by Fr. Sebastian Walshe, O.Praem.
In the Gospel Jesus says to the Jews who did not believe in Him: “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM.”
The divinity of Christ was manifested in many ways. It was manifested by His teaching. It was manifested by His miracles, but in the most perfect way it was manifested by His Passion and Death. The whole truth about Jesus was manifested in His Death.
Many learned scribes who heard the teaching of Jesus did not believe in Him. When the temple guard explained why they did not arrest Jesus, saying, “Never before has anyone spoken like this one,” the chief priests and Pharisees answer, “You do not see any of the authorities or Pharisees believing in Him. This crowd which does not know the Law is accursed.”
Many had witnessed Jesus’ miracles, but did not believe in Him. St. John testifies: “Although he had performed so many signs in their presence they did not believe in Him” (John 12:37).
Jesus’ teaching revealed divine truth. His miracles revealed divine power. But His Passion revealed divine goodness. And goodness most of all has the nature of the First Cause, that which most of all deserves to be called God. St. Thomas says, “The very nature of God is goodness.” (ST, IIIa, q.1, a.1 c.). Jesus Himself seems to indicate this later when He says, “If I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all things to Myself.” As if to say, I shall attract all things by My divine goodness, as a final cause.
There is something about death as a witness of the most certain kind. How a man dies reveals his inmost heart, the deepest truth about him. When the Church declares someone a saint, teachings or miracles performed before he dies are not sufficient. But if someone dies giving his life for Christ, the Church does not hesitate to accept this as sufficient testimony to his holiness.
So the truth about each one of us will be revealed at our death. How we are in the moment of our death will determine our whole eternity. In fact, how we are in the moment of our death is really the whole truth about us, the way God has always seen us to be.
But between now and then, we are subject to doubts…doubts about others, and doubts about ourselves. In recent years, you heard about the four MC sisters who died for the faith in Yemen. It is likely that they will be canonized by the Church, and we shall one day venerate them as saints. But I want to tell you a story about another MC sister who will probably never be canonized. This sister was assigned to a very dangerous area and some gunmen broke into their convent and killed one of the workers. And then one of them pointed his gun at the head of this sister. She was saying over and over: “Jesus forgive him!” Before he pulled the trigger, he asked his companion “What is she saying?” And when he was told, he began to cry, and put down his gun and fled.
There was a mere happenstance, the twitch of a man’s finger, between her and the honors of the altar. Had the man been less curious about what she was saying and just pulled the trigger, we might be venerating her today as a saint. But God desired his conversion more than her canonization.
After telling me this story, the sister said to me with heartfelt sadness: “Father, when I was asking Jesus to forgive that man, I meant it with all my heart. Then tell me why, Father, was I able to forgive a man who was trying to kill me, but I cannot forgive my own sisters in the convent?” Our near-miss saint could forgive her murderer, but struggled to forgive her own sisters.
So many people see God as a harsh Master, watching our every move, waiting for the moment of weakness when we commit that mortal sin so He can take our lives and justly damn us. But the truth is quite the opposite. Provided we sincerely and consistently struggle to follow Him throughout our lives (something everyone can do), He takes us when we are at our very best, at the holiest moment of our lives. “All things work for the good of those who love Him.” When He took the good thief on his cross, He took him at his best, for that is how God always saw him. After the Apostles had fished all night and caught nothing, at the last lowering of the nets, they brought in their greatest catch.
In the Bible, we hear that God did not take the serpents away as the people had asked. He did not take away the suffering caused by their poisonous bite. Instead, He took away the ultimate evil which their poison caused: He saved them from death. In the same way, God has not removed from human hearts all the venom of original sin, but He has saved us from its ultimate effect, spiritual death. So our brothers and sisters around us, indeed we ourselves, who have yet to come to that ultimate moment of their lives may look very different from how we truly are in the eyes of God.
I am convinced that a great part of sanctity is the ability to look upon a serpent and see the Savior, to look upon someone who has defects and faults and, because of our confidence in the divine mercy, to see the goodness of God Himself at work in that person for salvation. That angry or irritable confrere or family member, yes, even that person who struggles to forgive us, may well be a saint in God’s eyes. And that is the whole truth about them.
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