Every year, we are fortunate to hear two accounts in church of the Passion during Holy Week—the first one on Palm Sunday and the second one on Good Friday. The latter account is always from Saint John’s Gospel. On Palm Sunday, we rotate among the Synoptic Gospels according to Cycles A, B, and C. This year, we listened to Saint Matthew’s account.
In Saint Matthew’s Gospel, the evangelist tells us something about those who were crucified to the right and left of Jesus. They are called revolutionaries (Matt 27:38), and this happens to be the same description Saint Mark gives for them also (Mk 15:27). They receive this designation because they were looking somehow to overthrow the established order. (It is likely that they were robbers.) In their executions though, the revolutionaries had failed. Their rebellion had been put down by the power of the state.
Within the last few weeks, two volumes have appeared which have received more than a little notice from the reading public. They are Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Archbishop Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land. Each book has a subtitle and in both cases the expression “post-Christian” is there. At a time when the Christian ethos is rapidly vanishing in society and with little pushback too, some are wondering what are we to do next. If you are wondering also, these are two responses you do not want to miss.
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Dreher and Chaput explain to their readers that there is a confluence of factors responsible for the “post-Christian” climate which prevails now in what are thought of as the more advanced nations of the world. Both authors are in agreement that the Sexual Revolution is a key culprit in the de-Christianization of the social landscape as we know it today.
The names of those who started the Sexual Revolution are not nearly as important than just about everyone now has signed on to it. Mary Eberstadt writes in Adam and Eve After the Pill that the Sexual Revolution “is now not only a fait accompli for the vast majority of modern men and women; it is [what] many people openly embrace.” What that would be is an open embrace of contraceptive sex, sterilization, and even abortion if an unplanned pregnancy were to interfere with other plans the mother and father might have. The embrace has gotten bigger recently of course to include other contra vitam expressions like same-sex “marriage.”
History is filled with examples of revolution—most of them having to do with economics and politics. And not all of these have produced better results, either. In fact, in not a few cases, the outcomes were actually more calamitous. Fidel Castro’s Cuba comes to mind right away. Freedom promised is not always freedom given.
We are however not just acted upon; no, we act too and we act at times to deprive ourselves of freedom. God constituted us in freedom, and when we misuse that gift which has been conferred upon us, we sin. To undo the destructiveness of our sin takes another kind of revolution, a revolution of redemption. And the only One who can bring that about of course is Jesus the Lord.
In his depiction of Calvary, Saint Luke writes of two criminals (Lk 23:33), one of whom reviles Jesus. “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us,” (Lk 23:39) this one criminal lashes out against the Lord. Yet this is precisely what Jesus is doing—sacrificing himself and by doing that saves us. Our salvation, providentially, comes to us by the wood of the Cross.
In his encyclical Veritatis Splendor (1993), Pope Saint John Paul II maintains that the Cross to which Christ is crucified reveals the authentic meaning of freedom; Christ lives it fully in the total gift of himself and calls his disciples to share in his freedom. That freedom though cannot stand on its own; it must be joined to the truth. Pope Saint John Paul II again has this to say in Veritatis Splendor: The Cross to which Christ’s flesh is crucified reveals the unbreakable bond between freedom and truth.
Thanks to Christ, what we have then is saved sex. Saved, yes, in the sense of not exercising the genital gift until you are married validly. Saved also in the sense of bringing about repentance for immoral conduct if that is what is required of you to be in harmony with the natural law. This, by the way, is what happens with Dismas. He accepts responsibility for his sin (Lk 23:41). Not so the other criminal; he remains defiant till the end.
The Sexual Revolution is no match for the revolution of redemption. As the Psalmist says, with the Lord there is mercy and fullness of redemption (Ps 130:7). But just as Dismas asks to be remembered by Jesus as he comes into his Kingdom, we must remember that it is the Lord’s mercy we seek, not our own self-justification. Archbishop Chaput points out that mercy is predicated on being truthful. And the truth is, we are called to conversion.
Always, it is a matter of conversion. For we are weak and we choose falsely, preferring the darkness over the light. But isn’t this why there is a Good Friday?
In your light we see light itself, the Psalmist says (Ps 36:10). The Easter light of the Resurrection is indeed coming. But before it arrives, there is the light that comes from every interior revolution wherein we are charged by correct judgments of conscience to give up the sins of the flesh and live again the saving power of a freedom in the truth (Veritatis Splendor, 87).
Unavoidably, this endeavor requires effort and sacrifice on our part, a work that is traditionally called asceticism. Where asceticism has been abandoned though, the interior revolution is harder to initiate and sustain. It begins nevertheless with the reality of the Cross and Christ’s triumph over it. Otherwise, how could Jesus have told us to deny ourselves, pick up our own crosses and follow him? The means to affect an interior revolution are there for us to use them. But do we have the will to use them?
The cultural crisis we are undergoing now passes right through Calvary. That revolution is permanent; its grace never cheap. That is owing to the one, true revolutionary we have ever had—the Crucified Lord of history!