Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Jesus the Victim

Why do people have a problem with the use of the word "victim"? It surely has to do with the turn in our culture--the turn from the spiritual to the temporal, from God to self. For, in a dictionary published 45 years ago, the primary meaning has flip-flopped with the definition given in a dictionary published in the past 10 years. In the past, and for centuries, the term from Latin, victima, meant a living being sacrificed to some deity or in the performance of a religious rite. The secondary use was of one injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions.

Today the meaning of "victim" is primarily connoted as one who is abused, taken advantage of, injured, or killed by another. Additional meanings include those who suffer injury, loss, or death as a result of their own voluntary actions. In general, people consider victims to be pitied or to be spurned as weak and setting themselves up for being victimized.

The dichotomy between the defnition which the world gives and the soul needs may continue for as long as the world exists. We are now in an era in which excessive emphasis is placed upon care of the self, the body, the temporal. Pain is to be shunned, and those who remind us of pain and death usually live in nursing homes or in some places, euthanized. Pain and responsibility are further alleviated through abortion, divorce, contraceptive sex, drugs and alcohol.

But always, always, there remains the reality of the spiritual realm, and the soul which is infused by God into every human being. There is the reality of the spiritual journey throughout this temporal world and into eternity. There is the reality of human suffering and death, and of hell and heaven. There is the reality that every step or choice we make in this life is a step toward hell or a step toward heaven. Truth truly exists in each detail and all broad sweeps of thought.

The word "victim" is a reality in the spiritual definition. That reality is not one of weakness or psychological unhealthiness. A victim is one who is called, chosen, and agrees to an act of sacrifice to God. The most exemplary, perfect, loving example is by God Himself, in the form of the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God: Jesus. For those who disavow themselves of the reality of the spiritual, of God, and of this definition of "victim" are muddling out, for now, as does gray from black and white. Perhaps, later, a conversion of understanding in the intellect may come, and with it, an act of love for God may ensue from the will. For now, however, spiritual souls of the Faith must proceed.

Christ as Victim is explained and supported by holy Scripture and writings of Church Fathers in the Cathechism of the Catholic Church. In explaining why the Word became flesh--why God became man--the writings from I John 4:10, 4:14, and 3:5 are utilized [Catechism, Article 3:457.] "The Word became flesh for us in order to save us by reconciling us with God, who 'loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins': 'the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world,' and 'he was revealed to take away sins.'"

As St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote for then, and ringing true now, "We had lost the possession of the good; it was necessary for it to be given back to us. Closed in the darkness, it was necessary to bring us the light; captives, we awaited a Savior; prisoners, help; slaves, a liberator. Are these things minor or insignificant? Did they not move God to descend to human nature and visit it, since humanity was in so miserable and unhappy a state?" [Orat. Catech. 15:PG 45, 48B.]

The Catechism explains how God initiates redemption through love. "By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love, prior to any merit on our part. 'In this love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins.' [I John 4:10, 4:19.] God 'shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.'" [Romans 5:8.]

Jesus agreed to His suffering and death. He also explained to His disciples and all of us hence, through His words immortalized in John 6, that He would leave Himself to be eaten. How? In the form of bread and wine which, when consecrated during the Sacrifice of the Mass, becomes His Real Presence, transubstantiated--His Body and Blood, the Eucharist. "The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice. 'The victim is one and the same: the same now offered through the ministry of priests, who then offered himself on the cross; only the amnner of offering is different.' 'And since in this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner...this sacrifice is truly propitiary.'" [Council of Trent (1562): Doctrina de ss. Missae sacrificio, c.2: DS 1743; cf. Heb 9:14, 27.]

The ordained priest has a specific connection with Christ the Victim which affects the role and aims of all victim souls. "'It is in...the Eucharistic assembly of the faithful...that [priests] exercise in a supreme degree their sacred office; there, acting in the person of Christ and proclaiming his mystery, they unite the votive offerings of the faithful to the sacrifice of Christ their head, and in the sacrifice of the Mass they make present again and apply, until the coming of the Lord, the unique sacrifice of the New Testament, that namely of Christ offering himself once for all a spotless victim to the Father' [Lumen gentium 28; cf. I Cor 11:26.] From this unique sacrifice their whole priestly ministry draws its strength" [Presbyterorum ordinis 2].

Many saints, known and unknown to mankind, willingly accepted the role as victim and offered themselves in love to be united with Christ's expiatory and redemptive sufferings. The following personal words of the well-known St. Therese of Lisieux will hopefully further explain and extend acceptance of the concept of holy victim.

"This year June 9, [1895] the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I received the grace to understand more than ever before how much Jesus desires to be loved. I was thinking about the souls who offer themselves as victims of God's Justice in order to turn away the punishments reserved to sinners, drawing them upon themselves. This offering seemed great and very generous to me, but I was far from feeling attracted to making it.

"From the depths of my heart, I cried out: 'O my God! will Your Justice alone find souls willing to immolate themselves as victims? Does not Your Merciful Love need them too?...It seems to me that if You were to find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Your love, You would consume them rapidly; it seems to me, too, that You would be happy not to hold back the waves of infinite tenderness within You. If Your Justice loves to release itself, this Justice which extends only over the earth, how much more does Your Merciful Love desire to set souls on fire, since Your Mercy reaches to the heavens. O my Jesus, let me be this happy victim; consume Your holocaust with the fire of Your Divine Love.'"

Through Jesus, the divine Victim, the saints desired and learned how to make loving acts of immolation, offerings of sacrifice to His Sacred Heart. They offered themselves as victims of justice and victims of love. We can learn much, also, and gain desire, from getting to know Jesus all the more through Scripture, prayer, and offering of ourselves as victim souls. We can also learn from the lives of the saints whose writings help explain more the way of the victim. We must not shrink from the world's misunderstanding or desecration of the word "victim."


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