"Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit." (St. Luke 23:46)
When our Lord, in figurative language said, "Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up," He was not instituting a merely casual and fanciful analogy. It had been a part of His purpose of old in the minute instructions concerning every detail of the Tabernacle, that it should, in a symbolical way, represent His Humanity. The analogy had existed in fact from the time that the Tabernacle was set up in the wilderness. "See that thou make all things according to the pattern shewed thee in the Mount," was the command given to Moses. In the Epistle to the Hebrews, reference is made to this in a passage in which our Lord is expressly called "A Minister of the Sanctuary and of the true Tabernacle which the Lord pitched and not man" (viii. 1-5). The analogy was perpetuated in the Temple as the permanent form of the Tabernacle, and it shall live on forever in the Heavenly Jerusalem, concerning which St. John says: "I saw no temple therein, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the Temple of it" (Rev. xxi. 22). It was therefore a part of the typical and educative purpose which the Temple was to serve that it should in the manner of its construction as well as in the nature of its appointments figuratively represent the Body of Christ. Its threefold divisions of an outer court, the Holy place, and the Holy of Holies, in which last enclosure was the Ark of the Covenant where the cloud of glory overshadowed the Mercy Seat, may have been designed to set before us the complex nature of our Humanity in which we pass from the body which links man to the animal creation, to the innermost shrine of his immortal spirit which allies him to the angels.
While no exact theory as to the constitution of the inner nature of man can be based upon the use made in Scripture of the words soul and spirit, which are often employed interchangeably, there is nevertheless to be recognized in Scripture a certain discrimination in its preference of the word spirit to indicate the deepest part of our humanity, the point of contact between man and God. The functions of the mind by which it lays hold upon the things of God, and those which it exercises in its relation with the things of sense are governed by laws so distinct, and are exercised in such separate spheres of our being, that they are well symbolized by the two inner enclosures of the Temple, under one roof, yet parted by a veil. St. Paul recognizes the case in which these spiritual faculties are keenly active under the operation of the Holy Ghost, while at the same time the soul is deprived of the distinct self-consciousness which is in the province of the understanding (I. Cor. xiv. 14).
And who does not know in the innermost experiences of his own life the existence of spiritual depths which the soul itself cannot fathom? And which the intellect, while recognizing their presence, is powerless to explain? Take the example of Conscience. How wonderfully, by laws of its own it works in the depths of our being! What is this voice, so quiet, and yet so insistent, so authoritative in its utterance that we must needs obey it even though we do not understand the reason of its commands?
Or again, have we not all discovered, after certain experiences in our lives, deeps of spiritual joy of which at the time we were only partially conscious? The mind was at the time anxious and perturbed, the soul and its faculties occupied and troubled with the things that press upon the outward life. It was only afterwards that we were made aware how beneath all that ruffled the surface of our being we had been truly and serenely happy in the interior peace of a deep spiritual calm.
Now this may perhaps help us, not indeed to explain, but more intelligently to accept the Mystery implied in a previous Word. When our Lord uttered the cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" He was still tarrying, if we may so speak, outside that second veil of the Temple of His Humanity, which shut off from Him the conscious joy of the Beatific Vision, the glory of which nevertheless filled the inner Sanctuary of His Man's Nature. Within the solitude of His Soul, He was, for the tasting of His Passion, alike excluded from the sympathy of man, and deprived of the consolation of the Godhead from which in fact His Manhood could not for a moment be separated.
There is, however, this great difference, ever to be borne in mind, between our inner experiences and those of our Lord. We are to a great measure acted upon without our consent, and are not only passive, but often helpless under these experiences. But Christ "as a Son over His own House" (Heb. iii. 6) directs and rules all things in the Temple of His Humanity. Every affection of His Heart, as well as every thought of His Mind, was perfectly under His control. Even in His Passion He was perfectly free, and the Master of all His sufferings whether of Soul or Body. "He was offered because He willed it." He freely surrendered His life. "No man taketh it from Me. I lay it down of Myself" (St. John x. 18).
He who through the whole of His earthly life had, in order to His experience of suffering and humiliation, exercised a miracle of restraint, made necessary by the Personal union of His Manhood with the Godhead, could still say in the climax of His sufferings, "My Soul is alway in My Hand" (Psalm cxix. 109). He who regulates every detail of His Passion, overruling the purposes of men, and who Himself directs all the sad ritual of the Cross, is Master also of every experience of His Human Soul.
Now, therefore, when all has been accomplished, He deliberately and with a loud voice, speaks the Word at the utterance of which the veil in yonder temple is rent from top to the bottom. May we not think of Him, as also in this same moment, and by a similar act of His will, rending the veil which for the time had shut off from Him the contemplation of that deep interior peace and joy which were His by right, and while through the parted veil the Beatific Vision, the true Shechinah of the glory of God streams forth and floods with conscious joy every faculty of His Soul, entering as it were the Holy of Holies of His Spirit, that from this deepest Sanctuary of the Temple of His Humanity He may make the final Oblation of that Humanity to God?
As afterwards, when He was to carry our nature up to heaven, He chose the Mount of Olivet, that from an elevation of this earth He might ascend up to God; so now, He retires as it were to the mountain-top of that nature which He had assumed, to that loftiest region from which it looks off upon God, and which in the case of His sinless Manhood was ever bathed in the sunlight of His Divinity, and there He says: "Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit?"
