The concept of Our Lady of Sorrows comes from the prophecy of Simeon who, thirty-three years in advance, foretold to Our Lady that a sword would pierce her heart. This prophecy proves that we can suffer spiritual reversals even when we live a glorious life. Given the existence of sin, life is full of expiation and struggle.
The Presentation begins with the prophet Simeon taking the Child Jesus in his arms and prophesizing: "Now Thou dost dismiss thy servant, O Lord, according to Thy word in peace; because my eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared before the face of all peoples: A light to the revelation of the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel." Hearing that prophecy, Our Lady became even more aware of the immense glory of the Divine Child.
After blessing Our Lady, Simeon then said: "Behold this Child is set for the fall, and for the resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign which shall be contradicted." Thus, after predicting a magnificent future, he announced a life of terrible struggle. Then, turning to her, he said: "And thy own soul a sword shall pierce, that, out of many hearts, thoughts may be revealed."
He thus announced to Our Lady not only the terrible struggle Our Lord would face but also that a sword would pierce her soul. In other words, she knew in advance that she would have to endure one of the most atrocious sufferings a person could bear.
Lessons for Modern Man
This sequence of events has valuable lessons for modern man. It is evident that God wanted the Christ Child to be the victorious king mentioned in Simeon’s prophecy, yet modern man finds it difficult to explain logically how a wise and consistent God would put Him through all those struggles that would end up in defeat.
Modern man reasons that it would be according to the natural order of things established by God’s wisdom not to allow this suffering and defeat. Why should there be the mystery of this terrible moment announcing this sword that would pierce Our Lady’s Heart? How can we understand God allowing such great suffering and apparent defeat?
The reason for this perplexity comes from a modern mentality that does not know how to deal with the setbacks of the spiritual life and apostolate. Many people simply do not understand why they should be tempted when they are doing well in their spiritual life. Why does Our Lady allow us to sin and displease her? It appears to be a contradiction. If the objective of sanctity is clear, then it would seem normal for everything to move orderly and consistently toward that end? How do we explain the setbacks? "Happy End" Mindset
Here we see a reflection of the "happy end" mentality found in Hollywood films where things always end up right. According to this erroneous mindset, we must harbor the certainty that everything must have a happy ending, for man is called to be happy and victorious on this earth. When things do not end up well, then we have the sensation that life is a failure.
This "happy end" mentality intoxicates our minds so that we are unable to understand how God’s plans are accomplished. Given the existence of sin, the fall of the angels and the fall of man, human life has a character not only of trial, but also of expiation and struggle. Divine Providence acts with wisdom, when allowing the good to have setbacks, sicknesses, temptations, or fights with adversaries. Providence also allows all these things to befall us in situations in which we do not understand why they are happening to us. Suffering is normal in this life. It is normal that many things yield bad results and even turn out wrong or at least, different than intended.
However, for His greater glory, God draws from bad results, something better and more brilliant than we could imagine even if we had good results. These unexpected sufferings and trials are not only something that sinful man must suffer, they also correspond to a punishment for the sins we may have committed. They are a proof of our love to God since we must lovingly render to Him, blind confidence, detachment and abnegation. This is highly formative for men. However it only has value to the degree that we accept these sufferings with a supernatural spirit rather than complaining about them. We must accept these trials as a soldier who moves forward in the fight.
The Mystery of Simeon’s Prophecy
Here one understands the mystery of Simeon’s prophecy. According to the modern mindset, it would have been better not to advise Our Lady of her sorrow thirty-three years in advance. It would have been better to circumvent the issue and keep quiet about it. Even at the hour Our Lord was to be crucified, she should be spared that terrible sorrow by avoiding it altogether.
However, Our Lady carried the knowledge of this sorrow her whole life. She saw it coming from afar. Thus, her immaculate soul, conceived without Original Sin, gradually grew in perfection and sanctity by the long consideration and acceptance of the sorrow that was to come.
Even for Our Lady’s immaculate soul, we can understand that a strong, courageous, reasonable and, we could even say, manly calculation of future sorrows would be an element of growing union with God. From the very first instant of her being, Our Lady’s very intense union with God was unfathomable. However, she was intentionally given to carry her sorrow for thirty three years with the understanding that we were born to suffer. It is normal for us to suffer and it is necessary to accept pain entirely before it comes. And when suffering does come, it should find us calm, faithful, dauntless and heroic, for this is how we must be in the face of pain and sorrow.
