“At Emmaus, the Eucharist is the Message” by Msgr Charles Pope


SUNDAY GUIDE  |  APR. 30, 2017
At Emmaus, the Eucharist Is the Message
User’s Guide to Sunday, April 30

Sunday, April 30, is the Third Sunday of Easter (Year A). Mass Readings: Acts 2:14, 22-33; Psalm 16:1-2, 5, 7-11; 1 Peter 1:17-21; Luke 24:13-35.

This Sunday’s Gospel is a template for the Mass as not just the great worship ritual for Catholics, but as the greatest form of media ever.

Let me explain.

This is also the last weekend before finals at Benedictine College, and my students will be studying a number of Marshal McLuhan concepts we cover in my class. He is the Catholic philosopher who taught that with every new form of media, mankind has gained something and lost something. The medium of writing was powerful, but it also made us a lot more forgetful; the medium of texting makes communication easier, but it has made us a lot less careful in our writing.

What is the best form of mass communication? The original: storytelling, when the audience sees the storyteller in person, hears the vocal inflection and sees the body language of the storyteller, who in turn sees the audience reaction and responds to it.

That is what Jesus provides in today’s Gospel. The disciples are going on their way, leaving Jerusalem, and going away from the Lord. Jesus comes to meet them where they are.

He calls them to rethink their lives in a blunt way: “How foolish you are!” Then he unpacks the Scriptures for them: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them what referred to him in all the Scriptures.”

Simply through the spoken word, he caused them to make a choice. “He gave the impression that he was going on farther,” says the Gospel, “but they urged him, ‘Stay with us!’”

Once they chose him, a miraculous thing happened: “While he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, but he vanished from their sight.”

His message is clear: He will indeed stay with them — in the Eucharist.

This is what the Mass can be for us to this day. We gather as a Church on Sunday, in order to re-anchor our relationship with God.

The Mass calls us to attention first by asking us to repent of our sins with a “my fault, my fault, my grave fault.” Then we hear another human being tell us stories from the Bible. The best lectors help those stories connect with the audience in a new way.

The homily unpacks the Scriptures for us, and we have all heard homilies that made our hearts burn within us.

Last, Jesus comes to each of us the way he came to those first disciples on the road to Emmaus: in the Eucharist. This allows us each to uniquely and completely experience Jesus in an intimate one-on-one encounter.

One of Marshall McLuhan’s best-known quotes is: “The medium is the message.” By that he means the forms of media shape their content — writing made us think in a linear way, unlike the old stories shared by the campfire; today, texting makes us communicate in short staccato bursts.

The ultimate “medium is the message” is the Eucharist. Jesus comes to each of us looking like bread, communicating the clear message: I want to be entirely with you, where you are. I want to be part of who you are. And I cannot leave this Church except through you.

“Impurity and the Felix Culpa” by Tim McCauley: re-blogged



Impurity and the Felix Culpa


“Where sin has abounded, grace has abounded all the more,” St. Paul assures us. Felix culpa, as we sing in the Easter Exultet. This “happy fault” refers specifically to Adam’s sin, but in Christ’s redemptive work, he draws good out of every sin. Accordingly, in our battle against impurity, let us stop trying to bury something that is screaming for attention, and begin to sift out the graces. Impure thoughts and desires can be notoriously difficult to repress precisely because they are the undeniable symptoms of a serious, pre-existent emotional repression. We human beings are notorious experts at denial, but sooner or later, the truth demands its day. Impurity might be compared to a full-blown cold virus that appears after a lengthy period of stress. We can ignore the early signs of stress—the tiredness, temper and tense muscles, but we really cannot deny the symptoms of a bad cold—the runny nose, sore throat, and coughing. Similarly, the red flag of impurity invites us—or rather insists—that we look at the underlying feelings.

Like discovering gold in mud, there is grace underneath the dark desires of impurity, if only we can stand still long enough in the midst of temptation and with a healthy curiosity inquire into our own desires, into the substance of sexual fantasies: what do we really want? Human desires can be nuanced and complex, but at the core we find a longing to return to Paradise and be naked without shame—to be loved as we are, body and soul. We want freedom to fully express ourselves and shine under a loving gaze that overlooks our weakness and imperfections and delights in all our goodness and beauty, because of our deepest identity and dignity as beloved sons and daughters of God. Then, in return, we want to give ourselves fully and without reserve, body and soul, to the lover who is also our beloved. Is this a description of an unattainable ideal of the perfect marriage? No, it is actually the plan of God for every human being. It turns out that our deepest desires correspond exactly to what God has prepared for us.

To open ourselves to receive this gift, I do not think it is effective simply to demand of ourselves more faith or just keep trying harder to stop sinning. We need to begin by treating ourselves with the mercy of God, giving ourselves permission to be human—without excusing ourselves of responsibility for sin. To begin with, one means of healing “embarrassing” sins of impurity like pornography and masturbation is to give ourselves permission to feel “embarrassing” underlying emotions like anger, hate, and rage, or sadness, grief, and tears.

It is natural for feelings of grief and anger to arise from hearts wounded not only from the effects of original sin, but also any neglect, abandonment, manipulation, exploitation or betrayals we may have experienced. However it is possible to turn these emotions in upon ourselves, to become angry with our own sadness, like a cruel parent who forbids tears in a child. Anger turned inward can repress grief and accumulate reservoirs of unshed tears trapped underground, like hidden wells of water under the dry sands of a burning desert. In the waterless wastes of those deserts of love, impure spirits roam. If only that water would be allowed to seep to the surface, what new life would spring up!

I sometimes wonder what happened to tears of repentance. Are we so impoverished in our experience of God’s mercy that we are afraid to let the tears flow? I lament how little some people benefit from the grace of Confession, limiting themselves to a laundry list that barely scratches the surface. The quality of our Confiteor may influence the degree of love we experience in Communion. I am not referring only to precision in confessing our sins, but also to the depth of our openness and honesty with ourselves and God concerning our hopes, desires, and emotions. As we mature in simplicity, and also become more adept at detecting and experiencing repressed emotion, then our hearts are more open to receive the fullness of love and grace that Christ offers us in the Eucharist.

“This is my Body, given up for you.” In the Eucharist, Christ fulfills our deepest desire for love. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict points out that God’s love for us may be described in terms of both agape and eros, reminding us that the prophets described “God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images.” Mother Teresa found an echo of God’s eros love for us in her meditation on Christ’s words on the Cross, “I thirst,” as if Christ were saying to each of us, “I thirst to love you and be loved by you.”

