Lenten Meditations on Christ’s Love for Us

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The Fire of Christ’s Love

The fire of Christ’s love on the cross has not burnt out; it is not something of the past, of two thousand years ago, of which only the memory lives on. It exists now; it is alive. If it were necessary, Christ would die again for us because the love for which he died continues unchanged. “I am more a friend to you than such and such a one,” Christ tells us as once he told the great mathematician and theologian Blaise Pascal. “I have done for you more than they; they would not have suffered what I have suffered from you, and they would not have died for you as I have done in the time of you infidelities and cruelties, and as I am ready to do, and do, among my elect” (Pascal, Pensées, 553).

Jesus has run out of signs for his love. There is nothing more he can do to show his love, for there is no greater sign than to give one’s life. But he has run out of signs for his love, not of love itself. Now his love is entrusted to a special sign, a different one, a sign that is real, a person: the Holy Spirit. “God’s love”—the love we now know—“has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5). It is therefore a living and real love, just as the Holy Spirit is living and real.

Where the other evangelists say that Jesus “uttered a loud cry and breathed his last” (Mark 15:37; cf. Matthew 27:50), John says that Jesus “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30). That is, he not only breathed his last, but he gave the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, his Spirit. Now we know what was in the loud cry that Jesus gave us as he was dying. Its mystery has finally been revealed!

Jesus Christ Is My Lord

There is a subjective dimension in the words “Jesus is Lord!” that depends on the person who is saying them. I have often wondered why the demons in the gospels never once gave Jesus this title. They go as far as saying, “You are the Son of God” or “You are the Holy One of God!” (cf. Matthew 4:3; Mark 3:11; 5:7; Luke 4:41), but they never say “You are the Lord!” The most plausible reason for this seems that to say “You are the Son of God” is to simply acknowledge a given fact that does not depend on them and that they cannot change. They know that Jesus is God’s Son. But to say “You are the Lord!” is a different matter. It means to recognize him as such and to submit to his Lordship. If the demons were to do so, they would immediately cease to be what they are and become angels of light again.

These words divide two worlds. To say “Jesus is Lord!” means to freely enter his dominion. It is like saying “Jesus Christ is my Lord, the very reason of my existence. I live for him and no longer for myself.” St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (14:7-8). The greatest contradiction—that between life and death and ever present in man—has been overcome. Now the radical contradiction is no longer between living and dying but between living “for the Lord” and living “for oneself.” Living for oneself is the new name for death.

For Each of Us!

The Redeemer’s love is a personal love. Christ died “for us,” St. Paul told us. If we understand the “for us” only in a collective sense, we deprive it of some of its greatness. The numeric disproportion reestablishes a certain proportion of value. It is true that Jesus is innocent and we are guilty, that he is God and we are men; but, after all, he is just one and we are billions. It might seem more plausible that one should die to save the lives of billions. But this is not the case. He died “for us” means also “for each one of us.” It must be taken in a distributive sense as well as in a collective sense. As St. Paul says, “[He] loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, emphasis added).

Therefore, Christ did not love the masses but individuals, persons. He died also for me, and I must conclude that he would have died just the same even if I had been the only one on the face of the earth to save. This is a certainty of faith. Christ’s love is infinite love because it is divine and not only human. (Christ is also God, and we must never, even for an instant, forget this!). But the infinite cannot split into parts. It is all in all. Millions of particles are consecrated every day in churches. But each of these does not contain only a particle of Christ’s body but the whole Christ. It is the same with his love. There are billions of people, and each one does not receive only a particle of Christ’s love but the fullness of his love, whole and entire. All of Christ’s love is in me and also in my neighbor, and this fact should make me respect him and have regard and charity for him.

I, too, can say, “Christ loved me and gave his life for me!” He knows his sheep by name and he calls them by name (cf. John 10:3). No one is just a number for him. How new and true do God’s words, through Isaiah the prophet, ring on the lips of Jesus on the cross: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; / I have called you by name, you are mine. /… Because you are precious in my eyes, / and honored, and I love you” (43:1, 4). You are honored because I love you: it is all expressed in the singular tense here. How sweet these words would sound to those who feel miserable, worthless, abandoned by all, if only they were courageous enough to believe them!

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? St. Paul exclaims. “Shall tribulation, or distress … ?” (Romans 8:35) No, nothing will be able to separate us (cf. 8:37-39). This discovery can change a man’s life; this is the news that we must never tire of shouting out to people today. This is the only sure and steady fact in this world: that God loves us!

Excerpted from The Fire of Christ’s Love: Meditations on the Cross by Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap (The Word Among Us Press, 2013). Available at wau.org/books