The Garden of Olives
Thus, we can find an analogy between the life of Our Lord and Our Lady. She spent thirty-three years of her life in the Garden of Olives. She foresaw all the sorrow amidst indescribable joys. She saw her Divine Son grow and prepare for His public life. She could see that piercing sword of sorrow awaiting her as she saw Him leave home, heard the rumors being spread about Him, and noticed the growing hatred against Him from all sides. The forces of evil were preparing the most atrocious coup against her Son, and she, who adored Him as her God and Son, sensing the horrible sin being prepared, accepted the trial of facing up to the coming events.
The end result of this preparation was that she was ready for the most magnificent hour of her life. While all men deserted Our Crucified Lord, Our Lady stood at the foot of the Cross. In spite of the terrible suffering, at no moment was she disoriented. She did not lose her self- control or wish to flee. All these vile passions would be unbefitting for her, filled as she was with the most excellent virtues elevated to the highest degree. No one had ever suffered so much while maintaining such complete self-control and understanding of the logic of what was happening. Our Lady did this with so much strength and poise, and hatred of evil. We can even sense her hatred for evil in that she knew that evil would be entirely crushed at the moment that her Divine Son expired.
While all men deserted
Our Crucified Lord,
Our Lady stood at the foot of the Cross.
A Hatred of Evil
During the whole time of the Passion, she took the following attitude: I adore my Son, but if it be necessary to sacrifice Him to crush the devil, defeat the power of darkness and annihilate the Revolution, I consent to His death. I immolate Him for this end, so to speak. This sword I plunge into my own heart, so that the devil and his Revolution be crushed forever. I unite myself with the most holy intentions of the Father and Holy Ghost to make this frightful sacrifice. With this in mind, I want what is happening on the Cross and I want it at every instant with all the intensity of my being.
If this does not define a combative and fighting spirit and disposition to crush the enemy, then nothing can define it. This stance was a consequence of her preparation during those thirty-three years.
Analogy with Our Lord
What does this have in common with the life of Our Lord and the Garden of Olives? Our Lord meditated and saw everything that would befall Him in the Garden of Olives. He then began to feel horror and terror at what was going to happen and prayed: "Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me, but yet not my will, but Thine be done."
In saying this, He affirmed that He wanted all this suffering in order to attain a certain result. This shows supreme control, supreme calm, and supreme generosity. It indicates what the temperament of a Catholic must be when facing suffering and the love that we must have for suffering. To fulfill our vocation, we must understand this well and practice it.
Our Sword of Sorrow
This teaches us to be imbued with the following idea: It is normal in our tremendous fight that there will be many moments when a sword of sorrow will pierce our souls.
As has happened in the past, we may appear defeated, disoriented and abandoned by Providence. However we must recite the psalm Our Lord prayed on the Cross: My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me? We have to place ourselves before this perspective because these things will happen since our fight is not always a victory parade.
We should ask Our Lady to obtain for us the grace to love and desire this sword of sorrow and start preparing our life immediately for that hour. For just as the finest hour in Our Lady’s life was that of the sword and fidelity, together with the Incarnation, so we can also say that the great hour of our life was not the one when we were called to the struggles of life but when we persevered – the hour of the sword piercing our heart. What must characterize us should be our vision, resignation, and even more, our healthy and balanced desire for this hour.
It is said that when Our Lord received the Cross, he wept, embraced and kissed it with great tenderness, for He had always longed for it. Would that at the hour of our sword we might also weep in a manly fashion with emotion, kiss that sword with great tenderness and say we have always longed for it. On this feast of Sorrows, let us ask Our Lady to obtain for us the grace of loving
While commemorating the forty days Our Lord fasted in the desert, we should remember a great and supreme truth that should illuminate all Lenten meditations.
The holy Gospels clearly show how much our merciful Savior pitied our spiritual and physical pains. Hence, He performed spectacular miracles to mitigate them. However, let us not imagine that these healings were the greatest gift He gave mankind.
This would not take into consideration the central aspect of Our Lord’s life: He was our Redeemer, Who willingly endured the cruelest sufferings to carry out His mission.
Even at the height of His Passion, Our Lord could have put an end to all His pains instantly by a mere act of His Divine will. From the first moment of His Passion to the last, He could have ordered His wounds to heal, His precious blood to stop pouring forth and the lacerations on His Divine body to disappear without a scar. He could have overcome the persecution that was dragging Him to death and gained a brilliant and jubilant victory.
However, He did not will this. He wanted to be led along the Via Dolorosa to the height of Golgotha. He willed to see His most holy Mother engulfed in the depths of sorrow and He wanted to cry out in piercing words that will echo until the consummation of the ages: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46).
