"It is finished." (St. John 19:30)
The triumph of patience is set before us. Our Lord and Master shirked nothing, but brought His whole work to its perfect consummation.
One drop of His Precious Blood had sufficed for the world's salvation. Those first drops shed when He was eight days old had sufficed to cleanse the world from sin, but they could not suffice for His love.
He wished to show us a great salvation, a wonderful salvation, a triumphant salvation; He wished to expend all that He had upon this perfect work, and through years of patience to bring it to the consummation which should satisfy His love for men.
The word "It is finished," is sometimes so misunderstood as to be used as an argument against the very purpose itself of our Lord's patient work.
There are those who base upon it an objection against the sacraments of the Church, her ritual and all her solemn observances: as if because our Lord uttered upon the cross the cry, "It is finished," that is, it is consummated, the means of applying and of appropriating what He achieved should be held cheap.
It was in order that the Catholic Church might be entrusted with the stewardship of His Mysteries, and equipped for her mission to the souls of men, that our Lord toiled and suffered in patience until He cried, it is consummated; until He saw in the last moment of His Passion that the price was paid, that the work was done, and that potentially His kingdom was established.
But in doing this He also sets before us His perfect example of patience and of perseverance.
No temptation more frequently besets the soul than that of being contented with a half effort, of making a beginning in some good work and then leaving off before the work is done. Our Lord by His example of patience shows us how to triumph over every such temptation, and surely this temptation needs to be watched.
O, what our Angel guardians could tell of beginnings which were only beginnings, of goings forward which never reached the goal, of undertakings which were never accomplished, of vows which were never fulfilled, of repentings which were never made good by amendment, of confessions which never led to satisfaction, of communions which have been without fruit, of lives which are being lived without realizing the purpose for which life is given.
Think, on the other hand, of the example set before us in this triumph of patience; how our Lord summed up and perfectly fulfilled everything written concerning Him.
You will remember how in one of the lessons read at the Altar this week, our Lord yearns for the time when He shall have accomplished His sufferings. That does not mean simply that He was going to get through with His suffering just to have it over; it means that the consummation of His work was before Him, and that He was laboring on for that consummation, as He said, "I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened until it be accomplished." His purpose was the filling up of the measure of His love in shedding for us the very last drop of His Blood.
We see, looking back over the types and prophecies of the Old Testament, the manifold instances in which, in some figurative or symbolical way, our Lord's sacrifice was foretold.
Take but one book, and note the minute details in the Book of Leviticus. Observe the directions concerning sacrifice and cleansing, the significant rites and ceremonies that had to be performed: every detail of the scarlet wool and the hyssop, and the running water; the salt and the oil, and the wine and the bread, and the blood of victims slain. All speak of Him, and all that they signified and foretold has been exactly fulfilled in detail, fully accomplished, made good, consummated in His perfect, His patient work.
There is nothing we need more in our life in the Church of God than patience. Patience must triumph by having its full work, or as St. James calls it, "its perfect work."
We are not made holy all at once. The grace given in Sacraments has to be used, worked upon, and hardened into the actual habit of our lives.
The work of sanctification runs on through the days and weeks and months and years of a man's life. It is a work of degrees, which should find a man advanced to-day over what he was a year ago, more holy a year hence than he is to-day. Every moment of every day has its part in it, and every part of it must be accomplished in the fear of God.
We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling; we have to do it in patience, and yet we live in an age when there is an eagerness for rapid results, when people are impatient of long time in construction. They expect a building, the plans of which are ready to-day, to be completed to-morrow.
Whatever may be done in material building, the building of the temples of the spirit is not so to be hurried. They must be completed in patience.
Perhaps never was this lesson of patience more necessary than for those who watch and wait to-day for the hastening of God's work in the Churches of England and of America.
We sometimes forget the magnitude of a work which after generations of spiritual ignorance and neglect, with the slothfulness begotten of such neglect, and a vast accumulation of inherited prejudice, has for its end the recovery of English-speaking people to Catholic truth.
And on the other hand, the very progress of God's work, of necessity involves a trial which may even be a temptation to impatience. For the law of spiritual recovery is, first, knowledge of the disease, then the offer of the means of restoration.
As a people we have to learn the bitterness of the cry, "Cast me not away from Thy Presence," as the preparation for the more hopeful petition, "O give me the comfort of Thy help again and stablish me with thy free Spirit."
One great evidence that the Spirit of God is working in us is the growing sense of our defects, revealed by Him as we are able to bear the sight without despair. Thus giving grace for grace, He leads us on slowly out of our misery.
We have too long been self-sufficient, we have too long been complacent. Only do not let us think, while God is undoing this for us, that He has forgotten us.
He reveals to us our wretchedness only because He means to restore us, if on our part we can persevere in penitence and also in hope.
On the other hand, we but faintly realize what God has already done for us, notwithstanding all our coldness and unfaithfulness, and that within the compass of a century.
It is barely seven decades ago that Catholic life in our Churches was almost forgotten. It has taken sometimes almost seven centuries to finish the building of a single cathedral.
What a glorious day was that when, not many years ago, the scaffolding that surrounded the noble spires of Cologne was finally removed. That great cathedral had been in the hands of the artisans for six hundred years. Workman after workman had come and gone, witnessing the work in its progress, satisfied to see it go on toward its consummation, hopeful that the end should come, and contented that the completed work should he seen by others not yet born.
The Catholic Church understands patience; she triumphs in this patience. She is not of yesterday, nor shall she die to-morrow. She is of all ages. Her Lord has promised to be with her all days, and her work goes on.
God in creation was patient; God in the preservation of His creatures is patient; God on the Cross was patient. Shall man he restless and impatient?
Can we not learn from Him, who did not commend His Spirit into His Father's hands until He could say: "It is consummated," it is all done, bravely, faithfully, courageously to finish our work and to let God finish in us His own?
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