Who is to blame for the bloody spectacle of Jesus’ death on the cross?
Was it the religious authorities and crowds who demanded His death? Was it Pontius Pilate and the Roman authorities who were willing to condemn a clearly innocent man? Was it the disciples who betrayed, denied and abandoned Him?
The fact is that we are all to blame for Jesus’ death. On the cross, He took upon Himself the punishment for sins that we deserved. The prophet Isaiah foretold this as we heard in today’s first reading: “Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured.” Later on in the reading, Isaiah also tells us, “he was smitten for the sins of his people.” Anyone who has ever sinned - and that means all of us - can look up at the cross and say, “He died because of me.”
At the same time, we must always keep in mind that Jesus died not to condemn us but to save us. He came so that we might have the forgiveness of sin and life in abundance. So the cross that we venerate today should not give us shame but hope. Jesus has paid the price for our salvation. When we have sinned, we can be assured of forgiveness through the blood that He shed on the cross. When we are tempted, we can be assured of strength to overcome it by the power of the cross. And whatever difficulties or challenges we may face in life, we can endure them by reflecting on Jesus’ own suffering. The cross only brings condemnation on those who refuse to accept God’s offer of forgiveness and who prefer power and wealth over His holy will. But for us who are willing to leave sin behind, the cross is God’s promise of healing, salvation and everlasting life.
All of us here today have sinned in one way or another. And all of us, depending on how serious it was, have felt different levels of sorrow for our sins. We sometimes feel remorse for our actions because of the consequences. We could have seen how our sins hurt us or hurt someone else and we regret the suffering we have caused. We can also feel remorse because we fear God’s just punishment. We realize that sin harms our soul to such an extent that we could lose the eternal life of heaven. That fear can make us sorry for our sins. But there is an even more perfect contrition that we can experience. We can feel sorry for our sins because we love God so much that we never want to hurt Him. We realize that He sent His Son to suffer in our place and that, by our sins, we have shown Him ingratitude and indifference. That level of sorrow which we have traditionally called “perfect contrition” is a great grace because it moves the heart of God in a way that the other levels of sorrow do not. It also is a sign of real change taking place in our hearts making us more and more like Jesus who was obedient to His Heavenly Father not out of fear but out of love as our second reading tells us.
How can we receive the grace of perfect contrition for our sins. One important way is to spend time praying before the crucifix. As we look up at Jesus hanging on the cross, we realize in a profound way how much suffering He endured for us. We come to understand just how ugly our sins must be if God would go to such great lengths to expiate them. And our heart grows in the desire to return the save love back to God by offering our own suffering up to Him and by serving Him in our brothers and sisters who are themselves weighed down with suffering. As we contemplate the love that God showed us in the cross, our fear, guilt and shame melt away and love floods our soul like the spring sun melting the snows of winter.
If we want to know what real love is, we need only look at the cross. It is the ultimate act of love which any human being has shown to another. There is nothing romantic about it, but it has real power to change us and the world. By reflecting on the cross daily, that love can begin to take possession of us, to shape our personality and guide our actions. In that love, we can know freedom and peace.