Sermon III: Knowing Jesus Christ crucified
We speak during this Lenten season about faith, but it would be vain if we were not talking about the works, too, simply because faith without the works is vain. Now, when we speak about the works, we have to understand not the materiality of the acts, but mainly the spirituality that penetrates them, and which makes them the works of Jesus Christ Himself.
The Christians who truly confess Jesus Christ from their heart can be recognized by the fact that they are always unsatisfied with themselves. What they know of the Divine science and of the evangelical knowledge is never enough for them, and they always want to know more. What they do, with regards to the works of mercy and of piety, is never enough, and they always want to do better.
According to a deep thought of Saint Augustine, which they may not have ever read but which they certainly realize in their interior life, is that what they find in the endless field of the truth is for them a new reason to continue their quest. They tell themselves with the great Doctor, whatever we have already found, we still have infinitely more to look for, and as we never stop searching, we are certain of finding. Notice, dear brethren, that it is their faith that tells them that they will find, as Our Lord told them, “For every one that asks, receives, and he that seeks, finds.” (Matthew 7:8) The faithful know that their quest is not vain, and cannot be vain, because God has never and will never deceive anyone.
They never grow tired of listening to the magisterial and apostolic teaching of the Church that unrolls for them the demands and the beauties of the Christian virtues. Since you are here, I can suppose that, dear brethren, you have to be counted among them. And you know with Saint Paul that we can sum up the entire doctrine in the Cross of Jesus Christ.
The Cross is to the true faithful the symbol of the renouncements entailed by Christian life. It is also the supreme revelation of God and the highest expression of His love, the unique secret of His Heart, and finally the triumph through which the disciples of Christ win over the world. The Cross appears to them as wisdom, light, and salvation. In one word, it is the Christian conception of Christian life.
Alas, and very far from it, is the Cross accepted by all the Christians. It is not rare, let us acknowledge it, to see among us some non-Christian perceptions of the Christian religion. Look at those who show the Cross as their emblem, and who refuse it as the principle of their life! Who, among ourselves, has never met one of these Catholics who walk with confidence, and whose soul is free from concerns? By the way, why would they be anxious? They strive, more or less deliberately, to not be involved in the questions, the doubts, and the anxieties that torment their co-religionists. They have certainly learned how to see in the Cross of Christ the symbol of the religion of Christ, but the idea that they form and which they demonstrate by their conduct is totally opposed to the Cross that they wear. If those prideful persons would only take an instant to think, they would immediately abandon the sign of the Cross, which appears to them as a weakness, as a reversal of the values of their life, and this, considered in the extreme, would exist, in their eyes, the disorder. It reminds me of my pastor when I was younger, who said about these sort of Catholics, who we see in various pilgrimages, who are facades of faith, that the banners they carry are often more Catholic than them. Our Lord had already spoken of them when He said, “This people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. And in vain do they worship me, teaching doctrines and commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:8)
The Beatitudes are to them a kind of extravagance for cranks. Listen to them, those lovers of the established situation in which they firmly settle and triumphantly flaunt themselves. They see God and His worshipers absorbed with power, and who have to claim their rights only by force. Listen to them, those poor glorious Catholics, who ensure that their Catholic identity resounds loudly, and who like to claim that they fully possess the truth. Let us ask them, what is the purpose behind the precepts of Christ that they know so well? They can list all of them, but they live their lives far from the light and the spirit of these precepts. They make the religion of Christ one of the elements of their worldly honorability. They take possession of Christ like a suit that they make to their own measure, according to their own manners and tastes, so that they can pride themselves on being in the truth and look down upon those who are not.
Let them be warned! Let them be careful not to be like the Pharisee of the Gospel, he who is pleased with himself, dwells on the misery of others, and finds in it the occasion of exalting himself above them. In fact, he does exactly the opposite of what Christ does for him. Jesus, indeed meek and humble of heart, presses upon our misery out of compassion in order to assume and bear it, as if He has been responsible for it.
What about you, dear brethren? Have you really accepted the dramatic scandal of the Cross where strength once became weakness? From the day when you entered into the life of faith, the Cross was marked on your forehead. You have been baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, which means in the name of the God of goodness, of light, and of love. And today, do you happen to be a true witness of the One who, on the Cross, gave the supreme proof of His goodness, the One who has made the true light shine, and the One who has manifested His love by the pouring out of all His blood?
Catholics, are you here on earth the imitators of the suffering God who dies on the Cross like a criminal, He who generously and freely became the brother of those for whom He dies? Ask yourselves, in all sincerity, if the Cross of Jesus Christ has not been until this day, maybe even not wittingly and consciously, not only a scandal but also a folly. When asking this question, I do not think only about the bloody sacrifice of Christ on the mount of Calvary, but also about the union we should have with this Divine Sacrifice, which is the scandal and folly. If in reality the Cross is such a scandal and a folly for so many Christians, how can we be surprised that it is only a scandal and a folly to so many unbelievers?
