In the first part of this series, we took a look at what it means to be loved by our Heavenly Father. In this second post, we’re going to take a deeper look at what it means to be loved by the Son. Of the three persons in the Holy Trinity, the love of the Jesus may be the most apparent: for God so loved the world, He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Our eternal life was given to us at a high cost – Jesus died for us. Our Lord pointed out that this is the supreme act of love – to lay down one’s life for his or her friends (John 15:13).
When you consider that Jesus not only died for his friends, but for the sake of every human who has ever lived (including you and I), we discover an act of love beyond our greatest imagining. When in 1941, St. Maximilian Kolbe offered his life in the place of Franciszek Gajowniczek in Auschwitz, it was a moment Franciszek would never forget (and he testified as much during the process leading up to Fr. Kolbe’s canonization.)
But unlike Franciszek’s experience, we didn’t see Jesus die. This sacrifice happened long ago and far, far away – and it leaves us wondering what something that happened in Israel nearly 2,000 years ago has to do with us today. Fortunately, it’s simple. Jesus’ dying on the Cross and rising again represents two monumental tenets of our faith: hope and hope.
(Yes, I know I just wrote the same thing twice.)
On the one hand, Jesus’ death on the cross preceded His resurrection from the dead three days later, destroying the power that death held over the human race. Believing that Jesus rose from the dead (as He promised He would) means that we can also believe His promise to go and prepare a place for us (John 14:3). That each of us will someday die is one of the very few things we can be absolutely certain of in this life, and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we carry within us a hope that death is not the end of our story but a turning of the page into a new chapter. While a discussion of how one gets to Heaven is best left for another post, suffice it to say that the hope of Heaven is a pillar of Christian faith.
For most of the young people I serve, this first hope isn’t that important – because for most of them death seems to be a long ways off. But there is another side to this event that brings hope – and it’s a hope that each of us can be tremendously grateful for.
Most anyone over the age of five I’ve ever met carries in their hearts and minds various things they’ve come to regret. These regrets can encompass choices they wish they hadn’t made, opportunities to do something good or new they didn’t take, and so on. While a few put on a brave face and say that they live life with no regrets, that is easier said than done. Those under the age of five can sometimes make poor decisions (the time my daughter drop-kicked her brother, put a pillow on his face, and sat on it because “she didn’t like the sound he was making” comes to mind) – a small child tends to apologize for whatever they’ve done and then move on. The only reason why a child that age will dwell on one of these things is because someone else is reminding them of it. Likewise, I think we can grow past the point of letting regret get the better of us – most people can think of some older person in their life who has grown beyond caring what other people think, and instead say whatever comes to mind… no matter how awkward or inapropriate it might be.
But here in the middle, we live with regret. And there are many (particularly young people) for whom these regrets become some form of daily self-torture. They look themselves in the mirror – sometimes literally – and remind themselves of whatever bad decision(s) they’ve made, seeing in their own reflection a failure and a screw up.
If this is you, there are two things you absolutely need to understand.
- Every one of us has our own share of regrets of poor decisions and missed opportunities we want to hang on to.
- Jesus’ death was meant to teach us to let go of these regrets.
Don’t believe me? St. Paul wrote about it 20 centuries ago:
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” -Romans 3:23-25
The second side of hope which comes from Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross fits in right here. Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins. There is no thing you have or can ever do (or not do) that stretches beyond the bounds of what Jesus wants to help us leave behind. In Church circles you’ll often hear stories of conversion – people who had no faith or who began their life as a member of another religious community converting to Catholicism. These are often accompanied by stories of conversion (testimonies) as to why they made this decision… usually a mix of intellectual and emotional reasons. But conversion is not a one-time event, nor is it reserved to those who began their lives outside the Church. Every one of us is called to a daily conversion, a daily turning back to Jesus. One of the simplest ways we do that is bringing to Him our sins and regrets, hearing His forgiveness, and moving forward in faith from there. In the Catholic Christian tradition, the Sacrament of Reconciliation is the single greatest tool at our disposal to turn back to Him and leave our regrets behind.
Jesus died for you (and me). And while you may or may not be able to get your head around what exactly His suffering was all about, I pray you can get your head and heart around the twofold sense of hope which His dying and rising bring to your life in the here and now.
(Read part 3: (Be)Loved by the Holy Spirit.)