5 Lent, March 18
The New Covenant sealed in the broken body and shed blood of Christ pertains to the house of Israel and the house of Judah (Jer. 31:31-34). It reaches back to God’s promise to Abraham, whose descendants would be born not merely of flesh, but preeminently of faith. In a homily on the Epiphany, Leo the Great repeats a summons: “Let it enter, let it enter.” The assembly waits for the subject, finally hearing, “Let the fullness of the nations, let the fullness of the nations, enter into the family of the patriarchs” (Sermon 3, on the Epiphany).
The covenant of Jesus Christ is global in scope. It is directed to every family, language, people, and nation, and while it providentially takes public shape and is transmitted through the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church, it is also takes deep root in persons. “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least to the greatest” (Jer. 31:33-34). “With my whole heart I seek you,” the Psalmist says. “I treasure your word in my heart.” “I will meditate on your precepts.” “I will not forget your word” (Ps. 119:10, 11, 15, 16).
The life of Christ transmitted by the Spirit into one’s “inward being,” into the “secret heart,” is a life of beneficent purgation (Ps. 51). “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (Ps. 51:2). “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean” (Ps. 51:7). “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:10). The Spirit of Christ, therefore, meets the human heart in a crisis of both death and new life. The old Adam dies; the new Adam takes root. To state the matter with imperatives, “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)”; get rid of “anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another” (Col. 3:5, 8-9). In writing “put to death” and “get rid of,” St. Paul presumes moral effort, but the principal actor in the soul’s purgation is always the Spirit of Christ.
The new life of Christ is a new being. “You have stripped off the old nature with its practices, and have put on the new nature” (Col. 3:9-10). The vestments of Christ are the swaddling bands of a new birth. Put on “compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another … forgiving each other; … Above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col. 3:12-14 RSV). This progress toward new virtues will, humanly speaking, require work and sacrifice, but the mysterious inner working of Christ brings it about, nonetheless, as sheer gift.
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies,” says Jesus, “it remains means just a single grain; but if it dies it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Growing in Christ involve pain and death, much fruit and new life. The great Henri de Lubac addresses the Spirit’s impetus to ever deepening growth, saying, “In this abandonment, the believer finds at once his torment and his joy” (The Christian Faith, p. 256).
Take up your cross that your joy may be full.
Look It Up
Recite Psalm 51 slowly.
Think About It
“By loving your neighbor,” says St. Augustine, “you purge your eyes to see God” [Diligendo proximum purgas oculos ad videndum Deum] (Tract. 17, St. John).