In all likelihood this will be the final post until after Easter. It is my hope to spend Holy Week in added prayer, adoration and quiet reflection; I hope you have the opportunity to do the same.
One thought I would like to convey which is not talked about often is that this coming Saturday is not only Holy Saturday but it is also the feast of Our Lady of Solitude. This feast recalls our Blessed Ladys solitude and contemplation as she waited in faith for the glorious Resurrection of her Son and our Saviour. According to the visions of Blessed Anna Katharina Emmerick, the prayer of the Blessed Virgin was unceasing. She ever kept her eyes fixed interiorly on Jesus, and was perfectly consumed by her ardent desire of once more beholding Him Whom she loved with such inexpressible love (The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ). Perhaps in your own devotions for Holy Week you might consider spending some time with our Blessed Mother in anticipation of Easter.
Below is a reflection for Passion Sunday based on Saint Lukes account. I hope you have an intensely prayerful Holy Week. Happy Easter!
The Church celebrates the mystery of her Lord until He comes when God will be everything to everyone. The liturgy thus shares in Jesus desire: I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you until it is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God (cf. CCC 1130). He took a cup, gave thanks, and said, Take this and share it among yourselves. Its important to note that at this point the cup contains wine only; not the Blood of Jesus. Jesus is following the Jewish custom of the Passover whereby the father or leader at the table pours wine into a glass or cup, blesses the wine and passes it around the table for the family and guests. Jesus says: I tell you that from this time on I shall not drink of the fruit of the vine until the Kingdom of God comes; whenever the Church celebrates the Eucharist she remembers this promise and turns her gaze to Him Who is to come (cf. CCC 1403). He took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying: This is My Body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of Me. And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying: This cup is the new covenant in My Blood, which will be shed for you. Now Passover customs are finished and this is the real deal. Jesus consecrates the bread and wine and changes it into His own Precious Body and Blood.
The Council of Trent stated: Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly His Body that He was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the Body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of wine into the substance of His Blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation.
The Eucharist that Jesus institutes at this moment is the memorial of His Sacrifice which will very shortly occur. Jesus includes the apostles in His own offering and with the words, do this in memory of Me instructs them to continue this as a perpetual memorial thus instituting them as priests of the New and Everlasting Covenant. Saint Cyril strengthens our faith in the Eucharist with these words: Do not doubt whether this is true, but rather receive the words of the Saviour in faith, for since He is the Truth, He cannot lie.
Jesus next tells the apostles that He will be betrayed by one of them. His ability to know this in advance shows His Divinity. The apostles apparent concern as to who would do such a thing immediately shifts to an argument as to which of them is the greatest. Jesus teaches them a lesson in greatness which is somewhat foreign to a worldly definition of greatness; the one who serves is the greatest, not the one who is served. Greatness in a worldly sense is often measured by ways such as political office held, financial status, athletic ability or even having a genius IQ; and most of these examples, if not all, lead others to be envious of such gifts, therefore, giving the illusion of greatness. When employed by Jesus, however, our capacity for love would seem to be the key. It takes love to serve willingly; it takes love to care for those who cannot care for themselves; it takes love to attempt to save innocent and defenceless life; it takes love to labour tirelessly for righteousness; and it takes love to pray for those who spit in the face of morality.
It is you who have stood by Me in My trials; and I confer a Kingdom on you, just as My Father has conferred one on Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My Kingdom. These words express the fellowship of the Church with Jesus. Jesus associates His disciples with His own life, reveals the mystery of the Kingdom to them and gives them a share in His mission, joy and sufferings (cf. CCC 787).
Jesus tells His apostles that they will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. From the beginning of His own Ministry Jesus chose these twelve men to share in His Ministry and now they are the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem and it is through them that Jesus guides and governs the Church.
Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers. Simon Peter here is singled out as the leader of the apostles and is called upon to strengthen his brothers; and in these words is found not only what Satan desired but also what God permitted because it is through perseverance in trials that faith is strengthened. It should also be a source of great comfort to know that Christ prays for us in the midst of our trials. Saint Cyril has some interesting thoughts on these words to Peter as he shares: Admire the superabundance of the Divine patience. That the disciple might not lose courage, Jesus promises him pardon before he has committed the crime, and restores him again to his apostolic dignity.
Although Peter believes he is prepared to go to prison and die with Jesus, Jesus foretells that he will deny Him three times. Jesus forewarns His apostles of the coming persecution by expressing that the one who does not have a sword should sell his cloak and buy one. Jesus was not speaking literally about a sword although the apostles mistakenly thought so which is why Jesus said, It is enough, when they pointed out that they have two swords. The Saviours words, It is enough is just another way of saying, Forget it, you dont understand!
At the Mount of Olives Jesus instructs His disciples to pray that they may not undergo the test. The Catechism of the Catholic Church reads: In Jesus the Kingdom of God is at hand. He calls His hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness. In prayer the disciple keeps watch, attentive to Him Who Is and Him Who Comes, in memory of His first coming in the lowliness of the flesh, and in the hope of His second coming in glory. In communion with their Master, the disciples prayer is a battle; only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation (CCC 2612).
