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Overcoming anger, finding peace – Bryan Mercier

Bryan Mercier is a Catholic speaker and apologist whose latest book is “Why Do You Believe in God? Catholic Conversations with Skeptics and Non-Believers”. He spoke with The Coming Home Network about his troubled teenage years, and how his struggles with anger, and even temptations to violence, were overcome through a fresh discovery of his true worth in the eyes of a loving God.

Would you say you had a solid faith foundation in your childhood?

I grew up with faith. My mom taught me to pray from the time I could talk. My dad wasn’t a very nice guy at the time; he was very angry. It didn’t seem like he had much of a faith life. I was often scared of his anger and his temper and felt safer with my mom.

Parents tend to rub off on kids, and it’s apparent now that in the long run, your mom’s faith rubbed off on you, but did your dad’s anger rub off as well?

I would say yes and yes. My dad’s anger definitely rubbed off on me; I think when you’re in a family where your parents are fighting all the time, anger and depression are things that tend to follow. I bore the brunt of my dad’s anger in my early years, because he babysat me while my mom worked. He was verbally abusive, and sometimes hit me for little to no reason. I think that I got more of that treatment than my older brothers and sisters, which led to more anger and more depression within me as I got into high school.

For a lot of us, it’s those high school years when we really start to express ourselves on these issues. How did all of this manifest itself once you arrived at your teens?

That’s when it all hit home. I went to a very abusive Catholic high school in Boston. By abusive, I mean we were on the edge of the ‘combat zone,’ where all the gangs used to hang out. It was a very tough area. I was this 85-pound kid who wasn’t tough at all, so I was picked on, and bullied, and had a hard time fitting in.

I was transferred to another high school, but ended up getting picked on a lot there, too, for being the new kid. So it was about then that I began to experience major depression and sadness. I always say that if you make fun of a kid who’s normal, they’ll probably become sad; if you bully a kid who’s already sad, they’ll become angry; and if you bully an angry kid, you may put them over the edge. That’s the road I was going down.

If you had met me back then, you would have seen a paradox; on the one hand, you’d see a nice kid who wouldn’t hurt anyone, and enjoyed being around his friends, but on the other hand, outside of school, you might see me dressed all in black, carrying weapons, looking for a fight, wanting to hurt people. Sometimes I’d go sit down next to the train tracks and let the train go by six inches from my head. These are the kinds of things I’d do to numb the pain that I kept trying to ignore.

I used to throw darts in our attic, and I’d even paste the pictures of the people I hated from high school up on the dartboard. All this is a pretty clear indication of the kind of anger that was welling up in me. For years, I didn’t even want to look in the mirror, because I hated what I saw there. I thought I was the ugliest person on planet earth. I had rock bottom self-esteem. I desperately needed to be loved.

Was music an outlet at all for you?

It was, and it was helpful in some ways, but the lyrics of the stuff I was listening to only fed into my anger and sadness. The biggest outlet for me was my friends — just playing video games with them, and hanging out with them, was a way for me to forget how depressed I became when I was alone. It was when I was at home, in the silence, that dissatisfaction with life would really get to me.

Were any of these thoughts you had suicidal in nature?

That’s a strange question, and it comes up a lot when I give retreat talks. Teens often ask me if I was ever suicidal, and I say no — I wasn’t the one who had hurt myself, it was everyone else who had hurt me. If I was going to hurt anyone, it was going to be someone else.

That idea of hurting other people started to fill up my head. I started writing poetry where I’d be hurting people, and even killing people. My friends read some of my poems, and they were shocked at how graphic the violence was. I suppose if I were to write that kind of stuff today, people might recommend me to a psychiatrist, or call the authorities.

I don’t think I would have gone through with any of it, because I feared two things: my dad and hell. In that sense, I guess religion was working on me, because it kept me from doing terrible things. I didn’t want to go to hell, and I knew that there would be repercussions if I did the things I was writing about. And I wasn’t a mean kid; I just had a lot of anger that I didn’t know how to get rid of in a constructive way.

Obviously fear, if it’s your primary motivating factor, doesn’t get you very far in faith. How were you able to move from fear to love when it came to your relationship with God?

It happened through coming to know who God is. I had a lot of misconceptions about Him. I thought He was angry and vengeful, and if I ticked him off, He’d be ready in an instant to send me to hell.

College was when this changed for me. I ended up going to Franciscan University, and it was there that I had a very powerful experience of the God of the universe that completely changed my life. Some of this happened over time. Being on a campus like Franciscan, where people are constantly reinforcing to you that God loves you, was huge for me. You were on a campus where it was normal for students to smile at one another, and actually hug one another. It was the complete opposite of my experience in high school.

But there was also a specific moment where I felt the love of God break through my defenses. I had prayed my whole life for God to change my heart, and He never had — and I realized that it was because my life was full of anger and depression. He wanted to come into my life, but I hadn’t left any room for Him. At Franciscan, I’d been praying a lot more, going to Mass more, and going to Confession, and starting to make more room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to move in.

At this time, the faith life on campus was a mix of charismatic students and more traditional students. I was completely against the charismatic stuff; I couldn’t relate to it at all. I couldn’t understand it, and some of it even seemed disrespectful to me.

Then, one day, when I was at Mass, I felt really strongly that God was calling me to put my hands in the air. Being the more traditionally inclined person that I was, I told him “no.” I was in the 5th pew from the front, and it was while we were singing the Gloria. The feeling that I should be putting my hands up in praise to God kept getting stronger, so I thought fine, I’ll give this a chance. I put my hands up, just a little — not all the way, I didn’t want to be like the “weirdos” around me — and in doing that, I felt as though in that moment, I was actively surrendering to God.

It might be like if someone came and stuck a gun in your back, and you were to say, “I surrender.” Except for me, it was God asking, and He wanted me, of my own free will, to surrender all my pain, all my problems, all my anger, all my depression, everything. He wanted me to give it all to Him, because it wasn’t His plan for me to live that way.

This feeling of total surrender hit me hard. I felt like an 18-wheeler had plowed into me at 55 miles per hour. I felt like God was offering me all the happiness and fulfillment in the world, if I wanted it. And I remember specifically those four words: if I wanted it.

There are some outside the Catholic Church who see the liturgy of the Mass as too rigid, too scripted — that it doesn’t allow for the movement of the Holy Spirit. How significant was it that this moment of divine love washed over you in the context of Mass?

It’s very significant. I’d had experiences of God at Franciscan outside of the Mass, at their Eucharistic Festivals of Praise. But it was interesting that He chose the Mass — the source and summit of our faith — to completely change my life. I don’t even remember what happened for about five minutes, but when I came back around, it was a totally different part of the Mass.

