“It is finished.” – It is not finished.

“It is finished.”
These words spoken by Jesus
bridge back to the opening words of John 13,
the beginning of the Book of Glory.
“Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.”
This “end,” this loving, is now attained in the moment of death.
He is completely spent, poured out on our behalf.

“It is finished.”
As the Letter to the Hebrews teaches,
Jesus is the great high priest
who offers himself, once for all.
So, to say “it is finished” is to acknowledge
that his handing over of himself for us
shines forth in the great mystery of the Cross.
The Cross of Jesus replaces all other acts of worship
as the one, true glorification of God.
All other acts of worship pale in comparison.

“It is finished.”
The Roman centurion makes a profound confession of faith:
“Truly this man was the Son of God.”
With that, the Church of the Gentiles comes into being –
through the suffering Son, they recognize the true God.
This confession of faith shows us the paradox of faith
that occurs sometimes.
John chapter one reads, “He came to what was his own,
and his own people did not accept him.” (John 1.11)
To those who did accept him
he gave power to become children of God.
In Jesus’ view all works and words of his life could now end.
For all will be continued in the community of the Beloved Disciple,
the community of faith that is founded
from the life-giving water and blood that flow from his side.

We who are the community of the Beloved Disciple
can be comforted by the words of Jesus at the Last Supper:
“Amen, I tell you, the one who believes in me
will do these works and greater works than these
because I am going to the Father…
If you ask anything in my name I will do it.”

“It is finished.”

But for the men and, women, and children
who find themselves on the edge of our society,
no, it’s not finished.
Of their suffering there appears to be no end.
We have been called here at this most sacred hour
to hear once again the saving words of the Gospel.
We are called to testify in word and deed,
that the work of the Gospel is not finished.

It is not finished until there is justice for people
who have a different skin color or a different sexual orientation.

It is not finished until women are full partners
in our Church and in our world.
It is not finished until those who hunger and thirst
for regular nourishment and clean water have been satisfied.

It is not finished until we no longer hold men and women on death row
or kill them silently with sophisticated technology
so that we don’t have to acknowledge their humanity.

It is not finished until we acknowledge our deep spiritual hunger
for what it is and no longer try to satisfy it with material goods;
until we understand that we have to empty ourselves as Jesus did.

It is not finished until our nation
has come to a different relationship with weapons of destruction,
and a bias toward the use of violence as an ultimate solution.

It is not finished for many of us here today:
those who suffer continuous physical pain;
or grieve the loss of a son, daughter or spouse;
or those who are in a marriage that no longer works;
or those who are stymied by regret at how their life has unfolded;
or those who no longer know what their lives mean.

Jesus says “it is finished”
because he trusts that the community of the Beloved Disciple
will be nourished and live from the water and blood from his side,
that this community will live out of and through the gifts of the Spirit.

As far as our discipleship is concerned
until we complete our work in that Spirit,
it will never be finished.

Abbot John Klassen, OSB
Good Friday, April 6th, 2012
Saint John’s Abbey, Collegeville

48 comments

  1. I like this blog, because even when I don’t agree, there’s room for different opinions.

    But this reeks of heresy.

    1. One has to understand the literary form of this sermon. There is a rhetorical contrast being made to drive home the point of what remains to be done to realize the fullness of what Christ came to bring upon this earth.

      The abbot begins by making strong assertions of how the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross is the ultimate sacrifice. In this respect what Jesus is doing IS finished. Everyone who commented negatively on the homily seems to have overlooked the first several paragraphs.

      But then, he says, for X, Y, and Z, “it is not finished.” The work of Jesus continues in the community to whom he gives his Spirit to bring forth the Kingdom. Qualifications, nuances, and more would belong in a theological lecture. This is a homily.

      This is nothing less than clear Christian theology. It’s not Pelagian. He never denies the perfection of Christ’s self-offering, or its efficacy. He is speaking about the ongoing work of the Church, and that isn’t finished.

