"Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit."
(St. Luke 23:46)
The Word followed at once upon that which we have just considered. In other words, our blessed Master's exultation over His completed work was put off to the very moment in which He commended His Spirit into His Father's hands. Do we not see in this the triumph of obedience? Could any obedience be more perfect, more beautiful than this?
Coming into the world at His Father's will, rejoicing to do that will, living with that will in His heart as His one motive, persevering in that will until the very end, at last, as the final act of His painful toil He commends Himself into His Father's hands.
Notice first the promptness of our Lord's obedience.
By reason of our Lord's Godhead, the Father's will is already His will. A moment of hesitation is inconceivable; such a thought would impair the truth of our conception of the doctrine of the triune God.
The Father can only will as that will is expressed by His eternal Spirit and His eternal Word, and so for our Lord the acceptance of the Divine will is implied in the very idea of His relation to the Father. The will had not gone forth without our Lord's consent.
But as Man, He brings His human will also into union with the Divine. However difficult, however painful the cost to flesh and blood, the price was joyfully paid. He seems to exult in the performance of the Father's will: "In the volume of the Book it is written of Me that I should fulfil Thy will, O God. I am content to do it. Yea, Thy law is within My heart."
All through His life we see the delight and joy which He ever finds in obedience. "Wist ye not," He says at the age of twelve, "that I must be about My Father's business?" "I have meat to eat that ye know not of. My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me." "I came not to do My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me." "Father, Thy will be done." "Not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
Look at that life; see the triumph of obedience in it all.
And obedience, we say, is very hard. We do not like to do things simply because we are told to do them, even though told by authority that has the right to command. And yet, the glory of the Catholic Church is her right to obedience.
When her Divine Head was upon earth the common people heard Him gladly, because He spoke with authority and not as others; and true-hearted people, when prejudice has been overcome, will hear the Church gladly in proportion as she speaks with, the certainty of utterance as taught by God the Holy Ghost, Who is her life.
Our Religion was not discovered by ourselves; we are called out of the world into the ark of salvation, to receive from God the truth which He has declared in His only begotten Son. "No man hath seen God at any time. The only begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him."
The confession of our faith, the Creed which we recite with triumph in our solemn feasts, is all a matter of obedience. All of those splendid statements were revealed to us; we did not discover them. In the world the glory of a man is to find out for himself, to teach himself, to be "self-made," to have no authority higher than his own choice. In the Church this is reversed. Our profession is to be like to Jesus Christ; our privilege is to be taught of God; our glory is to obey, and our triumph at last will be that we followed the path of obedience to the end.
How often some part of the Church's system, which has the sanction, I do not say of part of the Church, but of the Catholic Church throughout the world, is lightly set aside because someone says, "I do not like that."
Some doctrine or practice which has the sanction of the ages, upon which millions upon millions of hearts have rested and found their strength, is lightly set aside because someone says, "I do not approve of that."
Surely that is not in accordance with our Lord's mind; He teaches us obedience. We have absolutely no right to choose when the whole Church has set its approval upon some doctrine or practice, and we have not triumphed, nay, we have not begun to learn obedience unless we take this as a matter of course.
The Church says so; the Church is the Body of Christ. What the whole Church says, He says. "He that heareth you, heareth Me. He that despiseth you, despiseth Me."
Now here, to-day, as we draw to the close of the Passion, and to the finished work upon the Cross, let us ask if there be not one tribute which we have not yet paid to Him, an offering to which He has the right, and that is the perfect surrender of our own wills.
It is possible, as we know, to admire the character of Jesus Christ, to listen with delight to His words, to be moved by the pathos of His sufferings, and yet to withhold from Him the one offering which carries with itself all we have to give, the obedience of the will.
O, then, as we listen to this last Word of His upon the Cross and with which He crowns His life of perfect obedience, let not His sad reproach fall upon us, "Why call ye Me Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say?"
Do consider then, that we need the authority of the holy Church throughout the world to interpret for us His will, and to receive in His Name the loyal obedience of His subjects.
Let us not think that the voice of authority is any the less His, because as we now hear it in the universal Church it is as the sound of many waters, gathering volume from the lips of multitudes in every age and of every clime: "The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge Thee."
Consider the security which is ours in that universal assent, that great Catholic "yea" and "Amen" of obedience to His voice. What more reasonable than to listen to this, what wiser than to accept it, what more blessed than to obey it?
Amid the conflicting voices of many rival teachers, what so simple, so assuring, so safe, as to say, I give my obedience where the wisest and best of every age have given theirs: I believe one holy Catholic Church.
Could anything be more miserable for us than that God should throw us upon our own judgment, take from us those glorious revelations made through His Holy Catholic Church, and cast us adrift among the dead, as those who perish? Shall we not thank Him for her authoritative voice which tells us to-day that He who hung upon the Cross is truly God; that the price of His Blood is infinite; that His Cross unlocks the Kingdom of Heaven for us; that He has left a holy Priesthood with authority to apply His Precious Blood, to receive souls into this ark by Baptism, to strengthen them with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, to feed them with the Bread of Life? Shall we not thank Him for this and yield Him in return our glad and our willing obedience?
And now, our Lord has obeyed unto the very end. He commends His Spirit into His Father's hands; He comes as One who had gone on His way sowing good seed and is now with joy bringing His sheaves with Him.
He lifts up His hands, those bleeding hands, upon the Cross; He says, as Jacob said: "Here am I and the children whom Thou hast given Me." And upon our Lord's outstretched hands raised to His Father as He bows His head and gives up the ghost, God reads the names of all the redeemed. You and I are there, and He presents us before the Father as He breathes out His Spirit, in the consummation of His finished work, in the completeness of His triumph, in full and perfect obedience to that Father's Will.
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