In that moment, I knew God was real. He wasn’t a theory for me anymore. I didn’t know of Him anymore, I knew Him. And that understanding of Him hit me during the Mass. Really, if we’re bored at Mass, it’s not the Mass that’s boring — it’s us. The Mass is a prayer, and if we don’t have a prayer life outside of it, we’ll have a hard time praying when we’re in the midst of it.

Over the next year or so, God gave me a new heart, and a new mind. He rooted out all of my hatred, and replaced it with overflowing love. He took away my confusion, and gave me peace. My darkness became light. He gave me the desire to share that experience of joy and peace with as many people as possible through the ministry I now have, because His love changed my life, and I want everyone to know that it’s available to them, too.

The human need for love seems to be a thread that runs through your whole story.

Yes, and I think that’s the outstanding point. You can know all the arguments for the existence of God and still be far from Him. I find that, when I travel, doing parish missions and retreats as part of my ministry, I have to share the tremendous love of God, because that’s what people are starving for. Some of us hear from the time that we’re little that God loves us, but until we encounter that love for ourselves in a real way, it won’t mean anything to us. It’s the personal encounter with that love that has led me to want to share that gift with everyone I come in contact with.”

Love,
Matthew

Why we believe in the Resurrection


-by Trent Horn

“The Bible says that if Jesus did not rise from the dead then the Christian faith is worthless (1 Cor. 15:17). However, if Jesus did rise from the dead then we know Jesus can keep his promise to give everyone who follows him eternal life (1 John 2:25).

But how can we know that Jesus really rose from the dead and that the Bible’s description of this miracle wasn’t just a story someone made up?

One way is by showing that the Resurrection is the only explanation for the events surrounding Jesus’ death, events that almost everyone, including skeptics, agrees are historical. Even scholars who don’t think the Bible is the word of God admit it is not completely made up.

For example, skeptical scholar John Dominic Crossan denies that Jesus rose from the dead but he says, “That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be.”

Similarly, the atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Ludemann said, “It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus’ death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ.” Lüdemann doesn’t think Jesus actually rose from the dead but that the apostles experienced an hallucination instead. He does think, however, the apostles thought they saw the risen Jesus and this fact of history needs to be explained.

An Atheist Admits the Evidence Is Overwhelming

Antony Flew was at one time one of the most famous atheists in the Western world. His essay “Theology and Falsification” is one of the most widely printed essays in the history of twentieth-century philosophy. That is why it is remarkable that even he admitted in a debate with a Christian that “the evidence for the resurrection is better than for claimed miracles in any other religion. It’s outstandingly different in quality and quantity.”

For example, the Qu’ran does not record Muhammad performing miracles, and the earliest sources about Buddha say he refused to perform miracles. Both men are described as performing miracles only in legends written centuries after their deaths. This stands in sharp contrast to the accounts of Christ’s Resurrection that we find in the Bible. Unlike the stories of other ancient wonder-workers, these Christian accounts were written decades (not centuries) after the events they describe and are preserved in multiple sources.

“I’m Ready to Be a Christian”

I remember staying up one night in high school watching debates on the Internet between Christians and atheists. One question kept bothering me: How did it all start? Christianity didn’t begin with one person having visions of God that no one else could confirm. It began with the public proclamation that a man had been raised from the dead. It was accompanied by historical evidence like the empty tomb that proved this was not a hoax or a hallucination.

That night I realized Jesus was really alive and he was the God “out there” I had vaguely thought about for so many years. I then bowed my head, opened up my palms, and prayed, “Jesus, if you’re real, help me believe. I’m ready to be a Christian.”

Why We Believe: The Resurrection

Even skeptics admit that Jesus was crucified, buried, his tomb was found empty, his disciples saw him after his death, and they were willing to die for that truth.

Other explanations, like hallucination or fraud, only [attempt to] explain some of these facts.

The most plausible explanation for all these facts is that Jesus really did rise from the dead.”

Love, & Easter Joy!!! He is Risen!!!! He is truly Risen!!!
Matthew

Why I am a Catholic – Carl Sundell


-Carl Sundell is Professor Emeritus of English and Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas. He has authored several books and has contributed to New Oxford Review and Catholic Insight. He is currently developing a book for students of Catholic apologetics.

“I have not always been a Catholic. At the age of ten I was baptized at St. Elizabeth’s Church in Lubbock, Texas. My mother and stepfather were not churchgoers, but must have thought I was misbehaving sufficiently to require more moral guidance than they were equipped to provide. For several Sundays they took me on a tour of churches throughout the city, then asked me which one I liked. I told them I wanted to go back to the one with the bells and candles and statues and the great music and the man up front in the neat costume. “Well Carl,” my mother said, “it looks like you’re going to be a Catholic.”

On top of that, I became an altar server. That was in Carlsbad, New Mexico. During my junior year at the high school there, I had an excellent English teacher, John Hadsell. He was not a Catholic, but he introduced me to a book of Father Brown detective stories by G.K. Chesterton. One day, Mr. Hadsell radically changed my life by reading to the class St. Anselm’s ontological proof for the existence of God. Can you imagine an English teacher getting away with that today in a public high school? I was so impressed (but also confused) by Anselm’s logic that I asked him to read the proof again. He patiently did, and from that moment on began my serious search for (and later flight from) Anselm’s “Being of whom no greater being can be conceived.”

At Carlsbad I encountered another formidable influence. In the school library I came across a book of essays by Jacques Maritain, the premier Catholic philosopher of the twentieth century. I learned that he was living at Princeton University and wrote him a letter congratulating him on his book. Several weeks later I was in glorious shock after receiving a kindly reply and words of encouragement.

Our correspondence continued through seventeen letters over five years. My daily reach into the mailbox was an adventure. Maritain was a very modest man, never drawing attention to himself and always offering advice on how to advance my spiritual rather than my intellectual life. He urged frequent confession as good for the soul.

In 1958 I attended one year at Cardinal O’Connell minor seminary near Boston. Originally I had planned to become a monk at the Trappist Abby in Spencer, Massachusetts, but the priest in charge of vocations at the Worcester diocese persuaded me that I was too young for such a life, and that anyway I had all the makings of a secular priest (I had, and still have, no idea what that meant).

Seminary life I found alternately dull and disagreeable, perhaps mainly because I had to study Greek, Latin, and French along with English and Mathematics. Many of my fellow seminarians seemed to lack a deep spirituality. I now suspect they saw me as even more lacking. Once I was mistakenly disciplined for an infraction of the rule of silence committed by someone else in the library. I did not inform on the culprit and silently accepted a stern rebuke by the priest who was dean of discipline, a fairly disagreeable character. I met him in layman’s clothes twenty years later in an elevator. We spoke briefly, but I knew by his casual manner that he did not remember disciplining me. He had left the priesthood, married, and seemed even grumpier than I remembered him as a priest.