Ultimately, I believe it is Christ’s love for us that communicates the grace of repentance and conversion, and for any caught in the perverse pleasure of wallowing in the mud of impurity, the motivation to extricate themselves. People who have suffered abuse or neglect as children can end up believing that they are somehow bad and deserve this kind of treatment. Abuse can not only feel normal, but somehow “good” because it accords with our false identity as not deserving of love. Out of this mud of wounds and lies, a noxious weed can take root, of “pleasure” in lust, pornography, masturbation, fornication and other perversions. Nonetheless, the gold hidden in the mud is indestructible, a shining symbol of our identity as sons and daughters, this “lost coin” that Christ came to search out and to find—to wash, purify, and glorify.

Christ’s love empowers us in the battle with impurity. In the Twelve Step program of Sexaholics Anonymous, the first step is “We accepted we were powerless over lust.” Is that true? I am familiar with this language of “powerlessness” through Codependence Anonymous. Undoubtedly, there is much practical wisdom and many success stories in the Twelve Step movements, and we all need friends with whom we can share our struggles. At the same time, I would like to issue a cautionary note against any indiscriminate assent to this first step. Psychologist Bob Schuchts, in his book Be Healed, identifies seven deadly wounds that Christ needs to heal out of us, one of which is precisely powerlessness. Although we may be powerless before God in our radical contingency as creatures, we are far from powerless before the world, the flesh and the devil. St. Paul wrote to Timothy that “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-control.”

Accordingly, whenever we find ourselves caught off guard by a temptation, and we begin to breathe the sleeping gas of seduction, we no longer have to succumb like helpless slaves. We are sons and daughters empowered by Christ to fight the good fight, animated by an anger turned outward in a healthy assertiveness that helps us stand firm against any bullying spirits of impurity.

Another grace hidden within struggles with impurity is deeper insight into the truth of human nature, and a realization that the ideal of the human person is not necessarily one who is sophisticated and refined, or cool, calm and collected. Wounded human nature is often subject to a baffling inconsistency and ambivalence, while at the same time manifesting an astonishing capacity for transcendence and complete transformation.

Consider the example of St. Peter. He did not grow in holiness through self-censorship, afraid to offend, brooding in the corner over his imperfections, tossing and turning over his mistakes, all the while screening out undesirable emotions and conforming his behavior to some impassive and impossible social convention. The whole world knows he was very weak and foolish at times. Yet the Son of God founded his Church on this man’s faith! He lived large and took risks, his heart on his sleeve, working out his salvation in constant conversation and communion with Christ.

He denied Christ three times, but consider what new life sprang up out of his tears of repentance. With a deeper humility and gratitude he professed an even stronger devotion, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Felix culpa! He described the Christian faith as “more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold.” He rejoiced that God’s “divine power has given us everything needed … (to) escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust,” so that we might not only to become holy ourselves in every aspect of our conduct, but ultimately, “sharers in the divine nature.”

Editor’s note: The image above, titled “The Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise,” was painted by Benjamin West in 1803. END QUOTES

“This Is Why We are Catholics” re-blogged

Swiss Guard at Pope Francis' Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter's Square on April 16, 2017. (Credit: Lucía Ballester/CNA)
Swiss Guard at Pope Francis’ Easter Sunday Mass in St. Peter’s Square on April 16, 2017. (Credit: Lucía Ballester/CNA)
BLOGS  |  APR. 25, 2017
This is Why We Are Catholic
Life is not easy, and the Catholic Church cannot make it so, but it can make it better with consolations and grace and truth that never changes.

The world doesn’t get us. Sometimes we are ganged up on and persecuted. Often, we are misunderstood. Always, we are one, holy Catholic and apostolic.

We are unique, enduring, resistant to whims, unafraid to stand alone, and in love with the Blessed Mother. History is on our side and so is Scripture, even if we don’t always have it memorized.

We are members of the Church founded by Jesus Christ and yet, we are not better or more loved than any of God’s children — just blessed with all the gifts that God has to give. We are grateful yet challenged, for to whom much is given, much is expected.

Jesus comes to us in Holy Communion — for we “do this in memory of me.” And we go to him in Confession where the priest, in the person of Jesus Christ, absolves us of our sins. “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.’”(John 21-23).

Despite accusations to the contrary, we are not snobbish to visitors at Mass during Holy Communion, for the Eucharist is for all who believe and are one with us. Otherwise, it is not ours to give. “For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves,” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

Some call our Church uptight due to reserving procreation for marriage and condemning contraception. Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reemphasized that constant teaching which all Christian denominations once followed. And then there is the teaching that marriage, once validly begun, is until death. Because Jesus said so. No expiration date was given.

Our brothers and sisters in heaven pray for us and we pray for those in purgatory going through purification because nothing unclean will enter Heaven (Revelation 21:27). We understand that they will not get out until they “have paid the last penny” (Matthew 5:26).

We preach good works, as the necessary response to being saved by the death of Jesus Christ. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  We know we cannot save ourselves, but we have the hope — not the assurance — of salvation. “He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus: 5-7).

We discern, not judge, for we hate the sin but love the sinner. And we defend life because it is God’s to create and to terminate in his perfect timing.

Scandals we know. The intentionally confused blame the Church rather than recognizing scandal as the antithesis of Catholic teaching. Thus, there is never just one victim, for the Church always suffers alongside, betrayed and defiled.

We are saints and we are sinners, and our worship services are full of both. Sinners are always welcome —no better place to be—for healing, and worship, and community.

We are the branches and Jesus the vine, so we cling to him through our Church, to keep his life flowing abundantly though us.

For those who believe, we welcome them to enter our Church, even though it is by way of the narrow gate. Because sometimes, the teachings are hard and we are always behind in the popularity polls. Regardless of the culture’s misunderstanding, our rules do not restrict, but rather give freedom. For freedom is not the ability to do anything, even to sin.  If that were the case, as Pope Leo XIII taught, then God and the angels would not be free.

Life is not easy, and the Catholic Church cannot make it so, but it can make it better with consolations and grace and truth that never changes. And that is why we are Catholic. END QUOTES

God Can Neither Deceive Nor Be Deceived {re-blogged} by Jimmy Akin



BLOGS  |  APR. 21, 2017

God Can Neither Deceive Nor Be Deceived

“Almighty God. . . because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.” (CCC 311)

By Jimmy Akin

Does the Bible indicate God is a deceiver?

Recently I was contacted by a reader who was looking for a response to claims made by a Muslim apologist concerning instances in Scripture where God appears to use deception.

Let’s talk about that.

What the Muslim apologist was doing

The Muslim apologist was responding to Christian apologists who have argued that in the Qur’an, God is depicted as using deception and thus the “God of the Qur’an” isn’t worth worshipping.

The Muslim apologist asserted, in essence, that if that argument works then it would equally well disqualify the God of the Bible from worship as well.