      Now, admittedly I don’t usually like rhetorical oppositions. They can get silly. When people say things like “The Mass isn’t ended” I want to say, “Oh c’mon, this is tedious, you KNOW what this means already.” But this homily didn’t provoke the same sort of reaction in me, perhaps because he grants the truth of what Jesus has said first: Yes, it is true what Jesus has said… but then there is more.

  2. I thought Jesus said “it is finished” because he trusted the Father. I wouldn’t say that it “reeks” of heresy, but there is at least a whiff of Pelagianism. I really don’t think Jesus needs us to finish his work for him, and a discipleship that is motivated by such a belief will not, I think, make it over the long haul.

    1. Fritz,
      You are a deacon correct? Is your ministry not in some way a continuation of Jesus’ ministry? Is the work of Jesus finished? Are you kidding? If Jesus does not need us to continue his work, I suggest you return your dalmatic and call it a day.

      1. Deacon Fritz, the writer of Paul’s letter to the Colossians refers to this issue at the beginning of the letter and has something pertinent to say at v. 24 in particular.

      2. Sorry, I’ll hang on to the dalmatic. There are plenty of things to do, but I don’t do them because Jesus needs me to finish his work for him. I am able to do anything at all because Jesus’s work is finished and he gives me the privilege of being a part of what he has done.

        As to Col. 1:24 — it makes a difference that Paul is talking about suffering, not about being some sort of relief pitcher for Jesus (apologies to our non-US readers for the baseball analogy).

    2. Deacon Fritz – you might want to peruse the latest works by NT Wright. This theme is close to his latest works about the concept of “heaven” and a “new earth”…..his interpretation of the early gospel writers and Paul is that heaven is not a physical place nor is it something that replaces earth. Rather, with death and the end time, what we will see is a new creation that is both earth and heaven. And, per Wright, this new creation comes about as we, the people of God, work to meet the needs of all. He interprets the words of Jesus and the early diciples as calling all to empty themselves in service.
      Would suggest (rather than Pelagianism) that is both/and.

      1. He interprets the words of Jesus and the early diciples as calling all to empty themselves in service.

        Bill, I’ve got no disagreement with this. But it seems to me that the abbot’s homily is saying something slightly different.

      2. Well, we would need to meet and have a drink to discuss – you would probably open my mind to understand. Leaving for your neck of the woods tomorrow through Sunday but constant business calls. Next time.

    3. Deacon – IMO, John Churchman captures it completely:

      Do this…

      In the Eucharistic Meal, Jesus gave us a very ingenious message in the method.

      He gave us something we do not need to think about,
      we do not need to agree upon, we do not need to gaze at,
      we do not need to worship.

      Jesus just said, Do This . . .

      It was an action,
      an audio-visual aid,
      a sacred ritual for community,
      that summarizes His whole lasting message for the world,
      Do This . . .

      Do What?
      Take my life in my hands as Jesus did that night,
      Thank God for this Gift of My Life,
      Break it, Let it be broken, give it away for others,
      Eat and Drink with each other as participants in the Life of God.

      We have embroidered and surrounded Jesus� homespun ritual with candles, vestments, ancient music, incense, elaborate words, and cathedrals.
      But we still don�t get what it is we have to do.

      It has been made into a rite of heavenly ideals
      instead of a simple embodiment of an ongoing transformation.

      We have spent so much time arguing about
      the how and if and transubstantiation instead of simply learning how to be present and to Do This . . .

      We have made it into magic to be witnessed and believed instead of a Transformation of ourselves.

  3. But for the men and, women, and children
    who find themselves on the edge of our society,
    no, it’s not finished.

    I think the rhetoric gets in the way of the facts here. It’s a clever rhetorical conceit: the unfinished work. But the way it’s employed is ambigious and unclear. For everyone, the work that Jesus is referring to is finished. That doesn’t mean that there’s not lots of other things to do, but the work Jesus is referring to is also finished for those people as well.

    I don’t think you can call it heretical (to any degree). It’s just ambigious. One reading is heretical and the other isn’t. And the same device is employed with regards to morality when justice for homosexuals and equality for women are invoked, but not at all described. And that part I find to be unchallenging, because it depends for its rhetorical force on us knowing what the “right” meaning is (whatever the content) and so contains a sense of self-congratulation for the hearer.