My family, still not churchgoers, actively opposed my decision to become a priest. After a year in the seminary, I lost the urge. There followed four years in the Air Force, during which time the letters from Maritain stopped. His wife, Raïssa, a Jewish writer and poet who had converted to Catholicism with him, had died, and he had gone to live with the Little Brothers of Jesus in Toulouse, France. One of the monks he lived with answered my last letter to Maritain, explaining that old age and illness made it necessary for him to cut back on his correspondence. Since Maritain had been a loving father figure for me, I was truly hurt by the loss.

After the Air Force I finished college, where I studied literature and philosophy. Most of the philosophers I read were atheists. The one I remember most is Bertrand Russell, especially his essay “Why I Am Not a Christian,” which I now believe has seduced many young would-be intellectuals who cannot see through the flippant shallowness of Russell’s logic. Like many strident young would-be scholars of the radical 60’s generation, I gradually came to think of myself as too smart to be taken in by religion. This seemed to me also the posture of my academic colleagues in the college where I later taught English and Humanities for thirty years. Having completed my Master’s Degree, I stopped going to Church.

My first wife was an atheist. She had many varied talents and seemed to enjoy pursuing all of them at the same time. After college, we were married by a Justice of the Peace. God was not mentioned during the ceremony, nor ever by either of us thereafter. During the second year of our marriage, my wife’s brother, Jack, killed himself with a shotgun blast to his head. Since I had spoken to him the day before about his drinking problem, I deduced, rightly or wrongly, that I had somehow inadvertently nudged him to pull the trigger. I helped his brother clean up the room in which some of his blood and flesh clung to the walls and the floor. Then I went into deep depression for several weeks and broke down in tears during a visit to my physician. He prescribed a long-term medication that eventually calmed me down. Yet to this day I feel obliged to tremble for Jack’s blood and the fate of my immortal soul.

Our relatively joyless marriage lasted ten years. I remained single for the next twenty years, ever remorseful that I had not tried harder to save our marriage. I could not judge whether it was my doing, or hers, or both of us who failed each other. I now suspect that the absence of God in our lives made all the difference. I hope she too has made that discovery and has at last found a big place for God in her life.

For about twenty-five years I was more a practical atheist than a militant warrior for the cause, though I once wrote a letter of support to America’s most hated atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, who was later murdered by one of her atheist employees. But when two of my psychological anchors, my father and grandmother, died within three months of each other in 1990, I began to feel some vague rumblings of spirituality. After two years of soul-searching, I came to realize that the twenty-five years of my life without God had been the worst years of my life, even though I had imagined and convinced myself during that time that they were among the best.

I searched for and found my eighth grade teacher, Sister Ann Marshall of the Sisters of Mercy. She put me in touch with a Worcester priest, Father Bernard Gilgun, who was active in the Catholic Worker movement and knew Dorothy Day. Father Bernie was the kindest man I have ever known. During my first confession as a born-again Catholic, I broke down in tears at one point, and he joined his tears with mine. Before long I was enlisted by Father Bernie in the Catholic Worker movement to ladle food out for hungry patrons at the Mustard Seed kitchen in Worcester.

Now in my early fifties, I was attending the Eucharistic Adoration hour weekly and praying for guidance as to how I should spend my renewed life as a Catholic. I’ve been told it often happens to prodigal children soon after they return to God, and especially after they have taken up weekly Eucharistic Adoration, that they are greatly blessed in some very special way. That happened to me. Within three months my niece Jessica introduced me to my future wife, Louise. Louise had been reared in the Church of Christ in Hugo, Oklahoma, but had drifted away from churchgoing. Soon after we met, she told me that I was the third Catholic whom she had known and loved. I asked her if she didn’t think maybe God was trying to tell her something. About a year later she was welcomed into the Catholic Church by the same good priest who officiated at our wedding, Monsignor John Kelliher.

In 2001, after my retirement from teaching, Louise and I moved to Lubbock, Texas. Searching for a new ministry, one day in a second hand bookstore I happened to pick up a biography of my old hero, Jacques Maritain. The author mentioned Maritain’s last literary act before his death, the autographing of one of his own books for a man who had just been released from prison. Soon thereafter, for about five years, Louise and I taught RCIA and catechism classes in a state prison near Lamesa, Texas.

Now I’d like to share some thoughts about my return to the Catholic Church.

To the agnostic and to the atheist I say that any philosophy declaring the universe to be meaningless is itself meaningless, since that philosophy is part of a “meaningless” universe. We look for meaning (purpose) everywhere on our planet and in our lives. That being the case, why shouldn’t the universe itself have meaning or purpose? And why shouldn’t the only creature who can imagine a Thing greater than the universe reach out to that Thing in search of its own purpose?

I know God because there is a voice in me that tells me nothing makes sense without God to make sense of it. There is a voice in me (and whose voice could it be but God’s?) that tells me what is right and what is wrong, that makes me feel good when I do right, and feel bad when I do wrong. This conviction in me is so strong I have come to agree with Chesterton that the world is not an essay; it is a story. And if it is a story, there ought to be a storyteller; and the storyteller should not be one who specializes in the only kind of drama I have always despised… the theatre of the absurd.

The world we live in today seems to me on many levels absurd because it denies the existence of a divine story teller. The world has lost some common sense, to be sure, when it is argued by the Supreme Court that pornography cannot be defined, that the killing of life in the womb can be done with impunity, and that men should be able to marry men and women be able to marry women. Some kind of moral anchor has been pulled up, and we are tossed about in a tempest of moral relativity. The Catholic Church alone, it seems to me, still knows and teaches that common sense resides in the natural law. Catholic Christianity, attacked from all sides as the great enemy of progress, is in reality the only loyal friend left to the human race.

As to the absurd canard that only science can save the human race from itself, all the discoveries of modern science are now pushing us to the realization that the universe does have some kind of intelligent design behind it. Astronomers tell us that the universe at one time did not exist, and that it suddenly exploded into being. Carl Sagan, a scientist and atheist, said the early universe was filled with light. “Let there be light!” God said, we are told in Genesis. That image is too clever by far not to have been planted in the mind of the prophet by a Mind greater than his own thousands of years ago.

Max Born, quantum physicist, offered the following remark: “Those who say that the study of science makes a man an atheist must be rather silly.” Scientist Werner Heisenberg saw into the self-deception of “scientific” atheism: “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you.”

While I used to smugly suppose some merit in the advance of science as a way to discredit religion, this now seems to me a superficial and totally incomplete approach to life. There are too many issues that science is completely incompetent to address; not least of which are wisdom, ethics, aesthetics, politics, history, theories of knowledge, human destiny, and so forth. Science has no doubt provided some pleasures, conveniences, and comforts to many people; but it has also threatened by way of nuclear arsenals the future of life on this planet. The very mixed bag of scientific achievements has raised the question of whether science might, after all, lead as likely to Armageddon as to Utopia.