We understand that by calling each of us to suffer a portion of His Passion, He clearly indicated the unrivaled role of the cross in the history of the world, His glorification and the whole of men’s lives. Thus, we still must pronounce our own consummatum est at death, despite the pains and sorrows of life.
If we misunderstand the role of the cross, refuse to love it and fail to walk along our own Via Dolorosa, we will shirk Providence’s designs for us. We will be unable, with our dying breaths, to repeat the sublime exclamation of Saint Paul: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As for the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Any quality, however exalted, will be useless, unless it is founded on a love of Our Lord’s cross, with which we obtain everything, though weighed down by the holy burden of purity and other virtues, unceasing attacks and mockeries of the Church’s enemies and betrayals of false friends.
The greatest foundation, of Christian civilization is a generous love for the Holy Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ in each and every person.
May Mary help us, and through her omnipotent intercession, we shall reconquer for her Divine Son, the reign of God that flickers so faintly in the hearts of men.
This painting is by Fra Angelico. I love this painting and is my second favourite Fra Angelico painting. What I love most about this painting is the look of Jesus. When I look at His face I see sadness in His eyes. He is not condemning Judas, in fact the look is not even reproachful, it is a look of sadness. A two fold sadness, one because one of His very own has betrayed him and sadder still because Jesus being God knows the heart of man (Judas) and knows that Judas will despair and commit suicide.
I love this painting because often I think Jesus looks at me the same way, when I do terrible sinful things, He looks at me. He who carved me in the palm of His hand, who waited till 1979 for me to be born, He who decided that I be born and raised Catholic, He looks at me with the same sad look. He who feeds me with His own body, He looks at me because I have partaken of the divine feast and yet I have kissed and betrayed Him.
Oh my Heavenly Mother, have mercy of me, implore your Son our Lord Jesus to stir up real contrition in me that I may never betray Him again. And if I dare to fall into the clutches of sin, my Mother please never let me despair but humbly with thy prayers and graces return humbly to thy Son seeking his mercy and forgiveness.
There are five sorrowful mysteries of the rosary. Each represents a different aspect of Our Lord’s Passion. Rather than comment on all five, I prefer to speak only of the first and develop it in a detailed manner.
Our Lord’s Agony in the Garden
In Latin, the first sorrowful mystery is called the: Oratio in Horto, meaning the “prayer” in the garden, while in English it is named the Agony in the Garden. The word agony comes from the Greek word meaning “fight.” Thus, this mystery could be aptly termed the “fight” of Our Lord in the Garden of Olives.
The evening of Our Lord’s agony began with the Last Supper and institution of the Blessed Sacrament. Afterwards, Our Lord left the Cenacle, singing the Pascal Hymn with the Apostles and approached the garden.
Joy, Laced with Sadness
These events are commemorated in the Church during Holy Thursday Mass. The ceremony is festive, but imbued with a mounting sadness. After Mass, the Sacred Species are placed in a wooden tabernacle and adored only in this “Sepulcher” until Holy Saturday.
This represents the retreat of Our Lord’s soul. Though He left supper happy, having just established the Church and given Our Lady, her first communion, His happiness was darkened with sadness. Judas was shortly to betray Him, His Passion was approaching and His surroundings were melancholic compared to the evening’s earlier events.
Leaving the Cenacle, He greeted His Mother for the last time until they would meet on His way to Calvary, when she would stay at His side until His death. After this sorrowful separation, He went alone to accomplish His mission. The Apostles had only a vague notion of all this, as they fell asleep. Then, the prayer, agony and fight in the Garden began.
Our Lord already knew that Judas had sold Him; that the Jews and Romans were coming to arrest Him; and that His Passion was beginning. He knew the extent of his aborning physical and moral torments. He measured individually the ingratitude, wickedness, injuries, coldness and perversities that would occur on the long road to Calvary. He considered the pains His mother would endure because of all this. He had compassion on the holy women who would suffer at His sight. He suffered, seeing every sin of History and how ungrateful humanity would abuse everything he was about to do.
What Use Is There in My Blood?
Indeed, the following Psalm aptly summarizes His thoughts on that evening: “Quae utilitas sanguine meo?” (What use is there in my blood?) He considered all those who would burn in Hell for all eternity because they would refuse to love Him and His anguish multiplied.
He also saw the torments His Sacred Body would endure. He foresaw how It would be disfigured. He envisaged the evil that He would face, and accepted everything. He faced these torments, saying: “I have seen everything that I must endure, and I want it all! If this is the price of fallen humanity, I will pay it!”
However there were other considerations mounting within Our Redeemer. Since His humanity was perfect, His instincts were upright and strong. Thus, His instinct of self-preservation was unequalled. The thought of His aborning Passion and death overcame Him. His body was seized with panic and His human soul became afraid.
