Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

The Friendship of Christ, Chapter 12: The Seven Last Words (Sixth Word)

 Erin writes on "Into your hands I commend my spirit."


"In Christ's Name, let us begin. For Christ has finished."

To start here with Benson's closing line may seem like cutting corners, but it sums up his theme admirably. The old things are passing away -- which implies that there must be new things. But Christ does not suffer infinitely, because sin is not infinite. There is an end to sin. There is an end to suffering. And on the cross he has conquered both. And his victory is so complete and irreversible -- so finished! -- that he has the power to utter a humanly impossible cry of victory. He is not defeated by death. As the next and last word declares, he hands over his spirit willingly, because he is finished.

For it is a greater act to restore than to create, to bring the disobedient will back to obedience that to will it into existence, to reconcile enemies than to create worshippers, to redeem than to make. That God should man is an act of power; but to redeem him is an act of Love....

"It is a greater act to restore than to create": in our limited human capacity, we know this to be true. Homes, furniture, clothing, artwork, manuscripts, landscapes, governments, relationships: it is so much easier and less painful, so much less work -- and often, so much less expensive -- to tear down the old or simply walk away from it, and begin afresh with unscarred material. 

That is not what Christ does. He crafts all sin, suffering, joy, and work before him into an arc that bends toward him. The entire mess of history is the back of the tapestry, and the front is his victorious Passion, Death, and Resurrection. No human life or act of nature is pointless or fruitless any longer, and friendship with God is restored -- not just to the way it was in Eden, but a true mutual friendship, because now God has suffered too.

But what does it mean to hear our friend say that "It is finished"?

Friendship is, of course, Benson's theme, and his concluding passage of this section is one of the finest in the book, and for those not reading along at home, I'm going to quote the whole thing.

Christ’s work, then, is “finished” on the Cross—finished, that is, not as closed and concluded, but, as it were, liberated from the agonizing process which has brought it into being—finished, as bread is finished from the mills and the fire, that it may be eaten; as wine is finished after the stress and trampling of the winepress—finished, as a man’s body is finished in the womb of his mother and brought forth with travail.

It is finished, that is, for a new and glorious Beginning, that the stream which has flowed from His Wounds may begin to flood the souls of men, and the Flesh that has been broken, feed them indeed. For now the Passion of Christ begins to be wrought out in His Mystical Body, and she to “fill up those things that are wanting of the Sufferings of Christ.” Now the enormous Process that has crushed and mangled Him in His assumed Nature begins effectively to carry on that same work of Redemption in the Human Nature of His Church, which, mystically, is the Body in which He dwells always—One Sun sets in order that another sun, which is yet the same, may begin to run his course. “The evening and the morning are one day.”

And yet, we His friends—we, who in virtue of His Friendship are enabled to live, to die and to rise in union with him—live for the most part as if He had never died. Compare the life of a cultivated fastidious pagan with the life of a cultivated fastidious Christian. Draw the two from corresponding classes and set them side by side. Is there so enormous a difference? There are a few differences in the religious emblems of the two. The one has an Apollo; the other a Crucifix. The one has the Egyptian goddess with her son in her arms; the other has the Immaculate Mother of Jesus with her Holy Child. Their talk is different, their dresses, their houses—all those external matters that are wholly indifferent to the soul’s life. But are their virtues so different, their outlook on eternity, their sorrow beside open graves, their hopes beside new cradles? . . . Even before Christ died, children loved their parents and parents their children. Do Christians rise so much higher now—nearer to that yet more amazing degree of love by which a man “hates his father and mother” in order to be the disciple of His Lord? Even before Christ died, chastity was a virtue. Are we so far advanced now in that purity of heart without which no man can see God? Even a Roman Emperor once preached self-control, and practised it. Are our own houses any better models of the peace of brethren who dwell together in unity?

Did Christ finish His work, merely in order that society might decay no further? . . . God help us! As we look at what is called Christian Society to-day, it seems as if Christ had not even yet begun.

Yet here is this vast river of grace pouring from Calvary, the river that ought to be making glad the City of God. Here is this enormous reservoir of grace, bubbling up in every sacrament, soaking the ground beneath our feet, freshening the air we breathe. And we still in our hateful false humility talk as if Perfection were a dream, and Sanctity the privilege of those who see God in glory.

In Christ’s Name, let us begin. For Christ has finished.

Our friendship with him is now begun, and it means we are to be like him -- that is, different from the world around us. Does the Church today look different than the world around us? Does it speak the same words he does from the cross? Does it act as if it believes that Christ, on the cross, pours out sufficient grace to help sinners repent, let alone become holy? Do we believe him when he says "It is finished"? 

1 comment:

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