(An announcement : For those who wish to reconsecrate or newly consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary, tomorrow April 10th is the start day for the 33 days of preparation with consecration day landing on the 100th Anniversary of the first apparition at Fatima, May 13th.)
The third Lenten homily given this year by the preacher of the Pontifical Household, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, provides an incredible meditation concerning the Holy Spirit’s Presence and Action in the paschal mystery: “The Holy Spirit Leads Us Into the Mystery of the Death of Christ.” It is a deep and long meditation with the complete text found at Zenit. I share but a few passages below as we enter the Sacred Mysteries of this Week. A tip which may inspire you: our dear friend of this site, YD, meditates on the Gospel of John as he prepares for Holy Week.
Perhaps, this year, we might also take into our contemplation of Christ’s death, the reality that the old ways of this era are dying all around us. It is excruciatingly painful to observe and live, yet, Christ carried it all and carried each of us, in particular, to His Cross, the Cross He e.m.b.r.a.c.e.d. with Pure Love, thereby blunting the impact of what we now experience and feel. He, first and foremost, endured the suffering each of us is experiencing, whatever it may be, in these days with confusion and division everywhere. Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever. He IS alive. He IS fully human. He dwells in each of our hearts and He intimately knows and f.e.e.l.s. what we’re suffering.
Just as He entered His tomb at death, we are entering the tomb of these times. As Fr. Cantalamessa stresses, Christ was not simply paying our debt. He died “by crucifixion so that the suffering and death of human beings would be inhabited by love!” Christ is the Anchor Who will get us through the major difficulties yet to come and at the very heart of our core message – acknowledge God, take the next right step and be a sign of hope – is HIS LOVE. Our own hope springs from knowing as surely as Christ rose victorious from death, we shall rise again, through, with and in Him, to a New Beginning as a renewed people in a renewed world. But for now, we must make our way on this worldwide Via Dolorosa which we ourselves have brought to pass.
As we stand at the Foot of the Cross of Christ this week, let us also remember our Mother, given to each of us just before Jesus expired. As we carry our own crosses, let us accompany our Blessed Mother and appeal to her intercession while we continue to pray for one another, our families and our world. In solidarity, we pray and live TNRS way. In union of prayer, I place each of our petitions on a Relic of the True Cross with which I sleep each night, often awakening and praying an aspiration from the Anima Christi prayer, as a wise priest advised: “Passion of Christ, strengthen me.” May the Passion of Christ strengthen one and all as we continue on our way.
From Father Cantalamessa’s homily:
… The Letter to the Hebrews says that Christ “through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God” (Heb 9:14). The “eternal Spirit” is another way of saying the Holy Spirit, which is confirmed by an ancient variation of the text. This means that Jesus, as man, received from the Holy Spirit dwelling in him the impulse to offer himself in sacrifice to the Father as well as the strength that sustained him during his passion…
The connection between the Holy Spirit and the death of Jesus is highlighted primarily in the Gospel of John. “As yet the Spirit had not been given,” notes the Evangelist concerning the promise of living water, “because Jesus was not yet glorified” (Jn 7:39), that is—according to the meaning of “glorification” in John—Jesus had not yet been lifted on the cross. Jesus “yielded up his spirit” (Matt 27:50) on the cross, symbolized by the water and the blood; John in fact writes in his First Letter, “There are three witnesses, the Spirit, the water, and the blood” (1 Jn 5:8).
The Holy Spirit brings Jesus to the cross, and from the cross Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. At the moment of his birth and then publicly in his baptism, the Holy Spirit is given to Jesus; at the moment of his death, Jesus gives the Holy Spirit. Peter says to the crowd gathered on the day of Pentecost, “Having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear” (Acts 2:33). The Fathers of the Church loved to highlight this reciprocity. “The Lord received ointment [myron] on his head,” says St. Ignatius of Antioch, “to breath incorruptibility on the church.”…
The Church’s creed ends with the words, “I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” It does not mention what will precede resurrection and eternal life, that is, death. Rightly so, because death is not the object of faith but of our experience. Death, however, touches all of us too closely to pass over it in silence.
