Ever since I was a young boy, I loved movies about World War II. Even though I loved so many of the great black and white movies made long before I was born, one of the truly great films about World War II has to be, Saving Private Ryan. The scenes covering the D-Day invasion itself are captivating. You will recall that the film's plot revolves around an Army unit sent to find and bring to safety a young man named, Private Ryan. Private Ryan's three brothers have all been killed in action and the Army is determined--even in the midst of all of the chaos of the D-Day invasion--to find Private Ryan and return him safely home so that his mother does not lose all of her sons.
In the process of saving Private Ryan, almost the entire unit is killed. Towards the end of the film, the commanding officer of the unit is mortally wounded and his dying utterance to Private Ryan is, "Earn this." In other words, "All of these men lost their lives in order to save your life, so live a life that is worthy of such a sacrifice." This scene came to mind as I thought about the words from the Prophet Isaiah today. Isaiah, in foretelling Christ's death, said that he was "crushed in infirmity" as an "offering for sin." Christ died for me. Do we think about this every day? Do we think that someone died for me? Someone gave their life for me so that I could live? Do I think about that?
It is true that none of us ever could "earn" what Christ did for us. None of us will ever pay him back or be deserving of his sacrifice. But, at the same time, his sacrifice for us deserves a response. I should constantly be aware that a man died for me. And not just any man. The Son of God himself died for me. Do I live in a way that respects that fact?
I often wonder if many of us hear the language of mercy and misunderstand it. I think when many people who were raised in my generation and after hear about mercy, we think that it means that God looks down and sees our sins and chooses to ignore them. We act as though God is way up in heaven looking down and saying, "Yeah, that David Barnes is a total mess, but out of mercy I will just leave him being a total mess and kind of look the other way." But, this is not mercy! God reached down to us in mercy. He reaches down and lifts us out of our mess! Mercy means that someone died for me! Christ did not die for me so that he could leave me in my sins. He died so that he could reach down and pick me up from my sins. He reached down so that he could lift me up. Mercy means someone died for me. Mercy means that Christ carries our humanity into the sanctuary of heaven.
In the opening prayer of today's Mass, we asked God to "grant that we may always conform our will to yours." This is what Christ's grace and mercy do for us. His grace and mercy lift us out of our sinfulness and enable us to conform our will to the will of God. They make us able to live a life worthy of our calling. Certainly we don't earn what he gives to us, but his mercy and grace do not leave us in our sins, but rather lift us up. Christ didn't die for us so that we could safely lead a life of sin. He died so that he could lead us from sin and bring us to God.
This week, let us keep constantly before us the image of Christ on the crucifix. This is true mercy. A man--the Son of God--died for me. He gave his life for me so that I could rise above my sinful way of life and have union with God. Christ is a priest. He enters the sanctuary of heaven robed in our flesh. He is robed in our wounds and weaknesses. He enters victorious into heaven because he has conquered everything that holds us down in the mud.
Each of us has our own weaknesses and struggles. Pride, Anger, Lust, Envy, Gluttony, Avarice, and Acedia are the usual suspects. As we remember Christ crucified, it's true that we can't "earn" what he's done for us, but we can respond appropriately to so great a gift. This week, let's choose one thing that we will do that will allow God's grace to help conform our will to his. If we are prideful, maybe we can hold back our opinions this week. It always comes as quite a shock to me that when I don't offer my opinion, somehow the world still manages to go on! Or, if Anger is our affliction, let's practice patience this week with the people close to us or give up blowing our horn in traffic! If lust, let's practice maintaining custody of our eyes--not looking at impure images and not looking at others as objects. If envious, let's practice saying kind things about the people of whom we are envious. Gluttonous: give up various foods each day or limit alcohol consumption. If greedy, make sure that each day I am generous with my resources. And if spiritually lazy, wake up fifteen minutes early each day and pray or make sure that your first conversation each day is with God and not with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, or texts!
Okay, just seven suggestions. Pick just one and practice it for a week! Or pick your own. You've got the idea. Someone died for us. He died not to leave us dead in our sins, but to lift us up from them. He died so that we could come home safely to heaven. So, let's allow His Mercy to pick us up and to carry us all the way to the Father's House.