07 April 2009

Holy Week in the Year of Saint Paul

Christological Hymn, Philippians 2:6-11

Christo Iesu, qui cum in forma Dei esset,
non rapinam arbitratus est esse se æqualem Deo,
sed semetipsum exinanivit formam servi accipiens,
in similitudinem hominum factus;
et habitu inventus ut homo,
humiliavit semetipsum factus obœdiens usque ad mortem,
mortem autem crucis.
Propter quod et Deus illum exaltavit
et donavit illi nomen,
quod est super omne nomen,
ut in nomine Iesu omne genu flectatur
cælestium et terrestrium et infernorum,
et omnis lingua confiteatur
“Dominus Iesus Christus!”
in gloriam Dei Patris.

Christ Jesus, Who being in the form of God,
thought it not robbery to be equal with God,
but poured out Himself grasping the form of a servant,
being made in the likeness of men;
and being found as man,
He humbled Himself becoming obedient all the way to death,
moreover death on a cross.
Because of that, God also exalted Him
and has given Him a Name,
which is above all names,
that in the Name of Jesus every knee should bend
in heaven and on earth and of the lower regions,
and every tongue confess,
“Lord Jesus Christ!”
to the glory of God the Father.

Pope Benedict XVI

The liturgy proposes to us the brief but profound Christological hymn from the Letter to the Philippians. It is the hymn… which delineates the paradoxical emptying of the divine Word, Who lays aside His glory and assumes the human condition.

Christ, incarnated and humiliated in the most infamous death, that of crucifixion, is proposed as a vital model for the Christian. Undoubtedly, He possesses divine nature with all its prerogatives. But He does not interpret and live this transcendent reality as a sign of power, of greatness, and of dominion. Christ does not use His being equal to God, His glorious dignity and His power as an instrument of triumph, sign of distance, expression of crushing supremacy. On the contrary, He emptied Himself, immersing Himself without reserve in the miserable and weak human condition. The divine form is hidden in Christ under the human form, that is, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, limitation and death. It is Christ's divine reality in an authentically human experience. God does not appear only as man, but becomes man and is really one of us, He is truly God-with-us, not content with gazing on us with a benign look from his throne of glory, but enters personally in human history, becoming flesh, namely, fragile reality, conditioned by time and space. This radical sharing of the human condition, with the exception of sin, leads Jesus to that frontier which is the sign of our finiteness and frailty, death. However, the latter is not the fruit of a dark mechanism or blind fatality: It is born from the choice of obedience to the Father's plan of salvation. The Apostle adds that the death Jesus faces is that of the cross, namely, the most degrading, thus wishing to be truly a brother of every man and woman, including those constrained to an atrocious and ignominious end.

The fundamental element of this first part of the hymn, it seems to me, is the invitation to penetrate into Jesus' sentiments. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments means not to consider power, wealth and prestige as the highest values in life, as in the end, they do not respond to the deepest thirst of our spirit, but to open our heart to the Other, to bear with the Other the burden of life and to open ourselves to the Heavenly Father with a sense of obedience and trust, knowing, precisely, that if we are obedient to the Father, we will be free. To penetrate into Jesus' sentiments -- this should be the daily exercise of our life as Christians.

Jesus Debased Himself

Jesus is truly God and man. As man, He is the servant of God but always remaining God. He shed His greatness for love of humanity. He made Himself void, emptied Himself in order that there would be “no beauty in Him, nor comeliness… no sightliness that we should be desirous of Him. Here is One despised, left out of all human reckoning; bowed with misery, and no stranger to weakness. How should we recognize that Face? How should we take any account of Him, a man so despised? Our weakness, and it was He Who carried the weight of it, our miseries, and it was He Who bore them” (Isaiah 53:2-4).

Cut Off from the Land of the Living

“He was offered because it was His own will and He opened not His mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7).

The Spirit of the Liturgy

The Christian Liturgy is a cosmic Liturgy precisely because it bends the knee before the crucified and exalted Lord. Here is the center of authentic culture - the culture of truth. The humble gesture by which we fall at the Feet of the Lord inserts us into the true path of life of the cosmos. We should remember that Luke, unlike Matthew and Mark, speaks of the Lord kneeling in Gethsemane, which shows that Luke wants the kneeling of the first martyr [Saint Stephen] to be seen as his entry into the prayer of Jesus. Kneeling is not only a Christian gesture, but a Christological one.

It may well be that kneeling is alien to modern culture -- insofar as it is a culture, for this culture has turned away from the faith and no longer knows the One before Whom kneeling is the right, indeed the intrinsically necessary gesture. The man who learns to believe learns also to kneel, and a faith or a liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core. Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered, so that, in our prayer, we remain in fellowship with the apostles and martyrs, in fellowship with the whole cosmos, indeed in union with Jesus Christ Himself.