Paradoxes of Catholicism / by Robert Hugh Benson

The Seven Words

The "Three Hours"


The value, to the worshippers, of the Devotion of the Three Hours' Agony is in proportion to the degree in which they understand that they are watching not so much the tragedy of nineteen hundred years ago as the tragedy of their own lives and times. Merely to dwell on the Death of Christ on Calvary would scarcely avail them more than to study the details of the assassination of Caesar at the foot of Pompey's statue. Such considerations might indeed be interesting, exciting, and even a little instructive or inspiring; but they could not be better than this, and they might be no better than morbid and harmful.

The Death of Christ, however, is unique because it is, so to say, universal. It is more than the crowning horror of all murderous histories; it is more even than the type of all the outrages that men have ever committed against God. For it is just the very enactment, upon the historical stage of the world, of those repeated interior tragedies that take place in every soul that rejects or insults Him; since the God whom we crucify within is the same God that was once crucified without. There is not an exterior detail in the Gospel which may not be interiorly repeated in the spiritual life of a sinner; the process recorded by the Evangelists must be more or less identical with the process of all apostasy from God.

For, first, there is the Betrayal of Conscience, as a beginning of the tragedy; its betrayal by those elements of our nature that are intended as its friends and protectors -- by Emotion or Forethought, for example. Then Conscience is led away, bound, to be judged; for there can be no mortal sin without deliberation, and no man ever yet fell into it without conducting first a sort of hasty mock-trial or two in which a sham Prudence or a false idea of Liberty solemnly decide that Conscience is in the wrong. Yet even then Conscience persists, and so He is made to appear absurd and ridiculous, and set beside the Barabbas of a coarse and sturdy lower nature that makes no high pretensions and boasts of it. And so the drama proceeds and Conscience is crucified: Conscience begins to be silent, breaking the deepening gloom now and again with protests that grow weaker every time, and at last Conscience dies indeed. And thenceforward there can be no hope, save in the miracle of Resurrection.

This Cross of Calvary, then, is not a mere type or picture; it is a fact identical with that so dreadfully familiar to us in spiritual life. For Christ is not one Person, and Conscience something else, but it is actually Christ who speaks in Conscience and Christ, therefore, Who is crucified in mortal sin.

Let us, then, be plain with ourselves. We are watching not only Christ's Death but our own, since we are watching the Death of Christ Who is our Life.


Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.

In previous considerations we have studied the Life of Christ in His Mystical Body from an angle at which the strange and innumerable paradoxes which abound in all forms of life at a certain depth become visible. And we have seen how these paradoxes lie in those strata, so to say, where the Divinity and the Humanity meet. Christ is God and God cannot die; therefore Christ became man in order to be able to do so. The Church is Divine and therefore all-holy, but she dwells in a Body of sinful Humanity and reckons her sinners to be her children and members no less than her saints.

We will continue to regard the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the Words which He spoke from the Cross from the same angle, and to find, therefore, the same characteristic paradoxes and mysteries in all that we see. In the First Word we meet the Paradox of Divine Forgiveness.

I. Ordinary human forgiveness is no more than a natural virtue, resulting from a natural sense of justice, and if a man is normal, his forgiveness will be a natural and inevitable part of the process of reconciliation so soon as a certain kind of restitution has been made. For example, a friend of mine sins against me -- he injures, perhaps, my good name; and my natural answer is the emotion of resentment towards him and, perhaps, of actual revenge. But what I chiefly resent is my friend's stupidity and his ignorance of my real character. "I am angry," I say, with perfect sincerity, "not so much at the thing he has said of me, as at this proof of his incapacity to understand me. I thought he was my friend, that he was in sympathy with my character or, at least, that he understood it sufficiently to do me justice. But now, from what he has just said of me, I see that he does not. If the thing he said were true of me, the most of my anger would be gone. But I see that he does not know me, after all."

