26 March 2012
Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta. –– Introit, Ps. 42:1
Passion Sunday, 25 March 2012
George Clooney is not only an actor; he is also an activist. He devotes a lot of his energies to a cause; namely, the plight of the good people of Sudan.
Now, the greater the good sought, the greater the cause. Accordingly, the greatest cause is that which Our Lord and Savior pursued to gain for us the remission of sin and the reward of eternal life. This cause of Our Lord, moreover, was more than just a passing concern of His. It is the very reason why He assumed a human nature in the first place! Even the name He adopts, the Holy Name, gives us to understand that He identifies Himself completely with His cause. Recall the words of the angel of the Lord to Joseph: “And she shall bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name JESUS. For he shall save his people from their sins.”1
As we know, this mission, this cause of Our Lord, required, in accordance with divine Providence, that He be rejected by His own people. As St. John puts it: “he came unto his own, and his own received him not.”2 Indeed, always in keeping with divine Providence, this cause of Our Lord required that He should suffer and be put to death. Our Lord Himself says as much to Nicodemus when He assures him that, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish; but may have life everlasting. For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting. For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him.”3 And elsewhere Christ tells us, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.”4 And lest anyone should not understand what it means to be “lifted up”, St. John adds that these words of Our Lord are to be understood as “signifying what death he should die.”5
Now, this cause of Christ, the salvation of souls, does not belong solely to Him. It belongs to us as well, in accordance with our state in life. For recall what Our Savior says to His disciples: “Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you.”6 If we have been baptized into Christ, we cannot opt out. We must always be willing to confess Christ. Compromise is not an option. Again, Our Lord declares to us: “Everyone … that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven. But he that shall deny me before men, I will also deny him before my Father who is in heaven.” To love Jesus is to love the reason for which came into this world. To love Jesus without embracing His cause is impossible: Christ demands that we choose Him (and therefore His cause) above all else: “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me; and he that loveth son or daughter more than me, is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me.”7
Now, if we think that we can take up the cause of Christ without sharing in the sufferings of Christ, we confuse the peace of Christ with that of this world. For Our Lord warns us: “Do not think that I came to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword. For I came to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man’s enemies shall be they of his own household.”8 “They will deliver you up in councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. And you shall be brought before governors, and before kings for my sake, for a testimony to them and to the Gentiles… Brother also shall deliver up brother to death, and the father the son: and children shall rise up against their parents, and shall put them to death. And you shall be hated by all men for my name’s sake: but (he) that shall persevere unto the end shall be saved.”9
Given the cost of discipleship, we should not be surprised that many Christians in every generation since the time of Christ are unwilling to pay the price, are unwilling to persevere unto the end. In fact, the entire letter to the Hebrews is meant to encourage the Jewish converts of the early Church. When they converted, they experienced many of the sufferings spoken of by Christ: disinheritance, excommunication, persecution, even death. Naturally, they were tempted with renouncing Christ so as to be able to return to the “normal life” they had previously enjoyed. How fitting it is, then, that we read a small portion of that letter at this Mass, when we turn our attention to the Passion and Death of Our Lord and Savior.
Now, to be willing to suffer for Christ and continue to persevere requires the power of divine love operating within us. Remember that the Apostles, notwithstanding their earlier protestations of fidelity, all fled the scene when they realized that Christ willingly gave Himself over to His enemies. They had not as yet received the gift of the Holy Ghost. And even after one has received such a gift, he remains free to abandon Christ. Over the ages, plenty of bishops have displayed more zeal in gaining the approval of the elites of this world than in defending the faith. And in times of crisis, not a few precious princes of the Church, whose vermilion garb is meant to convey their willingness to shed their blood for Christ, have been known rather to yield to the whirling winds of the zeitgeist than stand their ground and suffer –– God forbid! –– the smug reproaches of a hostile press. In our own day, an activist lesbian Buddhist, who presumes to be the arbiter of how the sacraments are to be dispensed in the Catholic Church, obtains an immediate apology because she was denied Holy Communion, while the priest who refused to “give to dogs what is holy”10 is just as quickly removed from pastoral work. Such a scandal exemplifies why the road to hell is said to be paved with the skulls of bishops.
