Life and death. Each of us is born to die. But the passage of a body from conception to physical death is only part of the story of a human life. Every human being has a rational, immortal soul that God infuses into him at the moment of his conception. That soul is the animating principle of the human body. It is the state of the soul which determines where the body will spend eternity after the Second and Final Coming of Our Lord at the end of time. And it was to make it possible for all souls to live in the glory of the Beatific Vision of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost that Our Lord endure His fearful Passion and Death.
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity made Man, is the New Adam. His death on the Cross put an end to power of sin and death forever. His perfect obedience to the Father’s will canceled out the disobedience of the first Adam in the Garden of Eden. The shedding of His Most Precious Blood on Calvary paid back the blood-debt that finite beings owed their Infinite Creator. His forty hours in the tomb prior to His Resurrection on Easter Sunday give us the hope of eternal joy. He underwent His death so that we could live. Yet nearly two thousand years after He instituted the New and Everlasting Covenant of the New Passover from death to life, so few of His followers truly understand how they are to fashion everything in their lives–and in that of their societies–in light of the mysteries of our redemption.
There is a simple explanation for the fact that most baptized Catholics do not understand the mysteries of salvation: they have never been instructed in them. This is one of the many rotten fruits of the conciliar revolution. Thus it is people do not understand what happened in the Garden of Eden, which is why they have little or no understanding of their own identity as fallen creatures in need of redemption. And if they do not understand their identity as fallen creatures in need of redemption, then they will look to everything except the true religion instituted by Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Catholicism, to save them from the problems of the world. Like many of the Jewish people of Our Lord’s time who were looking for a political or secular savior, so are many people today looking for their salvation in all of the wrong places, especially in politics, politicians, political parties, ideologies, and in government programs.
The truth of the matter is, of course, that the Triune God–the Infinite Being, the Uncreated Good, the Uncaused Cause–created both the invisible and the visible worlds out of love. He is a community of love consisting of three Divine Persons, each with His own distinctive identity and mission. The love of each of the Persons of the Blessed Trinity for each other is meant of its nature to be bestowed on others. He created the angels, pure spirits with possessing an intellect and a will, out of love. And He created human beings out of love. But God’s love is not an act of sentimentality. Not at all. God’s love is an act of the Divine Will. He created angels and men out of love so that they would love Him, their First and Last End. He willed their good, which is the possession of His glory for all eternity.
However, God created angels and men as free beings. He wanted his creatures to choose to serve Him out of love, a return of love to Love Himself. Although He knew that certain of the angels, headed by Lucifer, would make an irrevocable choice against Him, God bestowed a free will upon angels in order to show forth His omnipotence. He wanted to teach men that it was the misuse of free will that caused the rebellion of Lucifer. And He wanted to teach them that it was Lucifer’s hatred of Him that would impel the fallen angel to lead them to misuse their free wills against Him.
Satan hates God. He knows God and he hates Him. “Non serviam est!” (“I will not serve) is the devil’s motto. Our ancient adversary knows God, hates Him, and refuses to serve Him, the very antithesis of the purpose of human existence, which is, naturally, to know, to love, and to serve God here on earth in order to be happy with Him for all eternity in Heaven. The devil hates us because we are made in the image and the likeness of the One he hates, namely, God. That is why he wants to deceive us into mimicking him by disobeying God and serving ourselves–to the detriment of ourselves and those around us. The Master of Lies and the Prince of Darkness was permitted by God to tempt our first parents, Adam and Eve, in the Garden of Eden.
Adam and Eve had been created by God and placed in a world of Original Innocence. They possessed the preternatural gifts of a perfect human nature, one unspotted by sin. They had a superior intellect and a superior will. And they had a delicate balance between their higher rational faculties and their lower sensual passions. Adam and Eve were in harmony with God, and they were in harmony with each other. They were in harmony with the natural world. There was work without sweat and painless child-birth. The Gates of Heaven were opened to them.
God commanded only two things from our first parents. He asked them to love Him in return for all that He had bestowed upon them, including life itself. And He commanded them not to eat of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He knew full well that they would succumb to the allure of the tempter. But He wanted the human race to understand that His love for us is so perfect that He will never force Himself upon us. He wants us to choose to love Him of our own free wills. And He wants us to realize how the misuse of our free wills leads to unhappiness and misery, that we are utterly lost without Him and His Holy Church. He wanted us to know that our souls face eternal death without Him.
The devil appealed to Eve’s pride when he manifested himself as a serpent in the Garden of Eden. He wanted Adam and Eve to be robbed of their birthright of the possession of the vision of God in Heaven. He wanted them to be in a state of war with God and with each other. He wanted them to live lives of despair. He wanted them to hate God as he did.
Eve, the Mother of the Living, did as the serpent wanted, eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, believing that she would be like unto God, knowing all things. Adam did as she had requested, and his act of disobedience irreparably wounded human nature itself. Original Sin entered the world. Adam and Eve lost the preternatural gifts that had been bestowed upon them by God at their creation. Their intellects were darkened and their wills weakened. The delicate balance between their higher rational faculties and their lower sensual passions was overthrown in favor of the passions. All of the problems of the world–death, disease, injustice, war, poverty, work with sweat, painful childbirth, hatred, gluttony, envy, lust, anger, pride–descended upon the human race. Man had disobeyed the Infinite Being.
God did not abandon His rational creatures, however. He knew that He would personally enter human history to redeem them, to make it possible for men to overcome the effects of Original sin and Actual sin in the world if they cooperated with the graces He would win for them on the wood of the Holy Cross. “O felix culpa, quæ talem ac tantum méruit habére Redemptórem! O vere beáta nox, quæ sola méruit scire tempus et horam, in qua Christus ab ínferis resurréxit!” (“O happy fault, that merited to possess such and so great a Redeemer! O truly blessed night, which alone deserved to know the time and hour when Christ rose again from hell!”) the Easter Exsultet proclaims. Yes, the felix culpa of Adam and Eve made it possible for us to know how much God loved us, that the Father would send His only-begotten Son to be made flesh in the Virginal and Immaculate womb of our Blessed Mother.