In other words, the argument would prove too much.

Frankly, the Muslim apologist has a point. Too often, Christian apologists make apples-to-oranges comparisons with Islam, where they criticize something in Islam without stopping to ask themselves if there is parallel in Christianity.

The same thing can also happen in reverse. Muslim apologists can do the same thing.

If there is a parallel to the thing an apologist wants to critique then he needs to stop and ask himself, “Am I handling the evidence in a fair or an unfair manner?”

This is a question every apologist needs to ask himself, regardless of his position—whether he is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, atheist, or anything else.

We all need to be fair, even when debating people of another perspective.

We shouldn’t use double standards.

As someone once said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Not All About Deception

Not all of the passages the Muslim apologist brought up involved deception.

For example, he cited John 16:25, where Jesus acknowledges that he has said some things in a figurative manner.

He then cited Mark 4:10-12, where Jesus says that he uses parables so that certain people might not understand and repent.

Neither one of these passages involves deception.

Speaking figuratively isn’t deception, and while the Mark passage is puzzling, it also doesn’t involve deception. Not understanding what Jesus says when he uses a parable is not the same thing as being deceived.

For a discussion of what the passage does mean, see Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth, volume 1 or my own Mark: A Commentary.

Similarly, the apologist cites two passages from Isaiah that also do not involve deception.

The first—Isaiah 19:14—says that God has made the Egyptians confused or dizzy, not that he has deceived them.

And the second—Isaiah 37:6-7—says that God will give the Assyrian king Sennacherib a disposition such that, when he hears a certain report, he will return home, which will lead to his death, which is what then happened (see Isaiah 37:37-38).

There are some interesting questions one can ask about these passages, but they do not portray God as deceiving people.

Verses Involving Deception

The Muslim apologist does cite some verses, though, where the issue of deception is on the table, such as where Jeremiah says:

Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD, surely thou hast utterly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, ‘It shall be well with you’; whereas the sword has reached their very life” (Jeremiah 4:10).

Or when the prophet Micaiah sees a vision of heaven in which:

The Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramoth-gilead?’

And one [spirit] said one thing, and another said another. Then a spirit came forward and stood before the Lord, saying, ‘I will entice him.’

And the Lord said to him, ‘By what means?’

And he said, ‘I will go forth, and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets.’

And he said, ‘You are to entice him, and you shall succeed; go forth and do so’ (1 Kings 22:20-22).

Or when Ezekiel reports an oracle, saying:

And if the prophet be deceived and speak a word, I, the Lord, have deceived that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him, and will destroy him from the midst of my people Israel (Ezekiel 14:9).

Or when Paul says:

Therefore God sends upon them [i.e., those who “refused to love the truth”] a strong delusion, to make them believe what is false, so that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness (2 Thessalonians 2:11).

These verses do make it sound like God uses deception.

So how do we explain them?

The Christian View of God

The Christian Faith holds that God is an all-perfect Being. As a result, he is all-holy and is not capable of sinning, which I have written about before.

This has implications for God’s truthfulness. As early as the book of Numbers, we read:

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it? (Num. 23:19).

The same view is expressed in multiple other passages (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:29, 2 Tim. 2:13, Tit. 1:2). Jesus even declares himself to be “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).

Passages like these express the fundamental conviction that God is always truthful, and they reveal that passages which appear to suggest otherwise must be taken in a different sense.

This is not surprising. Scripture often uses non-literal language when discussing God.

Thus we sometimes read about God sheltering people with his wings (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 64:1, 63:7) or we read about “the arm of the Lord” (Is. 53:1) or “the hand of God” (1 Sam. 5:11, 2 Chron. 30:12, Job 2:10) or “the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19, 31:18, Deut. 9:10).

These are not literal, for “God is spirit” (John 4:24) and “a spirit has not flesh and bones” (Luke 24:39).

We thus have to sort between literal statements—like God is a spirit and God does not lie—and figurative ones which portray him as having body parts or using deception.

Direct Attribution

One of the things you discover when you study the modes of language used in the Bible is that the ancient authors frequently attribute things directly to God, although their causation is actually less direct.

We may call this mode of speech “direct attribution.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church comments on it:

[W]e see the Holy Spirit, the principal author of Sacred Scripture, often attributing actions to God without mentioning any secondary causes.

This is not a “primitive mode of speech,” but a profound way of recalling God’s primacy and absolute Lordship over history and the world, and so of educating his people to trust in him [CCC 304].

A consequence of this mode of speech is that the authors of Scripture sometimes speak as if God actively caused things that he merely allowed as part of his providence.

This was, as the Catechism explains, their way of emphasizing God’s absolute Lordship, even though the figure of speech is not to be understood to mean that God literally caused something.

The literal truth is that he allowed it to happen, but this is expressed in figurative language that speaks as if he caused it.

The Key to the Deception Passages

This is the key to understanding the passages involving deception.

The literal truth is the one expressed in Numbers 23:19—“God is not man, that he should lie.”

But since God allows deception to take place on some occasions, the direct attribution mode of speech can be used in Scripture to speak as if God caused the deception.

Thus in Jeremiah’s day the people had become convinced that they would have peace when this was not the case. God allowed this to happen, but—per direct attribution—Jeremiah speaks as if God deceived them.

In 2 Kings, Ahab was deceived by false prophecies which God allowed to occur, and in Micaiah’s vision this is depicted—per direct attribution—as if God himself sent a lying spirit.

Ezekiel discusses the well-known phenomenon of false prophets, which God has allowed to appear, and—per direct attribution—speaks as if God himself deceived these prophets.

And Paul comments on those who “refused to love the truth” (2 Thess. 2:10), who God allowed to “not believe the truth but [have] pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:11). God then allows them to embrace “a strong delusion,” but—per direct attribution—Paul speaks as if God sent this delusion.

The “Why” Question

A natural question is why God would allow these things, and here we are confronted by what philosophers and theologians refer to as “the problem of evil.”

If you’d like to learn more about it, check out my video on The Problem of Evil. (It’s also covered in brief in my book A Daily Defense).

In some cases, we can see why God allows evil.

For example, Ezekiel 14:10-11 indicates that God allows false prophets as part of a long-term process of purifying his people, so “that the house of Israel may go no more astray from me, nor defile themselves any more with all their transgressions, but that they may be my people and I may be their God.”

In other cases, we can’t know in this life why God allows a specific evil.

However, the Catechism, quoting St. Augustine, explains that

Almighty God. . . because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself (CCC 311).