When Catholics no longer dedicate themselves to the cause of Christ; when being nice to one another, avoiding confrontation, and making everyone feel comfortable become the defining criteria for what it means to be a good Catholic, those looking to live for a cause worth dying for will most likely look elsewhere. And make no mistake about it: other causes do exist that demand a great deal of sacrifice from those who would champion them. Radical Islam is one such cause; communism another. Needless to say, the misplaced and often inordinate dedication one finds in such causes hostile to Christ does not have God for its object. Nevertheless, however misplaced and inordinate, the dedication of these adversaries does us the favor of warning us that if we become decadent and pusillanimous in pursuing the Cause of Christ, we will lack the resolve needed to meet and rebuff the challenges of such determined foes.
Consider, then, the following story of a man who was both a communist and a fiancé. When he realized that he could not persuade his fiancée to become a communist herself, he called off the engagement. In his “Dear Jane” letter, the man explains that his decision is rooted in his dedication to the communist cause. Here is what he writes: “We communists have a high casualty rate. We are the ones who get shot and hung and ridiculed and fired from our jobs, and in every other way made as uncomfortable as possible. A certain percentage of us gets killed or imprisoned. We live in virtual poverty. We turn back to the party every penny we make above what is absolutely necessary to keep us alive. We communists do not have the time or the money for many movies or concerts or T-bone steaks or decent homes or new cars. We have been described as fanatics. We are fanatics. Our lives are dominated by one overshadowing factor: the struggle for world communism. We communists have a philosophy of life which no amount of money can buy. We have a cause to fight for, a definite purpose in life. We subordinate our petty personal selves into a great movement of humanity. And if our personal lives seem hard, or our egos appear to suffer through subordination to the party, then we are adequately compensated by the thought that each of us in his small way is contributing to something new and true and better for mankind. There is one thing which I am in dead earnest about: and that is the communist cause. It is my life, my business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, my bread and meat. I work at it in the daytime and dream of it at night. Its hold on me grows, not lessens, as time goes on. Therefore I cannot carry on a friendship, a love affair, or even a conversation without relating it to this force which both drives and guides my life. I evaluate people, looks, ideas, and actions according to how they affect the communist cause and by their attitude towards it. I’ve already been in jail because of my ideals, and if necessary I am ready to go before a firing squad.”
When a priest prepares to offer the Body and Blood of Our Lord to God in an unbloody manner, he unites his zeal to the zeal with which Christ offered Himself to the Father on Calvary to accomplish His mission and fulfill the cause for which He was sent into the world. How fitting it is, then, that the priest should refer to this greatest of causes, and ask God to distinguish what he is about to do from the deeds of a profane people. And when this sacrifice is offered to God, we all turn ad orientem towards the Lord. In so doing, we give physical expression to the Gospel truth that, if we wish to possess eternal life, if we wish truly to love ourselves, then we must first love the Lord our God with our whole heart, and with our whole soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind.11 But after the Sacrifice has been sent; after we have received our spiritual nourishment and been assimilated to Christ crucified, we too are sent forth to live and spread the Gospel. What can this mean but that we are to go forth to love our neighbor as ourselves, just as Christ loved us unto death?
Judica me, Deus, et discerne causam meam de gente non sancta. Every time we hear these words, let us remember that whatever causes we champion in this life, however noble or worthy, let us always subordinate them to the great Cause of Christ. For we cannot love the Lord without embracing and participating first and foremost in His great Cause of reconciling the world to Himself.
1. Mt. 1:21.
2. Jn. 1:11.
3. Jn. 3:14-17.
4. Jn. 12:32.
5. Jn. 12:33.
6. Jn. 20:21.
7. Mt. 10:37-38.
8. Mt. 10:34-36.
9. Mt. 10:16-18, 21-22.
10. Thomas Aquinas, from the Lauda Sion (Sequence for Feast of Corpus Christi).
11. Lk. 10:27.