In the mystery of His Divine Providence, God wanted to prepare the human race for the redemption. He works in His time, not ours, something that we have to be reminded of all times, especially in light of the difficulties Holy Mother Church is facing in the second decade of the first century of the Third Millennium. All of the pages of the Old Testament point to the First Coming of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They detail how meticulously God prepared His Chosen People for His own entry into human history in order to redeem the human race.
The Book of Genesis tells us that God chose Abram, a nomadic sheep herder, to be the father in faith of many people. Elongating his name to Abraham, God made a covenant with Abraham, as he had with Noah at the time of the flood. God promised to give Abraham, whose old wife Sarah was beyond her child-bearing years, descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore or the stars in the sky. Why did he choose Abraham? Why did He choose the Hebrew people to be the instrument by which He would prepare the whole of mankind for the redemption? That is a mystery. But it was in God’s ineffable Providence to choose Abraham, the patriarch who is invoked in The Roman Canon as our “father in faith,” to build up a people singularly his own.
In a foreshadowing of the Redemption itself, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited son, Isaac, on a pyre of wood. Abraham did not know why God was asking him to do such a thing. But He trusted in the word of God. God had asked him to make a sacrifice of his son. Who was he to deny the request? He trusted that God had some greater design beyond human comprehension. And by showing his desire to obey God without question and without delay, Abraham proved himself to be faithful. The sacrifice he was asked to make was a foreshadowing of what the Father had planned to redeem us by offering His only Son on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Christians are the spiritual descendants of Abraham. His physical descendants formed the Twelve Tribes of Israel, which were sold into slavery in Egypt through Joseph, the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham. The Hebrew people spent 440 years in cruel slavery in Egypt, symbolic of the captivity of the human race to the Devil by means of original sin (and also symbolic of each person’s captivity to the Devil prior to receiving the Sacrament of Baptism). They grumbled and they complained, wondering when their liberation would occur. Many of them thought that God had abandoned them.
God showed his favor on the Hebrews when He chose Moses to lead them out of their captivity to the Promised Land. It was to Moses that God definitively revealed Himself as the one and only God (Abraham believed that he had been visited by the true God, but he and the Hebrews remained polytheistic until God spoke to Moses face-to-face). Although he considered himself to be ill-equipped to speak to the oppressor of his people, the Pharaoh, he accepted the assignment that God had given him to lead his people to freedom. As one of the several foreshadowings of Our Lord found in the Old Testament, Moses was the one with whom God established the Covenant of the Old Dispensation, the one that would last until Our Lord established His New and Everlasting Covenant at the Last Supper.
The Covenant of the Old Dispensation was inaugurated with the first Passover, an event recounted in The Book of Exodus. The Hebrew people sprinkled the blood of lambs on their doorposts so that the angel of death would “pass over” their houses as every first-born male in Egypt was struck dead. As St. Paul noted in his Letter to the Hebrews, the blood of animals can save no one. But the use of the blood of lambs during the first Passover was a foreshadowing of the fact that each of us is now signed with the Most Precious Blood of the Lamb of God, He Who takes away the sins of the world, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. And the ritual Passover meal was symbolic of the Eucharist, the fruit of the eternal Sacrifice offered to God the Father by His Co-Eternal God the Son on the wood of the Cross once on the wood of the Holy Cross perpetuated for us in an unbloody manner today in every true offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
Led by a column of fire at night and by a cloud during the day, Moses marched the Chosen People to the Red Sea, where there were to cross over to commence their desert journey to the Promised Land. The parting of the waters of the Red Sea was a real event in the history of salvation. But we participated in that parting of the waters when we were baptized. For just as the Pharaoh and his army were swallowed up by the waters of the Red Sea when Moses used his staff to signal the wall of water to come crashing down upon them, so is it the case that the Devil and his minions are swallowed up by the waters stirred up in the baptismal font. We are freed from captivity to him just as the Chosen People were freed from their captivity to the Pharaoh.
Human nature being what it is, however, the Chosen People did not remain grateful to God for long. They grumbled about the harsh conditions of the desert, muttering that they were better off in slavery to the Egyptians. Are we any better? Having been freed from captivity to original sin, how many of us patiently endure the crosses that we are asked to bear? How many of us slowly give ourselves back to the service of the devil by slipping into Venial sins over and over again? How many of us excuse our own spiritual sloth, satisfied with doing the minimum, satisfied with giving First and Last Things only a passing thought now and then? How many of us feel enslaved by our baptismal calling and not by sin?
The desert journey of our spiritual ancestors is symbolic of several things. It is in the first place symbolic of the desert journey of life. We are called to wander in this vale of tears without grumbling. We are called to be faithful in the midst of great trials. We are called to be satisfied with the true manna come down from Heaven, the Eucharist, and to long for no other food. And we are called to realize that the Ten Commandments are written on the flesh of our hearts, being content to worship the true God Who has Revealed Himself entirely in the Person of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ exclusively through His Catholic Church.
The Chosen People worshiped the Golden Calf while Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments. They grumbled so loudly about the manna that had come down from Heaven that God sent them quail to feed them. They got sick of the quail! Their grumbling at the waters of Meribah and Massah resulted in their being bitten by seraph serpents. Many of them died. They repented of their grumbling, being healed by looking at the bronze serpent Moses had made. He lifted high the bronze serpent to heal the people of the wounds they had suffered from the seraph serpents. We are called to look upon Our Lord, Who was lifted high on the Cross to heal us of the wounds caused by our sins.