There are not a few, in fact, of those who nowadays turn away from the Cross, like in olden times when the Jews and the Gentiles turned away from it. Nevertheless, we have to make a distinction between those who are decidedly deniers of Christianity and those who live in incertitude and doubt, and who struggle more or less grievously in the darkness. The latter deserve all our compassion, but we have to expose and to relentlessly fight the former. It is not rare that some people, who are dogmatic to the extreme, and who head the field, assume the position of humility in order to disarm us. They are second to none in their claim to be the victims of those that they imperiously despise, raising their aggressive hypocrisy to the sublime level of the defense of mankind. There is not a week when the Holy Father is not the object of such vile attacks. Let them allow us to point out to them that their militant unbelief along with their incontestable savoir-faire, which may impress vain people, could not supplant in souls the faith that they intend to destroy.
We have enough of these new evangelists who have succeeded in destroying, but who cannot manage to build. With the help of the juicy contributions of the money moguls, they have consistently undermined and methodically ruined everything that humanity used to believe, which rendered right reason. But we have to notice that mankind is more than ever morally and spiritually in incertitude and in confusion. All of these fine gentlemen are entirely responsible for this, and have nothing in which to boast. But they forget that they are the adulterous fathers of the silliest superstitions, of the most insane sects, and they haughtily retort that thanks to them, a breeze of pity for human misery came into the world and, for this, the need for great social progress.
Let us say a word about that. This breeze of pity certainly comes from the Gospel, and no one can argue this fact, but mankind has already lost all its benefit. All deniers of faith are responsible for this failure. By rejecting the message of Christ, they made the western man lose the sense of man and his value, which Christ has so clearly and emphatically highlighted. They might be filled with human knowledge, or think that they are, but we have to tell them the facts. We have to tell these people, who set themselves up with so much confidence as the judges of Christianity, that they condemn out of hand, that they have absolutely nothing that can substitute for the Christianity which they have rejected. The real environment that they have imposed upon us, and in which we now struggle, is only a bloody chaos, where we discern at first sight only self-interests that fight against each other. What true sense of life have they given in this social and moral decadence? What ideal have they produced so as to overcome the intellectual and spiritual scandal they have set everywhere? What resolutions have they proposed in order to remedy the solitary and common misery that they have established?
We can see clearly that as much as they have deprived the western man from the Cross of Christ, they have broken the liberating impulse that was in him, they have dried up the source of beneficial and placatory generosities.
What is the Cross of Christ? We do not speak only and mainly about the sufferings of Our Lord Jesus Christ, even though there is nothing dearest to our piety or nothing richer for our instruction. But understand well, that in order to answer such a question, it would not be enough to be moved by the appalling spectacle of the sufferings of Christ. It would neither be enough to be edified by the example of His resignation. Even Saint Paul, who proclaimed that he knew nothing but Jesus, and Jesus crucified, speaks in his epistles about many other things that are not at a first sight directly related to the Cross. Did the Apostle forget the foundation of his profession of faith? Or did the Apostle express himself in such a sudden fervor so as only to tell of his ardent love for Jesus Christ? If you thought so, you would considerably wane the impact of his predication, and to tell the truth, you would roughly misread it. There is absolutely no doubt that the exclusive profession of faith to Jesus Christ crucified is a cry of love from Saint Paul, but it is infinitely more than that. This cry of love knows from where it comes and where it goes. It springs forth from a soul that is entirely irradiated by the integral truth of Christ. Whatever he knows and whatever he teaches, Saint Paul maintains that he understands it only in the light that shines from the Cross. And so can we understand and comprehend things only in the same light.
Since Saint Paul, dear brethren, nothing in this regard has ever changed, and nothing will ever change. Therefore, like Saint Paul, let us take the Cross as the center of our faith. Otherwise we have to renounce our understanding of, in its whole truth, the message of the Gospel. Do not imagine for one second that by wanting to know only Jesus Christ crucified, we have chosen to remain in ignorance. Furthermore, it is by knowing only Jesus Christ crucified that we shall know everything as everything should be known. Is the Cross the center of our faith because the apostolate of Jesus Christ ends on the mount of Calvary in the manner of the most desolate drama and of the most sublime martyrdom? This view is undoubtedly correct, as well as it is undoubtedly incomplete, because it does not show us any essential links between the Cross and the doctrine of Jesus in the way that this doctrine, as it reveals God and explains to us the world, also explains ourselves to us. So, is the Cross the center of our faith because it is the tragic symbol of the suffering of mankind, which only finds in the Cross the strength to not succumb to the temptation of despair and of blasphemy? No, it is not for this reason either.
Yet, we can all testify that the thought of Christ crucified has put back on their feet many cowards. It has provoked so many repentances. It has made so many pains endurable. It has eased so many agonies. But this is not sufficient to explain why the Cross is the point from which everything radiates, and toward which everything converges.
With the help of grace, we shall try to see why Sunday. Meanwhile, let us turn to Our Lady, whose faith, throughout her life, remained unflagging. Like any other believer, she used to see through a glass in a dark manner during her life on earth. Now she sees face to face, and she knows as she is known. Her faith had not been vain, because her charity was great. We said last week, and we maintain still, that it is possible that faith remains in a soul without charity, but it would be vain. This is even an extra motive for condemnation and reprobation, as we know by faith that we should love. It is charity that gives faith its full measure, and this explains the mystery of the Cross, bringing a light to the darkness that remains here, even in faith. It is charity which urges us to work towards our salvation, as it is charity which brought Our Lord to the mount of Calvary. May Our Lady always help us to remember this!