In college, we often gathered in the Alacoque house to share spiritual reflections. One of our Lenten favorites was to listen to the reading of the Passion. When we came to the phrase, “Eloi Eloi Lama Sabachthani”, there was always a deeper silence, reverence and emphasis. Something about it caught us, entranced us in this mystery. Here was Jesus, Son of God, God Himself crying out to the Father, to God, that He was abandoned. Many times we spoke of the deeper mystery behind this utterance of the Lord, but the question still remained, why?
When I scanned the titles of Lenten reading material, The Cry of Jesus on the Cross by Gerard Rosse caught my attention. An entire book on this cry from our Lord. While much of the book was admittedly over my head and very highly philosophical and theological, the last chapter caught my attention. In this chapter, the author speaks of the richness of this phrase from the point of view of relationship. The relationship of the Father with the Son and the Holy Spirit. How is this relationship enlightened by this phrase?
“Only on the cross is the being of God revealed to us at its deepest roots, i.e., this absolute freedom … to the point of death.” (quoting H. Shurmann p132)
This simple idea is well known to us and yet it is very hard to grasp and understand. What does that mean? On the Cross, His love revealed, this total gift of self, and the Father received this gift on our behalf. The Father receives the total gift of the Son so why does Jesus have to feel abandoned? Isn’t the act of dying enough?
As I read further the deeper mystery began to become slightly clearer: Not only is the Son “abandoned” but the Father shares in this abandonment. By uttering this phrase and by the lack of response of the Father, those who look on may also presume that the Father has truly abandoned the Son. What good father, seeing his child in danger, and, able to rescue him, allows the child to fall and to be injured? Therefore, there is a reality that “the Father also abandons Himself through His silence (i.e., He exposes Himself to misunderstanding)”. (p131) So the Son feels abandoned and is left without help and the Father allows this help to be absent exposing Himself also to ridicule and abandonment through misunderstanding.
But why? What is the purpose for this double abandonment and this permitted misunderstanding. For Jesus, we know He is called to die for our sins. To offer Himself as a total gift to the Father in atonement for all the times we have failed to offer ourselves as total gift and the times we have failed to offer at all, even turning our backs and choosing to take instead of to give. In order for this gift to be total and complete, it must be wholly free.
When Jesus offers His body to be beaten and whipped, His reputation to be slandered and defiled, His friendships to be lost and broken, He still has that one solid relationship with which to hold on: the relationship with the Father. This too must be given so that there is a total emptying. A total self-gift. If this relationship were permitted to remain as one that is felt and experienced, then there would be something left to hang onto. This bond with the Father is the strongest bond that Jesus has. It is part of who He is… the Son. If this were permitted to remain, then the suffering of Jesus and His offering, while done in total love would not be a complete gift, for there would be something for Jesus to hold onto, something pouring into Him and preventing that total out-pouring which He so desired to give.
Yes, He desires to give this. God, in this act reveals the total self-gift which is the “deepest root” of His being.
“The extremes of abandonment to which this perfect servant of God is reduced reveal as its raison d’etre another abandonment, that of the Father who delivers Himself to us in the One whom He delivers to us” (p133)
Yes, here is the heart. Jesus is given to us by the Father in the Incarnation, but we fail to understand just what this gift is. Who this gift is. Throughout His ministry, Jesus continues to try to help us, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father” (Jn 14:9) But we lack understanding and so in this final act, He show us. Jesus seems to be saying:
I give myself so fully, that I give even that intimate relationship with My Father as part of this outpouring, part of this gift of love, part of this total self-gift. And this gift is for you! It is My Father’s will not just that I come to be among you for a short time, not just that I heal the sick and cast our demons, but that the Father is poured out on you. That my relationship, my total immersion in the Father can also be yours! Yes, I freely choose this abandonment and the lack of feeling so that this gift can be given. I abandon myself, my wants, needs, desires, feelings, love so that you, my children, my brothers and sisters, may have it.
The love of Jesus and the love of the Father have need of this abandonment so that the outpouring of the Father into us and the outpouring of the Son for us is complete and has no strings attached. For no one can say, “Ah, but it was easy for Jesus to carry the cross and die because He was still in that state of love with the Father which makes all things easy.” No, Jesus offered Himself with such radical totality, that He offered also that intimate relationship with the Father for us.
In reflecting on this, the point began to hit home. Those days when all seems to be gone. You have no feeling, no desire, no love. Can you still do what you are asked to do? Can you still act in total gift to your family, your community, your God? Or, do you hope for a word of encouragement, an act of kindness, a feeling of consolation? This is where our love has the opportunity for free giving. When nothing makes sense, there are no joys felt or experienced, yet we continue to go on and to give of ourselves. In those moments we reflect the total giving which is the very relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.