“O great Creator of heaven, true God and true Man, that you should be reduced to this extreme state! At the time of your birth, you scarcely had the poorest rags to cover yourself, and now, at death you have lost all your clothing! Previously a narrow manger held an infant’s tender body, now stripped of all your goods there is no place in this world, which you have created, for you to rest your head except on the Cross. You came into this world as one poor and in need and you now desire to leave it naked and as an outcast. At your birth your body was tightly wrapped in swaddling clothes, now at death that body is pierced by nails and a lance.” From On the Passion of Christ by Thomas à Kempis.
One of those movies that sticks with you came out in 1998, Saving Private Ryan. If you haven’t seen it, I’ll tell you that it is brilliant, but pretty tough to watch.
Private James Francis Ryan is one of four brothers who took part in the military operations, including the invasion of Normandy, during World War II. During the opening days of that offensive, all three of Private Ryan’s brothers are killed and it is the intent of the military to insure that he is extracted from the fighting. They are not willing to allow all four sons of a family to be killed.
The mission is assigned to Army Ranger Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, and his squad. In the end of the movie, after much horrible fighting, Private Ryan is still alive, but the squad is wiped out and Captain Miller is wounded and dying. Captain Miller speaks his dying words to Private Ryan, “James, earn this… earn this.” Earn this. Live a life worthy of the sacrifice that has been made for you.
Now, I will tell you that this is really bad theology. That said: from the manger to the cross, Jesus has sacrificed himself for you. He gave up heaven to become a child. He gave up eternity to be present to you. He gave up sinlessness to take on your sin. You know the sacrifice of Jesus and you know what he endured for you on the cross. Earn this. Earn it. Live a life worthy of his sacrifice. No. You can’t really earn it – it is grace, it is the free gift of God – but you can live a life as though you could.
St. Josemaría Escrivá writes, “You owe such a great debt to your Father—God! He has given you life, intelligence, will… He has given you his grace: the Holy Spirit; Jesus, in the Sacred Host; divine sonship; the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of God and our Mother. He has given you the possibility of taking part in the Holy Mass; and he grants you forgiveness for your sins. He forgives you so many times! He has given you countless gifts, some of them quite extraordinary… Tell me, my son: how have you corresponded so far to this generosity? How are you corresponding now?”
You owe such a great debt that you can never repay, but you can try. Earn it.
Let us pray: Gracious Father, let meditating on Jesus Christ and Him crucified be our daily prayer. Keep Your Son always before our eyes and keep us ever near the foot of His Cross. Whether in life or in death, allow us to enter the tomb with Jesus so that when He, Who is our life, shall appear again, we will rise with Him in glory. Amen.