Jesus, in His agony, consents to the Fathers will by saying: Not My will but Yours be done. To do the will of the Father is why Jesus came. There seems to be, however, a glimpse of His Human Nature when He says: Take this cup away from Me. Internal struggles must have surely existed in a Person possessing both a Human and a Divine nature. Taking into consideration the assumed complexities of this dual-Natured God-Man, even with all the covenants and prophecies foretold throughout salvation history leading up to this moment of agony, you have to wonder if the redemption of humankind was somehow hanging in the balance in the Garden of Gethsemane. With the exception of committing sin, God fully embraced our way of life when He clothed Himself in flesh. Its a certainty that fear and apprehension is very much a part of our existence. Since Divine Providence has not fully revealed it nor has anyone else ever possessed both a divine and human nature, its impossible to know for sure what was going on in Jesus Heart when He said Take this cup away from Me. Its also interesting that in this scene of Jesus agony some of the ancient transcribers of the earlier texts purposely left out the portion of the text which tells of an angel appearing to Jesus to strengthen Him as well as the part about His Sweat becoming like drops of Blood falling to the ground. They left it out because they felt it was not consistent with the dignity of Jesus.
Once Jesus is apprehended beginning with the kiss of Judas, the apostles knew what was about to occur but still did not fully understand that it must happen, and therefore, one of them, in an attempt to defend Jesus took a sword and cut off the ear of the high priests servant. Christ taught us to love our enemies and now we see the Teacher showing the students that He indeed practices what He preaches by healing the servants ear.
Why did Jesus choose Judas to be an apostle? Why would He purposely choose someone that He knew would betray Him? Its a given that our Lord knew He would have to be crucified to save humanity but it doesnt seem feasible that the enemies of Jesus needed Judas in order to procure the capture of our Saviour. If Jesus enemies wanted Him that badly it seems logical they would have caught up with Him eventually and seized Him. The answer to the Judas mystery might be found at the Last Supper. Jesus instituted the ministerial priesthood at the Last Supper and since Judas was one of the chosen twelve and present at the Last Supper he would have to be considered a valid priest. Maybe, just maybe the memory of Judas lingers on because Jesus put him forth as a reminder to His Church that not every priest will be holy, not every priest will be faithful, and occasionally there will be some wolves among the sheepfold. If this is the reason, then it would certainly be significant today when considering the current wounds that have been inflicted upon the Church.
Jesus captors led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance and is accused three times of being one who followed Jesus and knew Him. Peter denies it all three times and then the cock crowed thus making Jesus prediction come true: I tell you, Peter, before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know Me. This scene is a reminder of something that perhaps weve all been guilty of at least one time in our life: The Family Room verses the Locker Room -- behaving piously around pious people but afraid to express our love for Jesus when placed in a setting with people who might ridicule us for it. The Lord turned and looked at Peter and he began to weep bitterly. The Catechism refers to this look as a look of infinite mercy which drew tears of repentance from Peter (cf. CCC 1429).
Jesus is sent to Pontius Pilate who listens to the peoples false accusations against Jesus but Pilate believing that Jesus falls under Herods jurisdiction sends Jesus to him. Pilate was actually obeying a Roman law which forbade a governor to condemn anyone who did not fall under his jurisdiction. Herod was longing to see Jesus and wanted to see some sort of miracle performed by Him. Herod and his soldiers mocked Jesus which would make one conclude that Herod had no fears, suspicions or beliefs that Jesus was of divine origin. Herod sent Him back to Pilate. Pilate finds nothing in Jesus that is worthy of death plus he knew that if there was any crime committed, Herod would have seen to it that Jesus was punished. Pilate sees no evidence of a capital crime and so would rather have Jesus flogged and returned to His people. It was a customary Jewish practice to scourge those whose crimes were not worthy of death. The law in the Old Testament indicates that the number of lashes is not to exceed forty (cf. Deuteronomy 25:3). It should be noted, however, that the Latin Vulgate at this stage in this Gospel doesnt explicitly make any reference to having Jesus flogged or scourged. The Latin translates Pilates words to mean: I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him. Chastisement may imply flogging but it could possibly be another form of punishment permissible by Roman law. Regardless of the form of punishment, let us not forget that Jesus has done nothing wrong thus making any form of punishment unwarranted.
Pilate is attempting to take the middle road by neither completely sparing an innocent Victim nor seeing to it that justice is served at least as far as Christs accusers are concerned. Pilate, probably fearing some sort of a revolt, finally surrenders to the demands of the accusers and hands Jesus over to them. Notice that the text reads that Pilate handed Jesus over to His accusers for them to deal with Him as they wished; this political move spares Pilate of ever being accused of breaking Roman law. Barabbas is released from prison and is granted his freedom. To fulfil the will of the Father, Jesus came to take our place and we see indisputable evidence of this here with Jesus taking the place of Barabbas, a murderer and therefore the most hardened of sinners.
