From Lent, 304-306, (1944)
It is clear that ultimate glory comes to our Lord and to his united Church only through the sufferings and death of the Cross. But how does this new body become united to its head through his death? Man is not forced into this union. If he joins, he does so freely through love.
Man can, if he wishes, “remain alone,” a solitary individual beyond the confines of the Church, loving himself and his earthly life with its comforts. These words of our Lord aptly describe the modern individualist, who is content with his own petty, comfortable life and declares that he has no need of religion, no need to enter by the death of his individual independence and selfish life into the union of Christian life. Yet he will lose his life.
Suffering flows to the doorstep of everyone, as a means offered by God for joining the Christian body. If he refuses the means, the pain remains purely as a vindication of God’s justice. In this way alone can the sufferings of this life cease to lead primarily to love, not because God has ceased to love the soul but because the soul has refused to love God.
But “Christ dies for all; that they also who live may now live to themselves but unto him that died for them and rose again” (2 Cor. 5:15). Those in love are joined to the glorious unity of the Church in the death of the Lord. They hate their isolated, self-satisfied, and self-centered life, and instead accept the sufferings that come to them in order to break down self and mold it to the form of the head of the Church.
Wherever our Lord is, the faithful servant will also be, whether in the garden, on the Cross, or in the glory of the Resurrection. This means suffering, so we are shown here the first signs of that agony of Christ’s human nature which reached its climax in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Now is my soul troubled.”
Christ has been talking about his own death. He is not going to face it as a kind of superman who suffers nothing. Death is not a mere formality to him. He is God, yes; but he is not one of those human Greek gods who enjoy a charmed life. He deliberately reveals the instinctive side of his human nature which naturally seeks life, shrinks from death, and is in anguish at the vivid presentation of the pains and torments it will have to endure.
The revelation is made not by an irrepressible sigh escaping his lips, but deliberately to show the depths of suffering that he was to endure, and to suggest the reality of the pains of his servants. This seems to be the sense of his rhetorical question – not as a request that the chalice should pass from him as in the garden, but a declaration that now he is not making that request: “And what shall I say: Father save me from this hour?” No, for this he came into the world, for this he has lived up to the present hour.
Why, then, does love make this demand? Suddenly the simile changes. Still speaking of his death, he turns from “falling” to “lifting up from the earth.” Even the crowd recognizes that this raising aloft is for execution rather than for honor. This shocking news turns the wayward multitude from its enthusiasm of the morning to doubt and distrust.
But our Lord is showing that his followers are not to be left simply to their own initiative in loving him. Man is to be drawn back into union by the love of our Lord. The fire of love soon spreads from the central furnace of the supreme act of charity. New little flames join up with the great central blaze. The first reason why the Passion is the cause of the remission of sins is that it stirs man to love, which consumes sin.
Again, the Passion remits sin because, as our head, Christ redeemed all sins through the fire of his love. The Cross has drawn all things to it because it is the outward expression of the intensest love and calls up in the heart of all who behold it a corresponding love.
Hence our Lord can say, “Now is the judgment of the world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out;” for although the devil remains in the world to tempt us, he is no longer an interior traitor within the soul, but can assail only from outside all those who avail themselves of the universal remission and redemption of sins, all who have allowed themselves to be drawn to the foot of the Cross.
Conrad Pepler, OP (1908-1993) was an English Dominican priest and author, the author of several books on the liturgy and sacramental theology, and the warden of Spode House, England’s first Roman Catholic conference center.