And then, presently, my friend does understand that he has wronged me; that the gossip he repeated or the construction he put upon my actions was not fair or true. And immediately that I become aware of this, from him or from another, my resentment goes, if I have any natural virtue at all; it goes because my wounded pride is healed. I forgive him easily and naturally because he knows now what he has done.

II. How entirely different from this easy, self-loving, human forgiveness is the Divine Forgiveness of Christ! Now it is true that in the conscience of Pilate, the unjust representative of Justice, and in that thing that called itself conscience in Herod, and in the hearts of the priests who denounced their God, and of the soldiers who executed their overlord, and of Judas who betrayed his friend, in all these there was surely a certain uneasiness -- such an uneasiness is actually recorded of the first and the last of the list -- a certain faint shadow of perception and knowledge of what it was that they had done and were doing. And, for the natural man, it would have been comparatively easy to forgive such injuries on that account. "I forgive them," such a man might have said from his cross, "because there is just a glimmer of knowledge left; there is just one spark in their hearts that still does me justice, and for the sake of that I can try, at least, to put away my resentment and ask God to forgive them."

But Jesus Christ cries, "Forgive them because they do not know what they do! Forgive them because they need it so terribly, since they do not even know that they need it! Forgive in them that which is unforgivable!"

III. Two obvious points present themselves in conclusion.

(i) First, it is Divine Forgiveness that we need, since no sinner of us all knows the full malice of sin. One man is a slave, let us say, to a sin of the flesh, and seeks to reassure himself by the reflection that he injures no one but himself; ignorant as he is of the outrage to God the Holy Ghost Whose temple he is ruining. Or a woman repeats again every piece of slanderous gossip that comes her way and comforts herself in moments of compunction by reflecting that she "means no harm"; ignorant as she is of the discouragement of souls of which she is the cause and of the seeds of distrust and enmity sown among friends. In fact it is incredible that any sinner ever knows what it is that he does by sin. We need, therefore, the Divine Forgiveness and not the human, the pardon that descends when we are unaware that we must have it or die; the love of the Father Who, while we are yet a great way off, runs to meet us, and Who teaches us for the first time, by the warmth of His welcome, the icy distances to which we had wandered. If we knew, anyone could forgive us. It is because we do not that only God, Who knows all things, can forgive us effectively.

(2) And it is this Divine Forgiveness that we ourselves have to extend to those that sin against us, since only those who so forgive can be forgiven. We must not wait until wounded pride is made whole by the conscious shame of our enemy; until the debt is paid by acknowledgment and we are complacent once more in the knowl edge that justice has been done to us at last. On the contrary, the only forgiveness that is supernatural, and which, therefore, alone is meritorious, is that which reaches out to men's ignorance and not their knowledge of their need.


Amen I say to thee, to-day thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.

Our Divine Lord, in this Second Word, immediately applies and illustrates the First and drives its lesson home. He shows us how the rain of mercy that poured out of heaven in answer to the prayer lie made just now enlightens the man who, above all others present on Calvary, was the most abjectly ignorant of all; the man who, himself at the very heart of the tragedy, understood it less, probably, than the smallest child on the outskirts of the crowd.

His life had been one long defiance of the laws of both God and man. He had been a member of one of those troops of human vermin that crawl round Jerusalem, raiding solitary houses, attacking solitary travellers, guilty of sins at once the bloodiest and the meanest, comparable only to the French apaches of our own day. Well, he had been gripped at last by the Roman machine, caught in some sordid adventure, and here, resentful and furious and contemptuous, full of bravado and terror, he snarled like a polecat at every human face he saw, snarled and spat at the Divine Face Itself that looked at him from a cross that was like his own; and, since he had not even a spark of the honour that is reputed to exist "among thieves," taunted his "fellow criminal" for the folly of His "crime."

"If thou be the Christ, save Thyself and us."

