June 7, 2015


For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant: since a death has taken place for deliverance from transgressions under the first covenant, those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance. – Heb. 9: 15

   What does passion mean? For many the word is associated with romantic love. Obviously, the Passion of our Lord means far more than this. What, then, does it mean? In the Epistle to the Hebrews, it is indeed a part of love, but the kind of love which has sacrifice at its center. According to a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, “The manifestation of love, by which it wins its response, is always sacrifice. The principle of sacrifice is that we chose to do or to suffer what apart from our love we would not chose to do or to suffer.”

   In the Old Testament, sacrifice always involved blood because blood & life go together: you can’t have one without the other. In sacrifice, it is always life that is being offered to God. The problem was, it was always someone else’s life that was being offered. The Old Testament writers were aware of this & constantly warned against it. In the book of Joel, we find these words: “Render your heart & not your garments.” Psalm 51 puts it this way: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.”

   Yet only our Lord was able to offer not only His physical blood but His very life & soul so completely that His vision of God was perfect. Jesus was His own high priest. But to what purpose was this sacrifice? “For this reason he is mediator of a new covenant….” What reason? “To cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.” It is from this living death, this separation from God, that we have been saved. The cost has been high: It has required nothing less than the Passion which is characterized by total self-sacrifice.

   The phrase “priesthood of all believers” refers to those who have been baptized into Christ’s body & therefore have His mission of offering ourselves to God on behalf of those who are still totally blind. Our failure to do this is no mere dereliction of duty – it is a denial of our Lord, even as Peter did. It may be likened to a paralyzed hand. A hand that does not move is a contradiction.

   Superficial sacrifice comes all too easy. For animals we substitute money or time or cast-off articles of clothing. Not that these are unimportant. But if they are not given as the result of our own Passion, they are worse than useless. As St. Paul put it, “If I give away everything I own, & if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing (1 Cor. 13: 3)”.

   What might this personal Passion involve? In a word, openness – openness to others & to God. This is not as easy as it sounds, because openness involves risk. In a newspaper article, Charles Davis wrote

“A radical decision implies risking oneself as a person, & the suffering involved is loneliness. The temptation is to avoid any fundamental decision, particularly when this would involve a break with the stance in life which one has inherited & into which one has been socialized. It is easier to go along with others without disturbance in the mode of life with the same beliefs & the same community … in which one has been brought up. Many in that way remain where they are because they are unwilling to decide for themselves. Others change, but by drifting with the tide – not by a personal decision.

   “Change as well as refusal to change can be the avoidance of a truly personal commitment. In both cases there is a refusal to risk one’s personal identity & existence in a decision that affects & redefines one’s inmost personality. Instead, one’s inner personal core is protected by being enclosed in a role received from outside, to which one remains fundamentally uncommitted. But such protection is death, because he who saves his life will lose it & he who loses his life will save it.”

   This is a rather wordy way of describing conversion of the heart, or the refusal to convert. In this sinful world conversion is bound to involve loneliness & pain, but whoever knew such loneliness & pain as Christ? He must have suffered with the stupidity of His own disciples who consistently proved incapable of recognizing His real mission, & how he must suffer with our stupidity now. Because He died for our sins, our spiritual blindness does not lessen our responsibility to do likewise, for God’s very action to relieve its burden makes our sin all the more serious.

   Where do we begin, & what makes our personal Passion possible? It begins with Baptism, & it is sustained right there [point to the altar] in the holy sacrifice of the Mass. If we come to church primarily to be edified by the preacher, not only are we likely to be disappointed but also we will have missed the point. We go to church in order that we might share in that sacrifice which saves us & others from sin. Until we succeed, with God’s help, in making sacrificial lambs of our pride, our prejudices, & our personal desires, we will never know the amazing joy of being a suffering servant.  AMEN!