Preaching on the Passion of Christ, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) pointed to a large Crucifix and asked his hearers Who did this? He paused, and asked again more insistently WHO DID THIS? After a further pause, he gave the answer: Love did this, heedless of His dignity!
Love is a powerful thing. The Scriptures tell us it is as stern as death, relentless as the netherworld.
It is so powerful and complex that the Greeks used three words for it: Eros (physical passion and desire); Philia (friendship and loyalty); and Agape (a profound unselfish desire for the true good of the other, undefeated and undaunted in its desire to go good to the Other). It is this latter word that we find used in the New Testament to describe Christ’s love for us. When Saint Jerome translated the Greek texts into the common Latin of the 4th century he used the word Caritas rather than the more common Amor. Over the centuries that was rendered into English as “charity” which has become for many a somewhat impersonal word redolent of organized “charities”. We tend to use the single word “love” for what the Gospel and Saint Paul meant by agape or caritas.
Odd that our English tongue, so rich and varied in so many ways, has but one word for that many-splendored thing.
There are all kinds of love.
There is even a love to BE loved.
Another story from history comes to mind; this time closer to us.
In 1774 the aged libertine King Louis XV of France lay dying of unsuspected small pox at the age of sixty-four. He had come to the throne as a boy of only five succeeding his great grandfather Louis XIV. So handsome and winning was he in his youth that he acquired the sobriquet amongst his subjects as Louis le Bien-Aime ( Louis the Well Beloved.) As a young man, it was thought he had smallpox and his people were so disturbed by his possible early death that it was said that 10,000 candles burned before the shrines of Notre Dame Cathedral for his recovery. He did recover only to ruin his good name by decades of waste, debauchery, and sexual promiscuity of a prodigious renown. Now he lay dying, unbeloved. But only a year before he had insisted on a reform that promised well for the future but stirred up controversy and resistance in the present. To make it simple, he had begun to turn the privately run legal system of France from a monopoly of the lawyers’ guilds into a true royal/public service. Needless to say, the barristers and avocats were not happy and stirred popular fears of tyranny against the elderly King. It was a cynical ploy leading a true cynic, Voltaire, to say that this so-called alliance between the lawyers and the people was like an “alliance between the spiders and the flies.”
Nonetheless, it seemed to be the last nail in the coffin of an unpopular King. The courtiers at Versailles forsook his room to seek out the “rising star”: the twenty-four year old Dauphin Louis-Auguste. The young prince was Louis XV’s grandson, large of body, slow of speech, well-intentioned, but uncertain and fearful of the future.
When the old King died pressure was brought on the new Louis XVI to reverse his grandfather’s law policy. He withstood it only a short while, then reversed the reform, not wishing to be seen as no better than his despised grandfather. It garnered him some immediate popularity. A historian of his reign records that the new King remarked to those urging him to remain firm “Yes…yes…you might be right…but…we wish to be loved.”
We wish to be loved…the writer remarked that was the beginning of the end for the King who would end up on the guillotine eighteen years later. From that point on, he would sacrifice firm insistence on his own judgment to pleasing his frivolous wife, his shallow brothers, his advisers, his people and wound up as Louis Sans-Tete (Louis the Beheaded.)
To return to our subject on this Good Friday, it was Love that did the “this” of the Passion and Death of Christ on the Cross. It was His love for us; NOT His desire to BE loved by us that drove Him to the foreseen Cross.
If Jesus desired “to be loved” first and foremost, He would have betrayed His Father’s will. His human nature recoiled in horror at the prospect of the Passion and all its horrific features, but He would not renounce the proffered cup in Gethsemane if it meant abandoning His very purpose.
He would have come down from that cross as He was taunted to do if He wanted to BE loved.
No, He loves us too much to merely please us.
We adore Thee, O Christ, and we praise Thee. For by Thy Holy Cross Thou hast redeemed the world!
Good Friday, April 22, 2011.