You may have watched the consistory of cardinals on EWTN or listened to it on Catholic Radio. The consistory had moments of inspiring solemnity, but also moments of good humor. The best one-liner came from Cardinal O'Malley of Boston. Like all the new cardinals, he received the bright red cassock, proper to their office. Taking off on last month's favorite late night joke, Cardinal O’Malley quipped, “these robes will come in handy if I ever go hunting with Vice President Cheney.” (It was funnier when the Cardinal said it.)
On a more serious note, Pope Benedict urged the new cardinals, “May the scarlet that you now wear always express the 'caritas Christi,' inspiring you to a passionate love for Christ, for His Church and for all humanity.” The color red represents the suffering demanded by great love.* Next week, when we celebrate Passion (Palm) Sunday, the priest and deacon will wear red vestments. They represent the blood which Christ poured out for our salvation.
In a very real sense our celebration of the Passion begins today. These final two weeks of Lent are known as “Passiontide.” In former days we covered all the pictures and statues until the Easter Vigil. The one exception was the solemn unveiling of the crucifix on Good Friday. Although we do not now commemorate Passiontide so dramatically, we have still retained some elements. For example, this week we have a special Preface for the Passion of the Lord. One sentence from that Preface provides a good lead-in to today’s readings. The Preface contains these words: “The power of the cross reveals your judgment on the world.” What precisely is God’s judgment on our world – and how does the cross reveal it?
If we look at the readings carefully, we can see that the cross shows sin for what it is. Jesus accepted the tortures of crucifixion in order to save the world from sin. Considering all he would endure, he said “I am troubled now.” How could he not be troubled since he had the same human flesh as you and I? He understood what it meant to be struck by a Roman whip; to have skin torn away; to experience increasing thirst as blood flowed from his body. The Letter to the Hebrews says that, even though he is God, Jesus called out to the Father with “loud cries and tears.” Jesus underwent terrible anguish, but at the same time he saw clearly the purpose of it all: to save us from our sins. His cross judges us because it reveals the true horror of sin.
Sin often hides behind a smoke screen. Destroying ones tiny child is called “reproductive freedom.” Numbing ones senses and breaking another person's heart is called “partying.” I often find it hard to convince someone what is wrong with frequenting casinos or “hooking up” or using mind altering drugs. Even if a person feels a slight twinge of guilt, he can take comfort from the overall decadence of society, “Sure, I've got my problems, but look at what those other guys do.”
Instead of comparing oneself to others, I would ask you to consider this: When the Romans crucified a man, the cross was not normally high in the air as we picture Jesus’ crucifixion, but right at ground level. Imagine that you had just done something that did not seem “as bad as what other people do.” You step around a corner and find yourself face to face with Jesus – affixed to a cross. You are not looking up to him, but directly in his eyes. What would you say to him? Any rationalization would sound as hollow as an echo chamber. Your words would bounce back to you. The cross judges your sin – and mine.
Now, if that were the only thing the cross did, one might simply despair. However - thanks be to God - the cross also judges us in a more profound sense. It not only reveals the ugliness of sin, but what Jeremiah prophesied in our first reading. He speaks about a day when God will make a new covenant with his people, different that when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. The law that God once wrote on stone tablets, he will now write on each person’s heart. We will see sin for what it is, but we shall also perceive something else: mercy. “All from the least to the greatest, shall know me, says the Lord, for I will forgive their evildoing and remember their sin no more.”
The cross judges mankind because it reveals the depths of God’s mercy. To me one of the most beautiful devotions is the Divine Mercy Novena. It begins on Good Friday and continues through the Sunday after Easter. Pope John Paul II did much to popularize this devotion. As a young priest he had heard about the visions of Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska. In her prayer she saw the Risen Christ with the rays of mercy shining from his side. That vision has given us the beautiful image of the Divine Mercy. In 1983 Pope John Paul beatified Sister Faustina and in the Jubilee Year 2000, he declared her a saint.
When he canonized St. Faustina, he also, on the same day, surprised the entire world by establishing the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday. Was it not an incredible grace that the Holy Father died just as the parishes of Rome were beginning the celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday? Today in fact is the first anniversary of his death. Easter come late this year, so we are still three weeks from Divine Mercy Sunday, but it is important that we keep it in view as we enter Passiontide.
