“The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.” (John 3: 14-15)
Today’s Gospel (John 3:7-15) refers to the incident in the Book of Numbers 21: 8-9 where Moses had made a bronze serpent which became a symbol of salvation as the antidote to the poison of the serpent. Jesus uses that image to lift up the Cross, symbol of death, as the antidote for the poison of death’s sting. The Cross is the highest revelation of God’s love and makes it possible that everyone who believes has eternal life.
On October 1818, the day before he made his perpetual oblation as a Missionary, Eugene spent the day in retreat. He wrote in his journal about his very human fear of death. It is a long passage, but well worth reading in these days where death is so present:
I cannot explain why I am afraid of death, whether it is simply the natural horror that the thought of our destruction inspires, or rather whether it is fear that God’s judgment will not be favourable to me. How often I have left the bedside of the sick whom I have visited amazed. That perfect resignation, peaceful assurance with which they saw their end approaching, those holy desires which make them impatient even of the few moments that remain to them to live, all that both astonishes and humiliates me at the same time.
So what is my attachment to life? I simply do not know. It is true I am too fond of people, too sensitive to their love for me, that I love them over-much in return for their feelings towards me; even so I recognize that it is not in that lies my fear of death to the point of avoiding thinking deeply about it.
So what is it? I simply do not know, I say again. It is always true that I do not love God enough, for if I loved him more, I would suffer from not being able to possess him. It is true also that I do not often enough raise my thoughts to heaven. I usually stop at, and try to show love for, Jesus Christ dwelling among us in his Sacrament, and I do not leave this place, I do not raise myself up higher; he is there, that is enough for my weakness, – I do not say for my love because, although I would really like to love him, I do not love him much, I love him little. So coarse am I that I do not form for myself any idea of heaven, nor of God. I stop always at Jesus Christ who is there and I make no effort at all to seek him out elsewhere, were it even in his Father’s bosom. That’s where I am at. My God, give me more light. But I do not want to stop loving, blessing, thanking, conversing with Jesus Christ in his Sacrament dwelling in our midst. The rest will be extra, if God wills it, but that I must have, I know my needs, at least that one.
Retreat Notes, 30 October 1818, EO XV n 148
That was in 1818. Thereafter he never feared death because his eyes were focused on the Cross and Resurrection because death no longer had any sting for him. (I Corinthians 15:55: ““Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”)