There is nothing cheaper than affection at a distance.
We can love the poor, as long as we don't have to deal with them up close. We can love our neighbor, as long as he stays on his side of the privacy fence.
And we can love God as long as He's not among us, as long as He's up there in heaven minding His own business and letting us show Him the cheapest of all of our charades, the shameful sham of "affection at a distance".
And if you don't know what that kind of false display looks like, go to most suburban Masses, where we're all busy congratulating ourselves on how wonderfully we love this God that we refuse to learn the first thing about, this God who can't make demands on us and who can't love us to the point of changing us because we've made sure we've kept Him so very far way.
And don't for a minute think that Devout Catholics are incapable of this. In fact, for many Devout Catholics, our very Devotion is an elaborate exercise at keeping the Spirit at bay.
We see this a lot with Theater of the Word Incorporated, this insulting display of "affection at a distance". "Oh, we absolutely love the work you do, but there's no way we can pay you to do it. It's so important, this work that you're doing, but of course we don't want you at our parish. I'm so glad you're doing a pro-life play, but it's not the kind of thing we think an audience will actually watch, you understand."
In fact, I've known parents who "love" their children so much they ship them off to boarding schools, day cares, even residential treatment facilities, simply to keep them out of their hair. Like C & E Catholics, who only go to Mass on Christmas and Easter, there are a ton of C & E parents out there, who keep a very safe distance from the mess of engaging in the lives of their sons and daughters.
So, as I say, there is nothing cheaper than "affection at a distance".
And yet ... and yet ... we ought to tremble. For Scripture addresses this very issue.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen. (Rev. 1:7)
And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” (John 19:37)
St. John is referring to an Old Testament prophecy of Zechariah, which itself echoes a lamentation in the Psalms, both of which mysteriously refer to a suffering servant "pierced" by the unrighteous, who at some mysterious time are forced to gaze in astonishment at the damage they have done, at the "piercing" they have been a party to. This prophecy is literally fulfilled at the crucifixion, when the hands and feet of our Lord are publicly pierced and displayed, and when His side is pierced for all to see by a lance after His death. It's also fulfilled figuratively in the "piercing" of the heart of Jesus and His mother by our sins and by His suffering.
In fact, when the infant Jesus is presented at the temple, this figurative piercing is not only prophesied again, but is put into context by Simeon the Prophet ...
"Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed [spoken against, contradicted] -- and a sword will pierce even your own soul-- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (Luke 2:34-35)
The piercing, then, penetrates not only the flesh of Jesus and the hearts of Jesus and Mary, but penetrates our own souls as well. The "end", the "point" of this piercing, of this penetration, is the revelation of our own hearts. And it is indeed a penetrating experience.
For this is not only a one-time event, it happens at the end of the age, it happens when Christ returns and the present creation crumbles away.
Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen.
We are glib about this Second Coming. Jesus, we are told, is a cool dude, and though His Second Coming will be the Last Judgment, He's not judgmental or anything like that. We'll all get into heaven, after all, won't we? We are all people of good intentions.
But we are not people of good intentions. We are traitors. We screw our neighbors every day, even our close friends, even our spouses, for trivial reasons - for convenience, for advantage, for comfort. We do horrible things to one another and we keep telling ourselves that everything's OK because we all have the best of intentions. We all "mean well".
But there will come a moment for each of us - a moment of horror and shame - a moment when we will beg the mountains and the hills to fall on us and hide us (Rev. 6:16, Hos. 10:8, Luke 23:30), a moment when we will look on Him whom we have pierced. And we will wail on account of Him.
For in His wounds, we will see what we have done.