The Passion of Jesus Christ: History and Living MemoryThe Passion of Jesus Christ

Commentary by Donald Senior, C.P.

The passion of Jesus is both a historical event rooted in the past and a living dynamic memory that gives meaning to the present.

As past event, the passion of Jesus took place sometime around the year thirty A. D. in the turbulent world of first century Palestinian Judaism. Jesus, a compelling religious teacher and extraordinary healer, was arrested in Jerusalem and publicly executed by crucifixion, a Roman form of capital punishment. The gospels portray Jesus' death as the culmination of his mission, the final act of selfless love and service that sealed a life totally committed to others. Jesus' death was a prophetic witness in the cause of God's justice. Despite opposition and hostility directed at him and his mission, Jesus remained faithful until the end and ultimately was vindicated by God's love, a love stronger than death.

But for Christian faith, the passion of Jesus is not simply a heroic and poignant death confined to past history. The passion of Jesus lives on in the faith and experience of the Christian community. Through the mysterious communion of God with humanity, Jesus' sufferings continue in the suffering of every child of God, down to the present moment. The anxious and lonely elderly resident of a nursing home who turns her face to the crucifix on the wall. The parent who has suffered the unspeakable loss of a child who sinks to his knees like Jesus in Gethsemane. The refugee who has lost home and family to insane and inexplicable violence and cries out with Jesus, "My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?" The leader who under the threat of death tells the truth about a despotic regime while remembering that Jesus the prophet set his face for Jerusalem. The nurse who wipes sweat from the brow of an AIDS patient and sees there the face of the crucified Jesus.

The passion of Jesus is indeed a historical event that ultimately gave meaning and force to the entire mission of Jesus and it is a living memory, a powerful grace that gives meaning and hope to all human suffering. The gospels accounts of the passion embrace both dimensions, rooting their narratives in the historical traditions about Jesus' last days but inviting the reader to find in the passion of Jesus the ultimate meaning of human existence and Christian commitment.

This presentation embraces both dimensions of the passion of Jesus. It is not for specialists but for thoughtful Christians and others who want to know more about this compelling story. By recalling the distinctive portrayal of the suffering Jesus in each of the Gospels, we invite the reader to enter deeply into the mystery of the passion and to bring one's own experience into vital contact with this core of the Christian message. This has been done by every generation of Christian in word and art and practices of piety, as the materials on the devotion to the passion recall for us. At the same time, the historical information that follows the study of the gospels texts and the accompanying illustrations remind us that the death of Jesus was not the figment of Christian imagination but an event rooted in the complexities and tensions of first century history. The bibliography provides for further study.

Fr. Donald Senior, C.P. is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He entered the Passionist Religious Congregation in 1960 and was ordained a Catholic priest in 1967. Throughout his years of studying and teaching the New Testament, he has been absorbed by the Gospels.

Of particular interest to him has been the connection between the theological and literary characteristics of each Gospel and the pastoral and missionary contexts of the early Church. His familiarity with the history and landscape of the Middle East has prompted strong interest in the historical Jesus and the social and historical context of the New Testament. These issues, he believes, help the biblical text come alive for the Church today.

His education background includes a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the Passionist Seminary College in Chicago; theological studies at Saint Meinrad School of Theology; a Licentiate in theology (S.T.L.) from the University of Louvain, Belgium; and a Doctorate in New Testament Studies (S.T.D.) from the University of Louvain. He has also pursued further graduate studies at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and at Harvard.

Since 1972, Fr. Donald Senior has been Professor of New Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He was founding Director of the school's overseas Israel Study Program from 1980-87. From 1987 until 1995, he served two terms as President of CTU. He was reappointed President in 1997 and continues in that capacity. He has lectured and conducted workshops throughout the USA and in other countries.

Fr. Senior is the General Editor of the periodical The Bible Today and coeditor of the twenty-two volume international commentary series New Testament Message. He is General Editor of The Catholic Study Bible and author of numerous books and articles. He is a past president of Catholic Biblical Association of America and serves on the College of Consultors and the Presbyteral Council for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The project is the result of a partnership between myself and Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P., a brother Passionist. The passion narratives have been a life-long focus of my own work in Scripture, so I have provided the studies of the passion narratives. The entire presentation was Victor's idea and he has arranged for publication of this presentation in traditional paper format and electronically. He chose the illustrations and assembled the materials on archaeology and history. Some drawings included in this presentation are the work of Michael Moran, C.P., an artist whose inspired work is gaining attention across the country.

As members of the Passionist religious community, it is our mission to help keep the dynamic memory of the passion of Jesus alive in the heart of the church. We offer this book to our readers in just that spirit.

Icon by Michael Moran, C.P.