Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Gospel to the Young

The Rector Major of the Salesians of Don Bosco has written his monthly letter to the young.  Fr. Chavez writes about why Jesus had to suffer and die for us.  The following comes from the site:

Death is loves companion, who opens the door and lets in Him the One Who loves (Saint Augustine).

The Passion and Death of Jesus – together with his Resurrection – are at the centre of the Christian faith the paschal mystery. Historically certain because it appears in all the Gospels and in other books of the New Testament. The non-believer philosopher, Ernst Bloch declares, “birth in a cave and death on a cross are not things you invent” No one would be happy in ascribing something like that to the Founder of their own religion, unless it were a question of the real truth. But the question we Christians have been asking ourselves for twenty centuries is always the same : “Why did the Son of God die on a Cross?” Biblical revelation offers a reply which, at first sight, might seem uncomfortable and even disconcerting. First of all its necessity is emphasised: “It was necessary (ἔδει) that the Christ should suffer. The Greek form appears in many texts of the NT which speak about the death of Jesus (Mk 8,31; Mt 16,21; Lk 9,22). This necessity, which reflects a conviction of the early Church, appears both in the Gospel accounts (Lk 17,25; Lk22,37; Jn 3,14),and in the ‘paschal interpretations’ of the death of the Lord, the shortest expression of which is found in the words of the unknown travelling Companion of the disciples of Emmaus: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk 24,26). At first sight this idea seems to be in contrast with the image that we have of an omnipotent God; and even more if we consider him as God/ Love: could he not have “spared” his Son this humiliation, this suffering?

It is possible to speak of three levels. On one level, one might say, universal: it was necessary that Jesus died, to fully assume the human condition; otherwise his incarnation would have appeared not to have been genuine: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise, partook of the same nature” (Heb 2,14).

However, all human beings do not die, put to death on a cross; for that reason this “universal necessity” does not fully explain the total depth of the biblical perspective. We have to speak of a second “level”, which we could call the particular: Jesus is surrounded by only a small group of men and women who gave their lives for a cause, remaining consistent even unto death, which according to the criteria of human selfishness has become necessary for them. It is a question of people from all sorts of different backgrounds and ways of thinking but united by this radical consistency. A biblical reflects this level: “It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish!” (Jn 11,49b-50).

But if we want to be faithful to Revelation, there is unquestionably a third level on which Jesus is not accompanied by all mankìnd and not even by an élite of heroes; a level which we can call unique, where we find Jesus alone who does the will of the Father. The most impressive Gospel text in this regard is that about the garden of Gethsemane: “Abbà/Father! All things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me! Yet not what I will but what thou wilt” (Mk 14,36; cf. Mt 26, 39.42.44; Lk 22,41-44).

We go back and ask the first question: Why was it necessary that Jesus should die? The texts of the NT reply: because it is the expression, far beyond all human understanding of the love of the Father. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son” (Jn 3,16). “If God … who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all will he not also give us all things with him?” (Rm 8, 31b-32). In the Paschal Proclamation, we find a beautiful summary, in a phrase addressed to the Father: “To ransom the slave you sacrificed your Son!” This takes us to the very heart of the of the Paschal Mystery: in the death of Jesus we find the revelation par excellence of a God who is Love (1Jn 4,8.16), and we discover that the real meaning of the passion of Jesus is not suffering and death but the passion of love. The ‘passion’ of Jesus does not begin on the eve of his death, but embraces the whole of his life; rather, it is the reason for his Incarnation and at the same time it is the ultimate reason for his filial obedience: what Jesus wants most of all, as the Son, is to do the will of the Father. In the death of Jesus we find the passion of a passionate God. Don Bosco perfectly understood the real meaning of the passion of Jesus: he was someone passionate about God and about the young. We never find in him any trace of a possible “masochistic” asceticism which values suffering for its own sake. Instead he lived to the full the passion of the love of God for his boys, especially the poor ones, trying to put into practice the will of God in all its radical aspects and accepting sorrows and sufferings (not only physical ones), as the consequence of this mission: even to extent of becoming a “threadbare garment” (as one of the doctors described him at the end of his life). Don Bosco made real in the most genuine manner what Saint Paul says: “In my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body that is the Church” (Col 1,24) and in her “that part of human society which is so exposed and yet so rich in promise” which is youth (cf. SDB Constitutions 1); and he also invites us to share this Passion of Jesus, in carrying out the Salesian Mission.

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