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Accessed on September 21, 2020 - 8:47:42

Going Through Christ to the Other

Michael Healy, Jul 05, 2012

In light of revelation, we can certainly conclude that we attain to our deepest understanding of the human situation, and of who we are, as we stand before Christ. This is our real situation; thus, if we are to approach other human beings in truth, we must "arc" through Christ to get to them. We never only stand before another in a direct one-on-one way; Christ always stands with us, before us, in us, and between us.

And how do we stand with Christ?  We eat with Him (and of Him) as his friends at the Last Supper (with the hope of the heavenly banquet/wedding feast) and then we stand before Him (dying on the Cross) as His betrayers, mocking and torturing Him.  And he forgives us.  This is the deepest truth about us and only through this awareness should we approach others.

The holy sacrifice of the Mass, the Eucharistic banquet, makes present again to us every day this deepest level of our being.  Thus, we can find some clues as to our true state and true call in relation to others in the great prayers before and after Mass tracing back to Sts. Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, and Bonaventure.

For example, St. Augustine reminds us of the absolutely dire straights we are really in--due to our own sinfulness (and only in light of this knowledge should we look at others’ sins):

Before Thy eyes, O Lord, we bring our offences, and we compare them with the stripes we have received. If we consider the evil we have wrought, what we suffer is little, what we deserve is great. What we have committed is very grave, what we have suffered is very slight. We feel the punishment of sin, yet withdraw not from the obstinacy of sinning. Under Thy lash our inconstancy is visited, but our sinfulness is not changed. Our suffering soul is tormented, but our neck is not bent. Our life groans in sorrow, yet mends not in deed. If Thou spare us, we correct not our ways; if Thou punish we cannot endure it. In time of correction we confess our wrong-doing; after Thy visitation we forget that we have wept. If Thou stretchest forth Thy hand we promise amendment; if Thou withholdest the sword we keep not our promise. If Thou strikest we cry out for mercy; if Thou sparest we again provoke Thee to strike. Here we are before Thee, O Lord, shameless criminals; we know that unless Thou pardon we shall deservedly perish. Grant then, O almighty Father, without our deserving it, the pardon we ask for; Thou Who madest out of nothing those who ask Thee.  Through Christ our Lord. Amen.  *Deal not with us, O Lord, according to our sins. *Neither requite us according to our iniquities.

It is out of this consciousness of our own state before the Divine Majesty, in light of what we have done to His Son (and continue to do each day), that we must approach others.  I think this is especially important in dealing with those who have sinned against us, offended or betrayed us.  We must pray for mercy for them as we constantly must do for ourselves—“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  When we ourselves deserve condemnation, we can hardly put our main emphasis on justice rather than mercy.  So St. Thomas, in his meditation after communion, says, “I pray that this holy Communion be not to me a condemnation unto punishment, but a saving plea unto forgiveness.” He also prays in his meditation before Mass: 

Almighty and eternal God, behold, I approach the Sacrament of Thine only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  I approach as one who is sick to the physician of life, as one unclean to the fountain of mercy, as one blind to the light of eternal brightness, as one poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth.  Therefore I beseech Thee, of thine infinite goodness, to heal my sickness, to wash away my filth, to enlighten my blindness, to enrich my poverty, and to clothe my nakedness, that I may receive the Bread of angels, the King of kings, and Lord of lords, with such reverence and humility, with such contrition and devotion, with such purity and faith, with such purpose and intention, as may be conducive to the salvation of my soul….