  4. Indeed, there seems to be some ambiguity…a confusion between what Christ wants and what the author wants. The only way it makes sense is if the author is to claim that he knows what Christ wants. Dangerous territory that is…

    1. Mr Herbert, logically, you wouldn’t be in a position to identify a confusion between what you claim Christ wants and what the author wants unless you too are claiming to know what both of these are. That’s fine as far as it goes. The real anomaly arises when you describe, without a hint of irony, the author’s position as dangerous territory.

      1. You apparently have a grasp of neither logic, nor my point of view. I could suggest that you comment no further on either, but that is unlikely to cause you to do so.

        I’m not claiming that we (the observers) are subject to a confusion betwixt what the author wants and what Christ wants (which would, I agree, require the type of contradictory claim that you attribute to me). Rather, I’m claiming that the author seems to confuse what they want with what Christ wants, requiring the author, not I, to possess some type of a priori knowledge of Christ’s intentions when he said “it is finished”. There is no logical contradiction nor fallacy involved. The idea that anyone, whether I or you or some additional party, would claim to know the actual intention of anyone, let alone Christ himself, when making an unobserved statement (revealed through writing or transcript without direct observation), is what I was referring to as dangerous territory. If Christ said “it is finished”, I find it a bit disturbing to claim “no, it isn’t!”. That’s all…

  5. I don’t see the heresy. In fact, I quite like what the abbot had to say. It reminds me of the motto of the ELCA: God’s work, our hands. We are continuing in Christ’s redemptive and reconciling work in the world. Sure, Jesus brought us salvation, but that salvation really doesn’t mean much–at least, it doesn’t seem to make much–if our lives are a living hell. That hell is realized each and every moment of the day for some people, the people and societies that the abbot preached about. Any second spent living in hell is an affront to the living and loving Christ who came to bring freedom to the captives.

    If anything, the abbot’s homily reeks of the Gospel and God be good to him for that.

  6. This is a really good homily. And unfortunately, in our current Church culture, the Abbot can’t be more specific on certain matters. If the Abbot were more specific, it’s possible that there would be disciplinary sanctions because of our church hierarchy and their view of what is right and just. The paradox between a work completed and a work yet to be done is manifested well here, and as such we have a lot of work to do in engaging this paradox.
    Jesus lived His life and died so that we no longer have to suffer from the fear of hell/punishment of sin, whatever you want to call it. But we’re still in a world where there is punishment for sin, where people still suffer. These people don’t see the fullness of life because it is taken away from them. Part of our mission as disciples is to ensure that all people have the dignity to live the fullness of life.

    And Fr. Bauerschmidt, I feel like there’s always been some sense of semi-Pelagianism/Pelagianism in the Catholic faith because otherwise we couldn’t justify our cult of the saints and our belief of needing faith and works for salvation… (even though that’s been adjusted throughout time particularly the clarification in the Joint Declaration on Justification.) And yes, we don’t necessarily say works are needed for salvation, but we don’t agree with sola fide either, so it’s kind of some thought of something needs to be done. I always get lost on this question because it’s such an odd mystery. At the same time, I don’t think it’s a great argument to say that this homily is Pelagian because then a lot of our tradition would have to be Pelagian for its insistence on needing works…

    1. And unfortunately, in our current Church culture, the Abbot can’t be more specific on certain matters.

      The Abbot can, and should. He ought to be more courageous. Was Jesus ambiguous? Were the biblical prophets? Were the early Christians?

      For example, I think we all know what the phrase “until women are full partners in our Church” really means. The Abbot ought to just come out and state his opinion (but not necessarily in a homily), rather than cover it up in self-congratulatory rhetoric. Whether or not he is then disciplined as a result is not really the point, nor, if he is to be consistent, should it be his concern.

      1. Yes, this vague “full justice for women in the Church … justice for people of every sexual orientation”-type language is very disappointing. It would be nice to see an abbot who let his yes be yes and his no be no, instead of dropping wink-wink, I-know-you-know-what-I-mean hints without saying anything that could be held against him in Rome.

