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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Meditation For Day Two of the Pilgrimage

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Meditation no 3

And the Word lived amongst us.

Summary:

1 The baptism: a humiliation for Our Lord Jesus Christ

2 Christ was baptised as an example: it is His blood that will purify us

3 Christ sanctifies the waters by His baptism

4 The ease of accessing Baptism

5 Baptism makes us adopted sons of God

6 Baptism makes us capable of the Beatific vision of the Trinity

7 By baptism we are incorporated into Christ

8 Baptism enables us to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in union with the priest

9 Baptism does not remove concupiscence

10 The rites of exorcism in Baptism

11 After Baptism, spiritual combat is essential

12 Fasting: the foundation of the spiritual combat

13 Temptation by the Devil

14 The principle of spiritual combat


Dear Pilgrims

If the Word of God, that is the second person of the Blessed Trinity, the eternal Son of God, was incarnate in order to become what the Bible calls the Son of Man, having taken His flesh from the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was also so that He could become an example of perfection for us to follow. All the saints took Christ as their model, and in that way, they have become for us examples of a life united to Christ – and therefore, a successful life. Nonetheless the one supreme and ultimate example to follow is Christ Himself.

1            The baptism: a humiliation for Our Lord Jesus Christ

Therefore, let us contemplate Christ being baptised in the River Jordan. That is, the river called in Hebrew נהר הירדן, Nehar haYarden, which means the river of Sorrow, or even, the river of Judgment. The fact is that Jesus Christ became man to take our sins upon Himself, and He went down into the river of pain and judgement in our place, as the prophet Isaiah said : (53 : 4& 5) Truly, ours were the sorrows He bore, etc….

By his baptism, Christ was already announcing that He had come to redeem that humanity which He had freely assumed when He became man. St Gregory of Nazieance tells us that Christ was baptised so as to submerge and destroy the entire old man, so that the condemned humanity He had come to save could be washed clean of its sins. Let us notice how simple is this means of salvation which God gives us to wash away original sin, and how much it cost Our Lord Jesus Christ , in terms of humiliation and sorrow.


2 Christ was baptised as an example: it is His blood that will purify us

Clearly, Christ was not baptised for His own sake, since as He is God, He could not have the slightest stain of sin. That is what John the Baptist was affirming when he said ‘It is I who should be baptised by you,’ for he recognised the Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. It was, rather, to set us an example of what we should do, that Jesus was baptised; for it always pleased Him to make His teaching alive, and therefore to teach us not just by words but also by His actions, as every good teacher will.

Jesus did not tell John he was mistaken; He merely said ‘Let it be thus for this hour; ‘ which makes us think of two things. Firstly, Our Lord recognises that it is indeed He who should be baptising, because it is He who takes away the sins of the world. Secondly, Jesus talks about ‘this hour’ as opposed to ‘his hour’ about which He talks repeatedly throughout the Gospels, and in particular when He says to His blessed Mother at Cana ‘my hour is not yet come’ and again before his Passion, ‘the hour is come when the Son of Man must be glorified.’ The hour of Christ, then, is the hour when He redeems humanity by His sorrowful Passion. So Jesus makes it clear that John’s baptism is just for this hour, but the hour will soon come, the hour for the Son of Man, when He will pour out His blood, that mystical water which will wash mankind clean of all its sins.

3 Christ sanctifies the waters by His baptism


So Christ was baptised to set us an example. Moreover, St Augustine teaches us not only that the water of St John the Baptist’s baptism had nothing whatsoever to give to Christ, but also that it was Christ who gave water the purifying power it exercises in Christian baptism. ‘His mother, Mary, gave birth to the Son of God, and she is chaste; water washed Christ, and it was sanctified.’ In fact, any water whatsoever is valid for baptism, because God is thirsty for our salvation, so He puts the very simplest means at our disposal. Likewise, any person whatsoever, even a non-Catholic, can baptise a person in danger of death; it is enough that he do
what the Church requires, and that he do it deliberately (not accidentally). Even if the person does not believe the Catholic faith, as long as he wishes to do what the Church demands for the imposition of this sacrament, and says the words ‘ I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ then he truly baptises.

4 The ease of accessing Baptism

Notice the generosity of our God. He thinks only of our salvation, and makes it so accessible that it is a true affront to His love to delay baptising infants so that they can choose later on. Do you wait for your children’s opinion before feeding them? Do you realise that baptism is the only sure way that we know of to gain access to paradise, to the beatific vision? The case of children who die before baptism has never been given a categorical and definitive answer by the Church; for if such children have not committed any sin, then they do not merit hell; nonetheless since they are not baptised, they are still marked by Original Sin which prevents them from entering Paradise and seeing God face to face. If parents are invited to entrust their children to the mercy of God, they are even more strongly invited not to delay the baptism of their children, which should take place soon after their birth.

5 Baptism makes us adopted sons of God

The baptism of the Son of God made man, is unique. We are all baptised in Jesus Christ, as we say in the Creed: ‘ I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.’ Baptism incorporates us into the humanity redeemed by Christ. It is in Jesus Christ that we are saved. In the Son of God, we are made adopted sons of God. When, at His baptism, the heavens opened to allow the Holy Spirit to descend in the form of a dove, it wasn’t for the sake of the Son of God, who from all eternity lives in the unity of the Holy Spirit, but rather for us; so that by baptism we might have that same Holy Spirit, and He could lead us to grow from virtue to virtue. Also, when God the Father said; “this is my beloved Son’ he was talking, in the strictest sense, of His Son, the second person of the Blessed Trinity, but also, in the broader sense, of all the baptised, who by baptism become adopted sons of God, in Jesus Christ.

6 Baptism makes us capable of the Beatific vision of the Trinity

Finally the baptism of the Son of God reveals the whole Trinity. The Father acknowledges His Son, and the Holy Spirit comes to rest upon Him. In fact, baptism makes us capable of the beatific vision of the Trinity, so it was fitting that at the baptism of Our Lord, the Trinity was revealed – at the very moment of the institution of the first sacrament that gives us access to it.