Going through Christ to the other means, then, approaching every other person—no matter what they have done to us—with an extension of this attitude toward God: reverence and humility, contrition and devotion on our part. This may be extraordinary to the point where it can scarcely be believed, yet it is exemplified in the lives of the saints.  So again, St. Ambrose, in his meditation before Mass, says:

O loving Lord Jesus Christ, I a sinner, presuming not on my own merits, but trusting in Thy mercy and goodness, with fear and trembling approach the table of Thy most sacred banquet.  For I have defiled both my heart and body with many sins, and have not kept a strict guard over my mind and my tongue.  Wherefore, O gracious God, O awful Majesty, I, a wretched creature, entangled in difficulties, have recourse to Thee the fount of mercy; to Thee do I fly that I may be healed, and take refuge under Thy protection, and I ardently desire to have Him as my Saviour, whom I am unable to withstand as my Judge.  To Thee, O Lord, I show my wounds, to Thee I lay bare my shame. I know that my sins are many and great, on account of which I am filled with fear.  But I trust in Thy mercy, of which there is no end…. (H)ave mercy on me, who am full of misery and sin, Thou who wilt never cease to let flow the fountain of mercy…. I am grieved because I have sinned, I desire to make amends for what I have done…. 

It is in light of this my true state before God, i.e., absolutely in need of mercy and with a deep desire to make amends for my own sins in justice, that I must accept and offer back up to God in reparation all the crosses that are sent to me in life—including betrayal and harm from others, even friends, family, loved ones, etc.  Not that those who do harm don’t deserve punishment, but it is not my place as an individual (and fellow sinner) to judge and to punish.  I am called to extend the same mercy, love, and forgiveness that God has extended to me.  Again, this is not to say that no punishment is due for evil (indeed we see clearly that it is due in our own case, for which we should tremble), but I am called to treat others mercifully as I have been treated. So Matthew, 18: 32-35: 

Then his lord called him and said to him: Thou wicked servant, I forgave thee all the debt because thou besoughtest me.  Shouldst not thou then have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had compassion on thee?  And his lord being angry, delivered him to the torturers until he paid all the debt. So also shall my heavenly father do to you, if you forgive not every one his brother from your hearts.

Or again Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 28:1-10: 

He that seeketh to revenge himself, shall find vengeance from the Lord, and he will surely keep his sins in remembrance. Forgive thy neighbor if he hath hurt thee: and then shall thy sins be forgiven thee when thou prayest. Man to man reserveth anger, and doth he seek remedy of God? He hath no mercy on a man like himself, and doth he entreat for his own sins? He that is but flesh, nourisheth anger, and doth he ask forgiveness of God? Who shall obtain pardon for his sins? Remember the last things, and let thy enmity cease: for corruption and death hang over in his commandments.  Remember the fear of God, and be not angry with thy neighbor.  Refrain from strife, and thou shalt diminish thy sins. 

But if we do give to others what God has given to us, His heart-felt mercy and forgiveness, His longing for reconciliation and communion in love re-established ("Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, Desire of the Everlasting Hills, have mercy on us"), then the free and undeserved gift of eternal joy in loving communion with God and others is given.

So with St. Bonaventure’s prayer after communion: 

Pierce, O most sweet Lord Jesus, my inmost soul with the most joyous and healthful wound of Thy love, with true, serene, and most holy apostolic charity…. (L)et my heart ever hunger after and feed upon Thee, upon whom the angels desire to look, and may my inmost soul be filled with the sweetness of Thy savour…. (M)ayest thou alone be ever my hope, my entire assurance, my riches, my delight, my pleasure, my joy, my rest and tranquility, my peace, my sweetness, my fragrance, my sweet savour, my food, my refreshment, my refuge, my help, my wisdom, my portion, my possession, and my treasure, in whom may my mind and my heart be fixed and firm and rooted immovably henceforth and forever. Amen.

But if our hearts are filled with anger and resentment at what others have done to us, there will be no room for the joy and peace described above.  And if we want this joy and peace for ourselves, we must forgive from our hearts those who have hurt or betrayed us and pray with a deep longing that they join us in the Heart of Christ, both now and in eternity.

So, while it is quite true that there are false notions of forgiveness and neurotic forms of "reconciliation" abroad among Christians (and others), what remains even after these have been overcome is the danger of hard-heartedness. "I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh." (Ezechiel 11:19) 

I must look at other sinners with the clear knowledge that I am capable of every sin ever committed, including this heinous one right here before me that I am so disgusted with.  Only God's providence, His gifts, and His grace have held me back.  Lord, have mercy on us all!  

