I read something today from Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s book, “Life of Christ,” that was so good, so insightful, that I had to put the book down. It was a reflection on John, Chapter 3. I’m not sure why his words cut me so deep. It was probably because it was so counter-intuitive. We normally perceive a premature death as a tragedy, as a failure to live one’s life to the fullest. Yet, Christ’s death was the beginning of understanding. Nothing He ever said would be as important if it weren’t for His gruesome, tortuous death… His Passion.
I want to share the passage from Archbishop Sheen just in case it might affect others the way it affected me.
If there is anything that every good teacher wants, it is a long life in which to make his teaching known, and to gain wisdom and experience. Death is always a tragedy to a great teacher. When Socrates was given hemlock juice, his message was cut off once and for all. Death was a stumbling block to Buddha and his teaching of the eightfold way. The last breath of Lao-tze rang down the curtain on his doctrine concerning the Tao or “doing nothing,” as against aggressive self-determination. Socrates had taught that sin was due to ignorance and that, therefore, knowledge would make a good and perfect world. The Eastern teachers were concerned about man being caught up in some great wheel of fate. Hence the recommendation of Buddha that men be taught to crush their desires and thus find peace. When Buddha died at eighty, he pointed not to himself but to the law he had given. Confucius’ death stopped his moralizings about how to perfect a State by means of kindly reciprocal relations between prince and subject, father and son, brothers, husband and wife, friend and friend.
Our Blessed Lord in His talk with Nicodemus proclaimed Himself the Light of the World. But the most astounding part of His teaching was that He said no one would understand His teaching while He was alive and that His death and Resurrection would be essential to understanding it. No other teacher in the world ever said it would take a violent death to clarify his teachings. Here was a Teacher Who made His teaching so secondary that He could say that the only way that He would ever draw men to Himself would be not by His doctrine, not by what He said, but by His Crucifixion.
When you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will recognize that it is Myself you look for. (John 8:28)
He did not say that it would even be His teaching that they would understand; it would rather be His Personality that they would grasp. Only then would they know, after they had put Him to death, that He spoke the Truth. His death, then, instead of being the last of a series of failures, would be a glorious success, the climax of His mission on earth.