I. Human Co-redeeming with the Divine Redeemer?
“The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the center of the universe and of history.” 1 There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).” “If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 Jn 2.1).
Jesus is our divine Redeemer, our divine Mediator, our divine Advocate. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us of the fundamental Christian mystery of Redemption: “God’s saving plan was accomplished “once for all” (Heb. 9:26) by the redemptive death of his son, Jesus Christ” 2…The redemption won by Christ consists in this, that he came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28), that is, he [loved] his own to the end” (Jn. 13:1), so that they might be “ransomed from the futile ways inherited from [their] fathers” (1 Pet 1:18). 3
But what of humanity? Is the human person, created, finite, and fallen, in any way able to share, to participate, to co-operate in the sublime mystery of Redemption accomplished by the divine Redeemer? Has the divine Redeemer, in yet a further manifestation of his infinite mercy and generosity, beyond the Redemption itself, granted to the human individual the capacity to actually participate in the divine activity of saving other human beings?
The answer found in Christian revelation to this question is “yes.” The human person can actually play a significant role in the salvation of other human persons, but only through a free and active cooperation with the Divine Redeemer himself.
St. Paul speaks of the Christian imperative to “make up what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ for the sake of his Body, which is the Church” (Col 1:24). The First Letter to the Corinthians identifies Christians as “co-workers with God” (1 Cor. 3:9). When Christians participate in the divine life of Jesus by becoming “partakers in the divine nature” through baptism (2 Pet. 1:4), and “co-heirs” with Christ in grace (Rom. 8:17), they become capable of participating in the divine activity of the Redeemer, as “co-redeemers of humanity together with Christ” (to quote the repeated expression of Bl. John Paul II). 4 The more a human person shares in the divine life of Jesus, the more he or she can fruitfully participate in the redemptive work of Jesus.
St. Augustine tells us that “God created us without us, but he did not will to save us without us.” 5 Not only must we freely cooperate with Jesus for our own salvation, but he has willed to dignify human freedom even further by allowing us the capacity to cooperate in the salvation of others. Such is the generosity of the Heart of Christ, who seeks to include his beloved disciples in the greatest of his divine acts, which is precisely human redemption.
Blessed John Paul II provides a commentary on St. Paul’s classic text of Col. 1:24 which continues the papal teaching 6that man indeed is called to participate with and under Jesus in the work of Redemption:
For, whoever suffers in union with Christ…not only receives from Christ that strength already referred to, but also “completes” by his suffering “what is lacking” in Christ’s afflictions. This evangelical outlook especially highlights the truth concerning the creative character of suffering. The sufferings of Christ created the good of the world’s redemption. This good is in itself inexhaustible and infinite. No man can add anything to it. But at the same time in the mystery of the Church as his Body, Christ has in a sense opened his own redemptive suffering to all human suffering. Insofar as man becomes a sharer in Christ’s sufferings –in any part of the world and at any time in history – to that extent he in his own way completes the suffering through which Christ accomplished the Redemption of the world. Does this mean Redemption accomplished by Christ is not complete? No. It only means that the Redemption, accomplished through satisfactory love, remains always open to all love expressed in human suffering. 7
The redemptive graces obtained by Jesus Christ on Calvary are infinite and exhaustible, and are in no way intrinsically “lacking.” Yet, the Redeemer has given humankind, particularly through membership in his Mystical Body (cf. 1 Cor. 12, 27; Rom. 12:4), the ability to participate in the release of a portion of those infinite graces. Thereby we as creatures who “live in Christ” (cf. Gal, 2:20) perform a true, though entirely dependent role with Jesus, in the distribution and consequent reception of the saving graces of Christ for the personal, subjective redemption of others. 8
Lumen Gentium instructs that the secondary and subordinate participation in the one mediation of Christ in no way diminishes the glory of Christ the one mediator, but, on the contrary manifests the glory of the one Mediator himself (cf. LG 60, 61, 62). As Redemption is a dimension of the one mediation of Christ, the same principle applies to secondary and subordinate participation in the one Redemption of Jesus Christ. Human co-redeemers in Christ, far from competing with or obscuring the dignity of the one divine Redeemer, manifest his glory as it mysteriously leads to a new distribution of the fruits of Redemption merited by Christ at Calvary. The more humans participate in the one Redemption of Jesus, the more his infinite sacrifice becomes manifested and supernaturally fruitful as it is received by human hearts.