Although Moses died before the Jews entered the land of Canaan (a result of his having complained about the stiff-necked people God had entrusted to his leadership), the desert journey was completed in forty years. But it was a short time thereafter that they began to worship false gods. Their leaders frequently were most concerned about pursuing the political lusts of their heart rather than being faithful to the Mosaic covenant. Even King David, chosen from the fields to shepherd God’s chosen flock, became drunk with his own power and influence for a time, forgetting Who it was Who had chosen him to be king.
This is true, of course, even in our own day. Those who should know the true Faith serve the false gods of public opinion and personal political expediency. Materialism and hedonism are rationalized as being consonant somehow with the Faith. Both the spirit and the letter of the law written on the flesh of our hearts are ignored. The consequences of all of this in our day is eerily similar to those which faced the Jews: social disarray and anarchy.
Over and over again, though, God spoke to the Chosen People through the Prophets–and through all of the events of their history. Micah, Amoz, Hosea, Nathan, Gad, Daniel, Isaias, Ezechiel, and Jeremias were among the prophets God used to speak about the coming of the Messias. But there are none so blind as those who refused to see. As Scripture tells us, they had eyes but could not see, ears but could not hear. The Chosen People expected the Messias would liberate them from political bondage, never more so than when they were suffering under the cruel oppression imposed by their Roman occupiers. It was as though they had learned almost nothing from the Exodus or the Babylonian captivity. No, they were still looking for the political Messias. And aren’t many people looking for such a Messias today?
There are few passages in the Old Testament which describes the sort of Messias that would redeem the human race more telling than those found in Chapters 52 and 53 of the Book of the Prophet Isaias.
“ Behold my servant shall understand, he shall be exalted, and extolled, and shall be exceeding high.  As many have been astonished at thee, so shall his visage be inglorious among men, and his form among the sons of men.  He shall sprinkle many nations, kings shall shut their mouth at him: for they to whom it was not told of him, have seen: and they that heard not, have beheld.
 Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed?  And he shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground: there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him:  Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not.  Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed.
 All we like sheep have gone astray, every one hath turned aside into his own way: and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.  He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth: he shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth.  He was taken away from distress, and from judgment: who shall declare his generation? because he is cut off out of the land of the living: for the wickedness of my people have I struck him.  And he shall give the ungodly for his burial, and the rich for his death: because he hath done no iniquity, neither was there deceit in his mouth.  And the Lord was pleased to bruise him in infirmity: if he shall lay down his life for sin, he shall see a long-lived seed, and the will of the Lord shall be prosperous in his hand.
 Because his soul hath laboured, he shall see and be filled: by his knowledge shall this my just servant justify many, and he shall bear their iniquities.  Therefore will I distribute to him very many, and he shall divide the spoils of the strong, because he hath delivered his soul unto death, and was reputed with the wicked: and he hath borne the sins of many, and hath prayed for the transgressors. (Isaias 52: 13-15; 53: 1-12.)
 Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will raise up to David a just branch: and a king shall reign, and shall be wise, and shall execute judgement and justice in the earth.  In those days shall Juda be saved, and Israel shall dwell confidently: and this is the name that they shall call him: the Lord our just one. (Jeremias 23: 5-6.)
Ezechiel prophesied of the Good Shepherd:
 For thus saith the Lord God: Behold I myself will seek my sheep, and will visit them.  As the shepherd visiteth his flock in the day when he shall be in the midst of his sheep that were scattered, so will I visit my sheep, and will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy and dark day.  And I will bring them out from the peoples, and will gather them out of the countries, and will bring them to their own land: and I will feed them in the mountains of Israel, by the rivers, and in all the habitations of the land.  I will feed them in the most fruitful pastures, and their pastures shall be in the high mountains of Israel: there shall they rest on the green grass, and be fed in fat pastures upon the mountains of Israel.  I will feed my sheep: and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God.
 I will seek that which was lost: and that which was driven away, I will bring again: and I will bind up that which was broken, and I will strengthen that which was weak, and that which was fat and strong I will preserve: and I will feed them in judgment. (Ezechiel 34: 11-16.)
The new Israel, the new Zion, as we know, is the Catholic Church, the one and only true Church. It is through her that Our Lord shepherds us to the true Promised Land of Heaven. And it was to give birth to her from His Wounded Side on the wood of the Holy Cross that He personally entered human history at the Incarnation, fulfilling all of the promises that had been made about Him in the Law and in the Prophets.
Our Lady, having been preserved from all stain of original and actual sin when she was conceived in her mother’s womb, became the singular vessel of honor through which the Logos, the Word, would enter human history. Denying Himself nothing of the human experience save for sin, Our Lord condescended to spend nine months in the tabernacle of Our Lady’s vVrginal and Immaculate womb. The world was expecting the Savior to manifest Himself thunderously from a mountainside. But He came as a helpless embryo, unseen to the human eye. He came to do His Father’s will. He came to offer Himself up as the blood-offering in propitiation for our own sins. But He came in such a way as to reveal Himself gradually to the creatures He was about to redeem. He wanted us to have faith in Him.
It was complete trust in the word of God that prompted Our Lady to undertake the arduous trip to the hill country of Judah to visit her cousin, Elizabeth, who in her old age was expecting the last of the Old Testament prophets, St. John the Baptist. The unborn John leapt for joy when he heard the voice of the Mother of God pierce his ears in his mother’s womb. It was at that moment that John was cleansed of all original sin, enabling him to serve as the pure precursor of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
Prompted by God the Holy Ghost, Our Lady proclaimed the Magnificat, which is recited (or, more accurately, which should be recited) at Vespers in Divine Office by every true priest and true deacon and religious in the world.
 And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord.  And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.  Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.  Because he that is mighty, hath done great things to me; and holy is his name.  And his mercy is from generation unto generations, to them that fear him.
 He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart.  He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble.  He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.  He hath received Israel his servant, being mindful of his mercy:  As he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his seed for ever. (Luke 1: 46-55)
[Bishop Richard Challoner’s commentary on Our Lady’s proclamation of her blessedness should be given to every Protestant you know: “ Shall call me blessed: These words are a prediction of that honour which the church in all ages should pay to the Blessed Virgin. Let Protestants examine whether they are any way concerned in this prophecy.]
The promise made to Abraham was being fulfilled. And when Our Lady’s time had arrived, she and St. Joseph made their way to Bethlehem, the City of David, where the prophet Micah had prophesied that the Messias would be born. There was no room for Our Lord in the inn on the night of his birth. Is there any room for Him in the inns of our hearts? In the life of our society? In our politics, our government, our laws, in what passes for “education” and popular culture?
The re-creation of the world, which had begun at the Incarnation, reached a turning point when Our Lord was born in the cradle in the stable in the cave in Bethlehem. Born in the wood of the manger to die on the wood of the Cross. Yes, born in a manger, a feeding trough, only to make the instrument of His execution the true manger from which we would be fed His very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. Born amidst the manure of the barn animals to die atop the dung heap known as Calvary. Born in anonymity to die in ignominy, considered a criminal and a blasphemer by all but a handful of people. Born in poverty to die in poverty. Born in obedience to the His Co-Equal and Co-Eternal God the Father’s will. Given birth painlessly by Our Lady only to watch her writhe in great pain as she gave birth to us as the adopted sons and daughters of God as He suffered and died for us on the wood of the Holy Cross.
Our Lord’s Most Holy Face radiated all of the glory of His Sacred Divinity when He lay in the crib in Bethlehem. Our souls once radiated His glory when we were baptized, freed from our captivity to the Devil. But our sins marred that Most Holy Face, making it almost unrecognizable by the time St. Veronica wiped It as He walked on the Via Dolorosa on the road to Calvary. The Cross hovered over Bethlehem. For it was to bear the Cross that Our Lord made his humble entrance in the City of David.
The great and the powerful hated Our Lord almost from the moment He was born. Herod the Great. Herod the Tetrarch. Pontius Pilate. The Pharisees. The Sadducees. The Sanhedrin. And even after His Death and Resurrection, many of the great and the powerful hated Him and His Holy Church with a vengeance. Nero. Diocletian. Trajan. Henry VIII. Elizabeth I. Topcliffe. Luther. Calvin. Zwingli. Wycliffe. Wesley. Cromwell. Marx. Freud. Lenin. Hitler. Stalin. Talmudists. The Freemasons. Mao. Castro Ortega. Calles. The “Lincoln Brigade” in Spain. Robespierre and Danton, et al. Bismarck. Deng. Clinton. Obama/Soetoro. Mohammed and his legions. Our Blessed Lord and Saviour as born to be a sign of contradiction, as Simeon prophesied to Our Lady at the Presentation. And He was to die as a sign of contradiction.
Each one of us is called to be a sign of contradiction simply because we are trying, despite our sins and failings, to keep close to Him as He has revealed Himself to us through His true Church and as we reject every temptation to make even the slightest kind of compromise in order to “fit in” with the world. Our Lord told us that we would be hated as He was hated. He told us that we would be persecuted as He was persecuted. He told us that we would be handed over to kings and governors on His account. All will hate us because of His Name, He said. He was hated from the moment of his birth. He is hated today.
The hatred of Herod the Great was so great that He ordered the slaughter of the Holy Innocents in his quest to destroy the Infant King, Our Lord. But it was not yet His time. The Holy Family fled to Egypt, the very place where the Chosen People from whom Our Lord had taken His Sacred Humanity were enslaved for four hundred forty years, living there for seven years. Rich in symbolism, the Redeemer left His exile in Egypt to return to Nazareth, where He spent nearly thirty years living anonymously, doing the work of a manual laborer, redeeming all things about our ordinary existence.
Each of us lives an ordinary existence. It is in that ordinary existence that we prove ourselves to be friends or enemies of Our Lord and His Holy Catholic Church. Do we bear our share of the hardship which the Gospel entails? Do we seek to sanctify every moment of our lives? Do we live in the consciousness of the Divine Presence, always keeping in mind that we could be called home to give an account of our lives at any moment? Do we fulfill the duties of our state-in-life with joy and punctuality? Our Lord did. If it was good enough for Him, it should be good enough for we grumblers as we stumble about in our own desert journey of life.
Our Lord left His home, although His Blessed Mother was never far from Him. She was with Him to the end, as is noted in great detail in Our Mother of Sorrows. He left to be baptized symbolically by his cousin, Saint John the Baptist, who had been preparing the way for His Public Ministry. “He must increase, I must decrease,” said the Baptist. His work was over. Our Lord’s had just begun.
Noah spent forty days and forty nights in the ark. The Chosen People spent forty years in the desert. Our Lord spent forty days in the desert, praying and fasting before He assumed His Public Ministry. The forty days of Lent prepare us to be more willing to cooperate with the graces won for us by Our Lord by the shedding of His Most Precious Blood. For we are able to resist the Devil as Our Lord did when He was tempted in the desert. We are able to walk the rocky road that leads to the narrow gate of Life Himself.
Our Lord left the desert to call His Twelve Apostles, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. He called them by name. He called each of us by name when we were Christened, when we were baptized. He gave them a mission to bring all people into the true Church, a mission that we received in baptism–and reaffirmed when we received the Sacrament of Confirmation. He called the Apostles, knowing full well that they were full of shortcomings, that they would be slow to understand Him, that all but one of them would run away from Him during His Passion and Death. He calls us, knowing that we are crooked lines, men who are in constant need of forgiveness.
