“At the end of our lives, we shall all be judged by charity.”
~St. John of the Cross
On Palm Sunday, Our Lord was hailed and honored by the entire city of Jerusalem, with hails of “Hosanna to the Son of David” ringing in his ears. Before the week was ended, He manfully and meekly allowed Himself to suffer a most terrible Passion and Death on the Cross. And yet, as we meditate during Holy Week, we must never forget that the whole Life of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, is the Perfect Example of How to Carry the Cross.
“God was under no obligation to assume our nature and to save us. He became Man of his own free will…that He might redeem us from all iniquity…To the eternal observer, the interval between the sufferings of Christ’s Nativity and the ignominies of His Passion, seems to have passed partly in the calm repose of domestic seclusion, and partly in the wondrous triumphs of His public mission. But to the reflecting mind which penetrates beyond the surface, the life of Jesus Christ, from its beginning to its close, presents but one continued martyrdom. His Divine Heart was ever ‘mourning within Him, its sorrow above all human sorrow’ (Jer. 8:18).”
“From the first moment of His Incarnation, Our Blessed Lord had ever before His eyes the prospect of His approaching Agony and Death. It was present to Him, not vaguely and uncertainly – as future pain and suffering are to us now – but vividly and distinctly, as at the actual time when He suffered. Never for a single moment was it absent from His thoughts…Every moment of His life, Jesus suffered and merited grace and help for us – “’He loved me and delivered Himself up for me.’ ‘Forget not the kindness of thy Surety, for He hath given His life for thee,’ is a word addressed to us by the Holy Spirit. Jesus loves us to recognize and realize His love for us. It is in His Sacred Passion that He specially desires to be remembered by us.” (Meditation on the Passion)
What are our own dispositions toward the Cross when we ourselves are asked to carry it? Do we accept it, as Christ did, with a charitable love toward God and our fellow man? We might be surprised to think of possessing charity toward God but, lest we forget: “Charity is the virtue by which we love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and by which we love our neighbors for the love of God.”
Charity, as the Church teaches, is not a “feeling.” We don’t necessarily “feel charitable” even when we are charitable. Rather, charity is a virtue, but we will not possess that virtue, or any other, without accepting the graces God sends us and without directing our Free Will to use them as God intended. Charity, the highest virtue, is always directed first toward God and second, to our fellow human beings because God created them, loves them, and wills their (and our) eternal salvation through the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
Charity is what moved Jesus Christ to be “conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary” and become Man – the Son of God Who offered His entire Life, and Death, as the Eternal Sacrifice to an offended God and His lost people. “The Charity of Christ presses us” – in other words, it urges us to follows His Holy Example.
Love, says St. Frances de Sales, naturally inspires reciprocation – not to mention gratitude. Imagine a king of great majesty bestowing his affections on a peasant, a love so great that the king willingly offered his own life to save that of the peasant’s. This is what Christ the King has done for each one of us. Our Lord Himself said, “Great love than this no man hath, that a man lay down is life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
Christ died to offer us Redemption, but it is up to us to attain salvation. If we love God, why is it we cannot die to self, suffering with the sinless Christ, and offering it all to Him - not only for ourselves but for other sinners?
The offering of our daily duties and trials to God possess merit only because we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ. St. Paul explained this when he taught, “If so ye continue in the faith, grounded and settled, and immoveable from the hope of the Gospel which you have heard, which is preached in all the creation that is under heaven, whereof I Paul am made a minister. Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ, in my flesh, for His Body, which is the Church.” (Col.1:23-24) As the Douay-Rheims footnote explains: “There is no want in the sufferings of Christ in Himself as Head: but many sufferings are still wanting, or are still to come, in His Body the Church, and his members the faithful.”
We are the faithful because we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ – the Catholic Church, the One and Only Church of God. We hope to become saints by working out our salvation in fear and trembling, just like all the Saints throughout the ages who have followed Christ in His Passion did before us. We, too, suffer – sometimes in great ways, sometimes in little ways. But what do we “do” with our suffering? Do we gripe and complain? Or do we remember that all that we suffer – every headache, every pain, every annoyance, every disappointment, every difficulty, every worry, every embarrassment and humiliation - can be offered in sacrifice to God, in reparation for our own sins, for other sinners, for the Holy Souls in Purgatory, and for the needs of the Church?
Even with all of our good intentions, we will still fall. “Even the just man sins seven times a day.” If a just man can commit 49 sins a week, how many sins do we commit? But we will not despair when we remember Christ’s example.
The sinless Christ fell three times as He carried the Cross – laden with the offenses of our repeated sins, He fell. And each time, He gathered the little strength left to Him, and He picked up His Cross and continued on the Sorrowful Road to His Crucifixion…and His Resurrection. We, who are not sinless, must do the same for love of God, Who will give us the strength to carry on.
When we examine ourselves honestly, we will discover our repeated failings. We will truly know all of our “interior and exterior dispositions in regard to the Cross of Christ” and ask ourselves, “Shall I not embrace the Cross of Christ? Shall I not devote myself, without stint or reserve, to the service of my Lord and Master, sparing no effort, however irksome or fatiguing, that will fit me to work more efficiently for Him? Such devotion will do great things for Our Lord, and [we] will discover the secret of the best and highest kind of happiness which is attainable upon the earth. There never was a greater need and opportunity for showing devotion, and proving our love for Our Lord.” (Meditation on the Passion)
During Holy Week, this last week of Lent, let us not forget to make a thorough examination of conscience, followed by a good Confession, and practice charity, the highest virtue, as we offer all that comes our way in reparation to Jesus through Mary. In this way, we will not only live a “Holy Week” with Our Lord, but a holy life.