The fundamental dilemma of all atheist and agnostic thought is that it considers religion to be a neurosis, a failure of nerve. Atheists and agnostics, as Sigmund Freud often insisted, like to think that religion is wishful thinking for the immortality that is denied by the fact of death. It never occurred to me when I was an atheist that I might be the truly neurotic one. It never occurred to me to ask whether or not I was an atheist because I did not want God to exist. Nor did it ever occur to me to ask why I did not want God to exist. There is a profoundly developed answer to that question in Dr. Paul Vitz’s book, Faith of the Fatherless, which wonderfully upends Freud’s analysis of religion as a neurotic condition.

I do believe that someone, somewhere, prayed for me to overcome my atheism. I now believe that such prayers are necessary, and that they work wonders. The problem with atheism is that it cuts short the approach to God. Look at the biographies of many of the most famous atheists and you see they have chosen to deny God in their teen years, hardly a sign that the matter has been deeply explored. The ones who come back to God sometimes take decades to do so, and in most cases it only requires a little nudge here and there to make that happen. Some wait until the very end of their lives, and some return to God on their deathbeds without anyone knowing about it.

Here, briefly, is my favorite proof for the existence of God. The whole human race can be divided into two types: those who seek God, and those who flee from God. Nobody is sitting on the fence, even if they like to think they are. As Jesus succinctly put it: “He who is not with me is against me” (Matthew 12:30). Now there is no reason to seek a Thing unless you think in your gut the Thing exists. There is no reason to flee from a Thing unless you think there is a Thing from which to flee. Seeking or fleeing, we all believe in our gut that the Thing called God exists. Catholic theologians call this a dictate of the natural law. God planted in us a desire to know Him. We are free to embrace or reject that desire. But we are not justified to pretend that there is no Thing calling us to draw near, or no Thing from which we flee. Augustine said we cannot rest until we rest in Him.

Here is my second favorite proof for the existence of God. It rightly belongs to Thomas Aquinas, and is called the Prime Mover argument. This proof relies upon a willingness to believe that the universe was created by a Prime Mover. The only question to follow this concession is whether this Mover is a mindless Mover or a Person. At the very least, the Prime Mover, if it is to be regarded as a Person, must have will and intellect. That the universe once did not exist and came to exist with the Big Bang suggests very strongly that the Prime Mover willed it, or it would not have come to exist. That the universe came to exist, but is also dominated by laws that have produced not only order, but also minds (our own) capable of discerning the existence of that order, suggests intellect in the Prime Mover. As Albert Einstein put it, “I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. It does not understand the languages in which they are written. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangements of the books, but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.”

That the Prime Mover might want to have a personal relationship with his creatures is suggested by the fact that he chose to create them in the first place. If he doesn’t want personal relationships, he would not bother to make creatures who also want a personal relationship with him. I think that when Nietzsche said God is dead, he could have been talking about the impersonal God of the 18th century Deists. Yes, I believe that God is dead and pretty much forgotten today.

To followers of the world religions outside of Christianity, I say I am a Catholic because, if God exists, God must have created us for a reason that was clearly explained by Him to His prophets and to His Church. If God is truthful, God would have set up His true religion to compete successfully with all the other major religions of the world. And so He has. From one Jew in Israel, nailed to a tree, the ancient Jewish religion He (the Son of God) founded through Abraham and transformed through Himself has today gone out to well over a billion Catholics throughout the world. This is a miracle of the highest order that cannot be compared with the growth and longevity claimed by any of the other great religions.

Likewise, the compassionate life and death of Jesus leaves not one doubt for me that if God is Love, there can be no greater love for humankind than the love of the God-Man who laid down His life for His friends. The religions that do not say first of all that “God is Love,” as all the early Christians said, have no appeal for me. They are at bottom either indifferent or malicious. They tend to go the way of all flesh, and if they have not gone that way yet, they eventually will.

A true religion should be the most beautiful thing on earth. I love the beauty of the Catholic Church, warts and all, above everything else. For me there is no more beautiful way to worship in all the world; surely the truest religion would be wrapped in the greatest beauty. The Catholic Mozart said it best in his sublime “Ave, verum Corpus,” his magnificent tribute to our Lord in the Eucharist. A ten-year old boy in Lubbock, Texas saw the same beauty Mozart saw when, out of half a dozen different churches, the only one he wanted to visit again was Saint Elizabeth’s.

To my Protestant friends: all Protestants surely know that the oldest of their denominations cannot trace themselves back any farther than Martin Luther. Indeed, if all Protestants of modern European descent trace their family lineage back far enough, all their ancestors at one time were Catholic. The earliest of those ancestors who were Christians in the early Church always called themselves Christians, but at some point between the third and fourth centuries they began to call themselves Catholic (Universal) Christians to distinguish themselves from those who were calling themselves Christians but had signed onto the various heresies that were spreading throughout the empire.

Protestants will also see, when they study history, that the Catholic Church produced the Nicene Creed; that it collected and authenticated the books of the New Testament; that it defended the Western world from the violent advance of Islam into Europe; that it established the hospitals and universities of Europe in the Middle Ages; and that it was a Catholic who invented the printing press and published the first Holy Bible, so that the word of God could eventually be sent by book into every home in Christendom. Wouldn’t all these marks of distinction be signs of the true Church of Christ rather than the “harlot” mentioned by Martin Luther and others? As John Henry Newman, a nineteenth century convert from the Anglican Church, said about his conversion: “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant.”

I invite Protestants to reflect that thousands of denominations are a clear sign that a partial truth is in them, but certainly the whole truth cannot be in all of them, since they have added to or taken away from each other’s creeds thousands of times. Thousands of denominations do not make the one Church that Christ built upon the rock called Peter; for it was a Church (not Churches) that Christ promised the gates of Hell would never prevail against (Matthew 16:18). The lack of unity among Protestant Christians has been no less dangerous to the modern world than the growing lack of unity among Catholics today. As Aesop explained in his fable of the “Bundle of Sticks,” Christians who do not stick together will be easily broken, whereas it is impossible to break a huge bundle of sticks tied together.

I regret having been an on-again, off-again Catholic, slow both in my head and in my heart to hear the words of wisdom the Holy Spirit spoke to me in my youth. Once I might have been a priest. I threw that away. Then I threw away the truth of God when I left the Church. Miserable, I walked away from my first wife to start a long and isolated journey of my own.

Recently a dear friend of mine revealed that, when we first met, he noticed that something was missing in me. I believe that was surely so, and it may still be the case. Since Adam and Eve, I suppose something has been missing in all of us. A deep hole exists, waiting for what is needed to fill it up. And so I have learned in the most painful ways possible to look for what or who is missing; for signs that come in dreams, in coincidences, in narrow escapes, in seemingly chance meetings, in all the strange and winding curves of my life; signs that the Father has spoken words of truth to a stubbornly blind and deaf child. I hope and pray that by God’s amazing grace I have at last opened my eyes and my ears that I might learn to see, to hear… and to obey.”

