Friday, February 23, 2007

Love and Passion

When Valentine’s Day came around last week, I had just arrived at the account of the Lord’s passion and death in my daily reading of the Gospel. It occurred to me—on the day when love is celebrated, though often in a superficial, silly, or even sinfully sensual way—that there is no greater love than that one lay down his life for his friends, and especially no greater love that that of Christ, who not only laid down his life, but bore the intolerable burden and pain of all the sins of mankind.

Perhaps we don’t realize often enough, or deeply enough, that our sins have had a personal and painful effect upon the One who takes them away. We do something wrong, we say we’re sorry, and then walk away forgiven, as if we had just slighted a friend and then quickly made up. But there’s something else going on here. We can only easily make up with a friend because Someone Else already absorbed the evil and pain of sin into his own body and soul. Sometimes I wish that the evangelists went into great detail in describing Jesus’ sufferings so that we could have a better idea of what it cost Him. But even the brief descriptions we are given—struck on the face, spat upon, insulted, mocked, scourged, crowned with thorns, crucified, crushed by apparently God-forsaken agony, etc—should be enough to bring us not only to awestruck wonder at what his love was willing to endure for us, but also to tears of repentance for what our sins did to Him, how deeply they hurt Him who loves us.

I wrote in my last post that to sin is to say of Christ: “I do not know the man.” Once we have realized the gravity of what this means, we need to exclaim: “I have sinned in betraying innocent blood!” (Mt. 27:4). But despite all our denials and betrayals, we have recourse to St Paul’s eloquent and concise summary of the meaning of Jesus’ sacrificial death: “He loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Lent is a time for meditating upon the passion of Christ. We do this not merely to work ourselves into an emotional sorrow for what He suffered (though even this is beneficial if it endures beyond the moment), but to deepen our relationship with Him through awareness of his love for us and what it cost Him to save us. Our Lenten meditations aren’t meant to be discarded come Easter, as if we’ve suddenly been permitted to be in a lighter mood. What we discover of Jesus’ love manifested in his passion must remain with us all the days of our lives, for it is all too easy to fall back into mediocrity, self-indulgence, and our former denials and betrayals. It is time to grow into a mature and permanent commitment of fidelity to Him who loved us first and who calls us to enter into the mystery of his sacrifice, which is the mystery of his love.

On Valentine’s Day, some lovers give heart-shaped gifts. Jesus has one for us too, but look, there seems to be something terribly wrong. There’s a large hole torn in the side of it and all its contents are spilling out. He gave us a Heart full of blood and water, a Heart full of sacrificial and self-emptying love. In the Byzantine tradition, when we prepare the bread for the Holy Eucharist, we take the ritual lance and cut into the side of the Lamb (the main host), saying: “One of the soldiers pierced his side with a lance, and immediately there came forth blood and water. He who saw this has borne witness, and his testimony is true.”

Amen, his testimony is true. The Lord loved us unto death, unto bearing the horror and filth and agony of our sins, that we might find happiness in the eternal Paradise. Let us learn about love and passion—His. And let us spend our own lives in making some sort of a return. It will never even begin to be adequate, but He will be satisfied with our love if it is offered in sincerity and truth. Cor ad cor loquitur. Heart speaks to heart. Let us spend this Lent with Him learning about love.