Days of Grace

We are in the Sacred Triduum and therefore have entered into the very “holy of holies” of the Church’s liturgical cycle. Please know that all our generous supporters, tertiaries, readers, and friends are remembered in our prayers in this holiest time of the year. I speak for all my Brothers and Sisters when I say that.

If the following little morsel of Catholic erudition is known to my readers — as it will be to at least some of you — I ask your forbearance as I relate a cornerstone of the spiritual doctrine of Blessed Columba Marmion, the famed Benedictine abbot and spiritual writer. According to Blessed Columba, the Mysteries of Our Lord Jesus Christ are also “our mysteries,” and that by a triple title: first, because Jesus carried them out for us (“for us men and for our salvation” as the Creed says); second, because He effected each of them as our Exemplar (our Model); and third — this is the deepest, most “mystical” of the three — because He forms but one with us in doing them.

Because Holy Week and Easter represent the dramatic high point of Our Lord’s saving mission, there is a sense in which this triple claim the baptized have to Our Lord’s Mysteries is also at its zenith this time of year.

That Jesus Christ did all He did for us is obvious; as I mentioned, this is a truth enshrined in the sacrosanct Creed of Nicea. First, of course, all the Mysteries of Jesus, from His Incarnation to His glorious Ascension and sending of the Holy Ghost with the Father, were done because it was the will of the Eternal Father. Our Lord affirms this truth at least twice in the Gospel of Saint John:

  • “Because I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38)
  • “And he that sent me, is with me, and he hath not left me alone: for I do always the things that please him.” (John 8:29)

But the fact that the joys, sorrows, and glories of the Incarnate Logos were done to please the Father who willed that they be accomplished does not contradict the fact that they are also ours because Jesus carried them out for us. It should make our love to grow all the more when we consider that Jesus Christ came to save us in complete agreement with the eternal will of the Three Persons, who do, after all, share one Will in common.

That Jesus Christ is our Exemplar is the truth brought out by that rather corny and awkward rhetorical question, “What would Jesus do?” — which serves as one of the manifold proofs of something I once heard Gary Potter say, namely, that the religion suffers when we attempt to reduce it to a bumper sticker. Something cheap and plastic-sounding inevitably results when Jerusalem meets Madison Avenue. However, for all its defects, the question does convey the truth that the Master came on earth not only to save us by His atoning Death, but also to show those whom the Father adopts in Him by Baptism just how to be good children of the Eternal Father. This touches upon that profound question of why it was the Second of the Three Divine Persons who became Man: It is because He is the only One of the Three who, in eternity, is and remains a Child, for He is, in truth, the only begotten of the Father. Yet by grace we become what He is, so He is also the “firstborn amongst many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).

Our Elder Brother is our Exemplar, so let us look at Him in His afflictions during these days and “learn from [Him] because [He] is meek and humble of heart” (Matt 11:29). The promised reward for so doing is too good to miss: “and you shall find rest to your souls.” We can all use a bit of that.

To look at Jesus as our Exemplar is to make practical use of that third of the four senses of Holy Scripture, the tropological sense (about which, see here, here, and here).

It is the third of Abbot Marmion’s three reasons that is the deepest and most mystical. Being members of His Mystical Body, we are joined to Jesus Christ as to our Head, and therefore have some participation in these Mysteries — which are no ordinary historical events, but acts of a Divine Person that have an eternal weight to them. Our Mass, our Christmas, our Holy Week, and the rest are no mere historical reenactments. In the case of the Holy Mass, it is none other than the dread and unbloody re-presentation of the selfsame sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross on that first Good Friday. For all the other Mysteries of Our Lord’s life, the various feasts that bring them to our attention are as many occasions for us to benefit, here and now, from the action performed by Our Lord over two millennia ago. When these Mysteries reach their climax in Holy Week, we see the summit of what Saint Paul wrote concerning our divine adoption, for we are children of God and joint heirs with Christ “if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

As we assist at the Rites of Holy Mother Church over these coming days, we would do well to recall that we do so as no mere passive audience; recipients of divine grace and gifts, yes, but we are also active participants in the drama of our own salvation, who are challenged to be those for whose salvation these things were done, for whom they stand as examples, and who actually participate in them (mystically but really) by being joined to Jesus Christ in faith and Baptism. Let us attend to the sacred Mysteries in this spirit and thereby render glory to God and avail ourselves of the overflowing fonts of divine grace.

I would like to take leave of my readers with the very uplifting words of Saint Augustine of Hippo, from today’s Matins lessons. He is commenting on Psalm fifty-four as it applies to Jesus our Head and to us, His members. Certainly there are not wanting hateful and wicked men both in the temporal society of the State and, sadly, in the spiritual society of the Church. Let us learn from the Psalmist and Saint Augustine how to bear with such people as the children of God should.

A blessed Triduum and a glorious Pasch to all! (And don’t forget your Easter Duty!)

From the Treatise of St. Augustine, Bishop
upon the Psalms (on Psalm liv, 1)

Give ear to my prayer, O God, and despise not my supplication: attend unto me and hear me. These are the words of a man travailing, anxious, and troubled. He prayeth in the midst of much suffering, longing to be rid of his affliction. Our part is to see what that his affliction was, and when he hath told us, to acknowledge that we also suffer therefrom; that so, partaking in his trouble, we may take part also in his exercise, and am troubled. Wherein mourned he? Wherein was he troubled? He saith: In my exercise. In the next words he giveth us to know that his affliction was the oppression of the wicked, because of the voice of the enemy, and because of the oppression of the wicked, and this suffering which came upon him at the hands of wicked men, he hath called his exercise. Think not that wicked men are in this world for nothing, or that God doth no good with them. Every wicked man liveth, either to repent, or to exercise the righteous.

Would to God that they which now exercise us were converted and exercised with us! Yet, while they are as they are, and exercise us, we will not hate them: for we know not of any one of them whether he will endure to the end in his sin. Yea, oftentimes, when thou deemest that thou hatest thine enemy, he whom thou hatest is thy brother, and thou knowest it not. The Holy Scriptures show us that the devil and his angels are already damned unto everlasting fire, and therefore of their repentance it behoveth us to despair; but of theirs only. These are they against whom we wrestle within; to the which wrestling the Apostle stirreth us up where he saith: We wrestle not against flesh and blood, (that is, not against men whom we see,) but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world. Eph. vi. 12. He saith not the rulers of this world, lest perchance thou shouldest deem that devils are the lords of heaven and earth; what he doth say is, rulers of the darkness of this world, of that world which they love who love the world, of that world wherein the ungodly and unrighteous do prosper, of that world, in fine, of which the Gospel saith: And the world knew Him not.

We have seen iniquity and strife in the city. v. 10. Behold, the glory of the Cross. That Cross which was the object of the insults of God’s enemies, is established now above the brows of kings. The end hath shown the measure of its power: it hath conquered the world, not by the sword, but by its wood. The enemies of God thought the Cross a meet object of insult and ridicule, yea, they stood before it, wagging their heads and saying: If He be the Son of God, let Him come down from the Cross! Matth. xxvii. 39, 40. And He stretched forth His Hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people. Rom. x. 21. If he is just which liveth by faith, Rom. i. 17; Hab. ii. 4, he is unjust that hath not faith. Therefore where is written iniquity we may understand unbelief. The Lord therefore saith that He saw iniquity and strife in the city, and that He stretched forth His Hands unto that disobedient and gainsaying people, and, disobedient and gainsaying as they were, He was hungry for their salvation, and said: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. Luke xxiii. 34.