June 12, 2013

Did Christ Justify Us?

Catechism Paragraphs 571 – 623

“God’s saving plan was accomplished “once and for all” (Heb 9:26) by the redemptive death of his Son Jesus Christ.  571   At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus issued a solemn warning:  ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets: I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  For truly I tell you until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass form the law, until all is accomplished.’ (Mt 5:17-19) 577   Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and therefore the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, was to fulfill the Law by keeping it in its all-embracing detail – according to his own words, down to ‘the least of these commandments.’  The Law indeed makes up one inseparable whole, and St. James recalls, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.’ (Jn 8:46) 578   By giving Israel this principle they (the Pharisees) had led many Jews of Jesus’ time to an extreme religious zeal.  579   The perfect fulfillment of the Law could be the work of none but the divine legislator, born subject to the Law in the person of the Son.  In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tables of stone, but upon the heart of the Servant who becomes a covenant to the people. 580   Jesus did not abolish the Law but fulfilled it by giving its ultimate interpretation in a divine way: “You have heart that it was said to the men of old … But I say to you …”  With this same divine authority, he disavowed certain human traditions of the Pharisees that were ‘making void the word of God.’ 581   Going even further, Jesus perfects the dietary law, so important in Jewish daily life.  ‘Whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him … What comes out of a man is what defiles a man.’  Jesus found himself confronted by certain teachers of the Law who did not accept his interpretation of the Law, guaranteed though it was by the divine signs that accompanied it.  (Jn 5:36, 10:25, 37-8)  This was the case especially with the Sabbath laws, for he recalls often with rabbinical arguments, that the Sabbath rest is not violated by serving God and neighbor, which his own healings did.  582   Jesus went up to the Temple as the privileged place of encounter with God for him, the Temple was the dwelling of his Father, a house of prayer, and he was angered that its outer court had become a place of commerce.”  584 

“If the Law and the Jerusalem Temple could be occasions of opposition to Jesus by Israel’s religious authorities, his role in the redemption of sins, the divine word par excellence, was the true stumbling-block to them.  587    Jesus scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners as familiarly as with themselves.  588   Jesus gave scandal above all when he identified his merciful conduct towards sinners with God’s own attitude toward them.  But it was most especially by forgiving sins that Jesus placed the religious authorities of Israel on the horns of a dilemma.  Were they not entitled to demand in consternation, ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’  589   Jesus asked the religious authorities of Jerusalem to believe in him because of the Father’s works which he accomplished.  But such an act of faith must go through a mysterious death to self, for a new ‘birth from above’ under the influence of divine grace (Jn 3:7; 6:44).  Such a demand for conversion in the face of so surprising a fulfillment of the promises allows one to understand the Sanhedrin’s tragic misunderstanding of Jesus: they judged that he deserved the death sentence as a blasphemer.  The members of the Sanhedrin were thus acting at the same time out of ‘ignorance’ and the ‘hardness’ of their ‘unbelief.’ (Lk 23:34; Acts 3:17-18; Mk 3:5, Rom 11:25, 20)” 591  


“The religious authorities in Jerusalem were not unanimous about what stance to take toward Jesus.  The Pharisees threatened to excommunicate his followers.  To those who feared that ‘everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation,’ the high priest Caiaphas replied by prophesying: ‘It is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish.  The Sanhedrin, having declared Jesus deserving of death as a blasphemer but having lost the right to put anyone to death, hands him over to the Romans, accusing him of political revolt, a charge that puts him in the same category as Barabbas who had been accused of sedition.  The high priests also threatened Pilate politically so that he would condemn Jesus to death.”  596 

“In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that ‘sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the diving Redeemer endured.’  Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus, a responsibility with which they have all too often burdened the Jews alone:  We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins.  Since our sins made the Lord Christ suffer the torment of the cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt.  And it can be seen that our crime in this case is greater in us than in the Jews.  None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would have not crucified the Lord of glory.  We, however, profess to know him.”  598  