Again, then, the Paradox is plain enough. Surely an educated priest, or a timid disciple, or a good-hearted dutiful soldier who hated the work he was at, surely one of these will be the first object of Christ's pardon; and so one of these would have been, if one of ourselves had hung there. But when God forgives, He forgives the most ignorant first -- that is, the most remote from forgivenessÄand makes, not Peter or Caiphas or the Centurion, but Dismas the thief, the first fruits of Redemption.

I. The first effect of the Divine Mercy is Enlightenment. Before they call, I will answer. Before the thief feels the first pang of sorrow Grace is at work on him, and for the first time in his dreary life he begins to understand. And an extraordinary illumination shines in his soul. For no expert penitent after years of spirituality, no sorrowful saint, could have prayed more perfectly than this outcast. His intellect, perhaps, took in little or nothing of the great forces that were active about him and within him; he knew, perhaps, explicitly little or nothing of Who this was that hung beside him; yet his soul's intuition pierces to the very heart of the mystery and expresses itself in a prayer that combines at once a perfect love, an exquisite humility, an entire confidence, a resolute hope, a clear-sighted faith, and an unutterable patience; his soul blossoms all in a moment: Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy Kingdom. He saw the giory behind the shame, the Eternal Throne behind the Cross, and the future behind the present; and he asked oniy to be remembered when the glory should transflgnre the shame and the Cross be transformed into the Throne; for he understood what that remembrance would mean: "Remember, Lord, that I suffered at Thy side."

II. So perfect, then, are the dispositions formed in him by grace that at one bound the last is first. Not even Mary and John shall have the instant reward that shall be his; for them there are other gifts, and the first are those of separation and exile. For the moment, then, this man steps into the foremost place and they who have hung side by side on Calvary shall walk side by side to meet those waiting souls beyond the veil who will run so eagerly to welcome them. Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.

III. Now this Paradox, the last shall be first, is an old doctrine of Christ, so startling and bewildering that He has been forced to repeat it again and again. He taught it in at least four parables: in the parables of the Lost Piece of Silver, the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son, and the Vineyard. The Nine Pieces lie neglected on the table, the Ninety-nine sheep are exiled in the Fold, the Elder Son is, he thinks, overlooked and slighted, and the Labourers complain of favouritism. Yet still, even after all this teaching, the complaint goes up from Christians that God is too loving to be quite just. A convert, perhaps, comes into the Church in middle age and in a few months develops the graces of Saint Teresa and becomes one of her daughters. A careless blackguard is condemned to death for murder and three weeks later dies upon the scaffold the death of a saint, at the very head of the line. And the complaints seem natural enough. Thou hast made them equal unto us who have borne the burden and heat of the day.

Yet look again, you Elder Sons. Have your religious, careful, timid lives ever exhibited anything resembling that depth of self-abjection to which the Younger Son has attained? Certainly you have been virtuous and conscientious; after all, it would be a shame if you had not been so, considering the wealth of grace you have always enjoyed. But have you ever even striven seriously after the one single moral quality which Christ holds up in His own character as the point of imitation: Learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly of heart? It is surely significant that He does not say, expressly, Learn of Me to be pure, or courageous, or fervent; but Learn to be humble, for in this, above all, you shall find rest to your souls. Instead, have you not had a kind of gentle pride in your religion or your virtue or your fastidiousness? In a word, you have not been as excellent an Elder Son as your brother has been a Younger. You have not corresponded with your graces as he has corresponded with his. You have never yet been capable of sufficient lowliness to come home (which is so much harder than to remain there), or of sufficient humility to begin for the first time to work with all your heart only an hour before sunset.

Begin, then, at the beginning, not half-way up the line. Go down to the church door and beat your breast and say not, God reward me who have done so much for Him, but God be merciful to me who have done so little. Get off your seat amongst the Pharisees and go down on your knees and weep behind Christ's couch, if perhaps He may at last say to you, Friend, come up higher.


Woman, behold thy son. Behold thy mother.