And O, the sweetness of that surrender as our Lord turns from His accomplished work to meet the embrace of that Eternal Father, the fulfilling of whose will had been the single motive of His life! This is preeminently the moment for us to pause and again call to mind the tenderness of that Bond of Love which unites the Father and the Son. How constant had been our Lord's appeal to it throughout His Ministry! To recur only to the words spoken on the eve of His Passion, how full are they of His dependence upon the Father's Will as the one great sustaining motive of the Passion! To this He refers every word and every work of His earthly life: "The words that I speak unto you, I speak not of Myself: but the Father that dwelleth in Me, He doeth the works" (St. John xiv. 10). "That the world may know that I love the Father, and as the Father gave Me commandment even so I do" (Ibid. ver. 31). "I have not spoken of Myself, but the Father which sent Me, He gave Me a commandment what I should say and what I should speak" (Ibid. xii. 49). While enduring the contradiction of sinners against Himself it is their malice toward the Father which grieves Him: "He that hateth Me, hateth My Father also" (Ibid. xv. 23). Though all should forsake Him in His Passion, this love shall sustain Him: "Ye shall be scattered every man to His own, and shall leave Me Alone; and yet I am not Alone because the Father is with Me" (Ibid. xvi. 32). The honor to be procured for His Father's Name is His compensation for all His suffering: "Now is My soul troubled, and what shall I say? Father, save Me from this hour; but for this cause came I unto this hour. Father, glorify Thy Name" (Ibid. xii. 27, 28). Even in that sad moment when Judas had gone out after the sop: "Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in Him" (Ibid. xiii. 31). The Father's love is the one, and all-satisfying treasure in which He delights, and which He holds out as the reward to those who follow Him: "If ye keep My commandments ye shall abide in My love, even as I keep My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (Ibid. xv. 10). "If a man love Me, he will keep My words, and My Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him" (Ibid. xiv. 23).
The whole of the seventeenth chapter of St. John's Gospel is but a paraphrase of the words, "Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit." Listen to Him as He prays in the upper room with His disciples: "Father, the hour is come; glorify Thy Son that He also may glorify Thee." "I have glorified Thee on the earth: I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was" (ver. 1, 4, 5). Everywhere the words of our Lord are full of His delight in His Father's love, of His obedience to His command, of His zeal for His glory, His hunger and thirst for the accomplishment of His will.
And how sweet are those manifestations of the Father's love for His Only Begotten Son! That love reveals itself as it breaks forth like a stream of sunlight through the riven rain clouds. It answers the cry, "Father, glorify Thy Name" with the response, "I have both glorified it, and will glorify it again" (St. John xii. 28). As Jesus went up out of the water after His Baptism, and again at the Transfiguration of our Lord in the Mount, the Father's voice was heard: "This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased" (St. Matt. iii. 17). "This is My Beloved Son, hear Him" (St. Luke ix. 35).
What wonder, then, that the heart and mind fail as we try to meditate upon the joy of this moment in which the Only Begotten of the Father's Love returns with His accomplished work, and with His parting breath gives up His Spirit to His Father's embrace. The veil of the Temple is rent. The joy of the Father's Presence from which for our sakes He had for a time hidden His Face is henceforth His forever. And this it is His will to share with us. For us, too, the veil is rent. "When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness of death, Thou didst open the Kingdom of Heaven to all believers." Henceforth the light of the glory of God fills the whole Temple of the Catholic Church. "This is none other but the House of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. xxviii. IT). Here at earthly Altars He still exercises His eternal Priesthood, and still pleads His all-sufficient Sacrifice through ministers whom He has appointed to act in His Name. Here He gives as our spiritual Food that same Humanity in which He suffered, and in which He is alive forevermore. Here, through the ministry of His Priests, He is present in the absolving word as often as any sinner turns to Him in penitent confession of sin. Here He takes us up into union with Himself, and with His angels and saints who in Him enjoy the vision of God. Here it is that our souls are strengthened for the fellowship of His sufferings, and our bodies as they bear their burden of pain are hallowed by His Cross. Here our spirits may drink in the fulness of all that He has to give, and are satisfied with the living water of His Salvation. Here, even the more it may be when our souls are least conscious of their blessing, He is near us, as He was with the disciples on the way to Emmaus, whose eyes were holden that they should not know Him, and whose hearts nevertheless burned within them as He opened to them the Scripture.
And then if we ask for what end in the Temple of His Body all these helps and consolations are ours, surely it is that we may follow the example of His most holy Life. For we, too, as individual members of Christ are temples of the Living God. "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit which are God's" (I. Cor. vi. 19, 20).
Let us then in this most solemn, most blessed hour, renew that dedication by which we were in our Baptism set apart as temples of the living God. Let us purge those temples from sin, by a worthy repentance, if in aught they have been denied, and here beneath the shadow of His Cross consecrate them again to His service. Ours it may be, while He continues us in life to render to Him as our grateful homage the labor of our hands, the confession of our lips, the recollectedness of a life in which His perfect Pattern is ever before the eyes. To Him we may consecrate every sorrow, in His fellowship bear every suffering, by the help of His grace finish the work He has given us to do. And at last, as He Himself has taught us, and relying solely on the merits of His most holy Passion, with our parting breath unite ourselves to His prayer, "Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit."
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