For instance, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The Gulag Archipelago first describes the evil of the “torturer-executioners” who beat confessions out of innocent prisoners as their daily job (Ch. 4):

There is one thing, however, which remains with us all as an accurate generalized recollection: foul rot—a space totally infected with putrefaction.  And even when, decades later, we are long past fits of anger or outrage, in our own quieted hearts we retain this firm impression of low, malicious, impious, and, possibly, muddled people.

Then, he throws out an amazing challenge:

And just so we don’t go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: “If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?”

It is a dreadful question if one really answers it honestly.

He goes on to share how close he came to just such a way of life.  And this is who we are, this is what we have to admit, as we stand before Christ and through Him relate to others.

I also know that, by my sins (of thought, word, deed, and omission), I have linked hands in the mob that preferred Barabbas to Jesus, that I have also cheered and shouted out with every murderer, torturer, betrayer, molester, liar, oppressor, etc., “Crucify him!”--so I share in their guilt, just as I would share in the evil of all that went on inside if I worked in an abortion clinic or a Nazi extermination camp.  Lord have mercy on us all! 

John Henry Cardinal Newman describes our real state, united in sin against Him while being saved by Him, in his sermon "The Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion," describing the agony in the garden:

Thy dearest are there, Thy saints and Thy chosen are upon Thee; Thy three Apostles, Peter, James, and John; but not as comforters, but as accusers, like the friends of Job, "sprinkling dust towards heaven," and heaping curses on Thy head. All are there but one; one only is not there, one only; for she who had no part in sin, she only could console Thee, and therefore she is not nigh. She will be near Thee on the Cross, she is separated from Thee in the garden.... None was equal to the weight but God; sometimes before Thy saints Thou hast brought the image of a single sin, as it appears in the light of Thy countenance, or of venial sins, not mortal; and they have told us that the sight did all but kill them, nay, would have killed them, had it not been instantly withdrawn. The Mother of God, for all her sanctity, nay by reason of it, could not have borne even one brood of that innumerable progeny of Satan which now compasses Thee about. It is the long history of a world, and God alone can bear the load of it. Hopes blighted, vows broken, lights quenched, warnings scorned, opportunities lost; the innocent betrayed, the young hardened, the penitent relapsing, the just overcome, the aged failing; the sophistry of misbelief, the wilfulness of passion, the obduracy of pride, the tyranny of habit, the canker of remorse, the wasting fever of care, the anguish of shame, the pining of disappointment, the sickness of despair; such cruel, such pitiable spectacles, such heartrending, revolting, detestable, maddening scenes; nay, the haggard faces, the convulsed lips, the flushed cheek, the dark brow of the willing slaves of evil, they are all before Him now; they are upon Him and in Him. They are with Him instead of that ineffable peace which has inhabited His soul since the moment of His conception. They are upon Him, they are all but His own; He cries to His Father as if He were the criminal, not the victim; His agony takes the form of guilt and compunction. He is doing penance, He is making confession, He is exercising contrition, with a reality and a virtue infinitely greater than that of all saints and penitents together; for He is the One Victim for us all, the sole Satisfaction, the real Penitent, all but the real sinner.

In this awareness of what we have done to Him, and what He has done for us, must we approach those who have offended us.  Our goal should be to achieve what St. Paul requires of us in Romans 12:14-21:

Bless them that persecute you: bless, and curse not.  Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep. Being of one mind one towards another.  Not minding high things, but consenting to the humble.  Be not wise in your own conceits.  To no man rendering evil for evil.  Providing good things, not only in the sight of God, but also in the sight of all men.  If it be possible, as much as is in you, have peace with all men.  Revenge not yourselves, my dearly beloved; but give place unto wrath, for it is written: Revenge is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.  But if thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat; if he thirst, give him to drink.  For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head.  Be not overcome by evil, but overcome evil by good.

We can hardly be demanding justice for others while screaming for mercy ourselves.