March 16, 2007

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Stripping ourselves of personal sin through reconciliation

What do clothes matter to a human body which is about to be crucified? Jesus is stripped of his garments to enable the soldiers to work without being hampered.”

Thus, Hans-Urs von Balthasar begins his reflection at the 10th station on the Way of the Cross (The Way of the Cross, St. Paul Publications, 1990, p. 44).

Von Balthasar reflects that since the time in the Garden of Eden, as fallen humanity we have been covering ourselves with all sorts of clothing: from fig leaves and animal skins to the latest fashion of today.

He reflects: “On Calvary everything is cast away: the new Adam stands before the Father as he is, having freely taken upon himself the sins and shame of the old Adam. ... On the cross man fully manifests himself, and God restores to him his lost dignity—his most precious gift to mankind” (Ibid.).

There is a divine irony here. In his utterly degraded state from the cross, Jesus would restore us from sinfulness to the original dignity of our humanity; once more, we can reclaim the image of God within us—the original gift at the dawn of creation. Once more, God is a God with us and not a God who is distant in himself and for himself.

Von Balthasar reflected: “In every Eucharistic celebration down the centuries, he gives to humanity this unadorned body. ‘The body of Christ’—says the priest as he gives Communion—‘who takes away the sins of the world’: the body which bears your sins and the wounds afflicted on it” (Ibid.).

It is as if being stripped of his clothing was a preliminary symbol of Jesus being stripped of all the sin of all humanity of all the ages in order to restore our human dignity.

Ironically, the original Adam had renounced that human dignity in his desire to become like God; in doing so, he tarnished the very image of God which conferred our human dignity.

Reflection on this 10th station of the Way of the Cross can lead us from a meditation on the awkward stripping of Jesus to a deeper insight into the awesome love of God.

“The Father sees the old Adam—whom we all represent—being regenerated in Jesus, the new Adam. Mary too, the sorrowful mother, seeing his Son stripped of his garments, recalls the time when she carried him in her womb and gave birth to him. What she experiences now may be likened to a second birth, nonetheless more fruitful than the first. Mary, together with the Father, gives to humanity the body of Christ who, under the most atrocious suffering, gave himself freely to all” (Ibid. p. 44-45).

I am reminded of a statement of Pope Benedict XVI in his book God is Near Us. He speaks of what we mean when we declare our faith in God as a living God: “But what does it mean when we call this God a living God? It means that this God is not a conclusion we have reached by thinking” (Ignatius Press, 2003, p. 11).

Our belief in a living God is our personal response of deep love for having been delivered from the fate of being separated from the one whose love cannot be surpassed.

The Holy Father reflected on God’s gracious gift to us through the incarnation of his son. He wrote about the new birth from on high that was needed by humanity, a rebirth from water and the Spirit in baptism.

He said: “To become a Christian means to be brought in to share in this new beginning. Becoming a Christian is more than turning to new ideas, to a new morality, to a new community. The transformation that happens here has all the dramatic quality of a real birth, of a new creation” (Ibid. p. 23).

And so we speak of our rebirth in baptism. On Easter Sunday, we will reaffirm our belief in the living God who restored us to life through the degrading death of his son on the cross. Jesus endured the stripping and torture of the cross so that we might receive back our freedom as sons and daughters of God.

Our freedom is restored by the redeeming Christ, but to be honest it is often lost because of our personal sin. The great news is that even our personal sin has been vanquished through the gift of God’s mercy which Jesus gave us after his death and resurrection.

A worthy act of gratitude on our part would be to strip ourselves of the burden of the personal sins we may carry. We can experience God’s divine mercy won by Jesus.

It is as near as our parish churches in the sacrament of penance and reconciliation. †

Local site Links: