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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Divine Justice and the Ransom of Israel

The Mass readings leading up to Advent, and even entering Advent give us pause. They speak of destruction, of our ends, and of final Justice.

They do not help us enter into warm and fuzzy consolations, but rather, force us to face the cold, hard reality of our final ends when we are called to our own particular judgment. They call us not to sleep in comfort even as we continue to embrace our favorite sins (for we ALL have our favorite sins), but to let them go, knowing that sleeping in comfort is a luxury we can't afford when we must contemplate the face of Our God.

I lament the fact that we so rarely hear, in homilies, of the last four things:  Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

The fact is:  we will all die, and it's not going to be a predictable moment for the vast majority of us.

Advent calls us to take some time to truly examine ourselves and see if we are prepared, for even as we look forward to the celebration of the birth of the Messiah, we also look towards the Second Coming. While it is a joyous occasion, it is also one of sobriety, for  it is entirely possible that we will NOT measure up. It is entirely possible that we have become well acquainted with mortal sin and habitual venial sin, and give ourselves as slaves to our passions instead of dedicating ourselves to love of Our Lord.

It is a time to remember that at any moment, we may be standing before Jesus Christ as both Judge and Savior, and it depends on US as to what role He will fulfill in that moment.

What have we chosen in life?  EVERY act of sin is a decision AGAINST true charity. EVERY mortal sin is a decision to sever our own lives from Christ.

Every decision to receive Holy Communion while in the state of mortal sin not only compounds our terrible deathly state, but is in itself an act of sacrilege.

The Crucifix is Divine Justice

Every time we look upon the Crucifix, while it is important that we see there the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, we must ALSO recognize and take to heart this very personal act of Divine Justice.

Jesus didn't suffer his Passion and Death in order to lay the foundation for a dramatic screen play.  He didn't give himself over to the extreme torture of scourging and crucifixion in order to satisfy a mere myth and give people something to talk about for awhile.

The Crucifixion was all about Divine Justice, just as it was about Divine Mercy.  The problem is that all we tend to hear about these days is Divine Mercy.

We need a balance, for one part of the message is completely useless without the other.

We have to remember, when we recall the mercy of Jesus Christ, that His bloody visage wasn't just a weird moulage so a few EMT's could practice their trade on a real victim.  He TRULY suffered every penalty assigned to Israel for their sin.

Jesus suffered all the thorns that were prescribed to Adam and his descendants, and in fact, was scourged by things that tore into his flesh even more effectively than even the worst thicket of buck thorn.  The crown of thorns that was woven and placed around and into the tender flesh of his head was a revelation of the prescribed remedy for sin, and in fact, being hung on a cross of wood fulfilled the condemnation in Deuteronomy regarding the Accursed. God Himself directed that any that were hung from the tree were Accursed in His sight, and those who were accursed...were not in line for redemption.

Sacrificial Lamb

Throughout the Old Testament, we read of the sacrifice of atonement, of the lambs led to slaughter, and recall to mind Abraham, who was directed to offer his only son for sacrifice to the Lord. I still remember the first time I heard that story, and my utter horror that God would do such a thing, only to learn it was a test of Abraham's faith, an event proleptic of God's Justice.

God did not exercise His Justice in demanding what He was not willing to offer. In fact, He Himself was made Incarnate so that He could be offered in the place of all His beloved;  He offered HIMSELF as the eternal Sacrifice, the ONLY one who could truly make atonement for our sins.

Justice DEMANDS sacrifice, for Justice is nothing more than rendering to another what is due. As humanity in its fallen nature could not possibly pay the penalty for sin, God Himself became one of us in order to pay that ransom; it is here that we understand His Mercy, for we recognize that without Mercy, there is no Justice, and without Justice, there can be no Mercy.


Advent is a time of Justice and Mercy both.  It is a time to recall who we are in relation to God, and what we have done to offend Him that makes His Sacrifice necessary.  We cannot look at the Infant Jesus in the manger without recognizing that the same wood upon which He rested is the very same wood of the Cross of Sacrifice.  He was born to feed the world with His own flesh and blood, with His own Divinity, given first to the most lowly, and thirty-three years later, crucified in order to render Justice for sinners, for we cannot save ourselves.

We enter into Advent with an eye towards our final ends, for we cannot welcome God Incarnate without the recognition of the Justice to be rendered on our behalf.  We cannot look upon the Nativity without recognizing the Crucifixion. We cannot look upon the innocence of the Virgin and her Son without being accountable for our own guilt.

If we are honest with ourselves, we have NOTHING to offer the infant, for on our own, we have no merit.

Even if we offer ourselves, everything we have, everything we are, everything we have been and will ever be, we give this child a tainted gift for it is not within us to offer perfection. We NEED this child in order to BECOME perfected.

He, through His Mother, accepts what we offer in our poverty, and makes it, and us, glorious.

If only we are willing. If only we can become humble as He in His infancy. If only we can trust in His Mercy while knowing we deserve Justice, and as long as we understand that Justice would require OUR own lives.

We cannot look upon the Crucifix, then, without seeing Justice rendered, without knowing Mercy is applied, without knowing that Charity is about sacrifice...

Advent calls us to enter into this mystery, become a part of it, turn from sin, and know that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among order to save us from our sins, rendering Justice on our behalf.

O Come, O Come Emmanuel...and ransom captive Israel....

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