Our Divine Lord now turns, from the soul who at one bound has sprung into the front rank, to those two souls who have never left it, and supremely to that Mother on whose soul sin has never yet breathed, on whose breast Incarnate God had rested as inviolate and secure as on the Bosom of the Eternal Father, that Mother who was His Heaven on earth. Standing beside her is the one human being who is least unworthy to be there, now that Joseph has passed to his reward and John the Baptist has gone to join the Prophets -- the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain on the breast of Jesus as Jesus had lain on the breast of Mary.

Our Lord has just shown how He deals with His dear sinners; now He shows how He will be glorified with His Saints. The Paradox of this Word is that Death, the divider of those who are separated from God, is the bond of union between those that are united to Him.

I. Death is the one inexorable enemy of human society as constituted apart from God. A king dies and his kingdom is at once in danger of disruption. A child dies and his mother prays that she may bear another, lest his father and she should drift apart. Death is the supreme sower of discord and disunion, then, in the natural order, since he is the one supreme enemy of natural life. He is the noonday terror of the Rich Fool of the parable and the nightmare of the Poor Fool, since those who place their hope in this life see that death is the end of their hope. For these there is no appeal beyond the grave.

II. Now precisely the opposite of all this is true in the supernatural order, since the gate of death, viewed from the supernatural side, is an entrance and not an ending, a beginning and not a close. This may be seen to be so even in a united human family in this world, the members of whom are living the supernatural life; for where such a family is living in the love of God, Death, when he comes, draws not oniy the survivors closer together, but even those whom he seems to have separated. He does not bring consternation and terror and disunion, but he awakens hope and tenderness, he smooths away old differences, he explains old misunderstandings.

Our Blessed Lord has already. over the grave of Lazarus, hinted that this shall be so, so soon as He has consecrated death by His own dying. He that believeth in Me shall never die. He, that is to say, who has died with Christ, whose centre henceforward is in the supernatural, simply no longer finds death to be what nature finds it. It no longer makes for division but for union; it no longer imperils or ends life and interest and possession, but releases them from risk and mortality.

Here, then, He deliberately and explicitly acts upon this truth. He once raised Lazarus and the daughter of Jairus and the Widow's Son from the dead, for death's sting could, at that time, be drawn in no other way; but now that He Himself is tasting death for every man, He performs an even more emphatically supernatural act and conquers death by submitting to it instead of by commanding it. Life had already united, so far as mortal life can unite, those two souls who loved Him and one another so well. These two, since they knew Him so perfectly, knew each the other too as perfectly as knowledge and sympathy can unite souls in this life. But now the whole is to be raised a stage higher. They had already been united on the living breast of Jesus; now, over His dead body, they were to be made yet more one.

It is marvellous that, after so long, our imaginations should still be so tormented and oppressed by the thought of death; that we should still be so without understanding that we think it morbid to be in love with death, for it is far more morbid to be in fear of it. It is not that our reason or our faith are at fault; it is only that that most active and untamable faculty of ours, which we call imagination, has not yet assimilated the truth, accepted by both our faith and our reason, that for those who are in the friendship of God death is simply not that at all which it is to others. It does not, as has been said, end our lives or our interests: on the contrary it liberates and fulfils them.

And all this it does because Jesus Christ has Himself plunged into the heart of Death and put out his fires. Henceforth we are one family in him if we do His will -his brother and sister and mother; and Mary is our Mother, not by nature, which is accidental, but by supernature, which is essential. Mary is my Mother and John is my brother, since, if I have died with Christ, it is no longer I that live, but Christ that liveth in me. In a word, it is the Communion of Saints which He inaugurates by this utterance and seals by His dying.


My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?

Our Blessed Lord in the revelation He makes from the Cross passes gradually inwards to Himself Who is its centre. He begins in the outermost circle of all, with the ignorant sinners. He next deals with the one sinner who ceased to be ignorant, and next with those who were always nearest to Himself, and now at last He reveals the deepest secret of all. This is the central Word of the Seven in every sense. There is no need to draw attention to the Paradox it expresses.