7 By baptism we are incorporated into Christ

Baptism makes us adopted sons of God, by the baptismal character which marks the baptised with the eternal seal of a child of God. By that we are incorporated in the Church which is the Mystical Body of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ. Baptism, by incorporating us into Christ’s body, gives us the power to act in union with Christ.

8 Baptism enables us to offer the sacrifice of the Mass in union with the priest

The highest action in which the baptised person can act with Christ is that of offering to God an acceptable sacrifice of adoration. Only those baptised are able to unite themselves efficaciously with the Sacrifice of the Mass, offered by the priest to the whole Trinity. This possibility, not of replacing the priest, but of intentionally uniting with him to offer the only sacrifice acceptable to God, is called ‘the priesthood of the faithful.’ That is why, in the early centuries, the catechumens were required to leave the Church just after the Gospel, as they were unable to unite themselves with the Sacrifice of Christ, which is the Mass.

What a grace to be able to offer oneself with Christ on the cross at the moment of the Offertory. Nothing is more pleasing to God, nothing unites us more closely to God, than the Sacrifice of the Mass, and nothing can obtain more grace for us than the Mass. You who are baptised, see how much you are loved by God, see how lucky you are! Be worthy of that!

Transition: After His baptism, the Gospel tells us, Christ ‘was led by the Spirit into the desert, there to be tempted by the Devil.’ The Venerable Bede teaches us how the crossing of the Red Sea by the Hebrews signified their liberation from the yoke of sin, but that this liberation also took place during the chosen people’s long wandering in the desert, which lasted for forty years of hardship and struggle. In the same way, the baptism which washes us clean of Original Sin and of all personal sin, is immediately followed by spiritual struggle. That is why, straight after His baptism, Jesus was led into the desert.

9 Baptism does not remove concupiscence

In just the same way, we too, after we have been washed clean of Original Sin by baptism, in order to be reconciled with our Creator, we too have to fight with all our strength to stay united with Him. For our human nature remains wounded; it always tends to the evil of not seeking God alone, and always tends to the disorder of seeking its own ends apart from God. That is what we call concupiscence.

10 The rites of exorcism in Baptism

Before the rite of baptism itself, we were exorcised by the priest. For the child is born subject to the rule of Original Sin, and therefore to the Devil. These exorcisms enable the breaking of the Devil’s rule over the child, and so allow the baptism itself to wash away Original Sin. Despite all that, the child is still not free to run straight to God, because his will is still attached to his passions. This disordered attachment tends to want to satisfy its own desires rather than do everything possible to unite itself to God by doing good; and that tendency is what we call concupiscence. The word comes from the Latin, and means ‘tending towards our immediate desire,’ (and therefore easily obtained). So concupiscence is opposed to the union with God, which is more distant and harder to obtain. That is why it constitutes what St Thomas Aquinas called the ‘Fomes peccati’, that is to say, the hearth of sin. It is not actual sin, but a tendency to want to satisfy ego-based desires , rather than seeking God and everything that can unite us to Him, because that is the purpose of our life and the only thing which can finally satisfy us.

11 After Baptism, spiritual combat is essential

Therefore Jesus, in order to teach us how to overcome this concupiscence, chose to undergo temptations, just as we all do. Further, The Imitation of Christ reminds us that ‘this fragile life is nothing but temptation and continual strife.’ Also, to confront that, Jesus went out into the desert, for it is above all in solitude that the devil seeks us out to tempt us. He insists on the fact that nobody can see us. For the Devil even a crowd can become a desert, as long as nobody can recognise us there. However, what sin can remain hidden from God?


12 Fasting: the foundation of the spiritual combat

Nonetheless, St Chrysostom tells us: ‘Our Lord began by fasting, not because he needed to fast, but to teach us how excellent it is, what a shield it offers us against the Devil’s guiles, and also that, after our baptism, we should not dedicate ourselves to pleasure, but to the mortification of the senses.’ The pleasures of the senses are there to help us to build friendships with people like us, but we must watch over them with extreme vigilance, because before we know it, they quickly take first place in our lives, and we end up simply pursuing our own ego-driven passions.

13 Temptation by the Devil

The devil always tries to gain souls cheaply, that is to say, with the weakest temptations. Then his victory is all the greater, because he can damn souls, making them lose the infinite God, for things that even on this earth are insignificant. So it was that the Devil having failed to make Jesus fall by way of hunger, then proceeded to the temptation of vain glory: which is a much more potent temptation. It is relatively easy to do without our bodily necessities, but it is not easy to renounce our spiritual pride. And so, Jesus was taken to the heights of the temple, for the Devil loves to flatter us, to puff us up with pride, to make us believe that we are the best in the world. That strategy only aims to make us fall further and to be overcome by greater shame. Imagine the shame of losing heaven for one wretched bottle of wine, as the Curé d’Ars said.

Finally, the Devil pretends to offer Jesus power, for he does not know that He is the Son of God. This temptation is very interesting because it helps us to understand that usurped power, unhealthy ambition, is a lie, and is always aimed at making a slave of the person to whom such power is promised. Creation belongs to God, but the Devil can give us the illusion of becoming its masters on condition that we adore him instead of God, and thus become his slaves. Christ answers this firmly, saying: ‘Away with thee, Satan!’ teaching us always to rise up and defend the honour of God, who alone is worthy of all honour and all glory!


14 The principle of spiritual combat

The principle is never to want anything, whatever it may be, more than God; and because of our passions, that becomes a real struggle. Consider this reflection by Father Lamennais: ‘Man’s life on earth is a constant struggle against the Devil, against the world, and against himself. Some retire to the cloister to resist them more easily; others remain in the midst of the world. But none can conquer, except by constant vigilance. The habit of reflection, the love of retreat, constant attention to one’s words, one’s thoughts, one’s feelings, fidelity to the lightest of duties and the most humble of practices, save us from the greater temptations and attract graces from heaven. Whoever neglects the little things will fall little by little, says the Holy Spirit.

