Catholic MoviesFulton Sheen

Family Retreat p7: Kenosis

By Venerable Fulton Sheen

I see we have a young audience in the $5 seats. I don’t know how interesting this is going to be for you, because I’m going to use some big words. But I’ll explain them. And apropos of big words…

I was once giving a talk in the town hall in Philadelphia, and I lost my way. And I asked a boy, “where is the town hall?” And he told me, I do not remember the exact address, but something like 12th and Chestnut. And he said, “what are you going to do there?” I said, “give a talk.” “On what?” Well I didn’t want to tell him that I was talking on my usual subject, which will be my subject this afternoon: the occipito frontalis of the convalistic convolution of the metaphorical abicliarum pelbiarum. So I simplified it, and I said, “well boys, I’m going to on Heaven and how to get there. Would you like to come and find out?” They said, “you don’t even know the way to the town hall!”

And another story comes to my mind about big words. I began my teaching career in England. And I was lecturing this particular day on the subject of “theandric actions.” Now that sounds very learned, but a theandric action is very simply one in which Our Blessed Lord combined his Divine and human nature. For example when Our Lord picked up some dust, mixed it with spittle, and applied it to the eyes of the blind man. That is a theandric action. Because it is the action of God and man. But when you explain it to a class, you never make it that simple, otherwise you’d never be a teacher. It’s always the business of a teacher to complicate the ordinary simple things of life. So, I had spent 18 hours preparing the lecture, and, honestly I didn’t know what I was talking about. I hadn’t the vaguest idea, really. And when I finished the lecture, I heard one of the deacons, say “oh Dr. Sheen, it’s the most illuminating lecture, most illuminating.” And I said “well what did I say?” He said “well I don’t quite know.” And I said “neither do I.” So that day I became conscious of the fact that sometimes you get a credit for being learned when you’re only confusing.

Now I’m going to tell you about Our Lord. And let me read a passage from St. Paul which you may not understand. And you like to carry away big words, don’t you? So I tell you what you do: there are a number of boys and girls that didn’t come to this lecture; You can be much smarter than they are, because I’m going to give you a word; and I will tell you what it means. And you ask them what it means. (If they’re ignorant children, they don’t know things.) The word is Kenosis. Now I will explain it. Let me read this passage to you, from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

Incidentally, this passage that I am reading to you was once a hymn in the early Church. Greek scholars have found the meter of this particular verse. And just think, Paul wrote his epistles before the gospels were written! So this was the creed in the Eastern part of the world! Before we had any New Testament! And here is the passage:

Let your bearing toward one another arise out of the life of Christ. For the Divine nature was His from the first.

By this is meant, Our Lord was always God.

Yet he did not think to snatch at equality with God.

He didn’t try to be like God, because he was God. Who snatched at equality with God? Satan. I’m going to talk about the devil tonight. Satan tried to snatch at equality with God. Adam did too, because the devil said to Adam, “you will be like gods.” But Our Lord was God by nature.

Now he made himself nothing,

There’s the word “Kenosis.” He emptied himself. Emptied himself. Made himself nothing. (And became…)

assuming the nature of a slave.

A slave. What does a slave do? A slave does two things, he does dirty things and hard things.

So, Our Blessed Lord, who was always God, became man. That meant that he emptied himself of his glory! He humbled himself, became nothing, became a zero.

I’m going to give you an example now that you young people can understand. Suppose you had the power to dispossess yourself of your body, and just keep your soul. And suppose you wanted to have a kenosis, an emptying. And you would put your soul into the body of a dog.

Now think how humbling that would be. To take your mind, your understanding of things, and when you put it into the body of a dog, you would not exceed the limitations of that dog’s nature.

First of all, you could speak, but you wouldn’t speak, you would only bark.

You would have reason, you would know the right things to do, but you’d just follow instinct.

And then there would be another humiliation: you’d have to spend the rest of your life with dogs. Run with the pack. Knowing you’re a thousand times better than they.

Now if you would find it humiliating to go into the body of a dog, what humiliation is it for God to become a man!

And when he takes this human nature, he resolves hardly ever to exceed the limitations of this human nature. So God can suffer!

When people suffer today, they say, “well does God know anything about pain? Did God ever go without food for 3 days? Or 10 days? Did God ever thirst? Does God know anything about the wounds of those that are brought into accident wards in hospitals? Was God ever ridiculed and mocked? Was he ever an exile? Does God know what it is to be in prison?”