        Wishy-washiness and mealy-mouthedness are not very appealing traits in a would-be leader. I should know, I’m a Catholic!

      2. If we consider the kind of position he is in as abbott, I don’t think it’s fair to accuse him of being wishy-washy. In fact, I thought his homily was quite bold. I see him constantly walking a fine balance between a pastoral or prudential carefulness and a bold willingness to step out and take risks when necessary, which is just the kind of discernment a good leader should have. My opinion is admittedly biased, but is supported by the fact that he is now getting flak from the right and the left.

  7. Actually, I tend to be more concerned with the stranglehold of Augustinian paralysis, especially when attempts to loosen its grip are met with cries of “Pelagianism” or even misgivings about anything that remotely smacks of “semi-semi-Pelagianism”. Either way, though, if we make it all about personal salvation (as Luther did) or personal piety (as did any number of perhaps semi-Pelagian medieval Catholics), we are already missing the point.

    Oh and Adam, I like your phrasing of “the paradox between a work completed and a work yet to be done”. It sounds to me like the paradox of living into the Kingdom of God, between the “already” of the Christ event and the “not yet” of the eschaton.

    1. Well said, Ms. Smucker – excellent use of the already but not yet of Fr. Hans Kung (I know, how heretical). And if we take some commentors to the extreme, what happens to narratives and images such as “pilgrim”, “journey”, etc.
      What do we make of the Emmaus story?

  8. I am at pains to find anything suggestive of heresy here at all. Perhaps that is why I do not work in the Curia. But I do think this is a wonderful homily. I wish I had heard it. I might say that we need to clarify only that the work of salvation is finished while the work of Christians in the world toward the salvation that has been won for us is not. Even though Christ is risen, still we must bring forth the Kingdom: there is some work for us to do in salvation history. But I don’t think I’d even go that far since, surely, Abbot Klassen and his listeners know that. It is picayune far beyond charity to find that particular fault. Thanks to Abbot Klassen for this, and to PrayTell for sharing it.

  9. I don’t agree when people start throwing around the term “heresy” (sorry Jose, but it’s wrong). If I understand it correctly, canon law states that only the magisterium can label something heretical. And canon law says every Catholic is entitled to a good reputation [Canon 220] and that under church law a bishop cannot judge any Catholic until he has spoken to them or their pastor.

    I must say that I agree w/ SJH that when Christ said it is finished He was referring to His own redemptive work. However, “our” work was just beginning…

  10. Abbot nice job! Well written. Thank you for challenging us to know that our work is not finished. Perhaps those who object to your thoughts have forgotten the command of the Lord in His Easter appearances.

  11. “(W)hen people start throwing around the term ‘heresy’” what they really mean is “I disagree with this … very strongly and I don’t want to have to say or write a four-letter word.

    Disagreement noted. Individuals do not determine heresy.

  12. OK . . . let’s say un-orthodox. Or a corrupted influence. I think it clear the two insinuations in the text given (“full partners” code for “women priests” and “sexual orientation”).

    The text was great, but those two phrases jumped out as anti-Church.

    deHaas: “un-orthodox” posts or phrases in posts in this blog, to me, chip at my trust of the editors (obviously, this isn’t the first time). There is great opportunity for evangelization here, but those phrases bring us division. How can we face the world if we’re not behind our bishops and her Magesterium?

    Bauerschmidt

    Howard: I agree, he should be more clear. Perhaps I am 100% wrong, so he should say how women should reach more equal footing in practice, not just theory. Or say how we should respectfully engage with those of varying orientations. Or maybe I’m right, and he should “man up”. (You already said all of this.)

    Maynus: It did reek of the Gospel, for 95% of it. I was very happily reading and finding myself agreeing with it. Until.

    Kloster: YES.

    Millies, Rodriguez, Flowerday: You’re probably right. And we shouldn’t call each other names (please excuse the impulse) . . . but then I qualify . . . While most of the text was inspiring, his connotations reek of error and division.

    1. Jose, do they really reek of error and division or is your interpretation of what was written reek “of error and division” ?

