Read Hebrews 9:11-15
I’m lucky to have to go to Rome once in a while. When I’m there, I make
sure to visit a special place: it’s at the back of Saint Peter’s Basilica, on
the right hand side. There, behind a large protective window, is Michelangelo’s
extraordinary sculpture known as the Pietà.
This masterpiece of classical sculpture
eternalizes the moment when, after his death on the cross, Jesus’ body is
handed to his mother, Mary. What tenderness, what love shine forth from this
work of art. Michelangelo has managed to sculpt a block of stone in such a way
that something which touches all hearts has been brought forth. And he has done
this with a simple chisel and a hammer.
This transformation of a slab of marble
into a work of art can perhaps help us to understand the transformation Jesus
himself worked upon the cross. The brute matter of the cross is horrific: a
violent death, an assassination, consequence of deathly hatred and complicity
of a corrupted political power. Yet Jesus managed to transform this brute
matter into an act of mercy, love and forgiveness.
What were his hammer and his chisel? None
other than the Holy Spirit. As the author of the letter to the Hebrews says in
today’s text: “Through the Holy Spirit, Christ offered himself without blemish
to God.” It is the power of the Spirit that allowed Jesus to transform his
death into a saving act.
When I contemplate the Pietà, I do not concentrate on the marble, but on the masterpiece
that it has become. When I contemplate a crucifix or when I listen to the story
of Christ’s passion, I do not concentrate on his suffering, which is only brute
material: I focus on the loving, saving act it has become.
This, then, is a sacrifice: suffering
transformed by love, in love. Every time I accept some pain, great or small,
for love of another; every time I offer up some pain because of my love for
another; every time I love to the point of suffering, I am offering a sacrifice
just as Christ did on the cross. What is important in all of this is not the
suffering itself, but the love that transfigures.
At each celebration of Mass, we are
confronted with Christ’s sacrificial love for us. This is why we call this
liturgy “The Holy Sacrifice of Mass.” The crucified Christ makes himself
present to us in this ritual enacted in memory of his death and resurrection.
And it is the same eternal Spirit who makes his presence possible.
We don’t have to be transported through
time and space to find ourselves in Jerusalem
in the year 33. We don’t even have to go to Rome. There is a church, not far from us,
where we can gather every Sunday to contemplate this great mystery of love,
this masterpiece of the Holy Spirit: Christ dying, so that we might live.