“The death and passion of our Lord is the sweetest and the most compelling motive that can animate our hearts in this mortal life…The children of the cross glory in this, their wondrous paradox which many do not understand: out of death, which devours all things, has come the food of our consolation. Out of death, strong above all things, has issued the all-sweet honey of our love.” (Treatise on the Love of God, Book 12, Chapter 13)This paradox, indeed, is the central mystery of our faith. Jesus, allowing himself to be consumed with passion and swallowed by death has, in turn, conquered death once and for all with the passion that is the power of righteousness leading to eternal life.Christ’s pathway of passion, death and resurrection was personal and unique. It had been fashioned by the Father from all eternity. Jesus was faithful to God’s vision for him. Jesus embraced his vocation as the humble, gentle Messiah. Jesus suffered the pain of death. Jesus experienced the power of rising again.God also has fashioned a personal path for each of us from all eternity. Each of us has a unique role to play in the Father’s never-ending revelation of divine life, love, justice, peace and reconciliation. Still, the way to resurrection is the way of the cross – the way of giving up, of letting go, of surrendering all things, thoughts, attitudes and actions that prevent us from embodying the passion of Christ – the passion for all that is righteous and true.Francis de Sales offers this image in Book 9 of his Treatise on the Love of God:“God commanded the prophet Isaiah to strip himself completely naked. The prophet did this, and went about and preached in this way for three whole days (or, as some say, for three whole years). Then, when the time set for him by God had passed, he put his clothes back on again. So, too, we must strip ourselves of all affections, little and great, and make a frequent examination of our heart to see if it is truly ready to divest itself of all its garments, as Isaiah did. Then, at the proper time we must take up again the affections suitable to the service of charity, so that we may die naked on the cross with our divine Savior and afterwards rise again with him as new people.”
Be certain of one thing – the daily dying to self that is part of living a passionate life is not about dying, stripping and letting go for its own sake. The goal is that we be purified to live more faithful and effective lives of divine passion. God does not desire that we die to self out of self-deprecation. No, God desires that we die to self in order that, ironically, we may become more of the person God calls us to be.
“Love is as strong as death to enable us to forsake all things”, wrote St. Francis de Sales. “It is as magnificent as the resurrection to adorn us with glory and honor”.
This glory and honor is not just reserved for heaven. To the extent that we die a little each day and experience the fidelity of God’s love in the midst of all adversity, trials, struggles and “letting go” – something of these gifts can be ours even here on earth.
FR Michael Murray OSFS