Saturday, March 30, 2013

Meditation on the Thirteenth Station of the Cross: Christ's Body Is Taken Down From The Cross

We are now at the thirteenth station of the Cross - Jesus is removed from the cross and placed into the arms of his Blessed Mother.

Jesus' Passion has ended. As He Himself stated in his dying moments, "It Is Finished." It is evening. The crowds have dispersed and the only ones left are His Blessed Mother, John the Apostle, Mary Magdalene and a few other disciples. John 19:38-39:
Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.
The biblical accounts do not specifically tell us that Jesus was placed in Mary's arms before His burial, but this has long been Church tradition.  We do know from the Gospels that the Blessed Mother was with Her Son to the end, and it would only seem right that she would hold Him one more time before placing His Precious Body in the tomb.

We can only imagine the poignancy of this moment. As the mutilated and torn Body of our Lord was taken down from the Cross and placed in her arms, Mary must have remembered holding Him as a newborn babe in the manger when He was so perfect, listening to his soft cooing, kissing those tiny hands and feet and feeling overwhelmed with joy and awe at this miraculous child.

Now she held the grown body of her child, completely covered in wounds, cuts and bruises, a crown of thorns pushed into his head, his hands and feet pierced from the nails, his side opened by the Roman soldier's spear. This once perfect body barely looked human. Mary had given to the world an unblemished lamb and had received back a tattered and torn sacrifice covered in blood, sweat, dirt and spittle. The once alive and vibrant eyes now stared blankly, the hands that had healed and given life to so many were still and lifeless. The One who had loved so completely was now drained of His life by the hate and sin of those He had loved.

When Mary presented her small baby to God in the temple, Simeon warned her that a sword would pierce her soul as well.  Her life of suffering and mourning began at the moment, and she now felt the full weight of it as she held the lifeless Body of Jesus.   But she also knew that this was the very reason Jesus had been born a man.  She had never fought or complained of this cross given to her.  She had accepted it with faith and trust.

As the Venerable Fulton Sheen wrote in his magnificent book, "Life of Christ", "Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live.  He [Jesus] came to die."   Archbishop Sheen further wrote, "The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death.  In the Person of Christ, however, it was His death that was first and His life that was last."

Our Blessed Mother was keenly aware of this fact.  She knew that her Son was the Lamb chosen for sacrifice.  This was what His Life was all about.  His Life would have been a complete failure if He had not died on the Cross.  His lifeless and almost unrecognizable Body was not a sign of defeat but of great triumph.

But this did not alleviate the great suffering borne by both Our Lord and His Blessed Mother.  It was a suffering they both carried for their entire lives.  It is also a suffering that every follower of Christ must carry in his or her heart, although none of us will ever feel the Cross as sharply and deeply as did Jesus and Mary.  Following the example of Christ and His Mother, we must wholly embrace the Cross, never running away from it.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Jesus did not descend from the cross but remained on it until He died. And when taken down from it, He in death as in life, rested on the bosom of His divine Mother. Persevere in your resolutions of reform and do not part from the cross; he who persevereth to the end shall be saved. Consider, moreover, how pure the heart should be that receives the body and blood of Christ in the Adorable Sacrament of the Altar.
When Jesus was placed into the arms of Mary, the purest and most holy person who had ever been born held His Body.  As St. Francis tells us, we should also strive to be pure and holy when we approach to receive this same Body in Holy Communion.  We must never be content to allow sin to reign in our lives.

From St. Francis:
O Lord Jesus, Thy lifeless body, mangled and lacerated, found a worthy resting-place on the bosom of Thy virgin Mother. Have I not often compelled Thee to dwell in my heart, full of sin and impurity as it was? Create in me a new heart, that I may worthily receive Thy most sacred body in Holy Communion, and that Thou mayest remain in me and I in Thee for all eternity.
 O Virgin most sorrowful, pray for us!

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