As the sinister vision of what was to come impressed itself upon Him, scripture tells us that He experienced a sort of heaviness and terror, while the tide of sadness rose within Him.
Though He was fully committed to do the Eternal Father’s will and never vacillated, His humanity recoiled at the prospect of what was to come. His sacred lips opened like a flower and He prayed with unfathomable sweetness, identifying as “Father,” He Who was asking Him to pay such a terrible ransom. He said: “My Father, if possible let this chalice pass from me, but let Thy Will, and not Mine, be done.”
What does He mean by saying: “if it be possible?” Being divine, Our Lord knew perfectly well this would be impossible. However, His humanity still clamored: “I do not see how I can confront this, but I will it if Thou doth will it.”
Then an angel appeared and offered Him a chalice with a liquid to console and strengthen Him. Fortified, He recomposed Himself and arose, ready for the sacrifice. However, His holocaust was so great that He, the God-man, started to sweat blood and the Redemption began.
Our Lord Regains His Strength
Meanwhile, Our Savoir went to the place of His arrest quickly, proudly and on foot. His bearing was such, that, when asked if He were Jesus of Nazareth, He responded: “Ego sum,” (I am He) with such strength and grandeur, that His captors fell prostrate on the ground.
Still, His sufferings were augmented by the Apostle’s abandonment. Three times, He had looked to them for consolation and three times they preferred to sleep. He complained: “Could you not watch one hour with Me?” The tepid Apostles slept on through the event that all the saints of History, past and future, have contemplated and will contemplate with veneration, until the end of time.
It was not important to them, they preferred to dream rather than contemplate the mysteries that were unfolding before them. Much less did they want to participate in His sadness. They could not bear it. Consequently, Our Lord remained alone to fight against the just terror that rose within Him.
This terror was perfect, but His reaction to it was also perfect. Thus, He dominated His fear. He faced it like a victorious warrior.
The Romans and Jews came against Him and Judas’ fetid lips worked their treason. In all this, Our Lord remained standing. He was like a soldier Who had triumphed during that moment in the battle upon which the outcome hinges.
Our Lord’s Fight and Ours
While it is absurd to imagine that the God-man could have been defeated, for argument’s sake, let us imagine that fear had dominated Him. If He had said: “I have had enough. There will be no Passion or Redemption,” his whole life would have been a failure. Everything hinged upon His ability to conquer Himself. His triumph was a result of this victory.
We, too, must fight against ourselves at every moment of life, from birth to death. While Our Lord’s fight was a battle of perfections, within us, malice, imperfection and the effects of original sin rise up like a colony of ants that continually strives to swarm and overcome us.
Facing Struggles Head on
To succeed in this battle, we should never shield ourselves from coming sufferings. Doing so makes us incapable of facing them and concedes half the battle.
Rather, we must measure our trials in advance, difficult though they may be, and beseech Our Lady for help. Paraphrasing the words of Our Lord, we should pray: “My Holy Mother, Mother of God and my Mother, if this chalice is necessary, I want to drink it to the end. Above all, I want to do thy will. If this means suffering, I want to suffer.” With this spirit, we will conquer one victory after another.
For example: To effectively maintain chastity, we should consider all that this will cost us and accept everything. If we are afraid, we should remember that every soldier is frightened before the battle. We should imitate Our Lord, Who dealt with His fear in two ways.
First, He offered Himself to God. Then, He humbly asked that His sufferings be lessened in any way possible, always reaffirming His willingness to do the divine Will. Through this prayer, He gained the necessary strength to accomplish His mission and rose from the ground like a giant, like a sun.
Do I Imitate the Apostles?
Contrarily, we often lack the courage to face our sufferings head on and thus imitate the Apostles, who refused to watch with Our Lord. This is not merely figurative. On Holy Thursday night, all humanity passed individually before Our Lord’s eyes. He saw each of us, and our defects made Him suffer.
That is why we should often repeat the penitential Psalm: “Misere mei Dei, secundum magna misericordiam Tuam.” (Have compassion on me Lord, though Thy great mercy.) We should beseech Our Lord’s mercy, remembering that we caused Him to suffer, we made His sadness sadder; we made His agony harder. When we have the slightest load, we look for someone to lighten it, but all the while, we add to His immense burden. O Mother of Mercy, obtain pardon for us!