      You’re possibly putting words in his mouth.

      You stated: “I think it clear the two insinuations in the text given (“full partners” code for “women priests” and “sexual orientation”).”

      Uh, he didn’t say that.

      Maybe he was referring to something else….
      http://blogs.sun.ac.za/news/2011/08/04/violence-against-women-undermines-gender-equality/

      Concerning gender equality in the church:

      “Churches in Africa sometimes contribute to the stigmatisation of victims of sexual violence. Although church leaders are aware of violence against women, they are slow to act.”
      Ms Lisa le Roux speaking at the workshop on gender equality. The silence of some churches reinforces the prevailing cultural perceptions about gender and sexual violence against women.”
      “In many African countries, violence against women is regarded as culturally acceptable, said Le Roux. Many men view the rape of women as a sign of power.”

      So let’s just stick w/ what the good abbott stated:
      “Jesus loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end.” and:
      This “end,” this loving, is now attained in the moment of death.
      He is completely spent, poured out on our behalf.

      That’s the redemptive act of Christ.

      Then:
      “With that, the Church of the Gentiles comes into being –
      through the suffering Son, they recognize the true God.”
      and:
      “For all will be continued in the community of the Beloved Disciple,
      the community of faith that is founded
      from the life-giving water and blood that flow from his side.”
      and:
      “We are called to testify in word and deed,
      that the work of the Gospel is not finished.”

      Nothing “unorthodox” about any of that.

  13. Certainly we must respond to God’s grace given in all the Sacraments as sanctifying grace and as actual grace for particular needs. However, salvation or redemption is not imposed on anyone, it is a gift to be received and unpacked and throughout one’s life and the entire life of the Church until the Lord returns to complete salvation history. Where I get uncomfortable is with some of the ecclesiastical or theological politics present in the homily and their implications as it concerns natural law and two particular sacraments of the Church not to mention the onus placed on us to make a perfect world on this side of the second coming or that a perfect world is narrowly defined by some of the items in the preacher’s perception of perfection. It would be like hearing a sermon where the preacher says it won’t be finished until scientists find a cure for death. Really?

  14. Called out by name, let me take a moment to reply. First, point taken: heresy is a technical finding that lies outside the competence of those posting here. I still would hold that the homily affirms Catholic faith. What ‘reeks’ of “error and division?” It’s nothing to do with the death penalty, or with hunger. It is, I assume,: (1) “justice for people of…a different sexual orientation”; (2) women being “full partners in our Church,” and; (3) sympathy with “those who are in a marriage that no longer works.” If I am incorrect in these assumptions, stop me here. But if this is what we are calling “error and division,” then some latent biases have been exposed. In charity, take the abbot’s words at face value. “Justice” for gay and lesbian people is an article of Catholic faith: “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” What causes us to call that a source of “error and division?” There lies the injustice toward homosexuals in the Church that the homily describes, the reluctance to accept them. What does “full partners in our Church” mean? I suppose it could mean ordination but, again, not necessarily at face value. I take it more as a call for relevant lay leadership in the Church. Nothing disturbs the Catholic faith to say that laypeople could have a greater role in governance of temporal goods (freeing bishops and pastors to focus on pastoral duties), or that some working relationship between lay theologians and bishops (who often lack advanced training in theology) could be found. Both would be avenues for women (and men) toward full partnership that do not offend the tenets of faith. Must we separate Catholics in unhappy marriages from the Church? It is a real pastoral problem that Rev. James Coriden addressed with seriousness and sensitivity in Commonweal (1/27/12). Calling efforts to address that problem, faced everywhere by real people of real faith, “error and division” only exposes a stunning indifference…

    1. I agree, but I would probably take it further. Equality for women, justice for all and compassion are core principles that should be motivating everyone. If women cannot be ordained, it should be an expression of their equality. If gays cannot marry, it has to be just to do it. Promoting these principles is a help to everyone, because they are the basis for any decision.

    2. So let him be more clear to mean these things. Give examples perhaps. I hope that’s what he meant.

      Redefining marriage and “women’s ordination” are clearly out of our Catholic faith. IF that’s what he meant, which isn’t clear. But stank of it.