We can thus have confidence that, no matter what evil happens he allows to occur in the world—whether it is deception or anything else—God will ultimately bring good out of it END QUOTES

The Stations of the Cross: a Good Friday reflection by Patrick Miron

The Stations of the Cross

 KNOW/No Greater Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jn: 15: 12-15

The goal of this chapter is to aid us in falling in love with Jesus. There are several tried and true methods, but none without His grace. So, we must go where grace is most abundant, especially the Sacraments; we must be in His presence. The more time we sacrifice and spend there, the faster we will again fall in love with God. Love always requires sacrifice, or it is not love. Can falling in love with Jesus require anything less?

Here are three ways to fall in love with Jesus: Each has the power to work independent of the others, but combining them improves and enhances the benefits of each. First are frequent, even daily Holy Mass, and Holy Communion. There is no better way to meet and get to know intimately the object of our Love, Jesus Christ, and gain an abundance of supernatural graces. Second is spending “quality time” in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Daily will get the best results. Bishop Fulton Sheen recommended thirty minutes to an hour. When we ignore Jesus, He holds back some graces, which are a free gift to us until we deserve or ask for them. He desires to give them to us. Third is praying daily the Stations of the Cross. This is most poignant, expression and reminder, outside of Holy Mass, of what it means to be in love and prove it.

We will delve deeper into this last “secret potion.” The intent is not to provide yet another prayer form of the Blessed Stations. There exist already many beautiful, effective, pious guides. The desire is to make us present at each of the sacrificial loving steps, so that we might more fully appreciate the depth of this Lover’s love for us. Is it not easier to love one who loves us, and shows no limit to that love? All understanding of God comes through understanding the life of Christ.

Attempting to comprehend what Jesus endured in His passion and death from only the Stations of the Cross would leave a significant void in the lesson of Love.

Clearly Jesus knew what lay ahead for Him. Still, perfect lover that He is, He forgave us. Not as an afterthought, and He didn’t wait until our sins had killed Him. How do we know? Because the night He was betrayed, Jesus instituted the hierarchal priesthood of bishops and priests, the Holy Eucharist, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. This sacrifice is re-presented in an unbloody way daily through the hands of His priest. And in incomprehensible mystery and abasement, Christ chose to remain with us, body and soul; complete divinity and humanity joined for our edification, our nourishment, our salvation within the tabernacles of the only Church that He founded. These are living, loving gifts of life, not death. “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. ‘” Matt: 20: 17- 19

“Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” Jn: 18: 4  Judas and our mob of sinners came out and seized Jesus, whom Judas had identified by a kiss. Jesus greeted Judas: “Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Mt: .26: 50 Jesus forgave Judas, but filled with Satan’s guilt and self-pity, Judas would not, could not repent, and Judas couldn’t forgive himself; in abject despair, he went out and hung himself. Salvation rejected is damnation.

The mob was more surprised than Jesus. He knew their sinister plan, and was prepared, even eager for it. Still, He must have looked both majestic in his cooperative attitude of unresisting compliance, and frightful in appearance, heaving, covered with blood on His person, and being so deprived of rest. He reminded them that they had many opportunities to seize Him, and asked why now. The answer was apparent. His hour was now at hand. “But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” Mt: 26: 56

Both pleasure and pain are greatly enhanced by anticipation, foreknowledge and comprehension of what is to take place. Similarly, it is far easier to love someone who loves, or will love you in return. What Jesus was to endure out of love for us involved totally His mind, His body and His soul, and there was not a single sinner who Jesus did not love. Love is not an emotion; it is a conscious decision, a continuous act of the will that permits one to love someone, even without “liking” that person, or approving of his or her actions. Love always requires sacrifice, and love always requires a conscious decision. If you can’t forgive, you can’t love. Christ both forgives and loves us.

We take Jesus to a confrontation with His accusers.  It was the religious leaders of the time that stirred up, provoked, led and insisted that, “it is better for one man to die” than for us to suffer. Why? First because they rejected grace offered that would permit them to recognize God as Goodness. Second, Jesus was a threat, both real and imagined, to their authority; His evident power was unlimited, theirs, very limited. Third was one of Satan’s favorite tools – jealousy. Jesus was actually liked and respected, even loved by some, while they, for the most part were simply feared.

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to Die

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Rom: 5:19

“Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none.’ The high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments, and said,  ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.”  Mk: 14: 55, 61-65

The Jewish nation was in captivity, subservient to the ruling Roman Empire. Officials lacked the power to pronounce and execute a death mandate. It was the judgment of the Roman Protectorate, Pilate, who had the legal power to kill, and he had to be persuaded to issue a “guilty, go ahead and crucify him” verdict. Pilate had heard of Jesus, and did not see Him as a threat to either himself or Rome. He reckoned correctly, that jealously was the motive of the Jewish leaders, and he simply didn’t wish to make a decision in opposition to their wishes for fear of a possible Jewish revolt. Pilate knew well the power to sway the masses that the religious leaders had. Pilate’s wife had warned him not to get involved, as she had a dream about Jesus. The Romans had very little respect for life, were active abortionists, and used gruesome killings, to maintain fearful, but orderly governance.  Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Mk.15: 2  Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, (a justly convicted criminal) and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. Mt: 27: 24-26

The Crowning of thorns

A key to being a successful politician is to make as few public decisions as possible. Not to procrastinate, but to delegate. The job gets done, you can take the credit if it goes well, and you have someone to blame if it doesn’t  Pilate was brilliant in passing Jesus on to Herod, who was governor of Galilee. Herod was anxious to see Jesus perform His magic, but Herod was so steeped in sin, that he could not discern simple magic, from a miracle. A trick from an act of love. Jesus doesn’t do “tricks”; He performs miracles when they can have a soul-changing affect. He seeks, not to impress, but to save. Curiosity would not be quenched.

Disappointed, but grateful for the opportunity and recognition from Pilate, Herod joined with the rest of us sinners, issued Jesus a purple “Good Will” cloak, a sign of royalty, and a crown of long, very sharp thorns, that were pounded into the head of Jesus, just to make sure that the self-proclaimed king was appropriately attired. It’s so easy to have a laugh at someone else’s expense. We too thought it was funny. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, Jesus humbly and meekly does not resist. It is the Passover; He is the unblemished sacrificial lamb. Love gives His all, to all.

The Scouring at the pillar 

Scourging was common treatment before a crucifixion for three reasons. This was a “spectators’ sport.” The Romans were a barbaric people, and crucifixion was so common, that while they wished it to be as painful, as gruesome and therefore, as memorial as possible, they frankly got bored with the spectacles and desired to, for their own benefit, shorten the death process. But this was a special case. A person of notoriety, a celebrity, well thought of by many in the subservient Jewish community. A community that looked down with notable disdain on the low-life Romans, especially the Legionnaires. This required a demonstration of the “superior cruelty,” of the torturers, who were eager to prove their reputation was rightly earned.