A Remedy for Our Weakness
However, we should not lose confidence or be surprised when we feel our insufficiency. When Our Lord felt weak, He prayed to the Eternal Father and obtained supernatural strength, which all men need to remain faithful amid the struggles of life. We must pray to Our Lady to obtain this strength. We must acknowledge our nothingness, but realize that through her intercession, we can do anything. Then, we must embolden ourselves, get up and push ahead. Sooner or later, Our Lady will grant us victory and we will arise like Our Lord and confront the danger. We will face it head on and say: “Ego sum!” (I am he!)
Someone could object, saying: “Even if I face my sufferings, they will not fall prostrate before me. When the martyrs proclaimed ‘Ego sum!’ the whole world laughed and spectators happily watched as beasts devoured them. ”
This is true. Nevertheless, centuries later the victory came and the Roman emperor fell prostrate before the cross.
We may have very difficult battles, but if we face them head on and beseech Our Lady’s assistance, sooner or later, the enemy will fall prostrate. When this happens, our blood, sweat and tears will have been crowned with victory.
The following considerations are summarized from the original text of a conference given by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira.
Although not an exegete, I naturally try to reason things out. Knowing that nothing happens fortuitously in the New and Old Testaments, it is according to the good rules of exegesis to ask why Our Lord fell three times.
This was not mere chance, like a plumber who falls three times while carrying a very heavy pipe. He fell once because he stumbled on a stone, another time because he was really tired or a third time because he was lazy. It was not something accidental.
Since Our Lord fell three times, the number three must correspond to high considerations and elevated reflections about weariness, suffering and even the number three itself. Therefore, I will try to draw conclusions from the fact that the tiredness of Our Lord Jesus Christ was manifested in three falls as He carried His Cross.
I cannot investigate this matter as an exegete, but rather as a reasonable man with common sense.
Legitimate and Illegitimate Tiredness
Clearly, there are two forms of tiredness. One is illegitimate, which Our Lord did not have. The other is legitimate tiredness that Our Lord did have.
Illegitimate tiredness exists when a person lacks love of God and carries his burden unwillingly. This is the tiredness of the slothful.
For example, a man who is accustomed to sleeping twelve hours a day, wakes up tired and spends the whole day tired, because he is lazy. Obviously, Our Lord never had this tiredness since He was Perfection Itself.
True Tiredness Has Three Degrees of Intensity
The First Degree: When Common Energies Become Exhausted
Common experience teaches us that there is also the tiredness of an active or dedicated man, which has three degrees of intensity. There are also three corresponding degrees of exertion and human resistance. Thus, it is reasonable to imagine that these three degrees relate to the three falls of Our Lord.
The first degree of tiredness is when a man carries a burden until all his common energies are exhausted and falls under its weight.
The very act of falling causes him to recover a bit and he has a second inspiration, whereby he mobilizes his more profound energy. Admirably controlling his body, he calls upon all the latent strength inside him. Although not accustomed to mobilizing this energy in daily life, he harnesses it and forges ahead.
During the first fall, man reasons: “This is terribly difficult! I cannot do it. However since it must be done, I want to carry this burden and make this effort despite its difficulty. I want to make this act of dedication and accomplish my mission.”
He reflects: “If I really dig deep, maybe I can summon new courage and find the strength I need to continue.”
Thus, there is a second mobilization of the soul’s energy. The soul makes a greater effort and moves on until the next fall: the second degree of tiredness.
The Second Degree of Tiredness: The Soul Makes Use of All It Has and Falls Again
In this second degree, the soul reflects: “I mobilized all that I had and did all that I could. Still, I have fallen again under the weight of this burden. Now, my energies are more exhausted than during the first fall. Nevertheless, I have already drawn from myself more than I ever imagined possible and I still want to move forward. I don’t want to give up.”
Tempted to discouragement, he considers: “Although my mission is noble and worthwhile, the weight of my burden has increased.” He has no more energy, so he increases his prayers and turns to Our Lady, saying: “My Mother, thou seest that, on my own, I can go no further. Either thou wilt help me more than before, or I will be unable to do what thou biddest me.”
Observing himself more closely, groping honestly through his energy reserves, he finds that there is still something left to sacrifice. His prayer has been answered. Besides the energy of which he was unaware, he finds new supernatural strength that permits him to continue. He rises a second time and advances, supported more by the angels than by himself.
He realizes that there was something more to give. Though unable to walk, he can still drag himself along. He has decided to accomplish his mission, even if he has to ask God for a miracle.
The Third Stage of Tiredness: Everything Is Exhausted
In the third stage, he falls once again. He is a wreck and realizes he no longer has any capacity to resist. His available energies are completely exhausted. Still, he does not give in. He turns to himself and says:
“I must hope against all hope. Although I only have energy to stand, I must at least get back on my feet and try to take one step. Beyond this, everything is blind confidence, a dark night and total exhaustion, but I will walk no matter what. I will arrive at the end.”