Our Lord taught and preached for three years prior to the events of Holy Week. He performed His first miracle at Cana, turning the water into wine at the wedding feast there at the request of His Most Blessed Mother, a foreshadowing of the transubstantiation of wine into His Most Precious Blood at the Last Supper. He cured the lame, restored sight to the blind, healed the leprous, made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. He expelled demons. And He raised the dead. But His physical miracles were always signs of the fact of His Sacred Divinity, that He had the power to forgive sins.
Indeed, one of the enduring themes of His Public Ministry was forgiveness and mercy. He came to give it to us unworthy vessels of clay. He expects each one of us to give it others, freely and unconditionally. “Neither will your sins be forgiven you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.” As the late Father John A. Hardon, S.J., said at a conference in Detroit, Michigan, in 1996, “God permits us to sin so that we can so mercy to each other.”
However, the compassion of Our Lord for sinners is no expression of mere human sentimentality, as many would have us believe today. Far from it. When He came upon Saint Mary Magdalene as she was caught in adultery, Our Lord asked if anyone ready to cast stones was without sin. As each man dropped the stone he was about to cast at Lazarus’s sister, Our Lord told her that no one had condemned her–and that He did not do so. However, He told her to go, and sin no more. True compassion, Our Lord was teaching us, understands the weakness of fallen human nature. But it never reaffirms another person–or us–in that which is sinful. God’s grace is sufficient for us to resist temptation.
Forgiveness was the keynote of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The Father stands ready to forgive us at any moment of our lives if only we have the humility to acknowledge our sins in the divine, the confessional. For it is in the Sacred Tribunal of Penance that the merits of the shedding of Our Lord’s Most Precious Blood are applied to us through a priest acting in persona Christi. We must never be slow to recognize how our sins wounded Our Lord once in time, how they caused Seven Swords of Sorrow to be thrust through and through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, how they wound the Church Militant on earth today, and how they make us less capable of shining forth His love in the world. Our Lord’s Throne of Forgiveness, the Cross, reminds us of how much we have offended Him—but how wondrous His mercy is if only we seek it out, have true contrition for our sins and are resolved to commit them no more by amending our lives in cooperation with the graces He sends to us by the loving hands of Our Lady, she who is the Mediatrix of All Graces. .All of this was hard for the people of His time to hear. Theirs was a merciless age.
Their hearts had been hardened. That is why it was difficult for them to endure what He taught in the Sermon on the Mount. Every one of the Beatitudes contradicted the prevailing spirit of the times. Indeed, they contradict the prevailing spirit of our times, do they not?
 And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain, and when he was set down, his disciples came unto him.  And opening his mouth, he taught them, saying:  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.  Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
 Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.  Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called children of God.  Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake:  Be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you. (Matthew 5: 1-12.)
Our Divine Redeemer came to tell people that the problems of the world were caused by sin, that they had to undergo a daily conversion of mind, heart, and soul. There is no once and for all solution to the our own problems or those of the world. The state of the world depends upon the state of individual souls. Therefore, it is important for us to remember that we are, as Our Lord said in the Sermon on the Mount, the salt of earth and the light of the world. We are called to add His seasoning, His leaven, if you will, in the midst of this fallen, fractured world. We are called to provide His light shining through us into this darkened will. And each of us is called to take up our cross on a daily basis, deny our very selves and follow Him through His Holy Church.
Most of this was pretty difficult for the people of Our Lord’s time to understand and accept. Our Lord had not come to be popular, however. He did not come to preach a theology of ecumenical indifferentism. He proclaimed Himself to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life. People either loved Him or they hated Him. There was no middle ground. Some, like the rich young man in the Gospel of Saint Mark, walked away because they did not want to give up their possessions. Others did not want to reform their lives.
Perhaps the major turning point in Our Lord’s Public Ministry came when He gave the Eucharistic Discourse after the miracles of the loaves and fishes. As recorded the Gospel of St. John, Our Lord proclaimed Himself to be the True Manna come down from Heaven:
 Amen, amen I say unto you: He that believeth in me, hath everlasting life.  I am the bread of life.  Your fathers did eat manna in the desert, and are dead.  This is the bread which cometh down from heaven; that if any man eat of it, he may not die.
 I am the living bread which came down from heaven.  If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.  The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him.  As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me.  This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.  These things he said, teaching in the synagogue, in Capharnaum. (John 6: 47-60.)
Many of the Jews found what Christ the King said very hard to accept.
 Many therefore of his disciples, hearing it, said: This saying is hard, and who can hear it?
 After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him. (John 6: 61, 67)
As we know well disbelief in the Real Presence of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament is rife through the ranks of clergy, religious and laity in the counterfeit church of coniciliarism.
Saint. Peter spoke for those of us who do believe in the Real Presence when the Master asked the Twelve if they wanted to leave him too:
No, Jesus of Nazareth, known to be the son of Joseph the Carpenter, was not what the world expected the Messias to be. He taught with authority. His miracles proved His Sacred Divinity. The scribes and the Pharisees did not know how to deal with him, especially after a lot of people began to follow Him after He raised his friend Lazarus of Bethany from the dead. He had to be done away with, His message obliterated. Little did the plotters realize, however, that they were helping to fulfill God the Father’s plan for their own redemption which He had in mind at the very moment of creation:
 The chief priests therefore, and the Pharisees, gathered a council, and said: What do we, for this man doth many miracles?  If we let him alone so, all will believe in him; and the Romans will come, and take away our place and nation.  But one of them, named Caiphas, being the high priest that year, said to them: You know nothing.  Neither do you consider that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.  And this he spoke not of himself: but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation.  And not only for the nation, but to gather together in one the children of God, that were dispersed.  From that day therefore they devised to put him to death. (John 11: 47-53.)