We watched as the huge, muscular, sadistic Ligonier prepared his victim. The preparation was as much mental as physical. The victim’s wrist was tied to a high whipping post that would support his weight, even if the victim passed out, as was often the case. The chained victim’s body was exposed to all sides stripped naked. To instill fear, they would in the most graphic and vulgar terms, inform the victim what to expect; the ripped flesh, torn off in hunks, the biting, burning feel of the whip, and the enjoyment they derived from slowly afflicting as much pain as possible. They would lay the whip, made of leather, with chunks of sharp bone, steel balls, and hooks attached, on the back of the victim and its weight would scratch and cut them. Then confronting the victim, they would jeer and taunt them into begging for mercy, a mercy that never materialized. It was a moment of sheer joy for them to look the victim in the eye, and see enough fear to cause them to pass out of sheer fear. Normally forty less one lash were administered. Care was taken not to kill the victim, and thus spoil “the main event,” the crucifixion.

When the torturer confronted Jesus, he saw a look of pity, not fear. Jesus humbly looked him straight in the eyes, forgiveness written on His holy innocent face. This so infuriated the torturer, that he discarded the “legal whip” and got one that had longer lashes that would wrap around the body, and tear more flesh. Jesus was beaten by not one, but two torturers, who completely spent themselves, while making sure that every inch of Christ’s innocent, holy body was torn, front and back. The number of blows administered was not counted. It is likely that they far exceeded the legal limit. The beating was so severe as to make the innocent Lamb of God unrecognizable. Yet Love desired to go on, to give more and to endure more.

The Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross  

“We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Heb: 2: 9

The weight of the cross was far more than the natural weight of the wood. It was leaded with our sins, our guilt and His loneliness. With every step, with every curse, with every insult, and with every unjust blow, Christ became weaker, and the load more difficult to bear. Love keeps giving, and true love knows no bounds.

The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time    

As we follow along the road to Calvary, trying not to miss any of the gory details out of morbid curiosity, Jesus does not see a stone in the road, stumbles and falls the first time. The fall makes us laugh and jeer and brings blows from the legionnaires. Christ has a rope tied about His waist so as to not be able to escape. He is cruelly dragged to his feet, and ordered to again pick up His heavy cross. Love never gives up. .

The Fourth station: Jesus meets His Mother  

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.” Ps: 131: 2

Those of us who were there likely missed it. But when Jesus and Mother Mary met, with the first contact of their eyes, there was at least an attempt to smile. Not a happy smile, more of a knowing-understanding one, that acknowledged, this must be done. “Thy will be done, on earth,” so that heaven might, at least be a possibility for some. And that was the painful point, that Jesus, the Son of God, with Mary, the first and most perfect tabernacle, full of grace, God’s most perfect human being would endure pain and grief that neither words nor a picture can paint. So deep and so intense as to be unable to be comprehended by mortal man, and yet, only a fraction of humanity would respond to God’s graces, and accept the crosses necessary for our salvation. “Many are called – few are chosen.” Mt: 22: 14

The meeting lasted a few brief minutes, and it just barely gave Jesus the adrenaline boost, His bruised and battered body needed to carry on. Only time to say, “I love you,” to acknowledge each other’s pain, and without words, to communicate the fervent desire to endure each other’s cross. Resigned to the will of the Father, and with hearts seemingly ripped from their bodies by an invisible evil force, forgiveness seems unimaginable. But forgiveness is an issue of Love and perfect love can, perfect love does, perfect love must forgive. Mother and son are perfect lovers.

The Fifth station: Simon, the Cyrene, son of Rufes is compelled to help

“Before those who stood by you were my helper” cf. Sir: 5:12

With heavy labored breath, Christ still resigned, obedient, and desiring to serve and to save. He is grateful for the assistance, no matter the level of reluctance of also this Simon. Divine providence hints again at the importance of Simon (the soon-to-be Pope), by choosing yet another ‘Simon” to aid Jesus.

We were in the crowd, it could have been us selected. It was! We are, and we are to be, Christ Simon’s today and everyday, to everyone. For everyone we meet is a Christ, and everyone we meet is in need of assistance in carrying his or her cross. This is a second step to our conversion. Having said goodbye to His Mother, Jesus is noticeably more tired and weaker, but Love never gives up!

The Sixth station: Blessed Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

“For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you” Sir: .3:14

This incident of Blessed Veronica is both puzzlement and embarrassment to us men, as we can’t understand the legionnaires allowing these acts of pity and mercy, and we are embarrassed that a woman is showing greater courage, than the men present. Women are often more ardent lovers, more focused and committed. Certainly they are more willing to take risk for the object of their love. Pride is often the greatest impediment to men being more complete, more passionate, more giving lovers. Christ the man shows us that perfect love is doable and the price that must be paid is self-sacrifice. Veronica display’s great courage and empathy, and the rewards are immediately evident in the rebirth of energy and confidence of our Blessed Lord, and the creation of the world’s first “Polaroid” remembrance of the passion. No gift was sought, but love given usually gets love in return.

The Seventh station: Christ falls a second time 

“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” Lk:  22: 61-62

All lovers know that it is more enjoyable to make up, than to break up. But not all lovers are willing to say, “I’m sorry.” The line that says “love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a lie. It is the act of forgiveness, and the act of asking for forgiveness that builds character, strengthens relationships, and is foundational to true love.

Peter’s true repentance and sorrow, made the second fall less painful. Adam’s sin wrought in us concupiscence, the natural tendency to sin, further aided by our free will. There is a price for sinning. (“The wages of sin are death.” Rom.6: 23) The price Christ paid, and a price we have to pay. Those who claim that simple believing will lead to salvation need to read the second chapter of James. There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, than a hundred perfect souls. It is God’s redeeming mercy and love that saves us, but it requires free-will cooperation on our part.

The Eighth station: Jesus meets the holy women 

“They will console you, when you see their ways and their doings” Ezra: 14: 23

Again it is women – this time mothers, empathic, courageous, nurturing, and loving – that challenge the Roman legionnaires for access to the Christ. They are concerned about the souls of sons, husbands and brothers, who are participating in this killing of the Holy Innocent. They grieve for Jesus and for their men. A mother’s sixth sense can usually “feel” goodness or evil in a man. They sense the presence of evil’s influence over us, and know in their hearts that Jesus is an innocent man. Filled with pity and outrage at the injustice being perpetrated against Jesus, the kindly women know that, someone sometime will have to repay justice for this insane injustice. They are concerned about the meek and humble Jesus, and their men who will have innocent blood on their hands. They weep for and with Jesus, and have their worst fears confirmed, that there will be, must be, a retribution and repayment for this atrocity. At times true love must be tough love, to be truthful love. Throughout history, actions, both good and evil, have drawn consequences. A free will is not a free ride. Love is a destination requiring active participation, usually gained by giving. Divine Justice demanded a just response. These women knew Jesus as Good, but time n’again refused to recognize him as God! Thus Christ reminds them, gives them yet another opportunity at salvation. “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.” Lk 23: 27 Do they hear? Do we?