Love,
Matthew

Haec dies

Haec dies quam fecit Dominus:
exultemus et laetemur in ea,
alleluya.

verse for Easter Sunday:
Confitemini Domino, quoniam bonus:
quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus.
[Pascha nostrum Immolatus est Christus.]

verse for Easter Monday:
Dicant nunc Israel, quoniam bonus:
quoniam in saeculum misericordia ejus.

verse for Easter Tuesday:
Dicant nunc, qui redempti sunt a Domino:
quos redemit de manu inimici,
et de regionibus congregavit eos.

This is the day which the Lord hath made:
let us be glad and rejoice therein.
Alleluia.

verse for Easter Sunday:
Give praise to the Lord, for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:1)
[Christ our Passover was sacrificed for us.]

verse for Easter Monday:
Let Israel now say, that He is good:
that His mercy endureth for ever. (Psalm 118:2)

verse for Easter Tuesday:
Let them say so that have been redeemed by the Lord,
whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy:
and gathered out of the countries.
(Psalm 107:2)

He IS RISEN!!!! Praise Him!!!

Love,
Matthew

Jesus, never leave us

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – Do not leave me, O Jesus, gentle Pilgrim; I have need of You.

MEDITATION

God has made us for Himself, and we cannot live without Him; we need Him, we hunger and thirst for Him; He is the only One who can satisfy our hearts. The Easter liturgy is impregnated with this longing for God, for Him Who is from on high; it even makes it the distinctive sign of our participation in the Paschal mystery. “If you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God; mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth” (Colossians 3:1-2). The more the soul revives itself in the Resurrection of Christ, the more it feels the need of God and of heavenly truths; it detaches itself more and more from earthly things to turn toward those of heaven.

Just as physical hunger is an indication of a living, healthy organism, so spiritual hunger is a sign of a robust spirit, one that is active and continually developing. The soul which feels no hunger for God, no need to seek Him and to find Him, and which does not vibrate or suffer with anxiety in its search, does not bear within itself the signs of the Resurrection. It is a dead soul or at least one which has been weakened and rendered insensible by lukewarmness. The Paschal alleluia is a cry of triumph at Christ’s Resurrection, but at the same time, it is an urgent invitation for us to rise also. Like the sound of reveille, it calls us to the battles of the spirit and invites us to rouse and renew ourselves, to participate ever more profoundly in Christ’s Resurrection. Who can say, however advanced he may be in the ways of the spirit, that he has wholly attained to his resurrection?

COLLOQUY

“O my hope, my Father, my Creator, true God and Brother, when I think of what You said—that Your delights are to be with the children of men—my soul rejoices greatly. O Lord of heaven and earth, how can any sinner, after hearing such words, still despair? Do You lack souls in whom to delight, Lord, that You seek so unsavory a worm as I?… O what exceeding mercy! What favor far beyond our deserving!

“Rejoice, O my soul … and since the Lord finds His delights in you, may all things on earth not suffice to make you cease to delight in Him and rejoice in the greatness of your God.

“I desire neither the world, nor anything that is worldly; and, nothing seems to give me pleasure but You; everything else seems to me a heavy cross.

“O my God, I am afraid, and with good reason, that You may forsake me; for I know well how little my strength and insufficiency of virtue can achieve, if You are not always granting me Your grace and helping me not to forsake You. It seems to me, my Lord, that it would be impossible for me to leave You…. But as I have done it so many times I cannot but fear, for when You withdraw but a little from me I fall utterly to the ground. But blessed may You be forever, O Lord! For though I have forsaken You, You have not so completely forsaken me as not to raise me up again by continually giving me Your hand…. Remember my great misery, O Lord, and look upon my weakness, since You know all things.” (Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 7 – Life, 6).

Love,
Matthew

Christ is the Day – St Maximus of Turin, (380-465 AD), Bishop


-image of a side chapel of the Rosary Basilica, Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes, France. The main image is a permanent mosaic depicting the Resurrection and was completed in about 1900. (The Basilica was consecrated in 1901)

(Sermo 53, 1-2, 4: CCL 23, 214-216 by Saint Maximus of Turin, bishop)

“Christ is risen! He has burst open the gates of hell and let the dead go free; He has renewed the earth through the members of His Church now born again in baptism and has made it blossom afresh with men brought back to life. His Holy Spirit has unlocked the doors of heaven, which stand wide open to receive those who rise up from the earth. Because of Christ’s resurrection, the thief ascends to paradise, the bodies of the blessed enter the holy city, and the dead are restored to the company of the living. There is an upward movement in the whole of creation, each element raising itself to something higher. We see hell restoring its victims to the upper regions, earth sending its buried dead to heaven, and heaven presenting the new arrivals to the Lord. In one and the same movement, our Savior’s passion raises men from the depths, lifts them up from the earth, and sets them in the heights.

Christ is risen. His rising brings life to the dead, forgiveness to sinners, and glory to the saints. And so David the prophet summons all creation to join in celebrating the Easter festival: Rejoice and be glad, he cries, on this day which the Lord has made (cf Psalm 118:24).

The light of Christ is an endless day that knows no night. Christ is this day, says the Apostle; such is the meaning of his words: Night is almost over; day is at hand (cf Romans 13:12). He tells us that night is almost over, not that it is about to fall. By this we are meant to understand that the coming of Christ’s light puts Satan’s darkness to flight, leaving no place for any shadow of sin. His everlasting radiance dispels the dark clouds of the past and checks the hidden growth of vice. The Son is that day to whom the day, which is the Father, communicates the mystery of His divinity. He is the day who says through the mouth of Solomon: I have caused an unfailing light to rise in heaven (cf Ecclesiasticus [Sirach] 24:6 Douay-Rheims). And as in heaven, no night can follow day, so no sin can overshadow the justice of Christ. The celestial day is perpetually bright and shining with brilliant light; clouds can never darken its skies. In the same way, the light of Christ is eternally glowing with luminous radiance and can never be extinguished by the darkness of sin. This is why John the evangelist says: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has never been able to overpower it (cf John 1:5).

And so, my brothers, each of us ought surely to rejoice on this holy day. Let no one, conscious of his sinfulness, withdraw from our common celebration, nor let anyone be kept away from our public prayer by the burden of his guilt. Sinner he may indeed be, but he must not despair of pardon on this day which is so highly privileged; for if a thief could receive the grace of paradise, how could a Christian be refused forgiveness?”

Love, Joyful Easter!!!, Our Victory in Him!!!
Matthew

Victory of the Cross

-by Rev Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, OCD, Divine Intimacy, Baronius Press, (c) 1964

Presence of God – O Jesus, crucified for love of me, show me the victory won by Your death.