Meditation 4: And we saw His glory

There was a wedding feast in Cana, in Galilee.’

It was by the sign worked at the marriage feast that Jesus entered the public arena, and chose to manifest His Divinity and His Mission for the first time. He allowed His Mother, Mary, to instigate this: a miracle.

However, this miracle which is now so well-known was performed with great discretion. The conversation Jesus had with His Mother was private, and nobody saw the moment the miracle took place. Even the Evangelist himself did not see it.

Neither the guests, nor the master of the feast, nor the newly-weds were aware of what was going on. It was only the servants who knew that where there had once been water, there was now wine. A young guest had asked them to fill the pitchers with water, and they were now full of wine. And the feast went on. And Jesus returned to His Mother.

The Gospel tells us that He revealed His glory, but only the disciples saw His glory shine forth: ‘His disciples believed in Him.’ Jesus did not do this for the sake of the crowd of guests, but for His own small band. Just as will always be the case, the least miracle is always, first and foremost, a sign: what is given to be seen, is first of all given to be believed.

The significance of that wedding feast at Cana far surpasses the provincial context of that country wedding. It was meant for whoever has eyes to see, for whoever can apply some theological thinking, for John the Evangelist, and perhaps for us, who are reflecting on it today.

St John understood that Jesus was starting His preaching from the very point where the prophets of the Old Testament had ended theirs: the marriage of God to His people.

Before the coming of Jesus, before His Incarnation, Humanity had no wine. The wine that Jesus brings is the wine of grace, which quenches, disinfects and heals; that same good wine which the Samaritan poured on the feet of the man left for dead by the side of the road; the wine of justice and mercy.

Jesus did not want to make the wine out of nothing, but out of the water in the pitchers brought by the servants. In the same way, His mission is not to create something new out of nothing, but rather to bring the old covenant to perfection, and restore mankind to God. The new Covenant, drawn from this new wine, which is the blood of Christ, is the wedding ring of God and His people. The young wife changes her name from now on, she takes the name of her husband from the day of their marriage. Now she is called the Bride of Christ.

A new love is carved in the midst of this alliance: its name is charity. Charity is the nuptial bond between Christ and the Church. Whoever fails to understand that has not understood the Church at all, nor the Christian life. To reduce the Church to its history, or its sociology, or to reduce Catholics to their failures and infirmities, is to remain on the outside. When one does not look at the interior reality of things, even the outside remains incomprehensible. There are people who are capable of mixing an excellent Bordeaux wine with water – or even with Coca Cola! And a wine that is kept for too long without being drunk, turns to vinegar. In the same way to look at the Church with any look other than Christ’s is to fail to understand the wine of Charity, the mystery of the Church.

But if one does look within, one discovers a more subtle wine. Such is the nectar of a spiritual marriage, the wine of the marriage of Christ and the soul. This is not a wine only for the initiated: it is offered to everyone.

The marriage of Christ to the soul is the vocation of every Christian. By the very fact of his baptism, he is promised that marriage, the bond is sealed. The marriage is the baptismal grace, which conquers like love, like a personal story. God desires to live in that soul.

And so we must look after that soul, make it habitable, not create an unpleasant impression for the Bridegroom when He crosses the threshold, as if we had forgotten that He was invited, as if nothing is ready, with disorder everywhere so that we have to improvise everything at the moment of His arrival.

How many times must the Bridegroom of the soul put up with the incoherence of His bride! Of course, she is not a bad girl, but she is a little superficial and ungrateful. She speaks before thinking, and acts before praying. Instead of drinking of her husband’s rich win of charity, we see her get drunk on watery beer and cheap plonk. The groom awaits: He is patient. So why had you left already? Where were you? Is this the time for you to come back? I had prepared something for you, I had so many things to say to you!

‘There was a Wedding feast at Cana in Galilee…’

Blessed are those invited to the Lamb’s feast!

The wine which He serves comforts us. This wine is the Blood of the Lamb, sacrificed on the altar of the New Covenant.

Today, Jesus is calling us to the wedding feast of the soul: we were water – may He make wine of us.

The Raising of the Widow’s Son. (Christ’s compassion for our human nature)

When Jesus works a miracle, it is to reveal something to us. He doesn’t just return someone to life in order to return him to life; or heal someone simply to heal him. It is also to reveal to us that He is the Life; that He can heal. The truth is, that He returns someone to life in the way that only God can; He heals in the way that only God can.

That is why each one of His miracles has a theological aspect; after Cana, we see in the raising of the widow’s son at Naim another reality made visible.

It is also a reminder, a re-visiting of the Old Testament. With every miracle, Jesus makes us recall this passage from the prophet Isaiah: ‘We will see the glory of the Lord, the splendour of our God, and the eyes of the blind will see, and the ears of the deaf will be opened, the lame will leap like a stag, and the mutes’ mouth will sing out with joy. Those whom the Lord has saved will return.’ Once again we are seeing here the glory of the Lord, the divinity of Jesus. The sick are healed and the dead are brought back to life, and they return because they have been ransomed.

The purpose of this miracle is to show forth the glory of the Lord. Jesus makes the bed-ridden dance, makes the dead walk, and the theological resonance is to show that redemption has come.

Our healing is being accomplished: that is the lesson that Jesus is teaching. His purpose is to manifest the mystery of God, and His teaching is to make us understand that our redemption is accomplished.

Nonetheless, this healing, destined for all, must be made little by little, and gently, for there are some medicines which are so powerful that they risk killing the sick person. That is why the public aspect of the miracles differs. Often, Jesus forbids people from talking about them, and He performs the miracle almost in passing, discretely. He forbids people from talking, but that is in vain, because everyone will talk about a miracle.