Yes, less than five days after Our Lord was welcomed triumphantly as He entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday He was subjected to treatment as a common criminal.
Hailed as a King to the shouts of “Hosanna in the highest” on this very day, the first Palm Sunday nearly two millennia ago, only to be reviled and scorned by the same crowd with the words “Crucify Him!” The crowd that laid palm fronds in the path of the beast He rode into Jerusalem mocked Him as He hung on the Holy Cross:
 And they that passed by, blasphemed him, wagging their heads,  And saying: Vah, thou that destroyest the temple of God, and in three days dost rebuild it: save thy own self: if thou be the Son of God, come down from the cross.  In like manner also the chief priests, with the scribes and ancients, mocking, said:  He saved others; himself he cannot save. If he be the king of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him.  He trusted in God; let him now deliver him if he will have him; for he said: I am the Son of God.  And the selfsame thing the thieves also, that were crucified with him, reproached him with. (Matthew 27: 39-44.)
The popularity of Our Lord with the fickle crowd on the first Palm Sunday was very fleeting, which is why we have to enter Holy Week with a determination to be faithful to Him and to resist sin to the point of shedding our own blood if necessary!
Holy Week is a week of contrasts. In it is compressed the entirety of salvation history, as noted in part one of this reflection. In it is compressed the entirety of each of our lives.
Our Lord invites us today, Palm Sunday, to welcome Him during Holy Week not only with palm fronds extended from our hands but with hearts and souls cleansed by the bath of His Most Precious Blood in the Sacrament of Penance. He invites today, Palm Sunday, to grow in our fervor for love of Him in His Real Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, instituted this very week for our spiritual nourishment and our adoration. He is inviting us to walk along with Him on the Via Dolorosa to help Him carry His Cross, keeping company with His Most Blessed Mother on the Via Dolorosa and at the foot of the Holy Cross – and to keep vigil at the empty tomb for His glorious Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
Holy Week is about love. Our Lord came into the world, conceived as a totally helpless embryo in His Blessed Mother’s virginal and Immaculate womb, because of His desire to do His Co-Equal and Co-Eternal God the Father’s will, to redeem sinful men. He takes our place before the Sanhedrin this week to regain what was lost for us by our first parents in the Garden of Eden. He accomplished all of this nearly two millennia ago, and continues His saving work today in each true offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass out of the highest of all loves: to will the good of each human soul, the ultimate expression of which is their salvation. And human salvation would have been impossible if the Word had not become flesh and dwelt amongst us in order to die on the wood of the Holy Cross and pay back the debt of sin that we owed God in His infinity but could only be paid back by Infinity Himself in His Sacred Humanity.
Each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in the drama that unfolds during Holy Week. But, then, each of us plays a multiplicity of characters in our own lives.
There are some chosen sous who are exemplify the purity and fidelity of Saint John the Evangelist.
Many of us, however are just like the vacillating and boastful Saint Peter was during Holy Week, exclaiming that we will defend Our Lord and His Holy Faith with all of our strength but shrinking from that boast out of fear, pride, weakness or malice.
There are other characters whose names are not mentioned in the accounts of the Passion contained in the Gospels. And it is perhaps these nameless characters who best exemplify our own ambivalence about following Our Lord consistently in every aspect of our daily lives.
Consider, for example, the people who not only jeered Our Lord as He hung on the Holy Cross but those who walked by with utter indifference to what was happening before their very eyes.
Isn’t it true that it is really those people who best reflect us most of the time?
That is, a lot of us say we’re too busy to spend time in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament or to go on pilgrimages or to make the sacrifices we need to make (which might involve driving many hours and many miles) to protect our souls by fleeing from everything to do with conciliarism and its false shepherds. And there are times when we don’t think in supernatural terms about the events of our own daily lives, thereby demonstrating an indifference to First and Last Things more often than we would like to realize.
Yes, there are times in our lives when we might be tempted (or may in fact have in the past) to shout “Give us Barabbas” by deliberately choosing to expel the life of Sanctifying Grace from our souls by the commission of Mortal Sins.
However, the way the devil usually tempts human beings away from the interior life of grace is slowly and imperceptibly through spiritual sloth. We forget to pray. We forget to the read Scriptures and solid works of the spiritual masters, such as Dom Gueranger’s The Liturgical Year and Father Frederick Faber’s The Foot of the Cross and The Precious Blood, Archbishop Alban Goodier’s The Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Venerable Mary of Agreda’s The Mystical City of God, Anne Katherine Emmerich’s The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, among many others, Father P. Gallwey’s The Watches of the Sacred Passion with Before and After. Indeed, we plunge headlong into everything that is secular, permitting ourselves to be influenced little by little by the spirit of the world, a spirit that is in direct contradiction to that which is conducive to the salvation of our immortal souls. Lukewarmness thus spreads like a unseen cancer, one that devastates the soul and causes a slow but steady rejection of a disciplined life of prayer and penance and self-denial.
May each of us this Holy Week withdraw from the world, assisting from the Mass of the ages on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, entering deep into the Triduum on Maundy Thursday, when we commemorate His institution of the Holy Priesthood and the Holy Eucharist, when we keep Him company in His Real Presence to console Him for having endured even the thought of coming into contact with our sins that caused Him to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His Agony in the Garden on the Mount of Olives.
