The Central Event of World History

Author: ks. Mieczysław Piotrowski TChr

The final 24 hours of the earthly life of Jesus mark the most important event in the history of the world. Too many of us have grown hardened and insensitive to the gospel accounts of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

 

And yet these historical events touch every one of us personally, since they open up for us the road to full happiness in a love that endures for eternity. The expressive images of Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ have the power to break through our dulled consciences and open our hearts to the joyous truth of salvation, by which all of mankind is enabled to be united in love with the Resurrected Lord and share in His victory over Satan, sin and death.
 
What Jesus accomplished for us is a mystery that surpasses all human understanding. Nevertheless, since faith always seeks to deepen our understanding, let us try, in the light of God’s revelation, to answer the following basic question: Why did Christ have to suffer, die and rise from the dead? 
God created man in His own image and likeness — a thinking being endowed with a free will and an aptitude for love. He called man to a life of communion with Himself. Man can only become what the Creator intended him to be and, thus, achieve perfect happiness when he becomes a partaker in the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4), that is, when he unites himself in love with God. Only when man gives his full consent in total freedom can God bestow on him the fullness of His love and unite Himself with him and, thus, restore the works of creation.
When man yielded to temptation, he stopped believing that his happiness depended on God alone. Instead, he believed Satan’s lie that the path to happiness lay in rejecting God. This was the essence of original sin. The natural consequence of man’s rejection of God was death (Rom 5:12) and enslavement to sin (Jn 8:34) and the spiritual forces of evil (1 Jn 5:19; Ga 4:3; 5:1; Col 2:15). Original sin deformed what was essential in human nature, namely, “the image and likeness of God.” Man now carried a false image of God, of himself, and of sin. Left to his own devices, he was unable to know the Truth, confess his fault, and entrust himself to the mercy of God. And, yet, these were conditions that had to be met if God was to save him, join him to Himself, and restore the works of creation. How these conditions were satisfied should shake us all to the core.
Moved by pure, selfless love, God entered the reality of sin and death as a real man and took upon Himself “the iniquity of us all,” “bore our griefs,” “carried our sorrows,” “was wounded for our transgressions” (Is 53:4-6). This is a shocking fact: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21). The Son of God, “of one substance with the Father,” becomes true man in order to take upon Himself the appalling consequences of our sins and satisfy the necessary conditions of our salvation. Having identified Himself with our sin- and death-ridden humanity, He offers Himself and the world to the Father in perfect obedience and love. As Scripture states, he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God to make expiation for the sins of the people (Heb 2:17).
The Gospel tells us that Jesus Christ came to witness to the Truth (Jn 18:37). Indeed, He identifies Himself with the Truth (Jn 14:9). He gives witness to it in the dramatic events of His passion, death and resurrection, by living out His earthly life in sinless human nature and drawing upon Himself the sins of all men. Jesus could do this only because He is a divine person, the Son of God.
Hence, Christ’s appalling passion and death. His suffering reached its culminating point during His agony on the cross, when He cried out, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mt 27:43). In His human consciousness, Jesus, the Son of God, came to know the absence of the Father. This was a terrible spiritual experience of abandonment — an experience of the greatest suffering caused by sin, which severs man’s relationship with God. It was for us, on account of the sins of all people, that Jesus experienced this sense of utter desolation and impotence. Every sin is the fruit of disobedience of a creature toward his loving Creator and Father, and its consequence is suffering and death. In dying on the cross, in appalling suffering, Jesus reveals the full extent of these consequences. At the same time, since His suffering is the suffering of a divine person, its efficacy extends to wherever evil’s destructive power is capable of reaching.
Jesus suffers and dies in full solidarity with sinful mankind. In this experience of unimaginable suffering — in becoming “obedient unto death” (Phil 2:8) — He offers Himself to the Father on behalf of all sinners with the words, Father, into your hands I commend my spirit (Lk 23:46).
 Suffering and death are the ultimate expression of the Son’s perfect obedience to the Father. And in return for the boundless obedience and self-giving of His Son, the Father responds by giving Him His own paternal gift, that is to say, the gift of new immortal life in the resurrection (Redemptor hominis, 20).
Christ’s perfect act of love and obedience at the moment of death and His Father’s response in the gift of the resurrection represent the culminating act of salvation — the forgiveness of all sins and victory over death. God made man took upon Himself the sin and death of every man so that, in the resurrection, He might win for all of us the gift of immortal life and forgiveness of sins. He responds to man’s ultimate crime with infinite love and forgiveness. Jesus’ bruised and tormented body is a visible sign of the extent to which sin causes suffering and harm. By the same token, His risen and glorified humanity is a sign of the final victory over death and the forgiveness of all sins by the great power of God’s mercy. Thus, in Christ’s death and resurrection, man finds again the greatness, dignity and value that belong to his humanity. In the mystery of the Redemption man becomes newly “expressed” and, in a way, is newly created. He is newly created! (Redemptor hominis, 10). 
Christ’s passion, death and resurrection have eternal value. His redemptive love extends to all people of all times. Through His Mystical Body, the Church, which dispenses the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, Jesus offers all of us a part in His victory over Satan, sin, and death.
Thus, as we watch The Passion of the Christ, let us remember that the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus are the central event in the history of the created world. They offer every person the forgiveness of all sins and the joy of eternal life. May we all wish to accept this gift and profit from the Sacraments of Penance and the Holy Eucharist, for in these gifts, which He extends to us through His Church, the mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection is always present.
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