Yes! When he became man, he could suffer.

And then in addition to that humiliation, he had to spend his life with men. Now you children know that sometimes if you don’t know the answer to a question, the teacher may get impatient, because she finds it hard to be with dumb kids. Now think how hard it is for God to be with dumb men. This infinite intelligence, with those who were tardy of understanding. And they would ask him what’s the meaning of this simple parable?

Now this is the person of Our Lord. And this gives you some idea of what Christmas is. Because you see God in the form of a babe.

Now why did he take upon himself our nature? St. Paul says he became a slave. And a slave does hard things. But Our Lord became man, in order to transfer to himself our burdens.

Now what is transference? I’m sure many of you have seen that picture of a boy carrying another little boy on his back. And he said “he’s not heavy, he’s my brother.” That is transference.

Now Our Blessed Lord transferred three evils to himself. All the evils of the world can be reduced to three: physical evil, like pain; mental evil, like being mentally handicapped; moral evil, like guilt or sin.

Now let’s follow the life of Our Lord, and see how he transferred ills to himself.

First of all, physical ills.

We read in the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, and Matthew repeats it, that Our Blessed Lord took upon himself our sicknesses and our illnesses. Was Our Lord ever sick? Very likely not. And why? Well because Our Lord never gave to man any power to do anything to him until the time of his Passion. The moment he said now as he went into the garden. Then men could do to him as they willed. But up until then, they tried to throw him over a hill, he walked through the midst of them; three times they attempted to stone him, without effect. How then, if Our Lord was never sick, could he take upon himself our sicknesses and our illnesses?

By deep sympathy. Now when you little children were very small, much smaller than you are now, you had tummy aches, and you had croup. And your mother was worried! Your mother suffered far more than you did. Because she understood your suffering. A mother suffers more than a delinquent daughter.

And Our Blessed Lord, therefore, when he came to the blind and the deaf and the paralyzed and the leper, he so loved them, that that pain was transferred to himself.

That is why we read that when Our Lord cured the blind, and the deaf, what did he do? He sighed. He wept. He groaned. All of these agonies, he felt.

I’m sure, for example, when Our Lord cured the blind, that he felt the blindness of a Milton. When he healed the deaf and sighed, that he was sensitized to the deafness of a Beethoven.

So Our Blessed Lord, therefore, transferred to himself, all the pains that we could ever suffer, so that we would never say “God does not know what it is to suffer.” And then having overcome all that in the Resurrection, He gave us the example of being patient under trial.

So Our Lord therefore transferred to himself physical ills. Now let’s go into mental ills.

Mental ills would be mental retardation, doubt, atheism, deep sense of loneliness at having lost the faith, despair. All of these people have to be redeemed! And how could they be saved, except by the Lord taking upon Himself those effects of sin?

And he did that at that moment when the sun was ashamed to shed its light upon the crime of Deicide, and hid itself at high noon. And in the darkness, Our Blessed Lord uttered that cry, “my God, my God! Why!?”

All the “Whys” that have ever been asked in the world, He took upon Himself, and uttered that cry, which is one of the verses of a psalm. But the end of the psalm ends in joy. Again to remind us that mental ills as well as physical ills can be borne in the light of the Resurrection.

And then He took upon Himself moral ills, or guilt. This was the principal reason for his coming. We owe a debt to God, a debt we cannot pay. Our Lord takes this debt upon Himself. As a matter of fact, we deserve death because of sin! So, Our Lord takes death as a penalty upon himself.

And, he allowed therefore, in the garden, all the sins of the world to enter into his soul. I think all of the thefts of the world were put into his hands, as if he were guilty. All the blasphemies of the world soiled his lips, as if he had spoken them. And the agony of that guilt, being innocent, was so great that it brought from out of his body drops of blood falling upon the olive roots of Gethsemane, making the first crimson Rosary of Redemption. And then, on the cross, paying the ultimate debt of death.

And, how explain Innocence taking upon Himself our sin? Well, let us go to the Burma Road. World War 2. A number of japs had prisoners under their custody. And at the end of the working day, the japs noticed that a shovel was missing. They gave an order that unless the shovel was returned within 5 minutes, 10 men would be shot. At the end of 3 minutes, no one admitted the guilt. Then one man stepped forward, and he was beaten to death. When they got back to the camp, they found all the shovels. He had taken the burden upon himself, the accusation of theft upon himself, as if he were guilty, in order to save the others.

