The Serpent on a Cross-bar
Facing Whatever Chastisements the New Year Brings
Father Urban Snyder
We should never forget the meaning of the word Jesus. Observe that this name was not chosen for the Child by Mary or Joseph, but an angel imposed it.
In Holy Scripture, we find that whenever a name is imposed on someone by Heaven, it indicates and expresses the special mission and vocation to which God destines them. When God called Abram to become the father and patriarch, not only of many nations but spiritually of all believers, He changed his name to Abraham, meaning, “Father of a multitude”.
Again when Jesus chose Simon bar Jona, He gave him the new name of Peter, or Rock, to indicate his special mission and vocation as visible head of the Church which Christ was about to found. “Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I shall build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16.18)
What then is the meaning of the name Jesus, imposed by God the Father, on the Child to be born to Mary? In Hebrew it means Saviour or Redeemer, and expresses in one word the whole meaning of the vocation and mission of Jesus Christ, God and Man, in this world. And what did He come to save us from? From Satan, sin and death; but let us concentrate on sin, since from this worst of all evils, all others flow.
If our first parents had not sinned there would be no violence, no killing or bloodshed, no great calamities of any kind. The earth would be a paradise of material order, peace and prosperity, partly because every human being would begin immaculate, like our first parents; he would be filled with Sanctifying Grace from the first instant, possessing the precious Gifts of the Holy Spirit and infused virtues in a high degree. He would, in a word, be free from Original Sin and all its consequences, especially that inner division and conflict within ourselves which St. Paul spoke of when he said: “When I wish to do good I discover this law, namely, that evil is at hand for me. For I am delighted with the law of God according to the inner man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind and making me prisoner to the law of sin that is in my members. Unhappy man that I am! Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7.21-24)
God Himself says of fallen man in the Book of Genesis: “…the imagination and thought of man’s heart are prone to evil from his youth.”(8-21) And the Apostle James writes: “Everyone is tempted by being drawn away and enticed by his own passion. Then when passion has conceived, it brings forth sin; but when sin has matured, it begets death. Therefore, my beloved brethren, do not err.” (1.14-16)
If we did not have a fallen nature, St. Paul would never have had to write: “This I say, brethren, the time is short; it remains that those who have wives be as if they had none; and those who weep, as though not rejoicing; and those who buy, as though not possessing; and those who use this world as though not using it, for this world as we see it is passing away. I would have you free from care. He who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please God. Whereas he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife; and he is divided…Now I say this for your benefit, not to hold you in check, but to promote what is proper, and to make it possible for you to pray to the Lord without distraction.” (1Cor.7,27-35)
God’s inscrutable wisdom has decreed that you and I should live at a period of history when wickedness is reaching limits which seem to surpass those of all previous times. Wickedness is not equally bad in all times, for just as not all cities or countries are equally bad, so neither are all centuries or eras. Pope Pius XI, many years ago, appealed in one of his encyclicals for prayer and penance in Christendom, because he said, the world has never been so wicked since the time of Noah as it is today. That was in the 1930s. Today things are many times worse. But notice the implications of his comparison with the days of Noah. He wishes to remind us that if God brought the intolerable wickedness of those days to an end by a fearful, world-wide calamity, there is not lacking reason to fear that he may choose to purify the world, and bring this era to an end, in some similar way. In fact, did not Our Lady at La Salette say that the world was about to be purified by terrible chastisements? And did she not speak similarly at Fatima?
Scripture and human history show that nothing brings God’s chastisements more quickly and severely on mankind than blasphemy, sacrilege, idolatry, witchcraft, and the torrent of other sins that go with these.
The power of the devil is very great in our times. Our Lady, again, foretold at La Salette that many devils would soon be loosed from hell in punishment for sin, and Catherine Emmerich specified especially the second half of the twentieth century. The headlines of our daily papers show that truly today as never before the whole world is in the power of the evil one.
What then? Discouragement? Despair? God forbid! “In the world you will have affliction,” said Our Lord. “But take courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16-23)
For any danger or trial that may come upon us, there are always divine remedies of infinite power at hand for the devout Christian. Most important of all, there are efficacious remedies to sin.
When the Israelites in the desert were attacked by a plague of poisonous serpents, and Moses begged God for a remedy, God commanded him to make a brazen serpent and put it on the cross-bar of a wooden pole. All who looked upon this God-given sign were healed of the fatal bites of the serpents. Now, Our Saviour Himself tells us that this brazen serpent on a cross-bar was a symbol of an infinitely greater remedy to come, which would save all mankind, if they looked upon it with faith, from the fatal bites of that old serpent, Satan, and his fellow serpents. All then, who turn to Jesus Crucified with a faith, humility and contrition similar to those of the good thief, will receive the grace to heal their wounds by the sacramental remedies purchased for us by the Passion and Death of Jesus on the Cross.
Returning now in thought to Mary and Joseph, and the mystery of the Divine Babe, let us ask with confidence an increase in Faith, Hope and Charity, those three great supernatural virtues which make us living temples of God, and stronger, with God’s continuing grace and help, than all the devils of hell.
May Mary and Joseph fill our hearts with a share in the same humility, confidence, joy and love which filled their own hearts on the first Christmas morning. If we welcome this Child now as our Redeemer, we shall not have to fear Him when He comes to be our Judge.
Reprinted from The Remnant, December 31, 1978