By Fr. Glenn Jones:
Watched a good movie the other day called “The Guardian” about Coast Guard rescue swimmers. It was good to see it, because the poor “Coasties” get really short-changed on recognition despite having some of the most active and dangerous missions. Not part of the Dept. of Defense (it’s actually of the Dept. of Transportation), they don’t get to dip into the big bucks budgeted for the military. But when you need ‘em, you really need ‘em … so hats off to all you Coasties out there.
Now the U.S. Coast Guard motto is Semper Paratus—“Always Ready”—not to be confused with the Marines’ motto of Semper Fidelis—“Always Faithful”. “Semper Paratus” works well as a motto for the faithful Christians as well. After all, how many times does Jesus tell his hearers “Watch (i.e., “be always ready”); you know neither the day nor the hour” of one’s own passing on to God. But how is one to be ready?
Well, to be proficient in any occupation/vocation requires diligent work and patience—being a faithful Christian being no exception. The Christian wants to mirror the excellence of his mentor, model—indeed, his God—Jesus Christ. Yet Jesus Himself warns His followers in His Sermon on the Mount: “…the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13-14). That excerpt in itself argues against “easy” Christianity, not to even mention Jesus’ condition: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) That theme pervades the New Testament, the authors speaking of testing and the necessity of an enduring patience in following the Way: “Count it all joy…when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-3)
“But … what do WE get out of it?”, the inquirer might ask. Scriptures assure us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
It’s not easy in our day to convince people of the truth of Christ and life eternal. As I’ve mentioned here on many occasions, while the scientific age has led to truly amazing technological advances in our world over the last few centuries, Man has advanced … not so much. While technology exists to feed the world, we still war, we still hate, we still grasp for personal gain at the expense—even the lives—of others. I often watch the news and wonder: What if the big four of U.S., China and Russia and Europe actually cooperated (what a concept!) with one another for the betterment of mankind rather than waste so much in endless jockeying for position and power?
Now, In that movie “The Guardian” mentioned above, one brief shot shows on the wall a motto: “Courage is the mastery of fear.” Fear and loss go hand-in-hand, and fear is the anxiety of the danger of loss. We fear betray, loss of comfort, pleasures and security, and, of course, loss of our lives, even though we also know that that last loss is inevitable.
But … is it? Certainly the loss of physical life is so … but what about after?
Despite all of his supposed advancement, Mankind is still fixedly mired in selfishness—selfishness being the root of sin, with charity—love, selfLESSness—the root of virtue. Star Wars buffs might compare sin and selfishness to the “dark side of the force”—people tend toward it because, as Yoda says, it’s “Easier. Quicker”; it more immediately fulfills some passion or desire. But the “good side” is love and charity, perfectly manifested in Jesus’ own sacrifice of self upon the cross.
But why did He die so—abandoned, humiliated, despised, tortured? Are such actions not what we do to others when we betray, insult, gossip, and hurt—all to fulfill perverse selfishness within ourselves?
Divine justice is absolute justice—it IS justice. So when we give offense or do some evil, there is negative balance in justice which must be righted if absolute justice is to be fulfilled. But when we do evil things, we not only sin against one another, but against the infinite God Himself, much as any parent suffers when his child is wronged. Yet because we are finite, Man is incapable of atoning for infinite offenses against the infinite. But Jesus, as God and Man, is simultaneously infinite God and finite Man, and that union of His dual nature allows for atonement for Mankind’s faults and can bring “Justice” into divine balance … if we individually accept it. If not, well … that’s why eternal atonement exists—not because of God’s lack of mercy, but by personal refusal of clemency God offers so beseechingly.
“But did Jesus have to die?!” He didn’t have to; God could have brought Justice into balance in some other way. But what does Jesus’ voluntary death show us? “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) In His own act of self-sacrifice, God shows just how totally He loves us: to the most extreme possible limit of the human nature that He took upon His divinity. And so: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” (1 John 3:16). This is how we can be semper paratus—always ready: by our readiness to selflessly sacrifice for one another.
God loves us beyond all possible hope, beyond all possible reckoning, and certainly beyond all possible deserving. Why did Jesus die? In the culmination of His mission, He has become the mediator between God and Man—in a sense, our Guardian: So others may live.
“Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may also be.” (John 14:1-3)
Editor’s note: Rev. Glenn Jones is the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe and former pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Los Alamos.