Now that is what Our Blessed Lord did on the cross. That is why the Cross is so very important in our lives.

And then summing up now, all that Our Lord has said– what does the word Keno– do you know Greek? You do? What does the work Kenosis (K-E-N-O-S-I-S) mean? “Empty.” That’s right, empty. Making himself nothing. Our Lord emptied Himself, made Himself nothing. That’s what it means.

Now this we have described in order that you may come to a deeper understanding of what the Life of Christ is.

And the application of it is that we have to transfer to ourselves, very often, the guilt of others.

There’s a price tag on every soul in the world.

Some are cheap. Others are very expensive.

And we have to bear their burden. Pray for them. Sacrifice for them.

I remember once I was hearing Confessions on the Eve of the First Friday of the month. And a young woman came into the confessional and said, “I don’t want to go to Confession, I just want to kill time.”

And I said, “how much time do you want to kill?”

She said, “about 5 minutes.”

“Who are you fooling, besides God?”

She said, “my mother. She thinks I’m going to Confession.”

And I said, “are you afraid?”

She said, “yes.”

“Oh,” I said, “I could make your Confession for you if I saw you.”

She said, “Wise guy, eh?”

I said, “I don’t know, let’s see. Give me a chance. Let me pull aside this screen, turn on the light, and take a look at you.”

I said, “you’re a prostitute.”

She said, “that’s right. That is my life. But that’s not all. Something else much more serious.”

I begged and pleaded with her, to no avail. I asked her to go up and kneel at the Communion rail for a few minutes, she said, “I will think about it.”

I met her on the church steps, asked her again. She said, “after a half hour I will tell you what it is and then run.

She said, “I made a pact with the devil.” She said, “I’m frightened to death.” And she ran.

I heard Confessions that night, and I asked every penitent if they would say a Rosary for the conversion of a sinner. One refused. Interesting that one should refuse.

I finished hearing Confessions about 9 o’clock. Went up and knelt at the Communion rail, praying for her, 9 o’clock, 10 o’clock, 11 o’clock, 12 o’clock, 12:30 midnight.

And I heard the church door open. It was this girl. I went back into the Confessional, she went to Confession.

Here was a transference of someone else’s guilt to another.

Hence the importance of praying for one another. Particularly for those who have morally and spiritually lapsed.

Just as the clouds will pick up moisture from the sea and carry it over a mountaintop, and then drop it on arid land. So too the prayers that we offer are carried by the Spirit and dropped on other souls that need it.

The whole work of Redemption is therefore being carried on. I may possibly, in another talk, show you how, in a very special manner, the cross is magnified in our own lives.

But let the conclusion of this meditation be: one of gratitude to the Lord for humbling Himself, making Himself a zero, for us. Dying for us. And then giving us His life. For, after the Resurrection, He appears to us, and then sends His Spirit. And we live by that Spirit of Christ.

Familiarize yourself with His Life. Read the gospels. You will never attain a deep spiritual life without the Scriptures. And particularly the New Testament. Read them in silence. Read them in the family. In silence we best discover God.

And once in your own personal life, you begin to see that Our Lord is not a teacher, not a revolutionist, not a sociologist. Our Lord is first and foremost a Savior. He saves us from our sins.

And that’s the reason for example, the Church, after we were speculating for a few years on having children go to Communion without Confession, the Church officially suggested Confession before Communion. Why? Because, who were the children receiving, anyway! A buddha? Who is Christ! If he isn’t a Savior, he isn’t anything!

Well you’ll say, “children have no sense of sin.” No. Just let… Now there’s a little girl down there, two or three years old. How old is she? two? three? four? How old? …nine!? Glory be to God! You certainly don’t look that old! Oh if there’s a two or three year old here. You know… suppose a mother, and I’m sure it’s true of you, suppose your mother said to you, “mommy doesn’t love you anymore.” Tears would flow! Why? Because a child understands broken relationship. That’s the essence of sin!

And so therefore, when we receive Communion, we’re receiving a Savior. This is the meaning of Christ.

Now when you get home, take up your Scriptures, knock off the dust, and then read the second chapter of the letter to the Philippians, verse 6, and you will recall the sermon that I preached to you today, and then you’ll be helped to remember the word “Kenosis”.

God love you.