MEDITATION

As soon as Jesus expired, “the veil of the Temple was torn in two … the earth quaked, the rocks were rent. And the graves were opened, and many bodies … arose,” so that those who were present were seized with a great fear and said: “Indeed this was the Son of God” (Matthew 27:51-54). Jesus willed to die in complete ignominy, accepting to the very end the mocking and ironic challenges of the soldiers, “If Thou be Christ, save Thyself” (Luke 23,39); but scarcely had He drawn His last breath, when His divinity revealed itself in such a powerful manner that it impressed even those who, up to that moment, had been jeering at Him. Christ’s death began to show itself for what it really was, that is, not a defeat but a victory: the greatest victory that the world would ever witness, the victory over sin, the victory over death, which was the consequence of sin, the victory, which restored to man the life of grace.

In offering us the Cross for adoration yesterday, the Church sang: “Behold the wood of the Cross, on which hung the salvation of the world,” and after the mournful alternations of the Improperia, or tender reproaches, she intones a hymn of praise in honor of the Cross: “Sing, my tongue, the noble triumph whose trophy is the Cross, and the victory won by the immolation of the Redeemer of the world!” Thus consideration of the Lord’s sufferings and compassion for them alternate with the hymn of victory. The supreme paradox of death and life, of death and victory, reach a unity in Jesus, in such a way that the first is the cause of the second. St. John of the Cross, describing the agony of Jesus on the Cross, affirms: “He wrought herein the greatest work that He had ever wrought, whether in miracles or in mighty works, during the whole of His life, either upon earth or in Heaven, which was the reconciliation and union of mankind, through grace, with God. And this, as I say, was at the moment and the time when this Lord was most completely annihilated in everything. Annihilated, that is to say, with respect to human reputation; since, when men saw Him die, they mocked Him rather than esteemed Him; and also with respect to nature, since His nature was annihilated when He died; and further with respect to the spiritual consolation and protection of the Father, since at that time He forsook Him ….” And he concludes: “Let the truly spiritual man…understand the mystery of the gate and of the way of Christ, and so become united with God, and let him know that the more completely he is annihilated for God’s sake, according to these two parts, the sensual and the spiritual, the more completely he is united to God and the greater is the work which he accomplishes” (Ascent of Mount Carmel, Book II, Chapter 7, Paragraph 11).

COLLOQUY

“Hail, O Cross, our only hope! You increase grace in the souls of the just and remit the faults of sinners. O glorious resplendent tree, decked in royal purple, on your arms hangs the price of our Redemption, in you is our victory, our ransom!” (cf. Roman Breviary).

“O Christ, I glance again at Your bloodstained face, and I raise my tear-filled eyes to see Your wounds and bruises. I lift my contrite, afflicted heart, to consider all the tribulations You have endured in order to seek me and to save me.

“O good Jesus, how generously have You given us, on the Cross, all You had! To Your executioners, Your loving prayer; to the thief, Paradise; to Your Mother, a son, and to the son, a Mother; to the dead, You gave back life, and you placed Your soul in Your Father’s hands; You showed Your power to the entire world, and shed, through Your wide and numerous wounds, not a few drops, but all Your Blood, to redeem a slave!… O meek Lord and Savior of the world, how can we thank You worthily?

“O good Jesus, You bow Your crowned Head, pierced by many thorns, inviting me to the kiss of peace. ‘see,’ You say to me, ‘how disfigured, torn, and annihilated I am! Do you know why? To lift you up, O wandering sheep, to put you on my shoulder and bring you to the heavenly pasture in Paradise. Now return My Love. Behold Me in My Passion. Love Me. I gave Myself to you; give yourself to Me.’ O Lord, I am grief-stricken at the sight of Your wounds; I want You to rule over me, just as You are, in Your Passion. I want to set You as a seal upon my heart, as a seal on my arm, to make me conformable to You and Your martyrdom in all I think and do.

“O good and gentle Jesus! You who gave Yourself to us as a ransom for our redemption, grant that we, unworthy though we be, may correspond with Your grace, entirely, perfectly, and in all things” (cf. St. Bonaventure).”

Love, Blessed Easter,
Matthew

Sermon on the Death of Christ – St Ephrem the Syrian (306-373 AD)


-Entombment of Christ, Fra Angelico, 1438-40, tempera on panel, 38 × 46 cm, Alte Pinakothek, Bavaria, Germany

Death trampled Our Lord underfoot, but He in His turn treated death as a highroad for His own feet. He submitted to it, enduring it willingly, because by this means He would be able to destroy death in spite of itself. Death had its own way when Our Lord went out from Jerusalem carrying His cross; but when, by a loud cry from that cross, He summoned the dead from the underworld, death was powerless to prevent it.

Death slew Him by means of the body which he had assumed, but that same body proved to be the weapon with which he conquered death. Concealed beneath the cloak of his manhood, his godhead engaged death in combat; but in slaying Our Lord, death itself was slain. It was able to kill natural life, but was itself killed by the life that is above the nature of man.

Death could not devour Our Lord unless He possessed a body, neither could hell swallow Him up unless He bore our flesh; and so He came in search of a chariot in which to ride to the underworld. This chariot was the body which He received from the Virgin; in it He invaded death’s fortress, broke open its strong room and scattered all its treasures.

At length He came upon Eve, the mother of all the living. She was the vineyard whose enclosure her own hands had enabled death to violate, so that she could taste its fruit; thus the mother of all the living became the source of death for every living creature. But in her stead Mary grew up, a new vine in place of the old. Christ, the new life, dwelt within her. When death, with its customary impudence, came foraging for her mortal fruit, it encountered its own destruction in the hidden life which that fruit contained. All unsuspecting, it swallowed Him up, and in so doing, released life itself and set free a multitude of men.

He Who was also the carpenter’s glorious son set up His cross above death’s all consuming jaws, and led the human race into the dwelling place of life. Since a tree had brought about the downfall of mankind, it was upon a tree that mankind crossed over to the realm of life. Bitter was the branch that had once been grafted upon that ancient tree, but sweet the young shoot that has now been grafted in, the shoot in which we are meant to recognize the Lord Whom no creature can resist.

We give glory to you, Lord, Who raised up Your cross to span the jaws of death like a bridge, by which souls might pass from the region of the dead to the land of the living. We give glory to You who put on the body of a single mortal man, and made it the source of immortality for every other mortal man. You are incontestably alive. Your murderers sowed your body in the earth as farmers sow grain, but it sprang up and yielded an abundant harvest of men raised from the dead.

Come then, my brothers and sisters, let us offer Our Lord the great and all-embracing sacrifice of our love, pouring out our treasury of hymns and prayers before Him Who offered His cross in sacrifice to God for the enrichment of us all.”

