Meditating on the Passion of Jesus
by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
mystery of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection is recalled in word
and sacrament in Holy Week and Easter, the climax of the holy season.
believer can appreciate the sad story of Jesus seized in the Garden
of Gethsemani and crucified on Calvary, and the joyful story of his
resurrection from the dead and his appearances to his disciples. The
Lenten gospels, one by one, prepare us for the mystery of the Cross.
of God was not above human weakness, the temptation story says. Throughout
his life, Jesus hungered and thirsted like us all. He lived in a world
that often opposed him; his enemies were many and strong.
he use his mighty power for himself. Serving others, his life was given
to all. And because he never forsook his vision of right or feared to
speak the truth, it was only a question of time before the desert became
a cross. No act of fate made him die; he died because of the way he
lived. Forty days in the desert symbolized his days on earth.
things he did alienated the powerful people of his world. The Samaritan
woman, an outsider, is like so many outsiders, tax-collectors and sinners,
whom his society saw as nothing better than weeds, but Jesus saw as
wheat ripe for harvest.
healing to the needy, like the blind man; but he cured on the sabbath,
breaking religious law. The religious and political authorities, frightened
already by the upheaval among the people caused by the preaching of
John the Baptist, feared Jesus even more. When reports of Lazarus raised
from the dead reached them, they were sure he had to be stopped. Convinced
their nation would be destroyed if they did nothing, they put him to
No, Jesus’ death was not unexpected; but the cruel, absurd way his life ended shocked
his most loyal followers.
is still a shocking story.
after Jesus rose from the dead, did his followers see wisdom in that
story. Only then was it transfigured before their eyes, so that the
cross became the treasure of Christian believers, a sign of God’s power
and love, a tender book of Jesus Christ, a mirror reflecting all of
mystic, Julian of Norwich, expressed what the early evangelists and
generations of believers came to know:
of Christ is comfort for us.
comforts us readily and kindly and says:
will be well, and every kind of thing will be well.
life’s story is mirrored there. “You will appreciate the passion of
Christ when you look with the eyes of your heart on Jesus crucified
and see yourself in him” (Saint Leo the Great). In Jesus’ passion we
see ourselves, our own fear and anxiety, our own struggle with evil
and death. A true mirror, the passion of Jesus reflects our personal
experience and assures us all will be well.
our life story, but all human life is revealed in Jesus’ passion. “If we stand at the foot of the Cross”, the French author Leon Bloy writes, “we can see all the sorrow of the world, past, present, future gathered
together in one sorrow.”
on the passion of Jesus makes us more sensitive to the suffering of
others and the value of all human life.
brings a special comfort. In striking words, St. Theresa of Avila sees
the passion of Jesus as the place where he fulfills his promise: “Come
to me, all you who find life burdensome, and I will refresh you.” Turn
your eyes to him in his passion, the saint writes, and “He will turn
to you with kindly and compassionate eyes, and forgetting his own sorrow, he will console you, because you go to him.”
portrayed this promised communion in his moving scene of St. Dominic kneeling at the foot of the Cross. His arms embracing
the hard wood, Dominic looks up to the One who hangs above. And Jesus,
as if unmindful of his own pain, looks down on Dominic, “with kindly
and compassionate eyes,” leaving the disciple refreshed with his love.
Jesus offers his disciples who kneel before the mystery of his Cross
not just momentary relief and escape from their troubles, but a courageous
patience like his own. Not just a patience to take what comes, but a
patience to live their lives bravely. Not a life of dreary acceptance
but one that turns “sorrow into joy, a joy no one can take from you.”
mystery a disciple learns, like Jesus , to fight courageously for what
is right and not fear the consequences, to strive patiently for God’s
kingdom on earth, trusting against all odds in God’s power to make it
The Cross of St.Francis
in the opening years of the 13th century, a young man named Francesco
Bernadone, son of a wealthy merchant, entered the tiny deteriorating
church of San Damiano. a mile from the town of Assisi in Italy. The
young man had all the advantages a prosperous family could offer, but
uneasy, he searched for something more.
noticeable object was left in the unused, neglected church - a large
life-sized cross hanging above the dark, dusty altar, its figure of
Christ strangely alive, with great powerful eyes that looked everywhere.
knelt in prayer, the eyes of Jesus fixed on him. The lips moved and
spoke: “Francis, go and rebuild my church which, as you see, is falling
resounding in his soul, Francis of Assisi began restoring the old church
building and some other neglected churches nearby. But soon he realized
the voice was calling him to something more.
to take into his hands, not bricks and stones, but human beings. Francis
was to rebuild the Church of God, bringing his neighbors the simple
joy of the gospel of Christ and making them “living stones” standing
beautiful before God and the world.
life afterwards, St. Francis followed that message he heard from the
cross: “Rebuild my church.”
approaching the cross will hear the same message: love those whom Jesus
loves, looking on all as your brothers and sisters. Devotion to the
cross of Christ gives you a loving heart to help rebuild the lives of
A Crucified Man
is a place where we can see all the sorrows of the world, past, present
and future, gathered together into the one sorrow.”
In a 1943
painting, the Italian artist, Ottone Rosai, saw his own land and people,
crucified by wars and invading armies, symbolized in a lonely man in
ragged clothes, hanging on a cross outside a fiery city.
his world all but destroyed, he takes the place of One who once before
hung there “outside the city.” Not searching the heavens for relief,
his eyes look down into the raging flames. No angels come to comfort
him; no others draw near to stand silently at this side.
in swirling nameless violence, his arms outstretched , how can he grasp
the mystery of it all? Indeed he hardly recognizes the place where he
hangs or the form he has taken. How can he think his place and time
holy? Or think of rising again, while the flames around him destroy
your arms and what do you see? An image of the Cross.” Early Christian
writers and saints often commented on the image of the cross found in
us all. It is found in this man and in every human being.