With each strike of the whip (flagrum), I can
imagine the accusing voice of the devil announcing
my sins which cause Your suffering. I pray for the
grace to turn from sin and avoid temptation.
From the outside, the Christian life looks strange and even foolish. We preach an ideal we are still striving for ourselves. We don’t look down on others in their failures any more than we invite condemnation for our own. We simply invite others to join us on the journey. There is no hypocrisy in recognizing our sins, reconciling with God and men, and starting fresh in every encounter. Hypocrites are those who lay burdens on others they themselves are not willing to carry (Matt 23:4).
Starting with our first parents in the Garden of Eden and continuing down through history, our story is one of repeated failures to live according to the will and righteousness of God. Through His law written in word and in our hearts (Heb 8:10), we know what is best for us and how we ought to live (Col 3). Yet we are inclined to live as we don’t understand and even do what we hate (Rom 7:15). In our pride, we decide what is good and evil and because we don’t live as we preach, we drive people away from the faith. People revile God when they see Him through us (Rom 2:24). We are hypocrites—teaching others to observe that which we fail to observe ourselves (Rom 2:21-23). We are sinners. In justice, we deserve punishment.
In God is perfect justice. Sin requires blood. Our lives are forfeit in our sins. In perfect justice, we were condemned in our guilt.
According to the law almost everything is purified by blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness (Heb 9:22).
Our God is also merciful and compassionate. He doesn’t desire our deaths but made us for communion with Him. In His suffering, we are not pardoned of our sins—God’s justice is fulfilled—we are redeemed. We are not just saved from death, we are raised to eternal life. We are not just forgiven, we are adopted as sons and daughters. How can justice and mercy together be expressed more perfectly than God becoming one of us to pay a price none of us could pay to call us home to a reward none of us could ever earn?
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).
Jesus stepped between the executioner and us. He took our sins upon Himself and suffered the punishments we deserve.
Yet it was our pain that he bore,
our sufferings he endured.
We thought of him as stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted,
But he was pierced for our sins,
crushed for our iniquity.
He bore the punishment that makes us whole,
by his wounds we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
all following our own way;
But the Lord laid upon him
the guilt of us all (Is 53:4-6).
When I prepare for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, my examination of conscience usually comes with a vision. With each sin I acknowledge, I see myself standing next to the devil. He holds the flagrum. Each blow he inflicts on Jesus comes with an announcement of the sin of mine that requires that blow. As the sins progress, so does the pain. My Lord doesn’t just suffer a general punishment for nebulous failings of forgotten humanity. He isn’t suffering just because man sins. He is suffering because I am a sinner. He is suffering very particular punishments for my very specific transgressions. It is horrifying to imagine… and humbling. There is no way to not feel remorse for my carelessness and a desire to embrace Him in gratitude. Holding this vision helps me realize the weight of my decisions.
In all that we do, we should examine our conscience. Are we doing as we ought to do or rebelling against the strictures of God? We are but children in His eyes. Telling our children not to run into the street isn’t keeping them from exploration—we know better than they the danger of their actions. Just so, God has given us His Commandments not to turn us into lifeless automatons but that we might know true freedom from the slavery to sin. It is in our conscience that we hear His voice of reason in our moments of temptation.
“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths [GS 16]“ (CCC 1776).
We don’t just examine our consciences, we must form them. It starts at our earliest age in learning right from wrong… what God calls good and evil. We learn from our parents and other believers who have also formed their consciences on the Word of God (Ps 119) and the teachings of the Church (1 Tim 3:15). We learn from our mistakes and work to do better. We can learn of gravity by studying Newton or by falling… both are good lessons… both provide a reference from which we can learn and grow.
In the formation of conscience the Word of God is the light for our path [Cf. Ps 119:105], we must assimilate it in faith and prayer and put it into practice. We must also examine our conscience before the Lord’s Cross. We are assisted by the gifts of the Holy Spirit, aided by the witness or advice of others and guided by the authoritative teaching of the Church [Cf. DH 14] (CCC 1785).
Temptation surrounds us as water surrounds ships. Within the ship, passengers and cargo are kept safe and dry. Within the ship, we behave just as we may on the shore. The water that surrounds the ship doesn’t threaten it, only the water that enters. With each temptation we fail to resist, our sins make us like ships taking on water. We become less stable and less secure the more we sin until our ships may founder.
Blessed is the man who perseveres in temptation, for when he has been proved he will receive the crown of life that he promised to those who love him. No one experiencing temptation should say, “I am being tempted by God”; for God is not subject to temptation to evil, and he himself tempts no one. Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death (James 1:12-15).
Periodically, we must bring our ships to shore for repair in reconciliation. Jesus came to bring to life those who were dead in sin. In our moments of temptation, may our Lord’s suffering remind us of our calling to give all we have and all we are to God. He who is perfect justice and mercy has satisfied the law with His own blood and paid the price for our sins. May we seek communion with Him who loved us enough to suffer and die in our place to bring us home to a glory we can’t yet comprehend. May we live as we believe so that others may know by our lives our gratitude for the one who saved us for communion with Himself.
So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:17-21).
Justice is the moral virtue that consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and neighbor (CCC 1807). It’s a perfecting of the will toward the commandments of God. In justice, we love God above all and our neighbor as ourselves. Justice requires the understanding that all people are equal before God by nature. May I see in others what I see in myself—the dignity to be called a child a God—and may I do for my neighbor what I seek for myself—forgiveness, service, and love. Knowing what is right is useless unless I choose to act on what I know to be right. In this understanding of justice, may I serve the Kingdom faithfully by loving God and my neighbor in obedience and gratitude.