Skip to content

Ahhh McCabe… on the risen-crucified prayer

March 17, 2010

Having been reading McCabe essays whenever I have a moment over the last few weeks I couldn’t resist citing at length. The difficulty is where to end the citation.


If you do not love you will not be alive; if you love effectively you will be killed.

The life and death of Jesus dramatizes this state of affairs. His attempt to set up a community of love in Galilee was a threat to the colonialist and clericalist establishment and so he was killed. It was a death, as we say in Canon II, that he freely accepted; he was prepared to totally identify with, to be, if you like, the sacrament of, the condition of his fellow men. He refused to defend his life’s work at the cost of compromising what he saw as his mission. He was prepared to see all that he had apparently achieved come down in ruins, to see his fellows deserting him, scattered and demoralized. He accepted all this because he did not wish to be the founder of anything, the man of power who would compel the coming of the kingdom. He wished only to do what he called ‘the will of his Father’, which was simply to accept the condition of humanity, to seek the fullness of humanity in love and to accept the failure that characterizes loving humanity. This is what the crucifixion says. Ecce homo. This is what happens when you are really human. But the primary gospel message is that Jesus was raised from the dead – that is to say, that God exists. For the only God we Christians know is He who raised Jesus from the dead. God is what makes sense of the senseless waste of the crucifixion. The existence of God means that the failure, the total failure, which is the act of love is a new kind of triumph.

In the crucifixion Jesus casts everything upon God. The crucifixion says that the coming of the kingdom is not to be an achievement of Jesus but a gratuitous act of the Father’s love. The kingdom is to come as a gift.

A gift means an expression of love. When we thank someone for a gift we are thinking through the gift to the giver (‘thank’ and ‘think’ come from the same root). To say thank you for a gift (or as the Greeks would say, to make a eucharist of it) is to recognize it, to think of it, as a communication of love. Gift is an expression of an exchange of love. To believe in the resurrection is to believe that the resolution of the tragedy of the human condition comes as a gift, as an act of love encompassing mankind. The crucifixion-resurrection is the archetypal exchange of prayer and answer to prayer. On the cross Jesus casts himself upon God, not because he has not come of age, not because he lived before the age of technology and therefore lacked the means for constructing the kingdom, not because he needed a ‘god in the gaps’ to do what science and technology might have done had he lived 2000 years later, but because he was wholly human, wholly free, wholly loving and therefore helpless to achieve what he sought. If he had wanted something less than the kingdom, if he had been a lesser man, a man not obsessed by love, he might have settled for less and achieved it my his own personality, intelligence, and skill. But he wanted that all men should be as possessed by love as he was, he wanted that they should be divine, and this could only come as a gift. Crucifixion and resurrection, the prayer of Christ and the response of the Father are the archetype and source of all our prayer. It is this we share in sacramentally in the Eucharist; it is this we share in all our prayer. But the crucifixion, the total self-abandonment of Jesus to the Father is not just a prayer that Jesus offered, a thing he happened to do. What the church came to realize is that is was the revelation of who Jesus is. When Jesus is ‘lifted up’ – and for John this means the whole loving exchange of the lifting up on the cross and the lifting up which is the resurrection – when Jesus is lifted up, he appears for what he is. It is revealed that the deepest reality of Jesus is simply to be of the Father.

Herbert McCabe OP, God Still Matters (Continuum, 2002), pp. 68-8 in an essay entitled “Prayer”

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: