Christ Forgives us all from the Cross

Stations of the Cross, 10, Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Beguinage, Brussels
Jesus is stripped of his garments. Saint-Jean-Baptiste au Béguinage, Brussels. © Yann Forget / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0.

As we have already been preparing during the three weeks leading up to Lent, for our efforts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, I thought that for Lent itself, it would be good to focus on the Passion of Our Lord.

The seven sayings or “words” that our Blessed Lord uttered when he was hanging on the Cross, can form a helpful source of prayer for us as we try to renew our devotion to the sacrifice that Christ offered for our salvation. The first “word” is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Lk 23.34)

On the surface, and most obviously, Our Lord was praying for those who were actually crucifying him: the Roman soldiers and the leaders and members of his own people who had arranged for His execution. St Alphonsus comments:

“He thought not so much of the injuries He received from them, and the death they inflicted upon Him, as upon the love which brought Him to die for them.”

This supreme act of charity has been the inspiration for martyrs, including many of our own in this country, and others suffering in our own time, who, like St Stephen, have prayed for their persecutors even at the moment of their torture and death. From these examples we learn the duty of forgiving our enemies.

Christ’s prayer for forgiveness extends also to the sins of all men, from the beginning of the human race, to the end of time. We are all included in this prayer. When we prepare for our confession, when we make our act of contrition at the end of the day, whenever we call on Our Lord to have mercy on us as sinners, we can think of His love and generosity while hanging on the Cross, that He then asked for our forgiveness and continues to plead for us before the Father in heaven.

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” is the offering of the propitiatory sacrifice, the sacrifice which takes our sins away.

It is the effective prayer offered by our great High Priest, at the moment of His sacrifice in which He is Himself the victim. Our Lord does indeed take away the sins of the world, including our own sins, and invites us to live the new life of grace won by the merits of His prayer to the Father.

As we now offer that same sacrifice here present in the Mass, let us place ourselves at the foot of the Cross, listen to the loving cry of Our Saviour for us, and resolve to repent of our sins, to avoid any occasions on which we know we are likely to commit them, and renew our resolution to live wholly for Him here on earth so that we may enjoy the glory He has prepared for us in heaven.

Stations of the Cross during Lent

The Stations are held in the parish during Lent as follows:
St Austin’s, Margate on Wednesday at 11.30am and on Fridays at 7pm
St Anne’s, Cliftonville on Fridays 9.30am

This devotion is a powerful means of grace and conversion and is especially suited to Lent, though it may be prayed at any time of the year. Children are always welcome of course: they benefit from taking part in this meditation on the Passion of Christ.

The Value of our Lenten Penances

Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary - Raphael
Christ Falling on the Way to Calvary. Raphael. (1516) Museo del Prado, Madrid

Giving up something is the most well-known aspect of Lenten penance. We should also try to pray more fervently and to carry out acts of charity, but it would be wrong to dismiss the tradition of fasting and mortification which was followed by Jesus and the apostles and has always been a part of the life of the Church.

Compared to many in our world today, and to most people in history, we live materially comfortable lives with access to sanitation, clean water, food, shelter and heating. Yet we still crave more possessions and have a low tolerance for any discomfort. This can harm our friendship with Jesus because we tend to give passing things a higher place than our spiritual good. This tendency comes from original sin which wounds our nature, and the damage of our past sins. Our Lord Himself said that we must take up the Cross to follow Him.

Our Lenten penances help us to overcome this weakness and return to a deeper spiritual life so that we can celebrate the life of grace which was won for us by Our Lord’s passion and triumphant resurrection.

Preparing to Renew our Life of Prayer

Jesus at Prayer.
Jesus at Prayer.

Prayer is the raising of the mind and heart to God or, as St Teresa put it very simply, “conversation with Christ.” Since Jesus Christ is truly our Lord and God, and has purchased with the shedding of His blood, redemption and eternal life for those who follow Him, prayer is the most important conversation that we could have. Lent is a time when we should examine our habits of prayer and do what we can to grow in friendship with Christ.

It is true that we can pray anywhere, and it is a good practice sometimes to make short prayers from the heart, such as “O Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place all my trust in Thee.” However, if we are to give the proper place to Christ in our lives, we ought to set aside time to pray, particularly in the morning and at night, and when we come to the Church, before and after Mass.

When we pray, we should not limit ourselves to asking for things, but spend time in praise and adoration of God, perhaps using some of the beautiful traditional formulas of our Catholic prayers.

The Christian Life, Friendship with Christ

St John Bosco
St John Bosco. (1815-1888) Photo: Instituto María Auxiliadora Neuquén

During this time before Lent, we should look once again at how we are living the Christian life. The following of Jesus Christ is not a self-help programme or a “lifehack”, it is the dedication, born of love, to the following of our Lord and Master who calls us, as He called the apostles, and says to us “Follow me!”