Notice how Jesus proceeds here. He is first of all moved with compassion for this mother, the mother of an only son. He too knows what it is to be the only Son of His mother.

The mother was a widow: the Fathers of the Church have seen in this mother the Church; the Church which accompanies man, who is afflicted by the death of sin for the whole of his terrestrial journey. The Church, which enables man to encounter the grace of the Resurrection: the Church, our mother.

The miracles of Jesus are worked with great discretion, and Jesus reveals who He is progressively. First, to the Chosen People, Israel; only afterwards to the rest of the world. He moves from the inmost to the outermost. In fact there is one people chosen: the whole of humanity, chosen by God. But because so vast a love is incomprehensible for our dry and hardened hearts, God chose first of all, in order to teach us, to realise His plan of salvation initially through a specific people: Israel, and then to expand it. It is therefore true that the Church is the chosen people, following on from the election of the people of Israel. And Jesus’ purpose was to show that salvation is already underway.

His habitual way of doing that is by miracles. And a miracle is always concrete. Jesus gives life back to the soul by way of the body. And He does it with authority. He draws near, He touches the coffin, the coffin-bearers stop, and He says: ”young man, I say to you, arise!’ And immediately the dead man got up. Jesus likes to operate like this: He doesn’t save at a distance, but by grasping the young man. And it is clear that everyone in the funeral procession recognised Jesus’ authority. In the same way, one does not invent one’s God, one’s religion, or one’s Church. One does not pardon oneself. One receives forgiveness from someone else. Resurrection is received.

And Jesus stops the procession, touches the coffin, and returns the son to His mother. Everything is received from Him. There is always a great danger in constructing a religion that is distant and cerebral, where everything is arranged with a God who never has to put Himself out.

Jesus is seized by compassion: and thus he shows us His human nature; He works the miracle, and thus He shows us His Divine Nature; for God alone is the master of life and death.

This miracle restores Faith: everyone said, God has visited His people.

Faith is not complete unless it is spoken, confessed, proclaimed. The Christian cannot be clandestine: he must proclaim the Faith that lives in his soul. The Christian who is unmoved by another, or who hides the fact that he is a Christian, is a dead Christian.

This page of the Gospel is really vivid: the gates of the city, the funeral procession, the only son, the weeping mother, and lots of people. And Jesus halts this dignified and emotional crowd. He wants to demonstrate that from now onwards, salvation is close at hand, with means that are both more divine and more human. And He demonstrates it in His own person. God is not a distant God: He has the face of Jesus, and is full of compassion. That is at the same time both unexpected and embarrassing.

It is easy to ignore an idea. But it is difficult to turn our eyes away from such a look. From now on, our situation with regard to God is a face-to-face encounter.

And a face-to-face encounter is never simple. In short, Jesus shows us that God has made contact with us. Instituting a face-to-face encounter, He also demonstrates it to us in the salvation He offers us, in Him and after Him. It is the Church that leads us on the path to the Resurrection. The Sacraments are realities that accomplish in us what Jesus has inaugurated: an interior resurrection.

And if Jesus’ miracles are so physical, that also serves to remind us that we cannot live as Christians without a real acceptance of the world and of the body. Washed, oiled, nourished, taught and pardoned by a human voice; touched by signs and symbols, gestures and words: all of these things are so physical yet also so spiritual: these are the Church and the Sacraments. They are not mere signposts. They are efficacious signs of our salvation, the realities of our salvation. It was not for nothing that God created us with a body that lives and suffers, that hungers, thirsts, loves and moves. Moreover in heaven our salvation will be perfectly realised with our body duly resuscitated, glorified, and raised to its true greatness. That is our vocation – for all of us.

Let us end with another miracle of Our Lord: His Transfiguration

Fundamentally, the Transfiguration is a foretaste of Heaven. The friendly meeting on Mount Tabor is a prefigurement of the holy friendship which will unite us all in God, without any shadow or pretence. ‘How good and sweet it is for brothers to live together,’ says the Psalmist. ‘It is good for us to be here,’ answers St Peter.

How good it will be for us to be in Heaven, to engage in tireless conversation with Our Lady and the Apostles, the holy martyrs, doctors, confessors and virgins. And above all with Christ Himself! This eternal friendship in Heaven is the fruit of our Saviour’s sacrifice. It is up to us to make our way there, every day and every moment of our life.

The Transfiguration: a model of our own Transfiguration

But finally, by means of this miraculous scene, it is our own transfiguration that Our Lord wishes to teach us. Not that the glory that God has reserved for us should be manifested here below! That would not be very good for our humility…

A change of heart: that is what God wants of us! He will send us His transforming grace, only on condition that we ask for it. It is up to us to make the first step towards Him, because ‘God who created us without us, will not save us without us.’ Our transfiguration is a joint work of nature and grace. It is up to us to desire this transformation of ourselves. Let us not delay in putting this into practice: we should not keep God waiting! It is up to us to help ourselves, to give up our old habits, to flee the daily grind. ‘I have spoken, now I will begin,’ sings the Psalmist

Therefore, as it is never too late to start, let us climb Mount Tabor, to fill ourselves with the presence of God, and ceaselessly sing the glory of our Saviour.

For it is there that Jesus shows forth His glory, and prepares the chosen three apostles for the drama of the Passion.

There is no joy without the Cross.
God takes care of everything we abandon to His care. Let us give Him whatever we have refused to give Him up till now. For, to love is to give everything.


Meditation no 6.

For us men, and for our Salvation (abbé Vincent Baumann, IBP)

In 1946, Pius XII maintained that ‘men no longer remember sin, and thus, one might say, forget their existence.’ (Radio broadcast to the US National Eucharistic Congress at Boston). He saw, in this progressive loss of the sense of sin in the modern West, and above all, in the loss of an understanding of Original Sin, the root of all others, ‘the greatest danger in the present day.’ Because in denying, or in failing to recognise, his sinful state, a human being ceases to understand why he needs a Saviour. He lives, and therefore dies, a long way from Jesus Christ, whom he imagines he can do without, even though ‘there is no other name under heaven by which we can be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)


Which is why, as John Paul II emphasised fifty years later, it is so important ‘to reflect, first of all on the truth of (Original) Sin in order to find the true meaning of the truth of the Redemption won by Jesus Christ.’ (Introduction to Catechesis on Original Sin, General Audience, 27 August 1986)

I     Original Sin

Only the light of divine Revelation clarifies the reality of sin and particularly of the sin committed at mankind’s origins, the Church teaches us (CCC §387). It is, therefore, to the Church that we must turn, in order to understand the evil that prevails in us, and not as Pascal said, to the ‘superb insights of our reason’; otherwise known as our simple natural understanding of reality.

Holy Scripture, the foundation of Revelation, teaches us in this way that which we could not divine for ourselves. Here are the principal lessons, taught us by the first chapters of the book of Genesis.

1                 Humanity before the Fall

Everything started well. So much so that the Creator was delighted with it: God looked on all that He had made and saw that it was very good. (1:31) The first couple were endowed not only with a faultless nature, but also with supernatural gifts, which reinforced the strength of that nature, and also enhanced its beauty. And to crown it all, the supreme gift: the state of grace, which raised Adam and Eve infinitely above their natural state, making them familiar with the Holy Trinity.

And because the Creator wanted to invite humanity into a relationship of love with Him, and not force them into a servile relationship, He also gave them a formidable faculty: free will. And so man was able to accept or refuse the marvellous plan that God had for him. One precept was to prove the free trust that man ought to place in the Creator: the prohibition on eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. (2:17)

2                 Man’s first sin

Man, tempted by the Devil…abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. That is what man’s first sin consisted of. (CCC §397) The first sin in human history, therefore, is a sin of disobedience to the divine law, due to a bad use of that liberty with which God had endowed man. How are we to understand this failing? Two factors joined together to push Adam and Eve towards it:

- A loss of trust in God, due to the calumny of Satan, who made Eve believe that the Creator wanted to keep them in an infantile dependence on Him: No, you will not die! God knows, in fact, that on the day you eat it your eyes will be opened. (3:5)

- Pride, towards which the Devil pushed them. We should note here the Serpent’s ingenuity, who achieved his ends by flattering a legitimate aspiration of the human being’s. The temptation ‘you will be like gods’ corresponds effectively with the vocation to which God was calling them, as the Catechism suggests (§398) ‘Created in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully ‘divinised’ by God in glory.’ Only, and this is the problem, Satan invited Adam and Eve to attain that state not by the grace of God and according to His ways, but by seizing if for themselves, by force, with their own hands; ‘without God, before God and not in accordance with God,’ as St Maximus the Confessor summarises it.

The deadly consequences

In that sin, man preferred himself to God, and by that very act, scorned Him. (CCC 398)

St Augustine describes the double movement of that sin like this: ‘aversio a Deo, conversio ad creaturam’ that is to say the simultaneous rejection of God and the turning in on himself and on other created beings.

In practice, that implies: The breaking of friendship with God (Adam hid himself from God afterwards, and God drove him out of the Garden of Eden) and that loss of the supernatural gifts and of sanctifying grace, whose whole purpose was to enable man to live in friendship with God;

And by way of consequence, a wrong relationship with created beings (himself and others) due to a surge in the passions, which would from now on pull him in all directions, obscuring understanding and making it ever more difficult to love the true good. We call this state of our nature, which is since then always inclined to sin, ‘concupiscence.’

II         Original Sin as it is passed on to all of humanity

1          Every human person is affected by Adam and Eve’s sin

By one man’s disobedience, many (that is all mankind) were made sinners. (Romans, 5:19)

There is nothing, Pascal said, which shocks our reason more than to say that the sin of the first man has made those guilty who are so far removed from it and seemingly incapable of participating in it. That consequence seems not only impossible but also unjust.’

Nonetheless, that truth can be understood, if we consider these things:

Firstly: The authentic responsibility with which God endowed Adam and Eve – for the whole human race, of which they were the head. Adam had received original holiness and justice not for himself alone, but for all human nature. By yielding to the tempter, Adam and Eve committed a personal sin, but this sin affected the human nature that they would then transmit in a fallen state.

(CCC §404)

Secondly: the fact that every human being is descended from this single primitive couple (which is called monogenism). In opposition to the theory of polygenism (which suggest that the human race descends from several couples) Tradition has always seen in Adam and Eve more than just a figure of speech, and more than just some moral characters who represent in fact a multitude of primitive couples. On this topic, Tradition has always read the first chapters of Genesis literally. As the Catechism teaches clearly and without ambiguity: ‘from one ancestor God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth.’ (CCC §360)

2       Original Sin in Adam’s descendants

We must be clear that our first parents’ descendants cannot be held accountable for this fallen state. There is no question that God, who never acts in an arbitrary fashion, should consider Original Sin to be a personal fault in each human being, since none of the descendants of Adam and Eve committed that act.

Original Sin is only present in us as a state: by Adam and Eve’s disobedience, we are deprived of grace and the supernatural gifts, and the nature we receive at our conception is damaged. To put it another way, our nature is, from the start, in an inferior state compared to what it would have been if it had never been raised to the state of grace in the first place. As G K Chesterton summed it up in Heretics: ‘Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.’


That does not mean that our nature is totally destroyed (some beauty remains in it!) but that it finds it easier, alas, to turn to evil than to good, and that the human being is spontaneously inclined to fall into the same error as Adam: to believe, through pride, that he can reach his final end without the help of God.

III The Plan of Salvation: The Redeeming Incarnation.


1                 What do we mean by this?

Happily, the Creator did not leave the Human Race to its sad fate. From amongst the many ways He could have chosen to save us, His Wisdom opted for the plan which made His infinite love for us the clearest: His eternal Son came Himself to pay the debt we had contracted by our sin. In order to do that, He became one of us, so as to share in our human condition, and He endured everything up to and including His sacrifice on the Cross.

The Redeeming Incarnation was the lever which did not simply allow each human being to escape from the rut of sin, but which also raised him up to a higher level than ever before. That is what St Leo the Great explained: The ineffable grace of Christ has given us blessings even better than those which the envy of the devil had denied us.’ That helps us to understand the great Easter chant, the Exultet, when it proclaims: ‘O happy fault, that won for us so great a Redeemer!

2          The choice facing each human being

Because we still retain our free will, as it is more noble for a creature to cooperate with his own salvation than to receive it by force, and so that we may merit to enter one day into glory in the presence of the three Divine persons, God has willed that the salvation of Jesus Christ should be offered to each individual, who may accept or refuse it. That is the choice, ultimately quite simple, which the greatest Christian theologians present us with: to opt for life according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit (St Paul); for the darkness or the light (St John’s Prologue); for the city where ‘the love of God is pursued even at the expense of oneself’, or the city ‘where the love of self is pursued even at the expense of God.’

Today we see the clear proclamation of a proud transhumanism, formalised in 1947 by the biologist Julian Huxley, a eugenicist who was a believer in the redemption of man by way of technology, which he thought could improve the quality of human nature.

In the context of the 2011 Courtyard of the Gentiles, Fabrice Hadjadj questioned those who followed such ideas in these terms: ‘Is man’s greatness found in a technical ability to live a life of ease? Or is it rather found in that tear, in that opening like a cry towards Heaven, in a call to that which completely transcends us?’ (Brief reflection on the Transhuman, 24 March, 2011). He recalled that the word ‘transhumanise’ was coined by Dante, in a completely different context – a Christian one (cf The Divine Comedy). Dante meant that man infinitely surpasses man, to put it in terms Pascal used. That is to say, that he is not fully a man unless he accepts his finite and sinful condition, and unless he understands that he was not created to remain in that state, hitting his head against the walls of his finitude, or distracting himself so as to forget it; but rather, by living in Faith in Jesus Christ, to surrender himself to the Divine work. In that way, and only in that way, can he attain his true stature, which, according to his Creator’s design, is not only human, but humanity divinised. In this we recognise something that St Augustine says: ‘If you (only) love earth, you are earthly; if you love heaven, you are heavenly; and if you love God, you are, in some way, changed into God.’

Is there an image that speaks more eloquently than that of the pierced Sacred Heart; from which blood and water flow, to make us understand in a truly incarnational way that the human person cannot attain the fullness of fruitfulness which God wills for him (and thus become a perfect man) except to the extent that he allows his heart of stone to be transformed into a heart of open flesh, similar to that of Jesus?

‘Jesus, sweet and humble of heart, make my heart like yours!’

Meditation no 7: The Way of the Cross

Practical Note: As in a ‘classic’ Stations of the Cross, one could, with advantage, interrupt this meditation with some periods of silence, or Aves.

Dear Pilgrims They will look upon the One whom they have pierced.’ We must say this in all truth: it is not for nothing that Christ loved us. He showed us in His Passion how, and how much, He loved: to the point of spilling his own blood for us.

It is by way of the Sacred Heart that we can enter into that love of God, given to us, dying for us, on our account. From the Agony in the Garden of Olives to His death on a Cross, the whole Passion of Our lord Jesus Christ, is a call to replace self-love with love.

The look which we should direct to the Cross is also a look of truth, taking into account our status of ransomed sinners, a look full of recognition and love for our Redeemer; a look of compassion, so as to suffer with Him, and achieve in ourselves what is lacking in His Passion, as St Paul says: our participation. So, let us gaze upon our Saviour in that redeeming Passion. Let us share it with Him, offer Him the difficulties of this pilgrimage, unite our sufferings to His, so that our gaze may be a union of souls and of hearts, so as to live with Christ, to live for Christ, and so that Christ may live in us.

The Passion begins in the Garden of Olives, with that terrible agony, where Christ really sees, and takes upon Himself, all the sins ever committed, and all those that will be committed until the end of the world. Dear pilgrims, consider that! Christ, true God and true man, suffers in his spirit all the sins of all men of all times in all places, from the time of Adam and Eve until the end of the world. How could we fail to feel for such suffering? And Christ takes this torrent of filth upon Himself so as to save us from it. Then, after this acceptance that must have been so difficult, the Son submits Himself once again into His Father’s hands. We don’t know it from the Gospels, but isn’t it conceivable that the Psalm recited on the Cross may have already been said in the Garden of Olives?

The Arrest and Trial of Jesus

With the arrest of Jesus, we come to the start of the physical violence that will not stop until the Cross. Gratuitous blows, mockery, devilry all flung at this Prophet who was stirring up all Jerusalem only a few days previously. The blows prompt more violence, as the sight of His flowing blood excites their hatred and blood-lust. It escalates and accelerates. Pilate may have thought that the sight of this Man of Sorrows might move the Jews to pity. Perhaps this bloody body, covered with wounds after the scourging, would stimulate some compassion in their hearts? Nothing of the kind: Crucify Him! Crucify Him! And so the Governor of Judaea frees Barrabas the murderer and allows the innocent man to be condemned. Pilate chooses what is politically correct, he will not stand against the crowd and the Sanhedrin. Jesus of Nazareth will be crucified: the greatest injustice in history is underway.

The Carrying of the Cross

And so Christ, exhausted by a night with no sleep, weakened by the Scourging and the Crowning with Thorns, makes His way through the streets of Jerusalem, which He knows so well. He carries the Cross, which is weighed down with the weight of the sins that are being redeemed. This Cross, carried, accepted, embraced, a sign of infamy, has become the sign of victory: but nobody knows that yet. It is by way of this Cross that redemption will be accomplished. But for now, Christ must carry it on his bloody shoulders. Carry, and not drag; take and receive, but not submit to; and so Our Lord makes of this deadly instrument the means of Redemption. Does the Blessed Virgin, who accompanies her Son on His way, see that far? She is probably suffering too much to think about it, at that moment.

