A prayer from Venerable Fulton J. Sheen
Most appropriate for the season of Lent.
No, Mary! Bethlehem is not come back. This is not the crib, but the Cross; not birth, but death; not the day of companionship with Shepherds and Kings, but the hour of a common death with thieves; not Bethlehem, but Calvary.
Bethlehem is Jesus, as thou, His sinless mother, gave Him to man; Calvary is Jesus, as sinful man gave Him back to thee. Something intervened between Thy giving at the manger, and thy receiving at the Cross, and that which intervened is my sins. Mary, this is not thy hour; it is my hour – my hour of wickedness and sin. If I had not sinned, death would not now hover its black wings about His crimsoned body; if I had not been proud, the atoning crown of thorns would never have been woven; if I had been less rebellious in treading the broad way which leads to destruction, the feet never would have been dug with nails; if I had been more responsive to His shepherding calls from the thorns and thistles, His lips would have never been on fire; if I had been more faithful, His cheeks would never have been blistered with the kiss of Judas.
Mary, it is I who stand between His birth and His approaching redemptive death! I warn thee, Mary, think not when thy arms come to clasp Him, that He is white as He came from the Father, but red as He came from me. In a few short seconds thy Son shall have surrendered His soul to His Heavenly Father, and His body to thy caressing hands. The last few drops of blood are falling from that great Chalice of Redemption, staining the wood of the Cross and crimsoning the rocks soon to be rent in horror – and a single drop of it would be sufficient to redeem ten thousand worlds. Mary, my mother, intercede to thy Divine Son for forgiveness of the sin of changing thy Bethlehem into Calvary. Beg Him, Mary, in these last remaining seconds the grace of never crucifying Him again nor piercing thy own heart with seven swords. Mary, plead to thy dying Son that as long as I live. . . Mary! Jesus is dead. . . . Mary!
There once was a man who loved dogs. So much so that he was in great sorrow and distress that they behaved so badly. Chasing cars, harassing the neighbors’ cats, tossing over garbage cans and strewing the contents over the yards of the residents, and the like. To try to reestablish the honor and esteem of dogs he, through faith, obedience and surrender became as dog. For then they may listen and respond to him if he became one of their own. He in receiving his wish lived among them as a dog for a period of time. During that time, he imparted on them that what they were doing was unbecoming of dogs and that they were capable of better. With change in behavior, attitude and heart they would reclaim their esteem and honor. And for his efforts, in the end, they turned on him and tore him to bits.
And so, it was with Jesus. He was sent by God, as His Word, to be His Word as a man. For whom better to communicate God’s promise of redemption and reconciliation with man than the Son of God as the Son of Man. The new obedient Adam to replace the old disobedient Adam. And the ransom for this necessary turn of history of man was death. To be paid by the Creator for the salvation of the creature and a restored relationship between both. No mere man could do what was needed to be done. It took God to remedy the aftermath of “The Fall” from grace. He took to the cross of redemption and stood in for us. Why do I say us? Because on the cross were the sins of men and women from the past, that present and for those yet to come. And like Sampson who pulled down the walls of the Philistine temple, Jesus reached back and forward in time and pulled upon Himself, the Temple of God, all the sins that were ever committed in the sight of God. Thereby destroying sin. And by His death, defeated death itself. Never again would sin keep the penitent man or woman from Paradise.
To understand this is to come to grips with the gravity of sin. Sin is grave and intense. We mistakenly believe that no one else is harmed either by an indirectness or in mutual consent. But as a pebble dropped in a pond sets off ripples that can reach the far ends of shore around it. So too does sin reverberate its effects to all corners of the world whether we choose to believe so or not.
So, Mary, Blessed Mother of Our Lord, Bethlehem is no more. As Simeon prophesied, “A sword will pierce your heart”, and with that the lance of a centurion, St. Longinus, pierced the heart of the Savior. And the hands of he who knew no better, could be easily replaced by our hands who do know better. The wood of the crib is now the wood of the cross. For He came into the world not as we do. We came into the world to live; He came into the world to die.