In his last book, the pope wrote: The limit God imposes upon evil “is ultimately Divine Mercy” (Memory and Identity, pp. 60- 61). And reflecting on the assassination attempt, he said: “In sacrificing himself for us all, Christ gave a new meaning to suffering, opening up a new dimension, a new order: the order of love. ... It is this suffering which burns and consumes evil with the flame of love and draws forth even from sin a great flowering of good” (pp. 189-190)
Like a rose which grows from a compost heap, God wishes to bring forth good, even out of human evil. This does not mean that we continue sinning. Far from it! As we begin Passiontide we hear Jesus words, “Now is the time of judgment on this world.” That judgment – the cross – reveals how terrible is sin, but how much greater is the Divine Mercy.**
*Here is a more complete quote from the pope's consistory homily:
Venerable and dear brothers, I want to sum up the meaning of this new call that you have received in the word which I placed at the heart of my first encyclical: "caritas." This matches well the color of your cardinalatial robes. May the scarlet that you now wear always express the "caritas Christi," inspiring you to a passionate love for Christ, for his Church and for all humanity.
You now have an additional motive to seek to rekindle in yourselves those same sentiments that led the incarnate Son of God to pour out his blood in atonement for the sins of the whole world. I am counting on you, venerable brothers, I am counting on the entire College into which you are being incorporated, to proclaim to the world that "Deus caritas est," and to do so above all through the witness of sincere communion among Christians: "By this," said Jesus, "all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35).
I am counting on you, dear brother cardinals, to ensure that the principle of love will spread far and wide, and will give new life to the Church at every level of her hierarchy, in every group of the faithful, in every religious Institute, in every spiritual, apostolic or humanitarian initiative. I am counting on you to see to it that our common endeavor to fix our gaze on Christ's open Heart will hasten and secure our path toward the full unity of Christians.
I am counting on you to see to it that the Church's solicitude for the poor and needy challenges the world with a powerful statement on the civilization of love. All this I see symbolized in the scarlet with which you are now invested. May it truly be a symbol of ardent Christian love shining forth in your lives.
**This week Pope Benedict XVI revealed a fragment of the homily his predecessor planned to give on Divine Mercy Sunday 2005:
To humanity, which at times appears lost and dominated by the power of evil, egoism and fear, our risen lord offers, as a gift, his love, which forgives, reconciles and opens our heart to hope. It is a love that conquers hearts and brings peace.
Although Pope John Paul II hoped to speak this message: "It was written in the divine plans that he should leave us on the eve of that day, Saturday April 2, as we all remember. This is why he was no longer able to utter these words, which I want to recall today to all of you," Benedict said while addressing the faithful in a Roman parish on March 26 of this year.
From the Archives (Fifth Sunday of Lent, Year B):
Year A (RCIA):
Prayer and Spiritual Combat Week 5 (2014)
Overcoming Power of Death (2008)
Joining Body with Soul (2005)
He Was Buried (2002)
On Confession and Cremation (1999)
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Parish Picture Album
Parish Picture Album
(January - February 2012)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Bulletin (Liturgy Day, Good Friday pro-life vigil, Does the Catholic Church support illegal immigration?, Mark Shea Retreat)
March 18 Cathedral Walk
The Day the Free Press Committed Suicide
Fr. Frank Pavone: An Open Letter to Michael Schiavo
Mark Shea asks the right question about Britain's first IVF "designer baby" clinic
Abdul Rahman still not safe
Ron Belgau: Men and Abortion (audio file and text of talk)
View trailer: Fishers of Men
Comprehensive Immigration Reform (Questions & Answers)
It is news to me that the Catholic Church is getting rich off Hispanic immigrants: Michael Savage demonstrates how out of touch with reality an anti-Catholic bigot can become
Lot’s wife was a pillar of salt by day, but a ball of fire by night.
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
National Petition to Stop HHS Mandate - important updates
Conscience Protection - Bishops Vow to Fight Coercive HHS Mandate