I. First, there let us remind ourselves of the revealed dogma that Jesus Christ was the Eternal Son of the Father; that He dwelt always in the Bosom of that Father; that when He left heaven He did not leave the Father's side; that at Bethlehem and Nazareth and Galilee and Jerusalem and Gethsemane and Calvary He was always the Word that was with God and the Word that was God. Next, that the eyes even of His Sacred Humanity looked always and continuously upon the Face of God, since His union with God was entire and complete: as He looked up into His Mother's face from the manger, He saw behind it the Face of His Father; as He cried in Gethsemane, If it be possible, even in His Sacred Humanity He knew that it could not be; as He groaned out on Calvary that God had forsaken Him, He yet looked without one instant's intermission into the glory of heaven and saw His Father there.

Yet simultaneously with these truths it is also true that His cry of dereliction was incalculably more of a reality than when first uttered by David or, since, by any desolate sinner in the thickest spiritual darkness. All the miseries of holy and sinful souls, heaped together, could not approach even afar off the intolerable misery of Christ. For of His own will He refused to be consoled at all by that Presence which He could never lack, and of His own will He chose to be pierced and saturated and tormented by the sorrow He could never deserve. He held firm against the touch of consolation every power of His Divine and Human Being and, simultaneously, flung them open to the assaults of every pain. And if the psychology of this state is altogether beyond our power to understand, we may remind ourselves that it is the psychology of the Word made Flesh that is confronting us. . . . Do we expect to understand that? . . .

II. There is a human phrase, however, itself a paradox, yet corresponding to something which we know to be true, which throws some faint glimmer of light upon this impenetrable darkness and seems to extend Christ's experience upon the Cross so as to touch our own human life. It is a phrase that describes a condition well known to spiritual persons: "To leave God for God."

(i) The simplest and lowest form of this state is that condition in which we acquiesce with our will in the withdrawal of ordinary spiritual consolation. Certainly it is an inexplicable state, since both the ordinary aids to our will -- our understanding and our emotion -- are, by the very nature of the case, useless to it. Our heart revolts from that dereliction and our understanding fails to comprehend the reasons for it. Yet we acquiesce, or at least perceive that we ought to do so; and that by doing so -- by ceasing, that is, to grasp God's Presence any longer -- we find it as never before. We leave God in order to find Him.

(2) The second state is that in which we find ourselves when not only do all consolations leave us, but the very grip of intelligent faith goes too; when the very reasons for faithfulness appear to vanish. It is an incalculably more bitter trial, and soul after soul fails under it and must be comforted again by God in less august ways or perish altogether. And yet this is not the extremest pitch even of human desolation.

(3) For there is a third of which the saints tell us in broken words and images. . . .

III. Our final point, for application to ourselves, is that dereliction in some form or another is as much a stage in spiritual progress as autumn and winter are seasons of the year. The beginners have to suffer one degree, the illuminated another, and those that have approached a real Union with God a third. But all must suffer it, and each in his own degree, or progress is impossible.

Let us take courage therefore and face it, in the light of this Word. For, as we can sanctify bodily pain by the memory of the nails, so too can we sanctify spiritual pain by the memory of this darkness. If He Who never left the Father's side can suffer this in an unique and supreme sense, how much more should we be content to suffer it in lower degrees, who have so continually, since we came to the age of reason, been leaving not His side only, but His very house.


I thirst.

Our Lord continues to reveal His own condition, since He, after all, is the key to all Humanity. If we understand anything of Him, simultaneously we shall understand ourselves far better.

He has shown us that He can truly be deprived of spiritual consolation; and the value of this deprivation; now He shows us the value of bodily deprivation also. And the Paradox for our consideration is that the Source of all can lose all; that the Creator needs His creation; that He Who offers us the water springing up into Life Eternal can lack the water of human life -- the simplest element of all. In His Divine Dereliction He yet continues to be Human.

I. It is very usual, under this Word, to meditate on Christ's thirst for souls; and this is, of course, a legitimate thought, since it is true that His whole Being, and not merely one part of it, longed and panted on the Cross for every object of His desire. Certainly He desired souls! When does He not?

But it is easy to lose the proportion of truth, if we spiritualize everything, and pass over, as if unworthy of consideration, His bodily pain. For this Thirst of the Crucified is the final sum of all the pains of crucifixion: the physical agony, the fever produced by it, the torrential sweat, the burning of the sun -- all these culminated in the torment of which this Cry is His expression.

Bodily pain, then, since Jesus not only deigned to suffer it, but to speak of it, is as much a part of the Divine process as the most spiritual of derelictions: it is an intense and a vital reality in life. It is the fashion, at present, to pose as if we were superior to such things; as if either it were too coarse for our high natures or even actually in itself evil. The truth is that we are terrified of its reality and its sting, and seek, therefore, to evade it by every means in our power. We affect to smile at the old penances of the saints and ascetics as if we ourselves had risen into a higher state of development and needed no longer such elementary aids to piety!

Let this Word, then, bring us back to our senses and to the due proportions of truth. We are body as well as soul; we are incomplete without the body. The soul is insufficient to itself, the body has as real a part to play in Redemption as the soul which is its inmate and should be its mistress. We look for the redemption of our body and the Resurrection of the Flesh, we merit or demerit before God in our soul for the deeds done in our body.

So was it too with our Lord of His infinite compassion. The Word was made Flesh, dwelt in the Flesh, has assumed that Flesh into heaven. Further, He suffered in the Flesh and deigned to tell us so; and that He found that suffering all but intolerable.

II. In a well-known book a Catholic poet* describes with a great deal of power the development of men's nervous systems in these later days, and warns his readers against a scrupulous terror lest they, who no longer scourge themselves with briers, should be neglecting a means of sanctification. He points out, with perfect justice, that men, in these days, suffer instead in more subtle manners than did those of the Middle Ages, yet none the less physical; and puts us on our guard lest we should afflict ourselves too much. Yet we must take care, also, that we do not fall into the opposite extreme and come to regard bodily pain, (as has been said) as if it were altogether too elementary for our refined natures and as if it must have no place in the alchemy of the spirit. This would be both dangerous and false. What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder! For, if we once treat body and soul as ill-matched companions and seek to deal with them apart, instantly the door is flung open to the old Gnostic horrors of sensualism on the one side or inhuman mutilation or neglect on the other.

The Church, on the other hand, is very clear and insistent that body and soul make one man as fully as God and Man make one Christ; and she illustrates and directs these strange co-relations and mutual effects of these two partners by her steady insistence on such things as Fasting and Abstinence. And the saints are equally clear and insistent. There never yet has been a single soul whom the Church has raised to her altars in whose life bodily austerity in some form has not played a considerable part. It is true that some have warned us against excess; but what warnings and what excess! "Be moderate," advises St. Ignatius, that most reasonable and moderate of all the saints. "Take care that you do not break any bones with your iron scourge. God does not wish that!"

Pain, then, has a real place in our progress. Who that has suffered can ever doubt it again?

Let us consider, therefore, under this Word of Christ, whether our attitude to bodily pain is what God would have it to be. There are two mistakes that we may be committing. Either we may fear it too little -meet it, that is to say, with Pagan stoicism instead of with Christianity -- or we may fear it too much. Despise not the chastening, on one side, or faint on the other. It is surely the second warning that is most needed now. For pain had a real place in Christ's programme of life. He fasted for forty days at the beginning of His Ministry, and He willed every shocking detail of the Praetorium and Calvary at the end. He told us that His Spirit willed it and, yet more kindly, that His Flesh was weak. He revealed, then, that He really suffered and that He willed it so. . . . I thirst.