      1. Why?

        Marriage as a sacrament has a long history and the church did not really begin to formalize and implement this sacrament until the 10th or later centuries.

        Women’s ordination – Mr. Millies probably did the best job of summing up the Abbot’s point but the church and its theology has constantly developed. Whose to say it won’t develop in the future.

      2. But why should he “be more clear??” When the Psalmist writes about “abundant breasts” I don’t hear lechery, I don’t need him to “be more clear.” 7th graders giggle, but that’s because it’s in their heads to start with. The problem with the Catholic Identity Police patrolling for signs of “error” is that they’re always ready to find it, just like the 7th graders. But I don’t think their obsessions make it anybody else’s obligation to “be more clear” just to soothe the worries of the Identity Police and stay out of trouble. The abbot said perfectly reasonable things that only provoke outrage among those aching to find causes to be outraged and, in that sense, his homily was a sign of division. It has provided a signpost, a Rorschach test to show us those who seek division, those who will refuse to take things at face value and impute good motivations, those within the Church who lack charity in the name of defending the Church. It will not be finished until we are healed of that, too.

      3. deHaas: You and I disagree on these two issues, but I don’t think it wise that an abbot, with his authority, undermine the Church’s position on those issues. The Church’s position is pretty clear.

        Millies: You seriously don’t think his phrasing lent itself to my interpretation? Really?

      4. Really!
        Not speaking for Steve, but for myself, I think your interpretation goes way beyond what was said.

        Try it this.way. Do you think women should be full partners in the Church? If you say no, that would be the first heretical statement here. See 1 Cor 12 or Gal 3. So we have a principle that needs to be applied.

        Obviously this principle is not well known, since there are many who apparently believe this can only be achieved by ordaining women. (you?) Some even use the inability to ordain women as a sign of inequality, rather than as an affirmation of equality. So the principle needs to be clarified so that those who oppose the ordination of women will not slip into thinking that women are not equal partners in the Church.

      5. Mr. Moreno – you have the typical meme going – you identify the “church” with the hierarchy or papal pronouncements only. Sorry, this is a limited and narrow view of the “church” and of church tradition and history.

        One can support the “church” even via respectful questionning and “dissent” – it has a long history in the church. The gospels underline unity; not uniformity. You confuse the two.

    3. But why should he “be more clear??” When the Psalmist writes about “abundant breasts” I don’t hear lechery… The problem with the Catholic Identity Police patrolling for signs of “error” is that they’re always ready to find it, just like the 7th graders. But I don’t think their obsessions make it anybody else’s obligation to “be more clear” just to soothe the worries of the Identity Police and stay out of trouble.

      The problem is that people like Adam Fitzpatrick above do read unorthodox opinions into the unclarity:

      This is a really good homily. And unfortunately, in our current Church culture, the Abbot can’t be more specific on certain matters. If the Abbot were more specific, it’s possible that there would be disciplinary sanctions because of our church hierarchy and their view of what is right and just.

      The ambiguity and the potential for people to hear the endorsement of unorthodox opinions in the ambiguity is not just in the heads of the “Identity Police”.

      1. “The ambiguity and the potential for people to hear the endorsement of unorthodox opinions in the ambiguity is not just in the heads of the “Identity Police”.” S.J. Howard

        What you describe as the endorsement of unorthodox opinions is the way belief develops. The issue is whether the opinions you describe as unorthodox stand to reason. If they don’t you’d do well to point out where and why not.

  15. It seems to me that Abbot Klassen’s homily was both simple and profound, and as I read it, about the two commandments given by Jesus; Love God and Love Your Neighbour. When we have succeeded, as the Body of Christ, in fulfilling this mandate, then the work of Christ will indeed be accomplished. I’ll leave the finer details to the theologians and philosophers among you but, as a simple layman, I don’t expect that the work of the mystical body of Christ will be accomplished much before the Second Coming. Meanwhile, I’ll try and get on with my part of the job, inadequate though I certainly am and hope that I am correct in believing that Christ’s message is uncomplicated.

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