The Falls

Our Lord is going to fall three times on the road that leads to Calvary. Not once, as though by chance, but several heavy falls from which Christ will get up again, each time. Of course He is suffering physically, and the road is rough, but Christ wishes, above all, to teach us to get up after we fall into sin. He wants to teach us that Grace will always be there for us, to help us to carry on, on our march towards Heaven, that He seeks our conversion, not our condemnation, even if we fall repeatedly into the same faults; that we must not lose heart. Dear Pilgrims, let us be docile to that Grace, let us be brave in renouncing our sins, let us not be crushed by the weight of our trials. Let us live with Christ, for we are never alone, and along with the Cross, we will always be given the graces necessary to carry it.

The Meeting with Mary

The hostile, noisy crowd has filled the roads; Christ is surrounded by soldiers and weighed down by the Cross, and yet, in the midst of that, two looks meet. Two forces which support each other, which understand each other. Mary cannot get near, but she fixes her gaze on Him, even from a distance. Suddenly their looks meet. He must have felt the presence of the one who gave Him His body, He knows that she will not abandon Him, that she must be nearby in this time of terrible suffering. More than these two looks, it is two souls that speak to each other, that sustain each other. Each fully shares in the suffering of the other. Mary takes upon herself, as much as is possible, the suffering of Jesus. She shares it with Him, to relieve Him of some of the weight of it. Christ suffers even more, because His mother is suffering, but He accepts her support gratefully. Only Mary can really understand and share with Him what is taking place.

The Support of Simon of Cyrene and Saint Veronica

It was getting hotter and hotter on that April morning in Jerusalem, and Christ was thirsty, as He would say from the Cross. Hit thirst was a torment to Him, but a greater torment was His desire to obtain our repentance, our contrition…. Our true conversion, full and entire. Let us therefore follow the suffering Christ through the roads of Jerusalem as we march on our way to Chartres, in a spirit of penitence and union with the Redemption. We must become Simon of Cyrene, whom the Romans made help the condemned man whom they feared would die too soon. Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was well known in the early Christian communities: the man who helped Jesus to carry His Cross. What an honour! What a grace! Of course he would not have understood that immediately. We have to assume that he wanted to get out of it at first; returning as he was from the country for his meal at home. But the Romans were not going to give way, so he had to give in. And then he probably looked at this man, on the ground, on His way to die, covered with blood and pierced by that terrible crown of thorns. And their eyes met, spoke to each other, understood each other. What must have passed between them as they looked at each other; a glance that converted, which overcame all reservation, all doubts. After that glance, Simon accepts and carries Jesus’ cross. Does not Christ ask the same of us? Does He not look at us with that same love, to lead us to our conversion? So that we, in our turn, may truly look at Him? So that, finally, we may be touched by the look of the Christ of Mercy. Let us not close our eyes, nor turn our head aside: let us have the courage to look at our Redeemer, and then act accordingly…

Along with that support, Our Lord is once again consoled in the midst of his terrible ordeal by another woman. A strong woman, whose Faith makes the crowds part and the guards freeze. A brave woman who couldn’t care what people will say about her or think of her. Ah, that worldly concern, that fear of what others will think, which so often stops us from doing the good that we know we should, from acting for the royalty of Christ in total conformity with our Faith. St Veronica is far better than that: she parts the crowd, ignores the guards, and reaches Jesus. He is on the ground, He has fallen again, and the heavy weight of the wood has bloodied his shoulders, as though the scourging were not enough. Jesus, weak now, struggles to pick Himself up. His face is covered with dried blood, with spittle, with sweat and with dust, making Him hard even to recognise. And so, with a completely female gentleness, she wipes that swollen face with the cloth she carries. She too, like Simon of Cyrene, participates in the Passion, and offers her support to the Lamb that is being led to the slaughter.

But here we must insist on this flash of generosity. Simon was forced to help Christ. But it was love and compassion that gave Veronica that courage and that strength.

Jesus consoles the Women of Jerusalem

Because Jesus, even exhausted, bloodied, and apparently defeated and beaten, is still God the Son, the Incarnate Word, He finds within Himself, in the middle of his trials, the strength to comfort the women of Jerusalem. It is He who consoles them, women who had come to mourn his fate. Jesus points once again to the cause of His sufferings: sin. There is only one reason to weep, and that is the fact that we are poor sinners. The Lord calls them to conversion: ‘Weep rather for yourselves and for your children.’ The divine power of Christ means that He is the master of Life, and whatever men are able to do to Him at this particular moment is only possible because He allows them to do it. So in one way, in effect, ‘they know not what they are doing.’ They do not know that it is this condemned man who is directing it all, who is giving His life, while His torturers think that they are taking it from Him. If the All-Powerfulness of Christ is hidden in that moment, He is still freely giving His life to save us, and that gift surpasses that destruction.

Jesus is stripped of his garments

Christ gets to the top of the hill. If He is not already dead, it is because He has decided not to die yet. His exhaustion is total, inexpressible. And yet, His suffering is not yet over. In fact His torment is just beginning. First, Christ is stripped of His robe. At once, all the wounds of His scourging are reopened. His blood had dried into His robe, and so suddenly our Lord is not only bleeding afresh, but also stripped naked, humiliated, and exposed like a fairground animal. Along with the insults come mockery and sarcasm. That is what the purity and sweetness of the Incarnate Word had to suffer! But once again, Jesus accepts it all, to ransom the display of pornography, to pay the price for the impurity and depravity of all times. And Christ remains silent in the face of all these outrages. There is nothing but silence and prayer, suffering offered in reparation for the offence and the sin.

The Crucifixion

Once He is stripped of His clothes, Christ is seized and thrown onto the wood of the Cross. He is going to be nailed to it. Their understanding of the human body allowed the Romans to know where to place the long nails, to ensure suffering but without ripping the limbs off the body. The crucified man would die of asphyxiation, since He would need to pull on His nailed hands and feet in order to be able to breathe a little. So here are the hammer blows, the nails that pierce hands and feet, severing the nerves. His torturers hold down His arms and His legs so that he cannot withdraw them. Once the condemned man is nailed to the Cross, it has to be stood upright. There is then a terrible jolt as it falls into position in its hole.

Christ has His arms wide open to welcome penitent sinners like the Good Thief. His feet, which walked the roads of Palestine to greet the crowds who went to hear Him, can no longer move. So it is up to us to approach Him. The Cross is set up to reunite Heaven and Earth. And now we see Christ lifted up from the Earth, as He had foretold. And that is also so that our gaze is lifted up towards Heaven. During these hours of agony on the Cross, the Son of God leaves us His final words. This early afternoon is long and drawn out for the Crucified one, but Christ has not completely accomplished His mission yet.

The crowd can now draw near to the condemned men, now that they are on their crosses. Mary is there, dignified in her grief: Stabat Mater Dolorosa. This time, there are words to accompany the mutual gaze of the Mother and her Son. Jesus, stripped of everything, gives us all He has left to give: His Mother. And, mirroring His concern for the widow with no son whom He met at Naim, He entrusts Mary to St John. In that way, the Son of the Father makes us adoptive children and co-heirs of the Father. In that way, too, Christ gives a new maternity to Our Lady. ‘Here is your mother… and the disciple took her to live with him.’ Jesus gives us the enormous gift of His Mother as the ultimate protector: will we be wise enough to accept the gift, and take her into our homes (chez nous) in our turn? To welcome Mary in our spiritual life is to journey towards Christ with a sure guide; it is to share in Our Lord’s life and get to know Him better; it is to love Jesus with the Heart of Mary.

Death on the Cross

Finally, at the time of His choosing, Christ, the Saviour of the world, returns His Spirit to His Father. This death of love of Jesus on the Cross, this Life offered for the salvation of men, fulfils all the prophecies of the Old Testament. Yes, all is accomplished, all is consummated. The Word of the Trinity has known the abasement of becoming man, has come first of all to announce the Good News of our Redemption, and then to bring that Redemption about by His Passion. His earthly mission is accomplished, and He who is the Light of the World conquers the shadows of death and sin, by the offering of love, of His Life on the Cross.

The Cross of torment and infamy, the Cross of condemnation, the supreme weapon of Roman justice at its harshest, becomes on Golgotha the glorious Cross of our Redemption. This object of fear becomes an object of supreme Love. Just when Jesus’ enemies thought they had put an end to the prophet by this humiliating death, the Cross marks the victory of Christ, the victory of Life over death and sin. What had been desolation becomes light and strength. Never let us forget, dear Pilgrims, that the Cross was the sole goal of the Incarnation of the Word. Let us meditate, with St Paul that the divine Word took on the condition of a slave in making Himself a man, and that He chose to die the dreadful death of a rebellious slave in order to make out of it the sign that would attract all men to Him.

Jesus is taken down from the Cross

As evening was drawing in, and Jesus was dead, His body was to be returned to His Mother. Before that, the Centurion pierces the Sacred Heart, and blood and water flow out from it. The Sacramental Life finds its source on the Cross, and then, in reality ‘they will look upon the one Whom they have pierced.’ It is that pierced corpse that is given back to the Virgin of Sorrows. Mary had already suffered with her humiliated Son on the Via Dolorosa. Their meeting has both comforted them and made them suffer. Mary was transfixed by her grief: her soul was pierced like the body of her God, but she did not allow despair to overcome her, nor her emotions to over-ride her Faith. It was her Faith that supported Our Lady. In her alone was there a Faith that did not waver at the foot of the Cross. Mary receives the body of her Son as it is taken down from the Cross. She takes Him in her arms, just as she did in His infancy and childhood. Overcome with maternal love, giving a Mother’s final farewell to her Son, yet in her depths, Mary awaited the Resurrection of the Incarnate Word. A mixture of grief and of Hope, of sorrow and of Faith, in which the Virgin’s virtue overcomes her emotions.

The Placing in the Tomb

It is time, now, to bury the corpse before nightfall. Joseph of Arimathea offers a new sepulchre nearby for the burial of Jesus The rituals of burial will be finished after the Sabbath, by Mary Magdalen and other holy women. That is also a sign that Christ, though He is dead, will not remain so. This tomb will be the sole witness of the Resurrection. The stone rolled across the entrance marks the apparent victory of the Enemy and the guards are there to make sure the body does not disappear. Everything is done to ensure that the Sanhedrin’s intentions are accomplished. No human interventions could make that body disappear: it would take God to resuscitate it.

Tonight there will be exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the camp out beneath the stars. God is with us in the camp. And we are with you in spirit.  Let us go to Him together.


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Last modified on Tuesday, May 19, 2015
Michael J. Matt | Editor

Michael J. Matt has been an editor of The Remnant since 1990. Since 1994, he has been the newspaper's editor. A graduate of Christendom College, Michael Matt has written hundreds of articles on the state of the Church and the modern world. He is the host of The Remnant Underground and Remnant TV's The Remnant Forum. He's been U.S. Coordinator for Notre Dame de Chrétienté in Paris--the organization responsible for the Pentecost Pilgrimage to Chartres, France--since 2000.  Mr. Matt has led the U.S. contingent on the Pilgrimage to Chartres for the last 24 years. He is a lecturer for the Roman Forum's Summer Symposium in Gardone Riviera, Italy. He is the author of Christian Fables, Legends of Christmas and Gods of Wasteland (Fifty Years of Rock ‘n’ Roll) and regularly delivers addresses and conferences to Catholic groups about the Mass, home-schooling, and the culture question. Together with his wife, Carol Lynn and their seven children, Mr. Matt currently resides in St. Paul, Minnesota.