It is consummated.

He has finished His Father's business, He has dealt with sinners and saints, and has finally disclosed to us the secrets of the Soul and the Body of His that are the hope of both sinners and saints alike. And there is no more for Him to do.

An entirely new Beginning, then, is at hand, now that the Last Sabbath is come -- the Last Sabbath, so much greater than the First as Redemption is greater than Creation. For Creation is a mere introduction to the Book of Life; it is the arrangement of materials that are to be thrown instantly into confusion again by man, who should be its crown and master. The Old Testa ment is one medley of mistakes and fragments and broken promises and violated treaties, to reach its climax in the capital Mistake of Calvary, when men indeed knew not what they did. And even God Himself in the New Testament, as man in the Old, has gone down in the catastrophe and hangs here mutilated and broken. Real life, then, is now to begin.

Yet, strangely enough, He calls it an End rather than a Beginning. Consummatum est!

I. The one and only thing in human life that God desires to end is Sin. There is not a pure joy or a sweet human relationship or a selfless ambition or a divine hope which He does not desire to continue and to be crowned and transfigured beyond all ambition and all hope. On the contrary, He desires only to end that one single thing which ruins relationships and spoils joy and poisons aspirations. For up to the present there is not one page of history which has not this blot upon it.

God has had to tolerate, for lack of better, such miserable specimens of humanity! Jacob have I loved! . . . David a man after my heart; the one a poor, mean, calculating man, who had, however, that single glimmer of the supernatural which Esau, for all his genial sturdiness, was without; the other an adulterous murderer, who yet had grace enough for real contrition. Hitherto He has been content with so little. He has accepted vinegar for want of wine.

Next, God has had to tolerate, and indeed to sanction -- such an unworthy worship of Himself -- all the blood of the temple and the spilled entrails and the nameless horrors. And yet this was all to which men could rise; for without it, they never could have learned the more nameless horror of sin.

Last, for His worshippers He has had to content Himself with but one People instead of all peoples and nations and languages. And what a People, -- whom even Moses could not bear for their treachery and instability! And all this wretched record ends in the Crime of Calvary, at which the very earth revolts and the sun grows dark with shame. Is it any wonder that Christ cried, Thank God that is all done with at last!

II. Instead of this miserable past, then, what is to come? What is that New Wine He would drink with us in His Father's Kingdom? First; real and complete saints of God are to take the place of the fragmentary saints of the Old Dispensation, saints with heads of gold and feet of clay. Souls are to be born again in Baptism, not merely sealed by circumcision, and to be purified before they can contract any actual guilt of their own. And, of these, many shall keep their baptismal innocence and shall go, wearing that white robe, before God Who gave it them. Others again shall lose it, but regain it once more, and, through the power of the Precious Blood, shall rise to heights of which Jacob and David never even dreamed. To awake in His likeness was the highest ambition of the man after God's Heart; but to be not merely like Christ, but one with Him, is the hope of the Christian. I live, the new saints shall say with truth, yet now not I, but Christ liveth in me.

Next, instead of the old worship of blood and pain there shall be an Unbloody Sacrifice and a Pure Offering in which shall be all the power and propitiation of Calvary without its pain, all the glory without the degradation. And last, in place of the old enclosed Race of Israel shall be a Church of all nations and tongues, one vast Society, with all walls thrown down and all divisions done away, one Jerusalem from above, that shall be the Mother of us all.

III. That, then, is what Christ intended as He cried, It is consummated. Behold the old things are passed away! Behold, I make all things new!

And now let us see how far that is fulfilled. Where is there, in me, the New Wine of the Gospel?

