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2018 March 30 Good Friday- From Passion to Virtue: Transformation at the Cross.

One thing that nearly all Christians will agree on is that the cross of Christ ,
representing his suffering and death, stands at the centre of the Christian faith.
St Paul says " For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." ! Cor.2:2. Where differences occur is in the various understandings of just how faith in Christ cruified actually changes our lives.
These vary from the conviction that Christ's martyr death saves us from eternity
in hell because the sin that condems us literally taken away; to Jesus as being
the perfect example of how to live a lofe of love (and many degrees in between).

Today I offer you the understanding that we are changed at the point that the virtue of Christ intersects and transforms the energies that drive us to evil into the very virtues that he possesses.
These energies of self-destruction I will call passions.
Humans all have habitual drives by which we try to defend ourselves, and survive the real and imagined threats to our wellbeing. We habitually engage the energy of our passions in the service of what Pope Gregory in the sixth century listed as the "Seven Deadly Sins?; anger, pride, sloth, lust, gluttony, greed and envy. In order to embrace the virtues demonstrated in the life of Christ, a transformation needs to happen. Those sins are sometimes called "passions?, not in the Hollywood sense of ?passionate love?, but as repeated patterns of self-destructive or inappropriate actions. They are also passions in the meaning of the Latin word for suffering. Being caught in these recurring behaviours brings suffering on ourselves and others
.
It is this "passionate' energy that can be transformes into virtue. And so, this is my central conviction: "The cross of Christ symbolises the intersection of human passion and divine virtue. In the person of Jesus, the energies of sin are captured and transformed into virtue.?

So today, in the shadow of the crucifixion, as we reflect on the human passions that put Christ on the Cross, I invite you to consider how they continue to fuel unnecessary suffering in our lives and in the world.

Further, how, with Christ as our example, we might experience the transformation of the energy of our passions into the energies of virtue.

I will now offer you two examples of passions and their transformed virtues:

1. FROM ANGER TO SERENITY

ANGER

Ecclesiastes: "Do not be quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools?.

Anger, the red hot passion, is not in itself a sinful energy. As St Paul said, " Be angry but do not sin. Do not let the sun set on your anger.? The problem, as the writer of Ecclesiates says, is when anger "?lodges in the heart of fools?. The implication is, do not let it lodge in you. Do not let it take up residence.

Jesus looked with anger and grief at those who set out to trap him. The passion of anger gave him the energy to drive the traders from the sacred precincts of the Temple.

Moving in us, anger can fuel passion for justice. Lodged in us, anger drives us into cycles of violence. Denied in us, suppressed in us, it builds and bursts in volcanic eruption, often burying relationships in the hot lava of hate. Turned in on ourselves, it can lead to depression and self-harm.

The worst of our anger arises from the fear that we are no longer in control; in men especially, from a sense of powerlessness.

I invite you to take time to reflect on your personal experience of anger. Feel where it lodges, experience where it burns. If you can, ask a trusted other to tell you how they experience your anger. If you need to, offer this hot passion to Christ that it may be transformed into a force for peace.

THE PASSION OF ANGER CAN BECOME THE VIRTUE OF SERENITY

From a human point of view Jesus would seem to be justified in lashing out with the hot passion of anger; to call down legions of angels to smite his enemies. Pinned hands and feet, he could have been driven mad by a sense of powerlessness and failure; driven wild with grief at the coming loss of friends and family. Instead, with serenity, and with the deep love of transformed passion, he looks upon his mother and his beloved disciple and thinks of them, cares for them in their hour of need. As we read in John, "When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her he said to his mother ?Woman, here is your son?. Then he said to the disciple, ?here is your mother?.?

When human passion is transformed into divine virtue, the heat that can burn and destroy becomes the balm that cools and heals.

You and I have surely seen that serenity in those special people from whom it tranquilly shines, those who make no apparent effort to display what we so clearly see in them.

The potential for serenity is in each of us. The Cross of Christ is the point of conversion of human passion into divine virtue; anger to serenity.

2. FROM PRIDE TO HUMILITY

THE PASSION OF PRIDE

Pride is the elevated passion, and therein, says the proverb, lies the risk! "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.?

What is often not readily understood is that pride is often driven by the need to be needed. The passion pushes people to try and make themselves indispensible. The elevation is this: "They cannot do without my help?.

Biblically, pride is seen as the virtual ground of sin itself. It is always heading for a fall. When people try to take the position of God, the Tower of Babel must be demolished. In the Magnificat of Mary, it is the proud who are brought down, while the humble are raised up. Jesus told the Parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector ?to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and regarded others with contempt?. St Paul says that if we are going to boast, we must be sure to boast of what God has done, not of what we ourselves have achieved. This passion drives the need to focus the spotlight on oneself.

Jesus would have us understand what we often do not, that underneath the cloak of pride beats a heart unsure of whether or not it is truly loved!

THE VIRTUE OF HUMILITY

The proud person needs to learn what they truly need- self-care and self-respect.

Jesus perceived and took account of his own needs. He could let the crowds go even if some were not yet healed. He withdrew when he needed rest and prayer. He welcomed the anointing with precious perfume. He took final refuge in Gethsemane.

The transformation from pride to humility is not though self-abasement or false humility. It is true servanthood, based on a clear perception of what others need, and what we ourselves need also. St Paul in Philippians says that Jesus did not count equality with God a status to be grasped, but humbled himself. Jesus himself said that he came not to be served but to serve. In true humility, he washes the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper.

Matthew Fox reminds us of the root of the word "humility?- "humus?; the earth. For him, "?to be humble means to be in touch with the earth, to be in touch with one?s own earthiness?. Indigenous people can teach us a lot about what it means to be in touch with the earth, if we have the humility to learn from them.

Jesus is crucified between two criminals. The one who comes to a sober estimate of who he is finds in Jesus a saviour who does not go ahead of him, but walks beside him. When, in his pain and despair, he asks ?Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom.? Jesus replies "Today you will be with me in Paradise?.

The Cross of Christ is the point of conversion of human passion to divine virtue; pride to humility.

In the hour following this service I will talk about the other five deadly sins: sloth, lust, gluttony, greed and envy; and the virtues into which they can be transformed. As a Good Friday and Easter Saturday spiritual discipline, I invite you to reflect on which of the seven passions really speaks to you about the way you defend yourself as you try and survive in the world. Finding it, one is well on the way to embracing the corresponding virtue. It is here, through Christ, that we receive the Easter gift he offers from the Cross- life in all its fullness.








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