In order to evaluate the change brought by Christ concerning death, let us see what remedies human beings have looked to in order to deal with the problem of death, especially since they are the ones with which people still try to “console themselves” today. Death is the number one human problem…
Perhaps better than thinking of our lives as “a mortal life,” we should think of it as “a living death,”a life of dying. This thought by Augustine has been taken up from a secular standpoint by Martin Heidegger who made death, in its own right, a subject for philosophy. Defining life and a human being as a “being-toward-death,” he sees death not as an event that brings life to an end but as the very substance of life, that is, as the way life unfolds. To live is to die. Every instant that we live is something that get consumed, that is subtracted from life and handed over to death. “Living-for-death” means that death is not only the end but also the purpose of life. One is born to die and for nothing else. We come from nothingness and we return to nothingness. Nothingness is then the only option for a human being…
“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Cor 15:54-57)
The decisive factor occurs at the moment of Christ’s death: “He died for all” (2 Cor 5:15). But what was so decisive at that moment to change the very nature of death? We can think of it visually this way. The Son of God descended into the tomb, like a dark prison, but he came out on the opposite side. He did not turn back to where he had entered, as Lazarus did and then had to die again. No, he opened a breach on the opposite side through which all those who believe in him can follow him.
An ancient Father writes, “He took upon himself the suffering of man, suffering in a body which could suffer, but through the Spirit that cannot die he slew death, which was slaying man.” St. Augustine says, “By his passion our Lord passed from death to life and opened a way for us who believe in his resurrection that we too may pass over from death to life.” Death becomes a passageway, and it is a passageway to what does not pass away! John Chrysostom says it well:
We do indeed die, but we do not continue in it: which is not to die at all. For the tyranny of death, and death indeed, is when he who dies is never more allowed to return to life. But when after dying is living, and that a better life, this is not death, but sleep.
All these ways of explaining the meaning of the death of Christ are true, but they are not the most profound one. This one is found in what Christ, through his death, came to bring to the human condition, more so than what he came to remove from it: it is found in the love of God, not in the sin of human beings. If Jesus suffers and dies a violent death inflicted on him by hate, he does not do it merely to pay an insolvent debt owed by human beings (the debt of 10,000 talents in the parable is forgiven by the king!); he dies by crucifixion so that the suffering and death of human beings would be inhabited by love!...
What has then changed about death because of Jesus? Nothing and everything! Nothing in terms of our reason, but everything in terms of faith. The necessity of entering the tomb has not changed, but now there is the possibility of exiting from it. This is what the Orthodox icon of the resurrection illustrates so powerfully, and we can see a modern interpretation of it on the left wall of this Redemptoris Mater Chapel. The Risen One descends into hell and brings Adam and Eve out with him and behind them all those who are clinging to him in the infernal regions of that world…
Death is also a baptism. That is how Jesus describes his own death: “I have a baptism to be baptized with” (Lk 12:50). St. Paul speaks of baptism as being “buried therefore with him by baptism into death” (Rom 6:4). In ancient times, at the moment of baptism a person was completely immersed in water; all of one’s sins and one’s fallen human nature were buried in the water, and that person came forth a new creature, symbolized by the white robe he or she was wearing. The same thing happens in death: the caterpillar dies, the butterfly is born. God “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4). All those things are buried forever…
All of this, however, has given someone the pretext of saying that Christianity advances by means of the fear of death. But this is terrible error. Christianity, as we have seen, is not here to increase the fear of death but to remove it; Christ came, says the Letter to the Hebrews, to “deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb 2:15). Christianity does not advance because of the thought of our death but because of the thought of Christ’s death!
For this reason, it is much more effective to meditate on the passion and death of Jesus, rather than meditating on our own death, and we need to say—to give credit to the generations that preceded us—that such a meditation was the daily bread of spirituality during those past centuries. It is a meditation that generates emotion and gratitude, not anxiety; it makes us exclaim, like the Apostle Paul, Christ “loved me and gave himself for me!” (Gal 2:20).
A “pious exercise” that I would like to recommend to everyone during Lent is to pick up a Gospel and read the entire account of the passion, slowly and on your own. It takes less than a half an hour. I knew an intellectual woman who claimed to be an atheist. One day she unexpectedly got the kind of news that leaves people stunned: her sixteen-year-old daughter had a bone tumor. They operated on her. The girl returned from the operating room with an IV drip and all kinds of tubes coming out of her. She was suffering horribly and groaning; she did not want to hear any words of comfort.
Her mother, knowing her daughter to be pious and religious and thinking it would please her, asked her, “Do you want me to read you something from the Gospel?” “Yes, Mamma.” “What do you want me to read?” “Read me the passion.” The mother, who had never read a Gospel, ran to buy one from chaplains; she sat next to her daughter’s bed and began to read. After a while the daughter fell asleep, but the mother continued reading silently in semi-darkness right to the end. “The daughter fell asleep,” she said in the book she wrote after her daughter’s death, “and the mother woke up!” She woke up from her atheism. Reading the passion of Christ had changed her life forever.
Let us end with the simple but powerful prayer from the liturgy, “Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi, quia per sanctam tuam redemisti mundum,” We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
(Translated from Italian by Marsha Daigle Williamson)