Meditating on the Passion of Jesus

by Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Jesus, CrucifiedSpacerThe mystery of Jesus' passion, death and resurrection is recalled in word and sacrament in Holy Week and Easter, the climax of the holy season..

SpacerOnly a 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.

SpacerThe Word 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,

SpacerNor would 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.

SpacerToo many 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.

SpacerHe brought 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 death.

SpacerNo, Jesus' death was not unexpected; but the cruel, absurd way his life ended shocked his most loyal followers.

SpacerHis passion is still a shocking story.

SpacerOnly gradually, 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 human life.

SpacerThe medieval mystic, Julian of Norwich, expressed what the early evangelists and generations of believers came to know:

Spacer"The passion of Christ is comfort for us.
Spacer"He comforts us readily and kindly and says:
Spacer"All will be well, and every kind of thing will be well."

SpacerOur own 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.

SpacerNot only 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."

SpacerReflecting on the passion of Jesus makes us more sensitive to the suffering of others and the value of all human life.

Dominic adoring Christ, crucified SpacerThe Cross 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."

SpacerFra Angelico portrayed this promised communion in his moving scene (illustration, right) 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.

SpacerIndeed 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."

SpacerFrom this 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 come.

The Cross of St.Francis

SpacerOne day 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.

SpacerOnly one 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.

SpacerAs Francis 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 into ruin."

SpacerThe words 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.

SpacerHe was 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.

SpacerAll his life afterwards, St. Francis followed that message he heard from the cross: " Rebuild my church."

SpacerAnyone 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 others.

A Crucified Man

Spacer"The cross is a place where we can see all the sorrows of the world, past, present and future, gathered together into the one sorrow."

SpacerIn 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.

SpacerAlone, 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.

SpacerCaught 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 everything?

Spacer"Hold out 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.

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