Bishop Hying

Choking in the deadly grasp of sin, Jesus in breaks, wraps us in his net of grace and mercy

As published in the Northwest Indiana Catholic on March 20, 2016   


        Imagine being awakened in the middle of the night by the smell of smoke. In fear you dash to touch your bedroom door; it is fiery hot. Plumes of choking smoke are already pouring in from the hallway. Your only means of escape is to jump from the second floor window, but when you open the sash, you stand there frozen, unable to move.

        You have only a few moments to save your life, but you cannot do it. Just then, when all seems lost, a firefighter breaks into the room and bodily throws you out the window to a safety net on the ground.

        The next day, you learn that the brave firefighter who saved your life was himself overcome by smoke inhalation and died in the flames. How would you feel about this man? Would you go to his funeral? How would you remember him? How will your life be different?

        I often use this story to explain the power of salvation won for us through the cross and resurrection of Christ. In the terror of the crucifixion, Jesus literally trades his life for ours, entering into the dark night of death in order to offer us eternal life.

        When all seemed lost, when humanity was trapped in the choking deadly grasp of sin, Jesus breaks into human history and wraps us in the safety net of grace and mercy.

        In the story above, the sacrifice of the firefighter perhaps buys me a few more decades of life on earth. As great as that is, it pales to nothingness in comparison to the glory of eternal life with the Triune God in the kingdom of heaven.

        When we contemplate the infinite value of such a gift, purchased for us through the precious blood of the Son, our sense of gratitude for the saving death and glorious rising of Jesus Christ knows no bounds!

        For many Christians, John 3:16 encapsulates the core of our faith in Christ. “For God so loved the world that He sent His Son, not to condemn the world, but to save it.” You see this Scripture passage held up on placards at sporting events, you find it in parish mission statements, you read it in evangelical tracts left at your door.

        This one sentence reminds us that God loves us enough to send the Son in order to save us for all eternity. How precious our souls must be to the Lord! God could have saved us any way that he pleased. Yet in the cross, we see the Son embracing the hardest path imaginable for the sake of our salvation.

        Maybe God lets us feel at times the terrifying abyss of life without him so that we have some experience against which to measure the value of salvation. When I sin and shut God out, when I suffer and feel abandoned, or when I just experience normal bouts of loneliness and misunderstanding, I get little glimpses of what hell would be.

        How can I ever really know the joy of salvation unless I lift my experiences of anxiety, dread, sin and isolation to God on the cross? Can I really appreciate the gift of my life in Christ until I have somehow been crushed, or as St. Augustine says in his Confessions, “had my heart torn out by the roots” and lived to tell about it?

        In the last year of her life, St. Therese of Lisieux endured the death agonies of her tuberculosis along with a deep spiritual darkness that left her doubting her vocational choice as a nun, her personal salvation, the reality of heaven and even the existence of God.

        Through it all, she kept faith, clung to the cross and trusted Jesus’ promise of salvation. Could it be that God was purifying Therese’s remarkable love through this dark night? Can the same be true for us?

        Once we have tasted the darkness and the light, sensed separation from God and unity with him, felt the emptiness of Good Friday and the presence of Easter Sunday, we know the weight and value of salvation in a way that transforms our mind, heart, soul and body.

        When we have a real sense of from what we have been saved and a living experience of for whom we have been saved, thanksgiving and praise become the themes of our prayer. We can never give back to God what he has lavished upon us, so we humbly accept the saving gift and live only to pass the crucified and risen Christ on to others. We become spiritual spendthrifts, like Mary, who spent 300 days’ wages to anoint Jesus’ feet with a pound of aromatic nard.

        Often, I hear complaints from people that Mass is boring or they don’t get anything out of it. My consistent response is that the Eucharist is not about us! We gather to worship and thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ. Can you imagine going to the memorial service for the firefighter who saved your life and complaining it was boring?

        When we approach the Eucharist with thanksgiving and humility, feeling the weight and value of the salvation offered us, our experience of the sacrament changes. We sense ourselves falling ever more deeply in love with the invisible God who reached out and grasped us from the clutches of death by dying himself on the cross.

        As we celebrate Holy Week, we thank and praise the Lord for the gift of his saving death and resurrection. I encourage all of you to participate in the Sacred Triduum services. I think they are the most beautiful liturgies of the year. My deepest prayer for everyone is that we come to know and feel the depths of God’s merciful love for us.



        + Donald J. Hying


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