One of the themes that Saint Luke felt was important when writing his Gospel was the need to follow in Jesus footsteps as he expressed in this portion of the Gospel by writing that Simon, a Cyrenian, carried the Cross behind Jesus and then following it up with the words: A large crowd of people followed Jesus, including many women who mourned and lamented Him. Jesus words to the lamenting women can be confusing; He is warning them that even though His death is necessary for the salvation of humanity, many evils will still invade the world to the point that barren women will be called blessed because they wont have to subject their children to these evils; and those who are subjected to it will plead to the mountains to fall on them and the hills to cover them. Theres some symbolism here but it is meant to show that our true joy and happiness cannot be supplied by the world because anything of the world is temporary and perhaps even deceiving. The green wood is symbolic of virtuous and holy people of whom Jesus is the Emblem; and the dry wood represents evil and the condemned since it is dry wood that can be cast into the fire. These are not easy words to listen to or accept, but they come from One Who not only speaks the truth but is the Truth.
Jesus is led to a place called Calvary or the Skull which is located a short distance from Jerusalem. It is called the Skull because it is where criminals were often beheaded. Legend has it that it is also where the remains of Adam are buried. Jesus came to take the place of fallen humanity and now on the Cross we see Him centre stage, surrounded by fallen humanity: two criminals crucified with Him, one on His left and one on His right, as well as all the onlookers who were sneering at Him and tempting Him to save Himself if He is the Christ. Next we see the unfathomable ocean of mercy that knows no depths when our Lord says: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do. This not only instructs us to forgive others but also reveals the need for intercessory prayer, not only for those who ask for our prayers but also for those who have harmed us. On the Cross Jesus is not only interceding for those who demanded and carried out His Crucifixion, but also for all of humanity -- past, present and future.
Saint Augustine summarizes that there are three dimensions to Jesus prayer on the Cross: He prays for us as our Priest, prays in us as our Head, and is prayed to by us as our God. On His Cross is the inscription, This is the King of the Jews. The true meaning of His Kingship is revealed only when He is raised high on the Cross because on the tree is the Son of Man Who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His Life as a ransom for many (cf. CCC 440).
Jesus promises Paradise to the one traditionally known as the good thief. He promises entry into Paradise on the very same day as the Crucifixion. It took Jesus three days to rise from the dead and then, according to the Acts of the Apostles (1:3), forty days later to ascend into heaven. This apparent inconsistency has led some of the saints to theologize about it like Saint Augustine who says that the soul of the good thief entered into heaven where Jesus was always present by His Divinity; Saint Cyril of Jerusalem says that the good thief was granted entrance even before the patriarchs and prophets; and Saint John Chrysostom believes that the good thief was actually the first person in all of humanity to enter into Paradise. Something else to consider is that when Jesus spoke the words this day He was possibly referring to eternity where the element of time doesnt exist.
With all the trials and struggles of this life, we are constantly coming to the cross -- but which thief are you? Do you complain about your cross and tell God to get you out of your predicament; or do you faithfully accept whatever comes, trusting that at the end of it all, Paradise awaits you? For most of us, the characteristics of both thieves have been exhibited from time-to-time. There are good days and bad days! The goal, of course, is to always be like the good thief, accepting the cross and trusting that our Lord shares it with us and He will ultimately give us eternal joy and peace.
Just before Jesus breathes His last He cries out: Father into Your Hands I commend My Spirit. The Church prays these very words in her Night Prayer (Compline) just before retiring to bed. As the centurion witnessed what happened to Jesus he said: Vere hic Homo iustus erat -- Indeed this was a just Man. Its difficult to speculate exactly what was on the centurions heart at this moment but the text does read that he glorified God. Now, this could mean that he believed in God but it could also mean that he didnt believe in God but his words nevertheless were spoken under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, therefore glorifying God as well as exposing his words to Gods children until the end of time. Did the centurion believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Probably not -- its difficult to know for certain but not even the apostles at that time fully grasped the meaning of Jesus death; and so, it would be a stretch to suggest that the centurion comprehended this occurrence of such theological depth; plus its not likely that any bystander could ever believe that the Son of God could be killed. Almost certainly though, the centurion was extremely impressed with what he witnessed, watching a crucified Man asking His Father to forgive them because they know not what they do. Since Jesus did not return any insults or curse His executioners and blasphemers, the centurion must have seen Jesus minimally as a remarkably innocent and just Man.
How sad and abandoned the followers of Jesus must have felt when these events occurred. We have the luxury of knowing that it doesnt end here. We have also been given an incredible gift because of these events, namely the Eucharist. The Catechism reminds us that in the Eucharist Christ gives us the very Body which He gave up for us on the Cross and the very Blood which He poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (cf: CCC 1365). The Mass re-presents the Sacrifice on the Cross. Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a stigmatist, and perhaps more affectionately known as Padre Pio, once said: It would be easier for the earth to carry on without the sun than without the Holy Mass.