“Jesus’ violent death was not the result of chance in an unfortunate coincidence of circumstances, but is part of the mystery of God’s plan, as St. Peter explains to the Jews of Jerusalem in his first sermon on Pentecost: ‘This Jesus was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.’ 599   The Scriptures had foretold this divine plan of salvation through the putting to death of ‘the righteous one, my Servant’ as a mystery of universal redemption, that is, as the ransom that would free men from the slavery of sin. (Isa 53:11, Jn 8:34-6; Acts 3:14)  St. Paul professes that ‘Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures.’  601   Consequently, St. Peter can formulate the apostolic faith in the divine plan of salvation this way: ‘You were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers … with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.  He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake.’  Man’s sins, following on original sin, are punishable by death.  Bu sending his own Son in the form of a slave, in the form of a fallen humanity, on account of sin, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  602   He could say in our name from the cross: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Having thus established, him in solidarity with us sinners, God ‘did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all,’ so that we might be reconciled to God by the death of his Son. 603   By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part: ‘In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.’  God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  604  


“From the first moment of his Incarnation the Son embraces the Father’s plan of divine salvation in his redemptive mission: ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work.’  606   After agreeing to baptize him along with the sinners, John the Baptist looked at Jesus and pointed him out as the ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.’  By doing so, he reveals that Jesus is at the same time the suffering Servant who silently allows himself to be led to the slaughter and who bears the sin of the multitudes, and also the Paschal Lamb, the symbol of Israel’s redemption at the first Passover.  Christ’s whole life expresses his mission: ‘to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.’  608   On the eve of his Passion, while still free, Jesus transformed this Last Supper with the apostles into the memorial of his voluntary offering to the Father for the salvation of men:  ‘This is my body which is given for you.’  ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’  610   The Eucharist that Christ institutes at that moment will be the memorial of his sacrifice.  (1Cor 11:25)  611   Like ours, his human nature is destined for eternal life; but unlike ours, it is perfectly exempt from sin, the cause of death.  By accepting in his human will that the Father’s will be done, he accepts his death as redemptive, for ‘he himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.’  612   Christ’s death is both the Paschal sacrifice that accomplishes the definitive redemption of men, through “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,” and the sacrifice of the New Covenant, which restores man to communion with God by reconciling him through the ‘blood of the covenant, which was poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.’ (Mt 26:28) 613This sacrifice of Christ is unique; it completes and surpasses all other sacrifices.  First, it is a gift from God the Father himself, for the Father handed his Son over to sinners in order to reconcile us with himself.  At the same time it is the offering of the Son of God made man, who in freedom and love offered his life to his Father through the Holy Spirit in reparation for our disobedience. (Heb 9:14)” 614  

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.  By his obedience unto death, Jesus accomplished the substitution of the suffering Servant, who makes himself an offering for sin when he bore the sin of many and who shall make many to be accounted righteous, for he shall bear their iniquities.  Jesus atoned for our faults and made satisfaction for our sins to the Father. 615  

Did God will the death of his only Son?  The violent death of Jesus did not come about through tragic external circumstances.  Jesus was ‘delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.’  (Acts 2:23)  YOUCAT Q98

‘His most holy Passion on the wood of the cross merited justification for us.617  ‘The possibility of being made partners, in a way known to God, in the paschal mystery is offered to all men.  He calls his disciples to ‘take up their cross and follow him,’ for Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example so that we should follow in his steps.’  (1Pet 2:21)” 618  

This last section is, I believe, a critical point in Catholic teaching.  He merited justification for us, the possibility of being made partners in the paschal mystery is offered to all men.  It is up to us, by our lives, to take him up on that offer.  He merited justification for us, but it is not guaranteed.  We can reject him.

Why are we too supposed to accept suffering in our lives and thus “take up our cross” and thereby follow Jesus?   Jesus said, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mk 8:34).  Christians have the task of alleviating suffering in the world.  Nevertheless, there will still be suffering.  In faith we can accept our own suffering and share the suffering of others.  In this way human suffering becomes united with the redeeming love of Christ and thus part of the divine power that changes the world for the better.  YOUCAT  Q102

Next time we’ll look at the Church’s teaching on Jesus’ burial and Resurrection, catechism paragraphs 624 - 658

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