The Ninth station: Jesus falls a third time

It’s not the failing or falling that causes damnation; it’s one’s prideful neglect of repentance. It is simply the decision not to get back up, not to seek forgiveness.

The Judas like leaders of the church in Jerusalem were politically astute. Desiring to be seen as just, not as vengeful, with great diplomacy, and even greater hypocrisy, forewent the pleasure of following every step of the way, depriving themselves, of the joyful sight of every blow, every insult, every profanity, every fall. Hypocrites indeed, and in deeds, they went ahead toward the “finish line” so as not to miss the really good and cruel stuff. “You will know them by their fruits.” They witnessed with concealed joy the third fall, and their hearts skipped a beat; don’t let Him die yet! They desire blood vengeance, and the excruciating crucifixion is longed for, waited for, like lovers anticipating the wedding night embrace.

The kangaroo court judges and we other sinners, watch as the totally spent Christ is plastered to the rough earth that He created, unable to move, much less continue on His own. Simon, now eagerly lifts the sin- leaded load of the cross, for he has seen goodness up close and personal, and is now able to recognize Godliness. Simon is converted, and so are some of us. Nearly everyone in attendance has witnessed other crucifixions. No one has ever seen such meekness, such humility, even a cooperative attitude. It reminds one of a Pascal Lamb being led to slaughter without complaint. But this isn’t a dumb lamb, this is an intelligent human being; this is God, this is true Love.

The Tenth station: Jesus is stripped of His Garments. 

“And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mk: 11: 8-9

In order for us to better understand the motive and effect of the “stripping,” we might consider a man who has spent a twelve to fifteen hour day in the very hot summer sun, putting on a new roof. He too is exhausted and spent from the heat and physical exertion. Nearing the end of the job, he misses the head of the roofing nail, and slams his thumb. Instantly he is revitalized as the pain has a shocking, awakening effect on his body. Adrenaline is now flowing rapidly and freely, and the traffic cop brain is sending urgent messages of pain through out his entire body. Like a bucket of ice water in the face of a sleeping man, he is instantly awake and alert.

The rape like attack of Jesus has the same effects. The tearing off of all His garments, glued to His wounded bloodied body, as flesh is savagely, cruelly torn off in chucks, reopens old wounds, and creates some new ones. Instantly, the flow of adrenaline and blood is reestablished, and once again the numbed body comes alive with raw nerve-endings. Jesus is again fully awake, fully alive, nerve endings ripe for further abuse. Bleeding profusely from ripped open wounds, the sadistic premeditated wake up call works exactly as planned. Now He is ready for the main show. Love desires to give even more. Is concupiscence, fear, or hypocrisy the culprit? Do we, or can we blame someone other than ourselves for choosing to serve Satan rather than God? “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, how soon, how easily we forget. Love understands and forgives us.

The Eleventh station: Jesus is nailed to the cross 

“And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings shall be eaten on the day of his offering” cf Lev: 7 “The sacrifice of a righteous man is acceptable, and the memory of it will not be forgotten.” Sir:  35:7

It was maniacal sadistic genius that devised the forty-five degree angle of the foot-nailing platform. If it had been flat, it would have been far easier for the victims to breathe, as they had to regularly push up from their legs in order to get air into their lungs. It would have taken longer for the victims to die, but it would not cause pain equal to the actual nailing every time they needed air in their lungs. The forty-five degree foot angle meant that each time they used their legs to raise themselves; their body weight would enlarge the nail holes, sending excruciating, heart pumping, blood curling pain to every nerve ending in the body. And the hanging bodies needed air in the lungs to stay alive or they would suffocate. The victim could choose between indefinable intense pain, and choking to death. Some – choice. It made for great spectator involvement. Betting on the time of death was common.

As for the nailing, because of the intense pain, if a victim had thoughts about fighting back, here is where it happened. The Romans were stunned when Jesus, like a King assuming his throne, meekly lay on the cross, stretched out Him arms, and allowed Himself to be nailed to His throne. A Legionnaire sat on His chest, while two others kneeled, one on each arm and held tight the wrist, palm up. The guard doing the nailing would press the large nail into the flesh, pause an instant to allow the victim to comprehend what was about to take place, and with a single hammer blow, pound the nail through the flesh, into the wood. They would allow for some of the pain to subside before proceeding to maximize the pain. Let them beg for mercy, they always did, regularly mixed with profanities. But only muffled moans came from the Jew’s king. No shrieking, no profanities, no cries for mercy, just heart wrenching, soul searching involuntary moans. The Romans were suitably impressed. Love conquers all.



The Twelfth station: The Son of God dies for our salvation

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” Rom:  6: 5

What is the asking price for the sacrifice of the Son of God? It is no less than we are to sacrifice our very lives and surrender our free will to do His will. This is to be accomplished by discerning God’s will for our vocation, and in every instance, with divine assistance, making God’s will, our avocation. We are to know, love, and serve God in this life, that we may be happy with Him in the next. We are to actively teach others to do the same.

The Thirtieth station: Christ is taken down from the Cross and placed in His mother’s arms

Mother, you joined your Son in His crucifixion, knowing that both as God and as man He is Perfect Holiness, completely without sin or error. All He did was Love and teach others to love. This, His only crime caused Him and you such soul-wrenching pain and despite your merciful forgiveness, your total and completely joined sacrifice will not be sufficient to redeem all of mankind. I marvel at your love, compassion, obedience, and the God given power of our free wills. “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

The Fourteenth station: Jesus is laid In the Tomb

God is Spirit and has no need of a tomb. It is God as man, divinity and humanity joined that is buried. The body human remains in the tomb for three days, while the soul of Christ, His divinity descends into the land of the just UN-judged (Limbo) to release them into heaven. The divinity of Christ remained with both His dead human body and with His human soul. Their just reward has been waiting salvation’s call and the time of justice is at hand. Christ also, in a show of Divine Justice, visited hell, to demonstrate that there is and must be a price paid for willful rejection of The Almighty – eternal damnation. Christ died and was buried as a man and on the third day arose Body and Soul (as the God-man), to prove and substantiate all that He taught, and all that was foretold. It was sublime evidence of truth and Perfect Love from Perfect Love.


“Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” Jn: 15: 13.

God Bless You; Pray much!