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., provided a wonderful meditation on the great feast that we celebrate today, reminding us in a few days that the Jews will be rejected because they rejected the very One Who redeemed them by shedding every single drop of His Most Precious Blood on the wood of the Holy Cross:
Early in the morning of this Day, Jesus sets out for Jerusalem, leaving Mary His Mother, and the two sisters Martha and Mary Magdalene, and Lazarus at Bethania. The Mother of sorrows trembles at seeing her Son thus expose Himself to danger, for His enemies are bent upon His destruction; but it is not death, it is triumph, that Jesus is to receive today in Jerusalem. The Messias, before being nailed to the cross, is to be proclaimed King by the people of the great city; the little children are to make her streets echo with their Hosannas to the Son of David; and this in presence of the soldiers of Rome’s emperor, and of the high priests and pharisees: the first standing under the banner of their eagles; the second, dumb with rage.
The prophet Zachary had foretold this triumph which the Son of Man was to receive a few days before His Passion, and which had been prepared for Him from all eternity. ‘Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Sion! Shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold thy King will come to thee; the Just and the Savior. He is poor and riding upon an ass, and upon a colt, the foal of an ass.’ Jesus, knowing that the hour has come for the fulfillment of this prophecy, singles out two from the rest of His disciples, and bids them lead to Him as ass and her colt, which they would find not far off. He has reached Bethphage, on Mount Olivet. The two disciples lose no time in executing the order given them by their divine Master; and the ass and the colt are soon brought to the place where He stands.
The holy fathers have explained to us the mystery of these two animals. The ass represents the Jewish people, which had been long under the yoke of the Law; the colt, upon which, as the evangelist says, no man yet hath sat, is a figure of the Gentile world, which no one had ever yet brought into subjection. The future of these two peoples is to be decided a few days hence the Jews will be rejected for having refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messias; the Gentiles will take their place, to be adopted as God‘s people, and become docile and faithful.
The disciples spread their garments upon the colt; and our Savior, that the prophetic figure might be fulfilled, sits upon him, and advances towards Jerusalem. As soon as it is known that Jesus is near the city, the holy Spirit works in the hearts of those Jews, who have come from all parts to celebrate the feast of the Passover. They go out to meet our Lord, holding palm branches in their hands, and loudly proclaiming Him to be King. They that have accompanied Jesus from Bethania, join the enthusiastic crowd. Whilst some spread their garments on the way, others cut down boughs from the palm trees, and strew them along the road. Hosanna is the triumphant cry, proclaiming to the whole city that Jesus, the Son of David, has made His entrance as her King.
Thus did God, in His power over men’s hearts, procure a triumph for His Son, and in the very city which, a few days later, was to clamor for His Blood This day was one of glory to our Jesus, and the holy Church would have us renew, each year, the memory of this triumph of the Man-God. Shortly after the birth of our Emmanuel, we saw the Magi coming from the extreme east, and looking in Jerusalem for the King of the Jews, to whom they intended offering their gifts and their adorations; but it is Jerusalem herself that now goes forth to meet this King. Each of these events is an acknowledgment of the kingship of Jesus; the first, from the Gentiles; the second homage, before He suffered His Passion. The inscription to be put upon the cross, by Pilate’s order, will express the kingly character of the Crucified Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Pilate, the Roman governor, the pagan, the base coward, has been unwittingly the fulfiller of a prophecy; and when the enemies of Jesus insist on the inscription being altered, Pilate will not deign to give them any answer but this: ‘What I have written, I have written.’ Today, it is the Jews themselves that proclaim Jesus to be their King; they will soon be dispersed, in punishment for their revolt against the Son of David; but Jesus is King, and will be so for ever. Thus were literally verified the words spoken by the Archangel to Mary, when he announced to her the glories of the Child that was to be born of her. ‘The Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David, His father; and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.’ Jesus begins His reign upon the earth this very day; and though the first Israel is soon to disclaim His rule, a new Israel, formed from the faithful few of the old, shall rise up in every nation of the earth, and become the kingdom of Christ, a kingdom such as no mere earthly monarch ever coveted in his wildest fancies of ambition.
This is the glorious mystery which ushers in the great week, the week of Dolours. Holy Church would have us give this momentary consolation to our heart, and hail our Jesus as our King. She has so arranged the service of today, that it should express both joy and sorrow; joy, by uniting herself with the loyal hosannas of the city of David; and sorrow, by compassionating the Passion of her divine Spouse. (Dom Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year, Volume VI, pp, 192-195.)
The following reflection, taken from Father P. Gallwey’s The Watches of the Sacred Passion with Before and After, is a good way to close this revised version of “From Eden to the Empty Tomb” as it amplifies Dom Prosper Gueranger’s meditation and helps us to realize that we are not very much unlike the Jews of Our Lord’s day insofar as our choosing for Him with every beat of our hearts, consecrated as they must be to His own Sacred Heart through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary:
“A great multitude that was come to the festivabl-day, when they had heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took branches of palm-trees, and went forth to meet Him, and cried, Hosanna, blessed is He that comethin th the name of the Kng of Israel” (St. John xii. 12, 13.)
“An a very great multitude spread their garment in the way; and others cut boughs from the trees, and strewed them in the way” (St. Matt. xxi. 8).
A. A great multitude therefore comes out from Jerusalem to meet the crowd that is accompanying Jesus from Jericho and Bethany.
The crowd coming out from Jerusalem perhaps consists more of strangers arrived in Jerusalem than of the inhabitants of that unfortunate city. The people there are too much afraid of their jealous Rulers to pay honour to Jesus. With what reason holy writers warn us all to strengthen ourselves against human respect! “For Jesus says: Fear yet not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul. . . . He that shall deny Me befoe men, I will also deny him” (St. Matt. x).
This is what our Lord had said: “No prophet is accepted in his own country” (St. Luke iv.) “He came into His own, and His own received Him not (St. John i.). In His own favoured city He is not welcome. We are now His own people, the favoured ones. Are we giving Him any cause to say, “Woe to you! for if in Tyre and Sidon had been wrought the miracles that have been wrought in you, long ago they would have done penance?
