Infinite Value

Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion: Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12, Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9, John 18:1 – 19:42.

The sad and wonderful day is here. We must mourn with Mary because her most perfect Son has been tortured and killed, and this is a grievous wrong. But we must marvel at the willing act of charity that the Son carries out by offering Himself wholly to the Father. St. John makes no bones in today’s gospel account of the Passion and Crucifixion that Jesus is in total control and is offering Himself without a struggle. He tells the most powerful secular ruler in the region, Pontius Pilate: “You would have no power over me if it had not been given to you from above,” and “My kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.” Jesus has been consistent through His entire life that He comes from His Father above and does His will. As His faithful, let us truly take on the significance of this claim.

Pietà in St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican (1498), Michaelangelo | Wikimedia Commons.

It has been in vogue for the past few decades to portray the gritty reality of Christ’s suffering. I’m thinking, of course, of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, but also books that try to know Jesus the man apart from Jesus the Lord. Yes, the bloody details of the Passion are important to remember, but they are not the point. Likewise, it is of supreme importance that He truly was a man, but it can never be separated from the fact that He is (and always was) also God. We did not invent this “extra layer” of divinity as non-believers would claim.

So if we are to spend our Good Friday time in fruitful reflections, let us take a cue from our great saints and spiritual teachers. In the collection of retreat conferences preached to his fellow Dominicans entitled Knowing the Love of God, Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange orients us to the truly important aspects of the Passion. He helps me to understand why Christ submitted Himself to the Passion and Crucifixion in the way He did:

Jesus took upon Himself the responsibility for all the sins of men, and He began to suffer for them as if it had been He who had committed them, as if He were impious, rebellious, frenzied, cowardly, ungrateful, and sacrilegious. He felt the divine anger and divine curse weigh on His soul while hell with supreme fury broke loose against Him. The horror of evil and all vices together seemed for an instant to suffocate Him. A cry burst from His lips on the Cross: “My God, My God, why have You deserted Me?” (Mt 27:46).

In this darkness, in this abandonment, Our Lord performed His greatest act of love. In the midst of this anguish He loved His Father above everything and He loved us even to the giving of His life for our salvation, only grieving that a greater number were not saved. This act of love makes abundant satisfaction for all hatreds. The obedience that it involves compensates for all rebellions in the eyes of God. The humiliations of the Passion redeem all acts of pride. The gentleness of Him crucified repairs all acts of anger and His sufferings pay for all sensuality.

This act of charity of the Incarnate Word has saved the world. (36).

In short, there is an entirely different sequence of events going on than just the physical one. The spiritual events are the important ones. What unites the physical plane with the spiritual one is Christ’s Blood. It is literally shed in whip strokes, puncturing thorns, nails, and a spear. But this is no everyday blood: it is divine blood. Do we realize this? It’s not in vogue to talk about the supernatural value of Christ’s Blood; this seems like a 19th century, antiquated notion wrapped up in lace and the Latin Mass. But today is the day to re-embrace the importance of Christ’s Blood and how — because of its divine source — it accomplishes things that no mere crucifixion or sacrifice can accomplish.

Sanguis Christi (1670), Gian Lorenzo Bernini | Wikimedia Commons. On the left is the original drawing and on the right is a painting from the workshop of Bernini. Bernini’s biographer, Filippo Baldinucci, writes: “He sometimes deepened his thoughts and speeches with a very high esteem and concept that he always had of the efficacy of the Blood of Christ the Redeemer, in which (as he used to say) he hoped to drown his sins. To this object he drew with his own hand, and then had an image of Christ Crucified printed, from whose hands and feet flow streams of blood, which form almost a sea, and the great Queen of Heaven, who is offering it to the Eternal Father. This pious meditation also made him paint on a large canvas, which he always wanted to keep in the face of his bed in life and in death.”

Today’s second reading in the Office of Readings is from St. John Chrysostom’s catechetical teachings to those about to become part of Catholic Church. This is very appropriate since thousands are going to be baptized into the Church tomorrow night after having gone through their teaching, soul-searching, and vows. Chrysostom writes about the power of Christ’s Blood:

If we wish to understand the power of Christ’s blood, we should go back to the ancient account of its prefiguration in Egypt. Sacrifice a lamb without blemish, commanded Moses, and sprinkle its blood on your doors. If we were to ask him what he meant, and how the blood of an irrational beast could possibly save men endowed with reason, his answer would be that the saving power lies not in the blood itself, but in the fact that it is a sign of the Lord’s blood. In those days, when the destroying angel saw the blood on the doors he did not dare to enter, so how much less will the devil approach now when he sees, not that figurative blood on the doors, but the true blood on the lips of believers, the doors of the temple of Christ.

If you desire further proof of the power of this blood, remember where it came from, how it ran down from the cross, flowing from the Master’s side. The gospel records that when Christ was dead, but still hung on the cross, a soldier came and pierced his side with a lance and immediately there poured out water and blood. Now the water was a symbol of baptism and the blood, of the holy eucharist. The soldier pierced the Lord’s side, he breached the wall of the sacred temple, and I have found the treasure and made it my own. So also with the lamb: the Jews sacrificed the victim and I have been saved by it.

There flowed from his side water and blood. Beloved, do not pass over this mystery without thought; it has yet another hidden meaning, which I will explain to you. I said that water and blood symbolized baptism and the holy eucharist. From these two sacraments the Church is born: from baptism, the cleansing water that gives rebirth and renewal through the Holy Spirit, and from the holy eucharist. Since the symbols of baptism and the eucharist flowed from his side, it was from his side that Christ fashioned the Church, as he had fashioned Eve from the side of Adam. Moses gives a hint of this when he tells the story of the first man and makes him exclaim: Bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh! As God then took a rib from Adam’s side to fashion a woman, so Christ has given us blood and water from his side to fashion the Church. God took the rib when Adam was in a deep sleep, and in the same way Christ gave us the blood and the water after his own death.

Do you understand, then, how Christ has united his bride to himself and what food he gives us all to eat? By one and the same food we are both brought into being and nourished. As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.

As we reflect today on the great Passion and Crucifixion, specifically on the amazing gift Christ is giving humanity, Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange can give us some final words to consider:

According to the definition of the Church, the redemptive act of Christ has infinite value and efficacy. It makes satisfaction for any guilt whatsoever, repairs any offense against God, even though its gravity is infinite. It satisfies for all the sins of men, and still more … It merits all graces for even the most degraded souls, provided they are not stubbornly fixed in evil. It is impossible to think of a limit to the efficacy of the redemptive act. The redemptive omnipotence of the act of Christ, who immolated Himself upon the Cross, derives from the fact that it is a perfect act of charity performed by a divine Person; the perfect act of the Incarnate Word. It is a supernatural act of charity towards God which makes Him forget all offenses.
(Knowing the Love of God, 30-31).

What does this mean for you and me? It means that we should never be so low as to think we’re outside of the saving power of Christ. That would be a huge insult and underestimation of Christ’s redemptive act on the Cross. It also means that we owe everything to Him and this act on our behalf. There is nothing that we have that was not given to us first by the Father and then, in order to make us perfect after we walk in the world in sin, by Christ.

As I contemplate Christ on the Cross, may I be filled with humility, thankfulness, and admiration.

The Crucifixion (1675), Bartolomé Estebán Murillo | Creative Commons, courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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