“The Bridegroom” an Easter Reflection by Father Paul Scalia {re-blogged}

The Bridegroom

Jesus went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to where there was a garden. (Jn 18:1) Christ, the New Adam, goes to a garden to undo what was done in a garden. The first Adam was settled in a garden and given a wife. There he rebelled against the Father and failed his wife. Now, the New Adam goes to a garden, to obey His Father and to give Himself to His bride. The entire Passion narrative – from Christ’s agony in the garden to His final words from the Cross – is nuptial. In it, we hear how “Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her.” (Eph 5:25)

The nuptials of bridegroom and bride require vows – words by which they give their lives to one another, for the good of each other. So our Lord’s marriage begins with words of self-giving – with a vow, in effect. But in this case, the words are spoken to His Father on behalf of His bride: “Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” (Mk 14:36) Thus He makes the eternal gift of Himself for His bride. This is the moment He submits definitively to the Father’s will. The first Adam failed his wife by disobeying. The New Adam wins His bride by obeying: Thy will be done.

Jesus anticipated this moment at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which will be given for you.” (Lk 22:19) The gift of oneself in marriage is not of words only but also of the body. The body is part of who we are and, therefore, essential to the gift of oneself. Marriage is lived not merely in nice thoughts and words but in the gift of bodies, one to another; in bringing forth new life through those bodies; in caring for the other’s body as the end draws near. Now, in the garden Jesus gives His body definitively. The vow has bodily effects: “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” (Lk 22:44)

Every marriage has trials. The first Adam was put to the test by the evil one, who tempted him away from trusting in the Father and therefore from loving his wife. The New Adam is likewise put to the test – through Judas, into whom the devil had entered: “Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, accompanied by a large crowd, with swords and clubs.” (Mt 26:47)  The devil, unsuccessful in prior temptations, finds his “opportune time.” By inflicting ridicule, pain, scorn, and death, he seeks to break Jesus from the Father’s will and from His bride. But he will find himself defeated again through simple trust and obedience: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 24:46)

Study for Crucifixion by Graham Sutherland, 1947 [Vatican Museum]

Every marriage requires sacrifice – the actual living out of the vows. Words pronounced at the altar on the wedding day are fulfilled daily in sacrificial acts of love, great and small. So our Lord’s Passion is simply the living out of His vow in the garden. The beatings, interrogation, and ridicule. . .the scourging and the crowning with thorns. . .the carrying of the Cross and crucifixion. What are all these but living out His vow? They were all contained in that gift of Himself. Thus, at the summit of His sacrifice, He cries out that the vow is completed, accomplished, lived out to the full: “It is finished,” in our current lectionary. But the Vulgate reveals the nuptial meaning: Consummatum estIt is consummated. (Jn 19:30)

Christ’s sacrifice, which we remember today, is the cure for all our sins and enlightens all our darkness. Given our current confusion about marriage, however, we do well to understand the sacrifice as particularly that of Jesus, the Bridegroom of the Church, who restores the original meaning of marriage and, by His grace, enables couples to live it. (CCC 1614)

Simply put, our Lord’s death reveals how marriage ought to be lived. His vow and sacrifice are the standard for married life. The vows a bride and groom make on their wedding day are the commitment to give their lives – just as our Lord committed to give His. Their married lives should be the living out of that gift – just as our Lord’s sacrifice was the living out of His vow. What are all the daily little sacrifices and burdens but the living out of the vows? Marriages will prosper and bring joy only to the extent that they are modeled on our Lord’s Cross.

The giving of His body – in the Upper Room, in the garden, on the Cross – calls to mind what our culture would like to forget: the truth of the human body. Contraception and sterilization began the rejection of the body’s meaning. Now we have their full flowering in “gender ideology,” which says your body is not you and means nothing. May our worship of His crucified body help bring a cure for this ill.

In His Passion, our Lord also shows the simple way forward through marriage’s trials: obedience to the Father’s will. That simple virtue enables Him not to avoid struggles but to triumph through them. Perhaps we complicate things too much. Trusting obedience to the truth about marriage – permanent, faithful, life-giving – enables a couple not just to muddle through difficulties but to triumph through them. It’s a simple – not an easy – path that too many neglect.

This is not meant for married couples only, but all the faithful: “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church.” (CCC 1617) All the faithful benefit from marriages well lived – marriages that obtain an increase of grace for the Church and point beyond this world to the wedding feast of the Lamb. In this, as in all things, Christ the Bridegroom reveals the Cross as spes unica – our only hope.

Fr. Paul Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia

Fr. Paul Scalia is a priest of the Diocese of Arlington, Va, where he serves as Episcopal Vicar for Clergy. His new book is That Nothing May Be Lost: Reflections on Catholic Doctrine and Devotion.


“Good Friday -Victory of the Cross” re-blogged




Good Friday is the day of the Crucifixion, Passion, and Death of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Was the cross a big mistake or was it in His plan?  Was it an agonizing defeat or a brilliant victory?

Terrorism is nothing new.  It’s probably as old as the human race.

In fact the cradle of civilization, now Iraq, was the home of the most infamous terrorists of antiquity, the Assyrians.  Their goal was to conquer their neighbors in a way that would minimize initial resistance and subsequent rebellion.  To do this, they knew fear would be their greatest weapon.  Simple threat of death was not enough because many would prefer death to slavery.  So the Assyrians developed a way to execute rebels that produced the maximum amount of pain for the longest amount of time.  It was called crucifixion.  It proved to be a very effective terror tactic indeed.

It was the policy of the Roman Empire to adopt whatever appeared useful from conquered peoples.  They found crucifixion an excellent tool of intimidation.  The humiliation of being stripped naked and made a public spectacle was particularly loathsome to Jews for whom public nudity was an abomination.  Incidentally, crucifixion was deemed so horrible that Roman law forbade that it be carried out on a Roman citizen, even a traitor.  It was reserved only for slaves and conquered peoples.

Non-Christians have often asked a very good question–why do Christians adorn their churches, homes, and necks with a symbol of abasement, terror, and torture?  Why build an entire religion around the cross?

St. Anselm (12th century) explained it this way.  Our first parent’s sin was all about pride, disobedience, and self-love.  Deceived by the serpent, Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit in defiance of God because they wanted to exalt themselves as His equal.  The results were catastrophic–loss of communion with God, each other, and the created universe.  The history of the human race has been a story in which each one of us, weakened by the impact of this sin on our nature, have followed its pattern, proudly refusing to obey God and love our neighbor.