He gets back on his feet and walks. In so doing, he gives something from the very depth of his being that he never imagined he possessed. He exhausts what truly is the last breath of his soul and performs the most complete act of love. Only then, when he gives himself entirely does he attain the clearest vision of his ideal.
He rises from the third fall, and takes a few more stumbling steps to arrive at the place of sacrifice. There, he is nailed to the cross and utterly immolated.
The Three Degrees Summarized
These are the three degrees of tiredness, which correspond to the three stages of human dedication. In the first stage, one expends the energy that he knows he has. He asks for Our Lady’s help and the common assistance of grace.
In the second stage, he expends energy he scarcely thought he had and asks Our Lady with greater insistence to send special help, because he doubts that he can continue to walk with only the common assistance of grace.
In the third stage, he gives something far beyond what he thought he had. He finds a capacity for dedication and effort, beyond what he thought was possible. He advances amid total darkness, more by a miracle and absolute faith, than by any natural means.
Nevertheless, he continues to move forward. Finally, he fulfills his mission by a truly miraculous action. He is completely united with the supernatural.
When the Soul Has Given All It Can, It Attracts Souls
To the degree that he rises after each legitimate fall, man increasingly exudes the beauty of self-denial. This increases his capacity to attract others, because men loath egoism and flee from it. Men only follow those who deny themselves. Thus, only the man who has reached this ultimate point of self-denial and given all he can, is ready to attract souls.
This is why Our Lord, after having fallen three times, was ready to be shown to all peoples from the height of the Cross. He had already passed through this interior immolation. He had been despoiled of everything.
Still, the inexpressible sublimity of the Crucifixion takes place after the sacrifice is made. Our Lord had already carried the Cross all the way to Calvary and there, with even greater pains, allowed Himself to be crucified. His suffering increases until the moment He pronounces the “Consummatum est.” However, with the Crucifixion, He ceases to carry the Cross. From the moment He is nailed to it, the Cross carries Him.
There are stages in the spiritual life of every man, where he must carry his cross. Moreover, at times Our Lord calls man not only to accept what befalls him, but also to seek out what is terrible, tragic and apocalyptic and advance towards it. Only then, is he ready to go where Our Lord wishes. Then, he is ready to be nailed to the Cross and unite himself with Christ for all time.
Therefore, there are two stages and three dimensions of suffering. The first stage is to meet the Cross. The second is to let oneself be nailed to it. In the first stage, man goes to the apex of renunciation, successfully despoiling himself. In a second stage, having arrived at the apex of renunciation, he disposes himself to remain in it throughout his life and the cross becomes his support.
HERE we see a picture by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553), The Crowning of Thorns, preserved in the Museum of Ghent, Belgium. Five men gather around the Divine Redeemer, tied up and mockingly dressed in purple. In the foreground, a man offers Him a stick as a scepter, and at the same time, in a satiric greeting, tips his cap and sticks out his tongue. At His side, another stretches his mouth in an attitude of jeering. The others in the background try to force an immense hat of thorns, like a crown, on the Savior's adorable head. The Son of God shows signs of physical pain, but above all, of intense moral suffering that surpasses His bodily torment and completely absorbs the Divine Victim. One would say that Our Lord suffers because of the deep-seated hate of these wretched tormenters but that this hatred is nothing but the threshold of an immense ocean of rancor which extends far beyond, to the ends of the horizon. It is to this ocean that the gaze of Jesus extends in sorrowful meditation.
This picture by Lucas Cranach focuses on a very important aspect of the Passion: the contrast between the infinite holiness and ineffable love of the Redeemer and the unfathomable vileness and implacable hatred of those who tortured and killed Him. In it, the irreducible opposition between the Light— "erat lux vera" (John 1:9)—and the children of darkness, between truth and error, order and disorder, good and evil, becomes obvious.
"Popule meus, quid feci tibi? Aut in quo contristavi te?" (O my people, what evil have I done you? Or in what did I sadden you?) These words, which the liturgy of Good Friday puts on the lips of Our Lord, are in the very center of the topic we have just enunciated.
Although it may be censurable for a man to hate one who wrongs him, it is not incomprehensible. But how can a man hate someone who is good, who did good to him?
This problem is almost as old as mankind. Why did Cain hate Abel? Why did the Jews persecute and not rarely kill the prophets? Why did the Romans persecute the Christians?