Love,
Matthew

Sermon on the Passion of the Lord – Pope St Leo the Great


-Crucifixion, Lucas Cranach the Elder, one of his many

Pope Saint Leo the Great’s Sermon LV on the Passion of the Lord*

I. The difference between the penitence and blasphemy of the two robbers is a type of the human race.

… In speaking but lately of the LORD’S Passion, we reached the point in the Gospel story, where Pilate is said to have yielded to the…wicked shouts that Jesus should be crucified. And so when all things had been accomplished, which the Godhead veiled in frail flesh permitted, Jesus Christ the Son of GOD was fixed to the cross which He had also been carrying, two robbers being similarly crucified, one on His right hand, and the other on the left: so that even in the incidents of the cross might be displayed that difference which in His judgment must be made in the case of all men; for the believing robber’s faith was a type of those who are to be saved, and the blasphemer’s wickedness prefigured those who are to be damned.

Christ’s Passion, therefore, contains the mystery of our salvation, and of the instrument which the iniquity of the [people] prepared for His punishment, the Redeemer’s power has made for us the stepping-stone to glory: and that Passion the LORD Jesus so underwent for the salvation of all men that, while hanging there nailed to the wood, He entreated the Father’s mercy for His murderers, and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

II. The chief priests showed utter ignorance of Scripture in their taunts.

But the chief priests, for whom the Saviour sought forgiveness, rendered the torture of the cross yet worse by the barbs of [mockery]; and at Him, on Whom they could vent no more fury with their hands, they hurled the weapons of their tongues, saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we believe Him.” From what spring of error, from what pool of hatred…do ye drink such poisonous blasphemies? What master informed you, what teaching convinced you that you ought to believe Him to be King of Israel and Son of GOD, who should either not allow Himself to be crucified, or should shake Himself free from the binding nails. The mysteries of the Law, the sacred observances of the Passover, the mouths of the Prophets never told you this: whereas you did find truly and oft-times written that which applies to your abominable wicked-doing and to the LORD’S voluntary suffering. For He Himself says by Isaiah, “I gave My back to the scourges, My cheeks to the palms of the hand, I turned not My face from the shame of spitting.” He Himself says by David, “They gave Me gall for My food, and in My thirst, they supplied Me with vinegar; and again, “Many dogs came about Me, the council of evil-doers beset Me. They pierced My hands and My feet, they counted all My bones. But they themselves watched and gazed on Me, they parted My raiment among them, and for My robe they cast lots.” And lest the course of your own evil doings should seem to have been foretold, and no power in the Crucified predicted, ye read not, indeed, that the LORD descended from the cross, but ye did read, “The LORD reigned on the tree.”

III. The triumph of the Cross is immediate and effective.

The Cross of Christ, therefore, symbolizes the true altar of prophecy, on which the oblation of man’s nature should be celebrated by means of a salvation-bringing Victim. There the blood of the spotless Lamb blotted out the consequences of the ancient trespass: there the whole tyranny of the devil’s hatred was crushed, and humiliation triumphed gloriously over the lifting up of pride: for so swift was the effect of Faith that, of the robbers crucified with Christ, the one who believed in Christ as the Son of GOD entered paradise justified. Who can unfold the mystery of so great a boon? Who can state the power of so wondrous a change? In a moment of time the guilt of long evil-doing is done away; clinging to the cross, amid the cruel tortures of his struggling soul, he passes over to Christ; and to him, on whom his own wickedness had brought punishment, Christ’s grace now gives a crown.

IV. When the last act in the tragedy was over, how must the [people] have felt?

And then, having now tasted the vinegar, the produce of that vineyard which had degenerated in spite of its Divine Planter, and had turned to the sourness of a foreign vine, the LORD says, “it is finished;” that is, the Scriptures are fulfilled: there is no more for Me to abide from the fury of the raging people: I have endured all that I foretold I should suffer. The mysteries of weakness are completed, let the proofs of power be produced. And so He bowed the head and yielded up His Spirit and gave that Body, Which should be raised again on the third day, the rest of peaceful slumber. And when the Author of Life was undergoing this mysterious phase, and at so great a condescension of GOD’S Majesty, the foundations of the whole world were shaken, when all creation condemned their wicked crime by its upheaval, and the very elements of the world delivered a plain verdict against the criminals, what thoughts, what heart-searchings…when the judgment of the universe went against you, and your wickedness could not be recalled, the crime having been done? What confusion covered you? What torment seized your hearts?

V. Chastity and charity are the two things most needful in preparing for Easter communion.

Seeing therefore, dearly-beloved, that GOD’S Mercy is so great, that He has deigned to justify by faith many even from among such a nation, and had adopted into the company of the patriarchs and into the number of the chosen people us who were once perishing in the deep darkness of our old ignorance, let us mount to the summit of our hopes not sluggishly nor in sloth; but prudently and faithfully reflecting from what captivity and from how miserable a bondage, with what ransom we were purchased, by how strong an arm led out, let us glorify GOD in our body: that we may show Him dwelling in us, even by the uprightness of our manner of life. And because no virtues are worthier or more excellent than merciful loving-kindness and unblemished chastity, let us more especially equip ourselves with these weapons, so that, raised from the earth, as it were on the two wings of active charity and shining purity, we may win a place in heaven. And whosoever, aided by GOD’S grace, is filled with this desire and glories not in himself, but in the LORD, over his progress, pays due honour to the Easter mystery. His threshold the angel of destruction does not cross, for it is marked with the Lamb’s blood and the sign of the cross. He fears not the plagues of Egypt, and leaves his foes overwhelmed by the same waters by which he himself was saved. And so, dearly-beloved, with minds and bodies purified let us embrace the wondrous mystery of our salvation, and, cleansed from all “the leaven of our old wickedness, let us keep” the LORD’S Passover with due observance: so that, the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may be “separated” by no temptations “from the love of Christ,” Who bringing peace by His blood to all things, has returned to the loftiness of the Father’s glory, and yet not forsaken the lowliness of those who serve Him to Whom is the honour and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Love, Blessed Good Friday,
Matthew

*Leo the Great. (1895). Sermons. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), C. L. Feltoe (Trans.), Leo the Great, Gregory the Great (Vol. 12a, pp. 167–168). New York: Christian Literature Company.

How does His dying save me?


-“Christ Crucified”, (c. 1632) by Diego Velázquez. Museo del Prado, Madrid


-by Nick Chui

“Why did God create creatures capable of sinning?

I guess we can flip this question around. Why did God create creatures capable of loving? To love means to have free will. Could God create creatures without free will? Yes He could. In fact He already has, by creating the plants and animals. Human beings (and angels) on the other hand, are creatures with free will, capable of choosing love. On the flip side, they are also capable of choosing selfishness. Choosing to be selfish is sin.

Did God know that His creatures would sin?