Anselm pointed out sin constitutes an infinite offense against the goodness and honor of God.  Having been created free and responsible, bound by the law of justice, our race is obliged to offer acts of love, humility and obedience to God powerful enough to cancel out the long legacy of disobedience, pride, and unlove and restore our friendship with him.

lent 19

The problem is, our wounded race could not begin to attempt such a task.  So the Father sent His Eternal Word to become man and accomplish the task in our place, to substitute for us.  For the immortal, infinite God to empty himself and unite himself to a limited, vulnerable human nature was already a feat of unimaginable love and humility.  But for redemption to be complete, the hero would have to withstand the greatest fury that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against him–the cross.

Surely, after the crowds he had healed and fed cried “Crucify him!” and his own apostles fled, Jesus would realize it wasn’t worth it.  Surely he would curse the ingrates and use his divine power to free himself as many suggested in their taunts.  But no.  His was love to the end, love to the max (John 13:1).  His death was the clear and undeniable manifestation of the triumph of obedience over disobedience, love over selfishness, humility over pride.

Good Friday was the D-Day of the human race.  Since Pentecost, the power of Christ’s obedient, humble, unstoppable love has been made available to all who are willing to share it, producing martyrs and saints in every generation, down to the Maximilian Kolbe’s and Mother Teresa’s of our own era.

So the cross is not only victorious, it is fruitful.  It bore the fruit of salvation in the loving act of Christ but has kept bearing new fruit throughout the ages.  That’s why, if you go to the Church of San Clemente in Rome, you’ll see one of the most stunning mosaics in the Eternal City.  The ancient instrument of subjection and death, wrapped with verdant vines supporting fruit of every shape and size, the triumphant cross become the tree of life.

This post on the victory of the cross was originally written as a reflection on the reading of the Passion on Good Friday, but is also appropriate as a meditation on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on September 14.


Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio
From a colorful and varied background as a professor of theology, a father of five, business owner, and professional performer Marcellino D’Ambrosio (aka “Dr. Italy”) crafts talks, blog posts, books, and videos that are always fascinating, practical, and easy to understand.  He is a TV and radio personality, New York Times best-selling author, speaker, and pilgrimage host who has been leading people on a journey of discovery for over thirty years.  For complete bio and video, visit the Dr. Italy page.

“The Case for Christ” [re-blogged]


The Case for Christ

by Bishop Robert Barron


Is a film adaptation of Lee Strobel’s best-selling book of the same name, one that has made an enormous splash in Evangelical circles and beyond. It is the story of a young, ambitious (and atheist) reporter for the Chicago Tribune, who fell into a psychological and spiritual crisis when his wife became a Christian. The scenes involving Lee and his spouse, which play out over many months of their married life, struck me as poignant and believable—and I say this with some authority, having worked with a number of couples in a similar situation. In some cases, a non-believing spouse might look upon his partner’s faith as a harmless diversion, a bit like a hobby, but in other cases, the non-believer sees the dawning of faith in his beloved as something akin to a betrayal. This latter situation strongly obtained in the Strobel’s marriage.

In order to resolve the tension, Lee used his considerable analytical and investigative skills to debunk the faith that was so beguiling his wife. The focus of his inquiry was, at the suggestion of a Christian colleague at the Tribune, the resurrection of Jesus. If Jesus didn’t rise, his friend explained, Christianity crumbles like a house of cards. The narrative unfolds, then, as a kind of detective story, Strobel hunting down leads, interrogating experts, asking the hard questions.

I liked this for a couple of reasons. First, at its best, Christianity is not fideist, that is to say, reliant upon a pure and uncritical act of faith on the part of its adherents. Rather, it happily embraces reason and welcomes critical questions. Secondly, and relatedly, Christianity is a stubbornly historical religion. It is not a philosophy (though it can employ philosophical language), nor is it a spirituality (though a spirituality can be distilled from it); rather, it is a relationship to an historical figure about whom an extraordinary historical claim has been made, namely, that he rose bodily from the dead.

Now especially in recent years, many attempts have been made to mitigate the scandal of this assertion. Jesus was a great moral exemplar, a powerful teacher of spiritual truth, an inspiring man of God—and it doesn’t particularly matter whether the reports of resurrection are factually accurate. Indeed, it is probably best to read them as mythic or symbolic. To all of that, classical Christianity says no. It agrees with Lee Strobel’s colleague: if the resurrection didn’t happen, Christianity should be allowed to fall onto the ash heap of history. Therefore, watching our intrepid investigator go about his work is, for a true Christian, thrilling, precisely because the questions are legitimate and something is very really at stake.

So what were his inquiries? First, he wondered whether the resurrection stories were just fairy tales, pious inventions meant to take away our fear of death. But he learned that, in point of fact, many people claimed to have seen Jesus after his crucifixion, including five hundred at once. Moreover, most of the leaders of the early Church went to their deaths defending the legitimacy of what they taught. Would anyone do that for a myth or a legend of his own invention?

But another question came to his mind: might they all have been victims of a mass hallucination? A psychologist patiently explained that waking dreams are not shared by hundreds of people at different times and different places. “If hundreds of individuals had the same hallucination, that would be a greater miracle than the resurrection,” she informed him with a smile.

But what about the reliability of the Christian texts themselves? Weren’t they written long after the events described? A Catholic priest, who is also an archeologist and specialist in ancient manuscripts, told him that the number of early copies of the Christian Gospels far surpasses that of any other ancient text, including the Iliad of Homer and the Dialogues of Plato.

What about the “swoon theory,” according to which Jesus did not really die on the cross but only lost consciousness, only to be revived sometime later? A Los Angeles based physician detailed for him the brutal process of a Roman execution, which resulted in the victim slowly bleeding to death and asphyxiating. The swoon theory, the doctor concluded, “is rubbish.”

At each stage of the process, Strobel continued to wonder, question, balk, and argue, all the time maintaining the default position that Christianity is bunk. Nevertheless, it was becoming clear that the relentlessness of the counter-arguments and their stubborn congruence with one another was wearing him down. This made me think of John Henry Newman’s famous account of how we come to religious assent. It is very rarely by virtue of one clinching argument, Newman said, but rather through the slow, steady confluence of inference, hunch, intuition, experience, the witness of others, etc. This convergence of probabilities, under the aegis of what Newman called the “illative sense,” customarily leads the mind to assent.

In the course of their conversation, Strobel’s priest-archeologist interlocutor showed the skeptical journalist a reproduction of the Shroud of Turin, purported to be the burial cloth of Jesus. Gazing into the eyes of the image, Strobel asked, “What would have made him go through all of this?” The priest responded, “That’s easy: love.” As the arguments were jostling in his head, Strobel remembered that image and that explanation—and the filmmakers insinuate that this is what finally pushed him over into belief.

The Case for Christ is interesting for any number of reasons, but I think it is particularly compelling for its subtle portrayal of the psychological, spiritual, and intellectual dynamics of evangelization.