Monday, February 26, 2007

Common Grave, Common Penance, Extraordinary Love

In my home parish we have a crucifix which is used every year during the Lenten season. It is quite graphic in its portrayal of the death of our Lord, and one salient feature is the human skull at its base. It is sometimes described in art as "Adam's skull." The Blood of Christ, the New Adam, redeems man, as symbolized by the skull of the First Adam. I Corinthians 15:22, 45: "And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive...The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit."

The skull is a stark reminder of our common humanity, with its legacy of common punishment and common grace. I was reminded of how difficult this common humanity is to accept by a passage from Hans Urs von Balthasar, in his book, The Christian State of Life (p. 127).

"The hardest lesson to be learned there [in the fires of purification], the lesson that those who have preoccupied with right and justice in this world will have to struggle to accept, is that there is no distinction of mine and thine even in matters of guilt; that they must see in every sin, by whomsoever it has been commited an offense against the eternal love of God; that they must be disposed, therfore, to do penance, as long as may be deemed necessary by God, for every sin no matter who its perpetrator.

For it is impossible to enter heaven with a love less perfect than that of St. Paul, who, for the sake of his kinsmen, would gladly have borne their lot of being anathema from Christ (Rom. 7:3), thus imitating the disposition of the Lord, who redeemed the world and established Christian love by a suffering that asked, not about the justice of the punishment, but about the grace that allowed him to suffer."

Wow. That is real penance, real love. Can we aspire to that?

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