Last week we discussed how when we go to the foot of the cross, we are present at the actual sacrifice Jesus made for us. There is another way we are present and participating, which is by crucifying Him ourselves through our acts of sin. This is a tough one to swallow, but the cross is actually where we personally continue to participate in the crucifixion of Jesus every single day.
Paragraph #598 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church has a rather dense explanation of this truth which I will attempt to unpack here. First, the Catechism says that this teaching is supported by our Tradition which has been handed down by all the Christians who have come before us. The very first Christians recognized that “sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured” and that it was not merely an act of the Jews who were condemning him or the Roman soldiers who were carrying it out. In other words, this is not an invented form of ‘Catholic guilt’, but an understanding of the reality of what the crucifixion actually meant, from the earliest followers of Christ. That understanding was then passed down through the generations to us in the Church.
So, our sins, today, are a participation in the actual crucifixion of our Lord. The Catechism cites one primary passage from Scripture to support this: Matthew 27:25. Pontius Pilate is acquiescing to the crowd calling for the crucifixion of Jesus, but he is quick to declare himself innocent in the situation. The crowd responds “His blood be upon us and upon our children.” Even though they are not all physically going to nail Jesus to the cross, they take full responsibility for what is about to happen. What’s even more important for us today is that that their words equally passed the responsibility on to the generations that will come after them, which includes us. In essence, with every sin we commit, we are standing with the crowd, condemning Jesus to death. When you go to Mass on Holy Thursday and participate in the Gospel reading of the Passion of Christ, as you say, “crucify Him!”, recall the reality of how your sins affect Christ.
The Catechism goes on to include a lengthy passage written by St. Francis of Assisi which, again, illustrates how the understanding of our participation in the crucifixion goes back for centuries. St. Francis says that anyone who continues to relapse into their sins is guilty. It goes without saying that since we are all sinners, St. Francis is referring to every single one of us. He goes on to explain that through all of our disorders and wrongdoings, we crucify Him again and again in our hearts because He lives in our hearts. The fact that we do this now is much worse than the actual people who stood there on that day demanding His life be taken. At the time, they did not know yet that Jesus was their Lord and Savior. However, we profess to know who Jesus is and yet we willfully choose to commit this violence against him. This is powerful. Reflecting on what they knew at the time versus what we know now and how we continue to respond should stir something in us. St. Francis concludes by excusing even the demons of fault which is a strong statement on the power of our sins. He says, “Nor did demons crucify him; it is you who have crucified him and crucify him still, when you delight in your vices and sins.”
I realize that this week’s reflection is a hard one and not particularly comfortable. So, I want to bring in some encouragement. First, even when truth is hard, we should rest in it because it is the Truth. God gave us the Church to pass the Truth onto us for our own good. It is hard to swallow because it is meant to inspire us to do better. Comfort and feeling good is not what will get us to heaven and that’s ultimately where He wants us, with Him. Secondly, I’m quite certain that if any of us was handed a hammer we would not make one move to strike the nail into Jesus’ body which is a good thing! So, having an understanding of what our sins do Him can be used as motivation to do better. We can strive to root out our sin and vices and work to replace them with virtue and love. Also remember the Sacrament of Reconciliation this Lent where we can receive God’s abundant mercy and grace and where He will fully forgive us for the hurt our sins have caused Him.
I will conclude by returning to the Catechism with paragraph #312. This paragraph affirms that the murder of Jesus Christ was the “greatest moral evil ever committed” and that our continued sinning participates in that act, but that God’s grace is bigger than all our sin. If we cooperate with God’s goodness and grace, He can bring about good from any sin we can commit. This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true and Jesus is the proof. The greatest sin ever committed was the crucifixion of our Lord but look at what God created out of that injustice. He resurrected Jesus from the dead and He brought about a pathway for our salvation. What good could be better than that?
Think of a time where you were very aware of how sin was affecting your life and how when you look back on it, you can see God’s hand using it to bring about some good in your life, even if in subtle ways. Of course, it’s always better to not sin in the first place, but when we fall, which we will, He will not leave us hanging. He will continue to extend His grace and mercy, providing us with opportunities to do better. As long as we keep accepting those opportunities, more and more good will come about in our lives.