Christ’s Passion and Death and our union with him


   Jesus our Lord was the most wonderful person who ever lived, and he came to us with the most extraordinary mission to accomplish: to take away the sin of the world, and to give man a share in God’s life.  How could any one person take away the sins of the world, and provide each human being with the capacity to be liberated from sin and to live with a new kind of life, God’s life? God sent the person who could do it, and it was to be his own divine Son, become a man like us. That was the first surprise, that a Redeemer had been sent. But another big surprise was to follow, a surprise that has a direct connection with our call to sanctity through union with Jesus.

  This second surprise was how the sins of the world were to be taken away. St John the Baptist was the first to point our Lord out in any public sense as the one who would take away the sins of the world, even though the angel had told Joseph and Mary before our Lord was born. But even St John the Baptist did not know how our Lord was to do it. We remember how after our Lord had begun his public ministry and was preaching, teaching, curing the sick and driving out demons, St John the Baptist sent his disciples to ask our Lord whether in fact he was the Messiah after all. John was puzzled at what our Lord was doing and how he was going about things. And the people expected the Messiah to be a political and military hero, who would liberate them from their oppressors. The mass of the people (not John the Baptist, though)  thought that the real oppression was political, economic and social oppression. Our Lord’s own disciples had no idea of how he was going to fulfil his mission. Nor did they clearly realize that true redemption was redemption from sin. Our Lord had gradually to point it out to them that he would fulfil his mission not by spectacular successes in a worldly, visual, political or temporal sense. He would fulfil his mission precisely through seeming failure and tremendous suffering, indeed and most especially through his very death. It was to be through obedience in the midst of being utterly crushed that he would save mankind from the sin that imprisoned and destroyed him. It was to be through being destroyed that he would save us from being ultimately destroyed. Sin had entered the world through one man and with sin death, and death had spread through the whole human race, St Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans. Well, it would be precisely through embracing and enduring death that Jesus our Redeemer would save mankind from sin, the sin that had introduced death in all its various aspects.

   This was the marvellous plan of God. And so our Lord suffered unimaginably. We cannot imagine the scale of his sufferings. Perhaps the best way to try to imagine them is not just to visualize as best we can the horrors of his Passion, his agony in the garden, his scourging at the pillar, his crowning with thorns, his stumbling along to Calvary, his being nailed to the cross with all the agonies of a crucifixion and his death. This will help us. But I think even more important is to try to gain a sense of the scale of sin in the world, past, present and future. Then to think what would have to be the degree of expiation required to take it away. What an ocean of suffering would be entailed in expiating for the sins of all mankind. What was physically seen of our Lord’s suffering was only the tip of the iceberg. What could not be seen of those sufferings would have been horrendous, but they would have been commensurate with the sins of the world.

  Now, all this Christ did for me, for me, because he loved me. As St Paul says, Christ loved me and delivered himself up for me. We must not look on the Passion and Death of Christ merely as a spiritual spectator. Each of us is involved. Each of us put him there. By our sins we each of us had a hand in driving in the nails, in whipping our Lord with the scourges, and in thrusting into his side the Roman spear. Christ on the cross displays the evil of my sins. It also displays, and far more so, the love of Christ for me and for everyone else who put him there. He loved me and gave himself up for me. He died for me, as if there were no one else to die for. We must strive to appreciate this because if we don’t then our Lord’s sacrifice for each of us will have gone largely unacknowledged by us. We will have been profoundly ungrateful, profoundly thoughtless, profoundly unmoved, unchanged, and still in our sins. We will not have united ourselves with Jesus our Redeemer.

   So thinking of Jesus on the cross, hanging there because of my sins, hanging there because of his boundless love for me,  there on the cross  inviting me to love him in return and to follow in his footsteps, there on the cross teaching me the power and the fruitfulness of the cross and of suffering in the doing of the will of God, let us ask ourselves, what have I done for Christ? what am I doing for him? and what will I do for him? Let us learn from Christ who by his cross redeemed the world that suffering in union with Jesus, suffering in the doing of God’s will, suffering when permitted by God, is an enormous source of good when united with the sufferings of Christ on the cross. As Christ’s Passion and Death were the supreme moments of his life, so too when we suffer in union with him, our sufferings will be the supreme moments of our life.

   We unite our sufferings with those of Jesus especially at Mass which is the making Calvary present in our midst, and in Holy Communion uniting ourselves with our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary. Calvary was the supreme moment of our Lord’s life when he did most good and fulfilled his mission most completely. What our Lord did at Calvary is made present at Mass, and by means of Holy Communion we are able to unite ourselves with our Lord in his offering of himself to the Father on the Cross. Thus it is that Mass and the Holy Eucharist is the summit and the source of our whole Christian life. It is the Mass that matters.

  Let us resolve to be our Lord’s disciples in truth. It will mean understanding what he has done for me in dying and rising for me. Let us pray for the grace to meditate often on our Lord’s Passion and Death, and to learn our lessons from it. Christ loved me and gave himself up for me. So I resolve now to follow him closely in my daily life, carrying my cross and offering up my sufferings in union with his in the doing of God’s will each day, fulfilling the duties of my work in life.