Later on, why was so much blood of martyrs shed by the Protestants, by the French Revolution, by the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia? More recently, how can one explain the hatred of the communists in the Spanish Civil War, in the persecutions in Mexico, Hungary and Yugoslavia, the land that in 1960 wept over the death of Cardinal Stepinac? We ask: why was he so hated?
We well know that these questions, so worded, will seem to many a bit oversimplified. The hatred of the enemies of the Church was not always gratuitous. At times, on the part of Catholics as well, provocations and excesses were not lacking and caused reactions. Indeed, there were a certain number of cases in which mistakes and misunderstandings provoked violence. Then there were martyrs, not because the Church was duly known and nonetheless hated as such, but precisely because she was unduly unknown or disfigured.
We deny none of this. But to reduce the hatred of darkness against light, of evil against good, to these causes is indeed to singularly oversimplify the matter.
This is seen very clearly in the Passion.
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WE observe at the outset that, although Catholics can have faults, Our Lord had none. Whether regarding the depth and the form of His preaching; whether regarding the tact and the opportunity with which He taught; whether still regarding the edifying character of His examples, the apologetic value of His miracles, and the most holy and striking aspect of His Person, there can be no doubt. He gave no pretext to any legitimate objection or to any solid complaint.
On the contrary, He only provided occasions for people to adore Him and follow Him. However, He was also hated, but hated even more than His faithful throughout the ages. How can this be explained? In the children of darkness there is a hatred which is precisely turned against the truth and good.
It is useless then to wish to attribute everything to a mere set of mistakes. They have existed, but they do not resolve the problem.
* * *
SOMEONE might say that this hatred is quite simple to explain. God's Law is austere. Whoever does not want to subject himself to the sacrifices inherent to its observance disobeys and easily revolts. Revolt in its turn begets hatred, especially hatred against truth and goodness. Thus, everything is explained.
We do not deny that in the generality of cases the root of hatred against God lies therein. But to understand the problem well, it is necessary to go slowly.
All sin is an offense against God. But there are some sinners who retain some sadness for the evil they practice and a certain admiration for the good they do not practice. Hence, they regret the life they lead, they advise others not to follow their example, and they honor those who practice good. On account of this humble attitude, Our Lord often grants them great graces and they return to the way of salvation.
Had only these sinners existed in Israel, I believe that Jesus would not have been persecuted and, much less, crucified. If Cain were of this number, he would not have killed Abel. If all the sinners in history had been like these, history would not record the horrible persecutions that were mentioned a little while ago.
What moves the sinners who constitute the ungodly souls of the persecutions against the Church? That is the problem.
* * *
THE saddened and shameful sinner we spoke of cannot properly be called wicked. If he becomes so steeped in sin that he comes to lose his sadness at committing it and his admiration for those who practice virtue, he will slide into wickedness. Then a first-level wickedness will be born, so to speak, that will redound in indifference for religion and morality. Only personal interests matter to the wicked of this genre. For him it is the same to live in a good environment or a bad environment. As long as he makes money and has his career or has fun, anything will do for him.
Evidently, this wickedness is very censurable. All those in Jerusalem who attended the Passion as mere curiosity-seekers were culprits of this. So are those throughout history who think they have the right to witness the struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness without taking a stand, like an egoistic "third party." Even this type of people alone, however, would not have committed the deicide.
* * *
BUT there are souls that go farther. Moved by sensuality, pride or some other vice, they take malice so far, they are so identified with sin, that they feel good only when they satisfy their bad habits. They put up with nothing that censures or even merely disagrees with their behavior. Thence arises a hatred for the good and for Goodness, for the paladins of truth and the very Truth, which gives them as it were a negative ideal. Voltaire expressed this very well in his motto "écrasez 1'infâme" —crush the infamous one (the "infamous one" being the Word Incarnate!). To make this a constant aspiration, the "ideal" of a life, behold, this is the quintessence of impiety. People like this have all the requisites to plan, plot and execute persecution. Had people like this not existed in Israel, Our Lord would not have been crucified.
* * *
GOD does not deny His grace to anyone. Evil men like these can also convert, and with all their heart. Nevertheless, it is fitting to add that, until they do so, they already have here on earth the most important characteristic of those damned to hell.
Actually, it is generally thought that all the damned would flee to heaven if they could. Not true. They hate God somuch that, even if they could free themselves from their imprisonment in eternal fire, they would not do so if for this they would have to render an act of love and obedience to God.
Such is the force of this hatred. And it is in light of this that one understands well what we would call a second-level wicked man.
This refined impiety was the moving force that animated the Synagogue in the revolt against the Messias. It has moved the fight of the wicked against the Church and against the good Catholics throughout the ages.
