Dominica 1 Passionis / Evening, 1 April 2017 / Church of St John
The man who belongs to God listens to God’s words;
it is because you do not belong to God that you will not listen to me (Jn 8:47).
Beloved friends, Passiontide is upon us. Today, the sacred liturgy takes a couple of very small steps toward the greater austerity that is to come: we omit the Iudica me and the Gloria Patri.
But these slight liturgical omissions also signal a certain intensification in the narrative of Christ’s Passion that we hear in the Gospel. Things are reaching a fever pitch in the struggle between Christ and a number of unbelievers among the Jews: today’s Gospel ends, in effect, with the charge of blasphemy and the threat of stoning: Amen, amen dico vobis, ántequam Ábraham fíeret, ego sum, speaks Christ. His enemies do not miss his point.
Such a conflict will continue, and as you and I revisit such episodes revealed to us in the Scriptures, we bear with the impulse to marvel at the unbelief and hostility that our Lord encounters. We might well ask ourselves how the very ones who ought to have known best—those apparently best trained in the Law—should be the ones to reject him most virulently. In Ps 42, which we omit now, remember we have that line which reads: discerne causam meam de gente non sancta: ab homine iniquo et doloso erue me. When we hear today’s Gospel, this hardly seems like a time to omit such a plea.
Yesterday afternoon I Googled the phrase mysterium iniquitatis and came up with an article by the eloquent Robert Royal. He was commenting on the crash of a German airline that took place back in March of 2015. The crash was not an accident, but the deliberate act of the co-pilot, who plunged the aircraft into a mountainside in the southern Alps. There were no survivors of 150 passengers and crew.
Mr Royal was rightfully perplexed by the typical modern response to such things: more politicians, psychologists, and journalists were dispatched than even rescue workers; not a clergyman of any stripe was to be found.—He writes: “We’d like to believe that human wickedness can be reduced to something like physics – suicidal depression or pathological massacre as a kind of human biochemical or intra-psychic tsunami – that therefore might be managed.” Well said; managed indeed. In a culture like ours that is not much interested in actually understanding what is good and evil, when profoundly evil things happen, the only reaction available to most people is a kind of psychological and social pain management.
We need the sobriety of Holy Scriptures to remind us what is really going on. We need the old Douai or the RSV translation of Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” Or (to return to our Gospel) it is as our Lord said, “The man who belongs to God listens to God’s words; it is because you do not belong to God that you will not listen to me.”
Here, our Lord teaches us about the mystery. The human reaction to the mysterium iniquitatis must be something far different from “the hopeless errand of trying to explain, to turn what is by nature a mystery into some problem that can be remedied by better pilot screening, different flight procedures, or more funding for psychological research.” Rather, the human reaction must be grateful love.
We have entered the season of the Holy Cross; this evening I sing the Preface of that Holy Cross. Therefore, when we encounter the darkness that is evil, our response is one of annihilated humility and trust before God. Oh precious Cross! Knowing our own human frailty, we could be just as faithless as the enemies of Christ. But his tender mercy has come to us, and we are grateful—so deeply grateful. Oh precious Cross! Always we ask God’s mercy for all, holding ourselves in pride above no creature: the mystery of iniquity teaches how impossible that is for us, and how profound is the loving-kindness of the Heart of Jesus that has saved us.
Oh precious Cross! Please God we may always belong to him.