavit serpentem in deserto, ita exaltari oportet Filium hominis, ut omnis qui credit in ipsum, non pereat, sed habeat vitam æternam.” – John, iii. 14.
25“Si enim est verus Filius Dei, suscipiet ilium et liberabit eum.” – Wisd ii. 18.
26“Confidit in Deo; liberet nunc, si vult eum; dixit enim: Quia Filius Dei sum.” – Matt. xxvii. 43.
27“Contumelia et tormento interrogemus eum . . . , et probemus patientiam illius; morte turpissima condemnemus eum.” – Wisd. ii. 19.
28“Mittamus lignum in panem ejus, et eradamus eum de terra viventium; et nomen ejus non memoretur amplius.” – Jer. xi. 19.
29“Qui etiam proprio Filio suo non pepercit, sed pro nobis omnibus tradidit illum; quomodo non etiam cum illo omnia nobis donavit?” – Rom. viii. 32.
30“Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum, ut Filium suum unigenitum daret.” – John, iii. 16.
31“O mira circa nos tum pietatis dignatio! o insestimabilis dilectio charitatis! ut servum redimeres, Filium tradidisti.”
32“Melioris Testamenti sponsor factus est Jesus.” – Heb. vii. 22.
33“Gratiam fidejussoris ne obliviscaris; dedit enim pro te animam suam.” – Ecclus. xxix. 20.
34“Delens quod adversus nos erat chirographum decreti, quod erat contrarium nobis, et ipsum tulit de medio, affigens illud cruci.” – Col. ii. 54.
35“Et non est in alio aliquo salus; nec enim aliud nomen est sub cœlo datum hominibus, in quo oporteat nos salvos fieri.” – Acts. iv. 12.
36Theol. mor. l. 2; tr. 1.
37“Humiliavit semetipsum, factus Obediens usque ad mortem, mortem autem crucis.” – Phil. ii. 8.
38“Quotiescumque enim manducabitis panem hunc, et calicem mortem Domini annuntiabitis.” – 1 Cor. xi. 26.
39“Non enim judicavi me scire aliquid inter vos, nisi Jesum Christum, et hunc crucifixum.” – 1 Cor. ii. 2.
40“In quacumque tribulatione invenitur ejus remedium in cruce; ibi est obedientia ad Deum, ibi charitas ad proximum, ibi patientia in adversis. Unde Augustinus: Crux non solum fuit patibulum patientia, sed etiam cathedra docentis.” – In Heb. xii. lect. 1
41“Sub umbra illius, quem desideraveram, sedi.” – Cant. ii. 3.
42“Oh! si scares mysterium crucis!”

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