* * *
CHILDREN of darkness, these are the wicked. Prince of darkness, this is Satan. What relationship is there between the two? Judas was a son of darkness. The Gospel tells us that the devil entered into him (cf. Luke 22:3). We know through the faith that evil spirits "roam throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls." When the devil is able to accomplish his complete work in a soul, he takes it to this state of impiety. Reciprocally, such a soul is an open field for the devil's temptations. It is easy to see, then, that such wicked men are the best aids of hell in the fight against the Church.
* * *
LORD, in this moment of mercy, in which we consider Thy holy Body shedding Thy redeeming Blood all over, we beseech Thee, through the infinite merits of this same precious Blood, and through the tears of Thy Mother and ours, keep us very, very far from any impiety: separated from Thee let us never be, with all our heart we beseech Thee.
Wherever the wicked persecute the children of light, and most especially in the Church of Silence, be, O Lord, the strength of the persecuted, not only that they may not die, but that they may raise up, join together and crush Thy adversary. We ask Thee this through the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
And as at the last moment Thou didst still promise Paradise to a criminal, Lord, by the merits of Thy agony we beseech Thee, in union with Mary, that Thy mercy come upon even the hidden dens of impiety, so as to invite even Thy worst adversaries to the ways of virtue.
Still through mercy, Lord, confound, humiliate and reduce to complete impotency those who, refusing the most extreme appeals of Thy love, persist in working to destroy Christian civilization and even—as if it were possible—Thy mystical Bride, the Holy Church.
What had Thy hands done, that they should be tied?
Who can say, Lord, what glory these hands gave to God when they first received the kisses of Our Lady and Saint Joseph? Who can tell the tenderness with which Mary Most Holy first caressed them? With what piety they first joined in prayer? With what strength, nobility and humility they worked in Saint Joseph’s shop?
These hands which were so gentle for the innocent, like Saint Joseph, and the penitent, like Mary Magdalen; these hands which were fiercely against the world, flesh and devil – why are they tied down and worn raw?
What hatred and fear necessitated this?
Was someone afraid to be cured or caressed? Was someone afraid of health or tenderness? Lord, only the existence of evil can explain this awful reality. However, all men tend toward evil, and their nature easily revolts against sacrifice. Once they revolt, men are capable of all manner of infamy and disorder.
My Jesus, when someone says no to Thee, they begin to hate Thee. Hating Thee, they detest all goodness, truth and perfection, which Thou personified. Therefore, if Thou art not visibly present to persecute, they strike out against the Church, profane the Eucharist, blaspheme, spread immorality and preach revolt and rebellion.
Thou art bound, my Jesus, and where are the lame, paralytics, blind and mutes whom Thou didst cure? Where are the dead whom Thou didst resurrect, possessed whom Thou didst free, sinners whom Thou didst lift up and the just to whom Thou didst reveal eternal life?
Why are they not present to break the knots that bind Thy hands, Lord?
The following is a reflection by Dr. Plinio Correa.
There is often a defect in our meditations that diminishes their effectiveness. It is to ponder episodes from the life of Our Lord without linking them to our lives and to what happens around us. Accordingly, we are shocked at the inconsistency and ingratitude of the Jews, when, shortly after having honored Jesus with a solemn procession as Savior they crucified Him with a hatred many find hard to understand.
The Jews of 2000 years ago, when Our Lord walked the earth, are not alone in exhibiting this ingratitude and inconsistency. Still today, in the hearts of so many of the faithful, Our Lord must bear this recurring swing between adoration and insults. And this happens not only in the unseen depths of the consciences. In many countries, Our Lord has been successively glorified and offended in a short period of time.
Let us not spend our time only in horrified contemplation of the infamy of the deicide people. For our salvation, it is far more useful that we contemplate our own infamy. Trusting in God’s goodness, this is how we can truly amend our lives.
Reparation for today’s offenses against God
Everyone knows that sin is an insult to God. The person who commits a mortal sin expels God from his heart, breaks the filial relations he owes God as his Creator and rejects His grace. Here we have a revealing analogy between the Jews who killed Our Lord and ourselves when we commit a mortal sin. Yet, again and again, after having ardently glorified Our Lord by good deeds or at least by going through the motions, we commit a mortal sin and crucify Him in our heart!
There is no doubt that Our Lord is gravely offended in our days. Let us become souls of reparation. If we are not able to make reparation with the light of our virtue, at least we can do so by the sincerity of our humility. Sincere humility is intelligent, reasonable, and solid, not flowery words and emotional chest-beating. During this Holy Lenten season our humility can make reparation before the throne of God for the countless offenses committed against Him at every moment.