He would surely know. When He created creatures with free will, the possibility of disobedience/selfishness was in-built into the equation. Does He will that we sin? No He does not. But can God foresee the possibility? Yes He could. Take for instance the relationship between parent and child. After giving their child a good education for instance, can they foresee that it is possible for them to abuse it? Indeed they could. Nevertheless, they can also foresee them making use of this gift to serve society. And if they freely choose the loving act, it is a wonderful thing, it’s not something “forced.”

If His creatures were to sin, was the death of His son the only way to rescue/save them?

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two giants in Catholic theology, answer “No”. God is sovereign; He could choose other ways. He could simply forgiving them. In fact, He already did so as described in the book of Genesis. He banished Adam and Eve to be sure, because they seemed not to have been aware of the gravity of their actions, i.e. wanting to be like God (on their own terms), knowing (determining) good and evil. However, He showed that he cared for them by “making them garments of skins and clothing them.” (Gen 3:21)

In fact, in the entire Old Testament, God teaches Israel how to obtain forgiveness, through very precisely prescribed sin offerings via worship in the temple. The Psalms, especially Psalm 51, are full of episodes of the human person recognizing his fault and being confident that he is forgiven.

If that is the case, then why must He send His Son to earth, if not on a rescue mission?

Blessed Duns Scotus, another giant in Catholic theology, answers in the following manner: “The incarnation was the greatest and most beautiful” of God’s works and is not “conditioned by any contingent facts.” God has always planned to “unite the whole of creation with Himself in the person and flesh of the Son.”

In other words, His Son coming to earth was not “plan B” but always part of God’s intention from the beginning. If our first parents did not sin, nor subsequent human beings, then the incarnation would be like a courtesy call, something like the prince visiting the dwellings of his subjects to have tea with them. It would be something very happy and most pleasant. In fact, C.S. Lewis tries to imagine such a scenario in his space trilogy.

Even if our first parents sin, and so did subsequent human beings, the Son of God will nevertheless keep His appointment. Hence in the fullness of time, the incarnation, in a situation of dysfunction. One of the things that the Son of God needs to do is precisely to heal the dysfunction.

Why must the rescue mission involve the crucifixion?

We must be very clear on this. God is not appeased when He sees blood. As you mention so correctly, it is ludicrous for someone convicted of murder to escape scot-free because the judge agrees that his own innocent son can take his place and die instead. This is not mercy. This is perversion. This is not Catholic teaching. Perhaps certain Protestant groups hold to this. It’s called penal substitution.

The crucifixion is not necessary, in the strict sense, for salvation. Why then did the Son willingly subject Himself to this?

Perhaps Plato might help. Plato wonders what would happen to a perfectly righteous man if he steps into a society full of people who are dysfunctional and tries to help them. Plato concludes that these people would mostly likely crucify him.

What Plato highlights is the stark but terrible reality of human beings. We are often comfortable with our wrongdoing/selfishness and dysfunction. We don’t believe we need rescuing. If somebody who is righteous comes along and shows us a better way, we may well be resentful and feel it best that he gets lost. Maybe we want to put him to death in our hearts.

In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was Rome’s way of telling the enemies of Rome to conform. If you try rebellion, this is what will happen to you. When Jesus preached the kingdom of God, love, brotherhood, and worked His miracles among poor people, and later made gradual claims about His divinity, it was too much for both the Jewish people and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. What Jesus seems to be preaching is a rival kingdom. Of course He has to die. And Jesus was willing to pay the price for the kingdom.

But how does His willingness to pay the price “save” me?

Catholics have divided the effects of Jesus’ death into two categories. His death as example, and His death as expiatory (making up for what we cannot).

Let’s deal with the example first.

The question for me, and perhaps for humankind, is “are we really that bad?” Surely, I am not personally responsible for the death of Jesus? A popular hymn we sing at good Friday is “Were you there where they crucified my Lord?” Of course we were not there. But what if we were? Will we join in the crowd and shout “crucify him” due to cowardice? Or turn away and say “I prefer to mind my own business?” Or if we stand in solidarity with His Mother, do we not also feel the great sorrow at a man Who did no wrong and yet suffered in that manner? And what if this was no ordinary righteous man, killed by evil men (an often too familiar action). What if this righteous man was God incarnate? Does this mean that in our free will, we are capable of killing God? And if we are capable of killing God, do we even deserve to be forgiven?

Applying it to our contemporary context, do we dare say we do not turn a blind eye to the evil around us? Are we also not complicit?

The answer from the cross is Yes. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And if we are “cut to the heart” and realize that we are indeed capable of crucifying the Son of God, we may well cry out like Peter in a paradoxical way “leave me Lord, for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) while at the same time clinging on to Him tightly.

Hence His death saves us in an exemplary sense, because we may well be “cut to the heart”. We are indeed sinners; we have nothing to boast about. We need a Savior. And God, from the cross, has already given the verdict. If you recognize your need for a Savior, you will indeed be forgiven, for we know not what we do.

How is Jesus’ death “expiatory” i.e. making right what we cannot?

Perhaps in comfortable modern society, we can make the case “saying sorry is enough and relationships can be restored.” We don’t encounter horrific evil that often. At least not personally. But think of the Japanese Occupation. Is “saying sorry” enough for a Japanese soldier who may have tortured and brutally murdered the husband of an innocent woman?

No matter how sincere, even if the Japanese soldier were to commit seppuku in atonement, can we say that he has successfully “made up” for the evil he has done? Could we describe his death as “expiatory”?

While it is possible that his asking for forgiveness is sincere, and his sacrifice wholehearted, can he actually “make things right” for the woman after he has tortured and killed her husband? It is not possible.

This is where only the intervention of someone Who holds the power of life and death and can make things right in a more than earthly sense becomes perhaps fitting.

Jesus is that someone. He is a man: He can be our true representative. He is God: His life given up willingly can actually make things right again. Why? Not because God the Father demands blood (He does not) but because the order of justice can actually be restored only through Someone Who is of cosmic importance.

For the Japanese soldier, in Christ, his attempt at expiation is made possible. For the victim, in Christ, the expiation (making right) not possible through the death of the Japanese soldier, becomes possible, since Christ holds the power of life and death.

In the Old Testament, the temple sacrifices of animals in atonement for sins is a constant pedagogical reminder to the people. Making things right is important. And yet the sacrifice of lambs can only be symbolic. For very serious breaches, forgiveness is always possible. Making things right, “expiation”, however, is beyond your capability because in the final analysis, via a sacrificial animal , it can only be symbolic. You need YHWH Himself to provide the solution through His Messiah.

Hence the book of Hebrews has a very prescient observation (Hebrews 10:11-14):

“Day after day every the priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins [referring to atonement not so much forgiveness]. But when this Priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. For by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.“”

Love, Blessed Good Friday,
Matthew