Monday, March 26, 2012

The Devil in the details: Lent 5

This Lent, our theme is finding the Devil in the details of the Sunday gospels. On the first two Sundays, Satan was mentioned explicitly in the gospel. The next two Sundays, we had to look for him in the shadows. In today’s gospel, the devil is again mentioned explicitly (though you might have missed it).

Jesus refers to the climactic battle against Satan at the cross in the final verses: “Now is the judgment of this world, now shall the ruler of this world be cast out; and I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” According to the voice of the Father, this hour of judgment will be the hour of the Son’s glory — the hour of his victory on the triumph tree.

Back in the beginning of creation, God made the angels to serve him in heaven and he created the earth as a home for mankind, who were made in his image. When some of the angels rebelled, they were cast out of heaven by St. Michael the Archangel and a host of angels. Jesus once said, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Lk 10:18).

The devil and his demons were cast out of heaven, and cast onto the earth (see Isaiah 14:12 and Ezekiel 28:17). St. John records in his Revelation: “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world -- he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him” (Rev 12:9).

The devil immediately went to work tempting humanity to rebel against God — to defile that image of the Creator within us and destroy our likeness to God. The devil reigns over disobedient hearts, and in that sense the world became his dominion (1 John 5:19).

Jesus refers to the devil as “the ruler of this world” three times in John’s gospel. The perfect obedience of Jesus to the very end and to the fullness of his being, (as shown in his crucifixion) brings the dominion of disobedience to an end. Victory over the ruler (or “prince”) of this world was won once for all at the hour when Christ gloriously poured out his life on the Cross.

Jesus said, “Now is the time for the judgment against this world (i.e., the verdict against the sin within it); now is the time for the unlawful ruler of this world
(i.e., this usurper to the throne) to be cast out.”

Now the kingdom of God would be definitively established on earth. Now his royal subjects could be reunited with God through the perfect obedience of Christ in his death and resurrection. Now the King would be lifted up on his throne of love and draw the whole world to himself.

He draws us today to his sacred Altar, where we “proclaim the Lord’s death” as St Paul says, “until he comes again.” There, Jesus offers us tokens of the transformation that can be a reality for all his people. He bids us to partake of the sacred Host, and to drink from the cup of everlasting salvation.

Most people think the word “host” used for the bread consecrated to the flesh of our Lord Christ has something to do with “hospitality,” but it does not. “Host” comes from the Latin word hostia, which is a sacrificial victim.

In the Eucharist, as on the cross, Jesus is both the Priest and the Victim — the one who offers sacrifice to God, and the offering itself. His sacred Body is laid on the corporal on the altar before the Father. His precious Blood, shed for you and for many so that sins may be forgiven, is presented before the Father in a chalice and covered with a pall.

To share with us his life, he has poured himself out unto death. St. Paul said that Christ “has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (Col 1:13-14).

We should note how our forebears, especially in the early centuries of the Church, saw the cross as a sign of triumph and victory. Take the example of Venantius Fortunatus, a poet and bishop in the sixth century, who composed a hymn Pangue Lingua, sung on Good Friday around the world.

Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,
Sing the winning of the fray;
Now above the cross, the trophy,
Sound the high triumphal lay:
Tell how Christ, the world’s Redeemer,
As a Victim won the day.

May God grant us grace to both behold and share in the victory of the cross. We will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and resurrection, by whom we are saved and made free.

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