(John 3, 14, 15).
"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself" (John 12. 32).
I. Our Lord Jesus Christ became our Redeemer by fulfilling the figure of the brazen serpent erected by Moses in the desert, the sight of which cured those that had been bitten by the fiery serpents in punishment of their murmurs against God for having brought them into the desert. Our divine Saviour spoke the words of my text to Nicodemus three years before its accomplishment. When the time of the fulfilment of His prophecy was drawing near, Jesus was teaching in the temple. He had just spoken of
the grain of wheat which cannot become fruitful unless it first dies in the ground. Having said this, He addressed His heavenly Father in these words:
"Father, glorify Thy name"; Then "a voice therefore came from heaven: I have both glorified it, and I will glorify it again. The multitude, therefore, that stood and heard, said that it had thundered. Others said:
"An angel hath spoken to Him." Jesus answered and said:
"This voice came, not because of Me, but for your sakes. Now is the judgment of the world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself" (John 12. 28-32).
II. How improbable did these last words then seem! Much more improbable did they appear a few days later, when Jesus was actually raised up on the cross between two thieves to die in infamy, accursed in Himself and in His memory! But as is customary with God, He always chooses the most inadequate and totally unsuitable means, from a natural aspect, to achieve most astounding and unexpected results, and therefore "Christ s infamy," thence forth became the powerful instrument to "draw all things to Himself !" A man's power does not survive him, for it is wholly extinguished in the tomb. But with Jesus Christ His power becomes manifest only in death. Whilst hanging on the instrument of death and infamy, He drew to Himself the good thief and the soldiers on guard. After His Resurrection and Ascension He began to draw all men to Himself, beginning with the poor and the lowly, and the illiterate, and continuing with the learned, the great and the powerful, until idolatry was extirpated and the world believed in Him. Later on, when the barbarians destroyed the Roman power and civilisation, He enabled His Church to humanize and christianize the barbarians, and to impart to them a more noble civilisation, the Christian civilization, the fruits and the benefits of which the world even now still enjoys. Ever since Jesus was lifted up on the cross, He has drawn to Himself
1. First, man's thought. All who embrace the faith He taught, submit their reason to the infallible guidance of His Church, and, on her authority, firmly believe mysteries in comprehensible to reason. No one else has ever been able thus to draw, subjugate and govern man's thought.
2. Secondly, man's will. For 1900 years hundreds of millions of freemen, cherishing liberty above every other natural possession, have had no other will than that of Jesus Christ, and have cheerfully submitted theirs to His laws, commands and restraints. With Him they become meek and humble of heart, deny themselves, joyfully take up His yoke on themselves, crucify their flesh and its lusts, chastise and subdue their bodies, lest they rebel against the will of Jesus Christ. In order to be wholly His, to devote themselves to His service, they heroically forsake all that is dear to them, parents, relatives, possessions, bright prospects and country, and embrace a life of poverty, chastity, obedience and labor among the poor, the heathen, the sick, and even among the very outcasts of society, for the love of Him who, from His cross draws to Himself their hearts, their chaste love and unreserved devotedness. These heroic souls can truly say with St. Paul: "With Christ I am nailed to the cross, and I live, now not I, but Christ liveth in me." (Gal. 2. 19, 20).
3. Man's heart. Jesus lifted up on the cross has drawn and conquered man's love. Ever since then numberless pilgrims in all ages visit and venerate in the Holy Land every spot hallowed by His presence, especially His sepulchre. The Crusades of the Middle Ages fulfilled the prophecy of Isaias (n. 10):
"His sepulchre shall be glorious"; None of the great men whom the world has produced, have gained the love of mankind. The very idea that such men as Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Plato, Demosthenes, Napoleon have any hold on the affections of mankind is enough to excite our laughter! But Jesus Christ "lifted up" has won the hearts of the best portion of mankind. The best, the purest, the most virtuous the world has ever produced have loved Jesus Christ crucified, with the tenderest and the most devoted love, more than their parents, more than their children, more than their dearest friends and companions, more than their own selves, and have ever been ready to sacrifice, for His sake, all their goods and their very life, as is evident from history itself. And even more, for they consider it the greatest honor and happiness to be accounted worthy of suffering and dying for the love of Jesus crucified! The very sight of the picture or representation of "Jesus lifted up on the cross," the crucifix, excites their tenderest love, for with how great fervor, ardor and devotedness do they not impress kisses on His sacred wounds! In fact, there is no love comparable in intensity, constancy and fruitful effects to the love of Jesus crucified "in the hearts He has drawn to Himself." That love draws tears of contrition and amendment from the sinner, imparts peace, consolation and cheerfulness to the suffering, to the sorely tried, and strength and constancy to the martyrs, to the penitents.
The martyrs consider it an honor, a happiness, surpassing all earthly honors and enjoyments, to suffer the most exquisite torments, the most cruel death for the love of Jesus crucified. Both the innocent and the penitent experience a heavenly sweetness in meditating, even for hours at a time, on the love of Jesus who, for their sake, endured so many insults and pains and was "lifted up" and died so ignominious a death.
And where is the dying Catholic who does not most willingly endure his great pains and accept his approaching death calmly and cheerfully in union with the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ crucified, and depart this life with love and confidence, whilst pressing to his lips the image of his crucified Saviour? The calm and consoling deaths of Catholics, sweetened by the love of Jesus crucified, are the admiration of non-Catholics, who know not how to account for them. They are, however, a clear proof of the fulfilment of our divine Saviour's prophecy: "And I, when I shall be lifted up, will draw all things to Myself."
4. Man's body. Man is naturally averse to bodily sufferings and mortifications, to deny his body the things it craves for. And, nevertheless, the love of Jesus, lifted up, after drawing men's hearts to Himself, induces them to become the declared enemies and tormentors of their flesh by fasting, abstinence, coarse food, numerous austerities and penances, and by making and faithfully keeping the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. For the love of Jesus crucified multitudes give up what is dearest to them; and all renounce many comforts and pleasures of life, and devote themselves to works of charity and zeal with self-sacrificing love. The sight of this made so deep an impression on the great Napoleon, that he did not hesitate to say:
"Unlike human conquerors, Jesus Christ conquers, not for a time, not merely a few nations, but the whole human race, and He will conquer it to the end of time. Jesus Christ conquers in every individual believer that which is most difficult to subjugate, his heart, his love! For His sake millions have joyfully undergone martyrdom, and still undergo the most painful privations. He will live forever in millions of hearts." And this in the hearts of the best, the purest, the noblest and the most enlightened of mankind ! This is evident from the consecration of the world to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1875 and 1901.
Let us daily raise our eyes to Jesus. "lifted up" on the cross out of love of us, and allow Him to draw to Himself our minds, by practically adopting His teaching concerning the vanity of earthly goods, honors and pleasures; our wills, our hearts, our love, our bodies, by cheerfully denying ourselves, for His sake, whatever is displeasing to Him, by willingly making every sacrifice, however great, long and painful, if it proves necessary to manifest our love for Him, to serve Him faithfully, and thus to secure for our souls the benefits of the Redemption both in this life and in the next. Amen.
Source: Sermon Matters, Imprimatur 1915