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Today we begin the season known as “Passiontide” — the two weeks in which the Church asks us to meditate very closely on the major events of our salvation—the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We should think of it as a deepening Lenten observance—with an emphasis on the need for renewing our relationship with God, and understanding the serious consequences of breaking that relationship through sin, or through indifference to the love of God.
Saint Paul tries to put this into perspective in today's Epistle. He reminds us that in the Old Testament the Jewish people could offer God nothing more than the sacrifice of a few of their animals; a goat, a calf, perhaps a pigeon or a dove. And the priests who offered those animal sacrifices for them were just sinful men like themselves. A very poor payback for all of the liberties they were accustomed to taking with God's Commandments. But now, with our Lord's sacrifice, we have the ability to offer God something perfect. We now have the perfect sacrifice, offered by the perfect priest.
It is God, Himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God—true God and true man -- who offers Himself up for our sins. By undergoing His Passion on the Cross, He has, once and for all time, freed us from the debt of sin—a debt that we had absolutely no way to repay on our own.
Let me call your attention to this word we use: “Passion.” It is misunderstood by most modern people. They usually think it has something to do with steamy (and unlikely) romances, like those in the soap operas. Often, people don't understand what we mean by the “Passion of Christ.” Now, obviously it has nothing to do with over-acted dramas. But in a sense, it does have to do with romance—the truest sort of love—the love of God, giving Himself unselfishly for the people whom He loves, in spite of their unworthiness and ingratitude.
“Passion,” accurately defined, is the opposite of “action.” “Action” means taking the initiative; seizing the situation, and doing what one desires, or needs to do. “Passion” is quite the opposite. It means abandoning one's self; giving up one's free will, and surrendering one's self to the designs of another.
In the immediate sense, our Lord surrendered Himself to the will of the Jews and the Romans who crucified Him. The Creator gave Himself over to the will of His creatures—who were free to accept or reject Him—to love Him or to hate Him.
In a more general sense, our Lord surrendered Himself to our wills. For we are also His creatures—likewise able to accept or reject Him.
But in the eternal sense—infinitely more important—our Lord has united Himself to all humanity, and surrendered Himself -- and us along with Him—to the will of the Father. The creatures are thus given over to the Creator. That is the true essence of our salvation—the reuniting of our wills with the will of God. In Jesus Christ, and in His Passion, we who are unable to repay anything, are forgiven of everything. Man and God are re-united in the Passion of the God-man.
Now, I mentioned that in the coming two weeks we should meditate very closely on the events of this Passion. That meditation has to be introspective—that means that we have to understand not only what the Passion is, but how we should relate to it.
Our Lord endured cruel suffering—poured out His Blood—and died for us. Infinite God gave Himself up for His lowly creatures.
Yet all too often, we are indifferent:
The Church is in deep trouble, but we are reluctant to do anything except watch; “That's the pope's problem,” we say, “or the bishop's or the priest's.” If we were truly grateful for the Passion, we would be falling all over ourselves looking for ways to help; with prayer, and contributions, and personal effort.
Civil society is in much the same trouble. The world is upside down! Influential people promote sin, and frustrate goodness. We are well on our way to becoming a society that does not even know God. Again, if we were sincere in our Faith, and grateful to God, we would be trying to do something about it.
Our own families experience many of the same difficulties—indeed, our own personal lives. Do we do anything about it?? Do we pray? Are we doing penance? Are we giving good example? Are we making the effort?
The next two weeks contain the key to changing all that. The Masses and ceremonies of Passiontide give us wonderful material for meditation—to share our Lord's pain, to understand His anguish, to return His love.
I hope that the Masses of the next two weeks, the stations of the Cross, the liturgy of Good Friday, will be packed with people, who have come to understand the love of God, and to get serious about returning that love.
Make no mistake about it—our world is at a cross roads—and what we do during the next two weeks, and during the next few years, will make all the difference—both for society on earth, and for our own personal salvation.
Don't be indifferent to the God who loved you so much that He gave Himself up to die for love of you!