By PEDRO MENDEZ
CONNECTING FAITH AND LIFE
When I was five-years-old, something unexpected happened in my life. Noemi, a Jehovah's Witness, came to my house to share her faith. My mom declined the visit. However, she consented when Noemi asked if she could talk with me. Noemi visited me weekly. She introduced me to God’s plan of salvation in a way that something was enkindled in my soul. I learned, around this time, the most fundamental truth of my faith, namely, that Jesus had died for us. As I started reading my Bible, I learned that Jesus had not only died for us but also that he had died for us on a cross. Living that truth has been hard but fruitful when I join Jesus in his work to justify me through the Sacraments.
Jesus’ last words on the cross in the Gospel of John – “it is finished” (John 19:30) – provide immeasurable insights into what it might mean that Jesus died for us on a cross. The Greek word for finished (tetelestai) can be translated as completed. The Latin translation of the same word is consummated (consummatum est). So, we might rightly ask: What did Jesus complete/consummate for us on the cross?
Consummatum est – it is consummated – implies a conjugal language, which is suitable to the covenantal relationship between God (husband) and Israel (bride) in the Old Testament. In this relationship, God is a faithful husband and Israel struggles between faithfulness and unfaithfulness to the point that she is compared to a harlot willing to worship and serve other gods instead of the One true God. Israel deserved the curses due to her unfaithfulness to God.
We, the Church, are the “new Israel.” We must ask ourselves have we, personally and ecclesially, been faithful to God? Can we truly affirm that our souls don't compromise God’s love by making ourselves, others, and material things a false god? Can we proclaim that Satan is always defeated by Jesus when he tries to make us fall away from God? Are we aware of the reality of sin and its destructive power? You might say: “all this is life, and life is imperfect.” Yes, life is imperfect, but this is not about life’s imperfection but about us willingly “turning our backs and not our faces to God” (Jer 7:24c). As Adam’s disobedience and pride brought dysfunction to humankind, Israel’s unfaithfulness to God brought ruin to Israel. Our pride, disobedience, and unfaithfulness to God and our blindness of the power of sin and Satan also cause dysfunction and ruin in our lives, families, society and Church.
God’s response is to send his Son to do what we can’t. Jesus emptied himself to take upon himself Israel's curses and ours, to defeat Satan and our sins, and to deal with all human dysfunction and ruin. He did this to the point of descending into Hell – the state of total self-exclusion from God. Jesus went to the place of total hopelessness, helplessness and despair to rescue us from there. There is no dark area of our lives that Jesus did not experience. The good news is that Jesus continues dealing with all our human dysfunction and restoring our broken selves through his self-emptying in the Sacraments. What a humble and loving God!
What can we do today? Let us join Jesus in his effort to justify us with God. See, the Church is not holy because the lines for confession are almost empty. The Church is holy because her members are continuously “washing their robes and making them white in the blood of the Lamb” that was slain (Rev 7:14). There are no substitutes for the Cross of Christ actualized in the Sacraments. If something is fruitful, it has to be connected to the Cross.
My soul is still enkindled by the truth that Jesus died for me on the cross. And yes, I also struggle with bringing my good-yet-dysfunctional self to Christ on the Cross. And yes, he is the Bridegroom who invites us to worship him and serve him faithfully. Will you join me in allowing Jesus to do his work in us?