Saint John Bosco, the good-humoured, and much-loved apostle of young people, pioneered social work, education, training and employment, and the provision of rehabilitation and a secure future especially for young men who had gone astray in a life of crime. His first concern was always the life of grace. He encouraged his students to pray daily, to go to confession regularly, to receive Holy Communion frequently, but with careful preparation, to keep the commandments, and to love Jesus and Mary with all their hearts.

We need look no further ourselves than this wise programme for our lives. During Lent, our penances should be designed to build up what is lacking in our discipleship and lead us gently to become more authentically the friends of Christ.

Jesus Christ, Centre of our Christian Unity

Jesus the Good Shepherd. 3rd century AD. Catacombs of San Callisto.

The Church is “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic” because Our Lord founded it as such and remains for ever the head of His body, the Church. Yet we know that in human terms, the daily life of the Church shows disunity, sin, and departure by some from the teaching which Our Lord gave to the apostles.

Since the earliest years of the Church, it has been necessary to call back to the unity of Christ’s teaching those who have denied it, or invented versions of the gospel to suit their own advantage or to be the promoters of new and fashionable ideas. Hence St Paul told St Timothy to “Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke in all patience and doctrine. For there shall be a time, when they will not endure sound doctrine.” (2 Tim 4.2-3) and the Church has continued to guard her teaching.

We must remember that our faith is not like a hobby or a taste in music. We do not invent it for ourselves, it is something that we receive as revelation from the living God who came down to earth to visit us in the person of Jesus Christ. The closer that we draw to His teaching, the closer we are to each other.

Genuine Compassion and the sanctity of human life

Giotto di Bondone 086
Giotto di Bondone. Madonna and Child c.1320. National Gallery of Art, Washington

With the celebration of the nativity of Our Lord so recently in our minds, it is appropriate to focus on the sanctity of human life. From the moment of conception, the human person, even at a very young stage, has always been considered by Christians as demanding respect, dignity and protection. Sadly our laws have permitted the killing of many millions of unborn children. We should never grow indifferent to this.

At the same time, those who work in the pro-life movement have shown real compassion to those in difficulties, especially mothers. Genuine and practical offers of help, including accommodation, and a real choice, are offered by several organisations that uphold the sanctity of human life. The accusation that pro-life activity constitutes harassment is totally unfounded. We need not hesitate in supporting pro-life activity.

Saint John Paul offered warm and merciful encouragement to mothers who have had abortions. We should also repent if we have co-operated in any way by silence, consent, or encouragement.

Wisdom Revealed and Adored in Jesus Christ

Bartolomé Esteban Murillo - Adoration of the Magi - Google Art Project
Murillo – Adoration of the Magi (1665-1660) Toledo Museum of Art

The identity of the magi has been a source of discussion among scholars since the early Church, but we may assume that they were men considered wise, who paid attention to what we would today call astronomy. They followed a natural interest in celestial phenomena and, in the providence of God, were led to be among the first to adore Jesus Christ.

An important truth for us to hold firmly in our minds as we ponder the adoration of the magi is that science does not replace our faith or contradict it. On the contrary, science, the study of the natural universe, leads us to God, and ultimately to the incarnate wisdom through whom all things were created, Our Lord Jesus Christ. The more that we find out about the universe, the more we are led to pay homage to the awe-inspiring wisdom which it reveals to us in its makeup.

God’s wisdom in creation is one and the same wisdom which He reveals to us through the prophets, and finally in Jesus Christ. That same wisdom is found in the teaching of Christ and the Church which we believe by faith.

Asking God for His Grace for the Coming Year

Raphael The Holy Family with a Palm Tree
Raphael. The Holy Family with a Palm Tree. (1506) National Gallery of Scotland

At the close of the year, it is natural for us to take stock of our lives. As followers of Jesus Christ, we encourage one another by giving thanks for the graces that God has given to us. If we have been able to pray with devotion, to offer up penance for our sins, to help others with out kindness and charity, we recognise that we have received the help of Almighty God who is generous in prompting us to good, and giving us strength.

We may also be aware of our lack of response to God’s goodness, our failures in various areas of the life of grace. We do not restrict our focus to these faults, but bring them with humble confidence to Our Lord in confession, knowing that we will receive His mercy and help.

For the beginning of the New Year, we invoke the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Blessed Trinity, to set us on fire with His love. Many people make resolutions at the start of the year, and again it is natural for us to do so. Our beautiful Catholic faith helps us by teaching us to examine our conscience so that we know the particular helps that we need to ask for. We can also ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to encourage us and protect us in the shelter of the Holy Family of Nazareth.