B. “A very great multitude spread their garments in the way.”
Not out of their superfluities are they now giving alms to our Blessed Lord. The grace of devotion given them is so fervent that they give the garments they are wearing–probably their best, their holiday clothes–to be trodden down and spoiled, in order to do Him hour: Fac cor dulce Jesu mei, Fac ut nos amemus Te. Cast into our hearts some spark of the Divine fire, which warmed the hearts of the crowd on this day of grace.
C. “Others cut boughs.”
This, we may presume, was done by the owners of the trees, or with their full sanction. The watchful providence of the Heavenly Father would not suffer this holy procession to be disfigured by any lawless excesses.
If were were to to witness now such enthusiasm at a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, many would be consoled and edified; but we might, on the other hand, find some secretly saying, “Ut quid perdito haec“–To what purpose this waste? (St. Matt. xxvi.) Should not the police be asked to prevent this destruction of the trees?
St. Thomas in his glorious hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi sides with the devout multitude, and exhorts us to vie with them.
Quantum potes tantum aude, Quia major omni laude, Nec ladare sufficis. Dare all thou canst through all thy days, And still seek new an worthier lays, For Still He soars beyond thy praise.
“And when He was now coming near the descent of Mount Olivet, the whole multitude of His disciples began with joy to praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “Hosanna in the highest. Blessed be the King Who cometh in the name of the Lord. Peace in Heaven and glory on high” (St. Luke xix.; St. Mark xi.).
A. “O vos omnes qui transitis per viam, attendite et videte“–O all you who pass by the way, stay a little while and see and listen. Our good angels watch us as we pass to and fro thoughtlessl, and they earnest ask us to pause a little while, and observe with a holy envy this burst of gladness of devotion and thanksgiving from of old and young around our Blessed Saviour. “Look, they say, and do according to the Model” (Exodus xxv.). O Christian soul, contemplate attentively this crowd of men and women and children, praising God with a loud voice for all His mighty works–and go thou and do the like. Ought we to rest content, till praising God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost has become an easy, a pleasant and habitual exercise of our soul? How often do we hear Holy Church reminding us that “it is God’s right, it is due to Him, it is only common justice and fairness, and besides, it is wholesome and salutary for our elves that in all places and at all times we give thanks to Him”? Speaking to yourselves, St. Paul writes, in psalms and hymns and spiritual canticles, singing and making a melody in your hearts to the Lord. Giving thanks always for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to God and the Father (Ephes. v.). This ought to be our habitual state. How near have we come to it?
B. But we must bear in mind that we have to eat our bread in the sweat of our brow. Holy thoughts and holy habits do not come naturally in our fallen state. We have by spiritual industry to learn a language of praise and thanksgiving. Under our Lady’s teaching we must practice until from our hearts we can say: “My spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour, because He that is mighty hath done great things for me.”
C. Remember how oftentimes one small slight, or even an imagined slight, from a man, takes away all our thoughts from the countless good things that God is giving us! What a strange prodigy! One hasty word, one rude gesture from a man has more effect than all God’s immense bounty! It is right, no doubt, to leave the ninety-nine sheep to go after the one that is lost; but is it wise to forget entirely ninety-nine blessings from God to go after one slight from a man, and follow it till, like the will o’ the wisp, it leads us into the depths of the quagmire?
This was Aman’s folly. “He called together to him his friends and Zares his wife: and he declared to them the greatness of his riches and the multitude of his children, and with how great glory the King had advanced him above all his princes and servants. And after this he said: Queen Esther also hath invited no other to the banquet with the King but me; and with her I am also to dine to-morrow with the King. And, he continues, whereas I have all these things, I think I have nothing so long as I see Mardochai the Jew sitting at the King’s gate” (Esther v.). Why is this? What magic power has Mardochai to counteract and embitter and poison such wonderful prosperity? All Aman’s blessings are effaced and blotted out simply because this one Jew will not rise up to honour the great Chancellor when he passes, nor even so much as to move from the place that he sits. If Zares had been a sensible wife, and if Aman’s friends had been true friends, they would have come round the poor dotard and said urgently: “You foolish man, why need you go out by the gate where the Jew is? Forget that Jew entirely, and fix your thoughts on all your many blessings.” But they were all evil counsellors, and advised him to turn his back on all his good things and go after this one vexation, to follow this one poor Jew, to persecute this one captive to the bitter end. What was the outcome? The foolish man lost all his ninety-nine blessings and was hanged on the one gibbet which he had prepared for Mardechai. (Father P. Gallwey, The Watches of the Sacred Passion with Before and After, Volume I, published by Maressa Press, Roehampton, England, 1930, pp. 152-155.)
To greet Christ the King this Palm Sunday and every day of our lives, we must not let anything get in the way of letting Him treat us according to the tender mercies of His Most Sacred Heart, remembering that nothing anyone does to us, says about us or causes us to suffer is the equal of what one of our least Venial Sins caused Him to suffer in His Sacred Humanity during His fearful Passion and Death on the wood of the Holy Cross and that caused those Swords of Sorrow to be pierced through and through the Immaculate Heart of His Most Blessed Mother.
Our fervor during this week of weeks must be genuine, and we must beg Our Lady, especially by meditating upon the Sorrowful Mysteries of her Most Holy Rosary, to help us persist in this fervor moment by moment, day by day, week in and week out, month after month, year after year until the time when we meet Christ the King, Our Crucified and Risen Saviour, at the moment of our Particular Judgment.
[Reflections on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Blessed Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ will be offered during the Paschal Triduum.]
Vivat Christus Rex! Viva Cristo Rey!
Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.
Saint Joseph, pray for us.
Saints Peter and Paul, pray for us.
Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.
Saint Michael the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Gabriel the Archangel, pray for us.
Saint Raphael the Archangel, pray for us.