Today, we step from the first part of Lent with all its reflections on our own grievous faults and turn our attention to the one who made it possible for us to be forgiven. For four long weeks we looked back and evaluated ourselves and our unworthiness to be welcomed into heaven. We started out with the reminder on our foreheads that we are dust and unto dust we will return. We continued in this vein, doing penance for the sins that should, in justice, keep us out of Paradise whenever we do return to dust. Today we are four weeks nearer to returning to that dust, and our time for searching our souls is past. From now on, the penances we have been doing should no longer be merely to make reparation for our sins, important though that may be. Our penances should now focus on a different kind of reparation, made now for the suffering of our divine Saviour Jesus Christ.
To what do we owe our salvation? If we die in the state of sanctifying grace, our faith tells us we are assured of going to heaven. So we need grace for salvation. But how do we make sure we die in the state of grace? Our ability to live and die in the state of grace is owed entirely to our Blessed Lord. He it was who provided us with the graces needed. He gave us the Church, the moral law and the grace-giving sacraments. Church, sacraments and commandments, these are the three things which enable us to remain in grace, or to regain grace if we have the misfortune to lose it by mortal sin. But where does this grace originate? Membership of the Church, obedience to the moral law, and the reception of the sacraments give us grace, but they are not the original source of the grace. That grace comes from the Passion and Death of our Lord.
On this Passion Sunday, we turn our attention to our Lord’s Passion and Cross. We feel, or should feel, profoundly grateful to our Lord for having suffered the torments of his Passion and his death upon the Cross. “We adore thee, O Christ, and we bless thee! For by thy holy Cross thou hast redeemed the world.” This thought should be our supreme thought for the next two weeks. There is nothing in this world more valuable to us than our own salvation. And without the Passion and Death of our Lord, there would be no salvation. It’s that simple. So let’s keep offering up those little penances we’ve been practicing through Lent, offering them not just for the expiation of our own multiple offences against God, but now rather in thanksgiving to the loving Saviour who suffered so much so that we could be saved.
Passion Sunday—the very word “passion” means suffering. It’s not to be confused with that other kind of passion, the one we feel with our emotions. We can be passionately angry, passionately in love, passionately interested in who killed Kennedy. But that’s not what Passiontide is all about. Think rather of the word com-passion. Suffering with someone. Suffering because someone else, someone we love perhaps, is suffering. The suffering of our Lord’s blessed Mother at Calvary is the supreme example of compassion. We celebrate the Feast of her Seven Sorrows this Friday, and it is a timely incentive for us to cultivate a deeper compassion within ourselves. If our blessed Lord suffered, if his sufferings were voluntarily accepted because of his love for us, then how can we refuse to compassionate, to suffer with him, by taking up our own cross and carry whatever sorrows God allows us to endure, the voluntary penances and those that are thrust upon us. The bottom line is that our Lord’s Passion is our passion, our suffering. We suffer a little because he suffered a lot, and we voluntarily offer up some extra hardships of our own choosing, and accept more readily those that are not of our own choosing, so that we can, even slightly, make up the difference.
If Lent was four weeks and Passiontide is only two weeks, there’s a reason. These should be the two most intense weeks of our year, when our minds are filled with thoughts of our Lord’s Passion, and our bodies and souls are made to follow in his footsteps. The Novus Ordo Church suppressed Passiontide—for them it’s just the last two weeks of Lent. But for us, it’s something far more. We have removed all the pleasant distractions in the Church, the statues are draped in mournful purple, and we need to do the same with all the frivolities of our own lives when we leave here today. We should try to avoid all celebrations and parties, let our meals be drab, our conversations less frivolous, and our general demeanour befitting the season of Passiontide. It’s a brief two weeks, but if we do it right, a difficult two weeks. Easter will come in its own good time, but before the glories of the Resurrection, our Lord Jesus Christ must die for us, and we must die to ourselves.