I have all that God can give me from His Throne on Calvary. I have the truth that He proclaimed and the grace that He released. Yet is there in me, up to the present, even one glimmer of what is meant by Sanctity? Am I even within an appreciable distance of the saints who knew not Christ? Have I ever wrestled like Jacob or wept like David? Has my religion, that is to say, ever inspired me beyond the low elevation of joy into the august altitudes of pain? Is it possible that with me the old is not put away, the old man is not yet dead, and the new man not yet put on? Is that New Sacrifice the light of my daily life? Have I done anything except hinder the growth of Christ's Church, anything except drag down her standards, so far as I am able, to my own low level? Is there a single soul now in the world who owes, under God, her conversion to my efforts?

Why, as I watch my life and review it in His Presence it would seem as if I had done nothing but disappoint Him all my days! He cried, like the deacon of His own Sacrifice, Go! it is done! Ite; missa est! The Sacrifice is finished here; go out in its strength to live the life which it makes possible!

Let me at least begin to-day, have done with my old compromises and shifts and evasions. Ite; missa est!


Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.

He has cried with a loud voice, and the rocks have rent to its echo, and the earth is shaken, and the Veil of the Old Testament is torn from top to bottom as the Old Covenant passes into the New and the enclosed sanctity of the Most Holy Place breaks out into the world. And now, as the level sun shines out again beneath the pall of clouds, He whispers, as at Mary's knee in Nazareth, the old childish prayer and yields up His spirit into His Father's bands.

The last Paradox, then, is uttered. He Who saves others cannot save Himself! The Shepherd of souls relinquishes His own. For, as we cannot save our lives unless we lose them for His sake, so He too cannot save them unless He loses His for our sake.

I. This, then, is merely the summary of all that has gone before; it is the word Finis written at the end of this new Book of Life which He has written in His Blood. It is the silence of the white space at the close of the last page. Yet it is, too, the final act that gives value to all that have preceded it. If Christ had not died, our faith would be vain.

Oh! these New Theologies that see in Christ's Death merely the end of His Life! Why, it is the very point and climax of His Life that He should lay it down! Like Samson himself, that strange prototype of the Strong Man armed, he slew more of the enemies of our souls by His Death than by all His gracious Life. For this cause He came into the world. For Sacrifice, which is the very heart of man's instinctive worship of God, was set there, imperishably, in order to witness to and be ratified by His One Offering which alone could truly take away sins; and to deny it or to obscure it is to deny or to obscure the whole history of the human race, from the Death of Abel to the Death of Christ, to deny or obscure the significance of every lamb that bled in the Temple and of every wine-offering poured out before the Holy Place, to deny or to obscure (if we wrn but penetrate to the roots of things) the free will of Man and the Love of God. If Christ had not died, our faith would be vain.

II. Once again, then, let us turn to the event in our own lives that closes them; that death which, united to Christ's, is our entrance into liberty and, disunited, the supreme horror of existence.

(1) For without Christ death is a violent interruption to life, introducing us to a new existence of which we know nothing, or to no existence at all. Without Christ, however great our hopes, it is abrupt, appalling, stunning, and shattering. It is this at the best, and, at the worst, it is peaceful only as the death of a beast is peaceful.

(2) Yet, with Christ, it is harmonious and continuous with all that has gone before, since it is the final movement of a life that is already dead with Christ, the last stage of a process of mortality, and the stage that ends its pain. It is just one more passing phase, by which is changed the key of that music that every holy life makes always before God.

There is, then, the choice. We may, if we will, die fighting to the end a force that must conquer us however we may fight, resisting the irresistible. Or we may die, in lethargic resignation, as dogs die, without hopes or regrets, since the past, without Christ, is as meaningless as the future. Or we may die, like Christ, and with Him, yielding up a spirit that came from the Father back again into His Fatherly hands, content that He Who brought us into the world should receive us when we go out again, confident that, as the thread of His purpose is plain in earthly life, it shall shine yet more plainly in the life beyond.

One last look, then, at Jesus shows us the lines smoothed from His face and the agony washed from His eyes. May our souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through His Mercy, rest in Him!

* Health and Holiness by Francis Thompson.

<< Paradoxes of Catholicism >>