Saturday, February 16, 2013

Meditation on the Second Station of the Cross: Jesus Carries His Cross

I recently did a post on the First Station of the Cross: Jesus is Condemned. Jesus' Passion continues as shown in the Second Station of the Cross. He now takes up His Cross to carry it to the place of execution. In actual fact, Christ most probably took up the cross beam and not the actual Cross. According to Wikipedia, the entire Cross could weigh up to 300 pounds. The cross beam alone could weigh about 75-125 pounds.

At this point, Our Lord had been ruthlessly and mercilessly whipped and beaten. His entire body was covered with open sores, wounds and painful bruises, and He had lost a great quantity of blood. The soldiers had pushed a crown of thorns on His Precious Head which had penetrated to his brain. He had not eaten or had any water since the previous night, and combining this with the severe trauma to the body and extreme loss of blood caused by the vicious beatings resulted in severe dehydration, which normally causes disorientation and confusion. The fact that Our Lord was still able to function despite all of this is in itself a miracle.

There is an interesting post from in regard to a supposed meeting between Father Karol Wojtyla and Padre Pio that took place around 1947 or 1948. Father Wojtyla asked Padre Pio which was the most painful wound Christ received in His Passion. Padre Pio said it was the shoulder wound, which Christ had also revealed centuries earlier in a vision to St. Bernard of Clairvaux: "I had on My Shoulder while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound which was more painful than the others, and which is not recorded by men."  Padre Pio told Brother Modestino Fucci, a friar at San Giovanni Rotondo, that the pain was "a terrible, excruciating pain in his shoulder, as if he had been sliced with a knife up to the shoulder bone. He felt that he would die from the pain if it continued, but it lasted only a short time.

Imagine putting a wooden beam weighing 75 to 125 pounds on this painful shoulder wound. Unlike Padre Pio, we know that Our Lord endured this pain for several more hours. In fact, the pain became even more intense right up to His last breath.

Despite the relentless pain and suffering endured by Jesus, we are told by St. Francis the following in his meditation on the Second Station of the Cross:
When our divine Savior beheld the cross, He most willingly stretched out His bleeding arms, lovingly embraced it, and tenderly kissed it, and placing it on His bruised shoulders, He, although almost exhausted, joyfully carried it.

Our Lord did this as an example for all of mankind. As Venerable Fulton Sheen once said, unless there is a cross in our lives, there will never be an empty tomb, meaning we cannot attain eternal life with Christ in the Resurrection unless we are willing to take the Cross which He gives to us. In contrast, Satan's way, which is the way of death, does not involve a cross, or at least not a cross that is visible. Satan's way is the wide and easy road which is all about pleasure and self indulgence and seemingly no suffering, unlike the Way of the Cross, which is strait and narrow and full of self denial.

This is what Thomas a Kempis wrote in The Imitation of Christ:
`Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.'(Matt. 16:24) To many this saying of Jesus seems hard. But how much harder will it be to hear that word of doom, `Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire'. (Matt.25:41) For those who now cheerfully hear and obey the word of the Cross (I Cor. 1:18) will not tremble to hear the sentence of eternal damnation. The sign of the Cross will appear in the heavens, when Our Lord comes as judge. Then will all the servants of the Cross, who in their lives conformed themselves to the Crucified, (Rom 8:29) stand with confidence before Christ, their judge.
Why, then, do you fear to take up the Cross, which is the road to the Kingdom? In the Cross is salvation; in the Cross is life; in the Cross is protection against our enemies; in the Cross is infusion of heavenly sweetness; in the Cross is strength of mind; in the Cross is joy of spirit; in the Cross is excellence of virtue; in the Cross is perfection of holiness. There is no salvation of soul, nor hope of eternal life, save in the Cross. Take up the Cross, therefore, and follow Jesus, (Matt. 16:24) and go forward into eternal life. (Matt.25:46)
If you bear the cross willingly, it will bear you and lead you to your desired goal, where pain shall be no more; but it will not be in this life. If you bear the cross unwillingly, you make it a burden, and load yourself more heavily; but you must needs bear it. If you cast away one cross, you will certainly find another, and perhaps a heavier.
Do you think to escape what no mortal man has been able to escape? Which of the Saints lived without cross or trial? Even our Lord Jesus Christ was never without sorrow and pain, as long as He lived. `Christ must needs suffer,' said He, `and rise again from the dead, and so enter into His glory.'(Luke 24:26) Why, then, do you seek any other road than this royal road of the Holy Cross? The whole life of Christ was a cross and martyrdom; and do you look for rest and selfish pleasure?
You are greatly mistaken if you look for anything save to endure trials, for all this mortal life is full of troubles, (Job 14:1) and everywhere marked with crosses. The further a man advances in the spiritual life, the heavier and more numerous he finds the crosses, for his ever-deepening love of God makes more bitter the sorrows of his earthly exile.
Anyone who tells us you that life of a Christian is meant to be easy is lying to you. Look at what our Lord suffered in order to defeat Satan and sin. As Christians, we are His followers, and that means we must walk in His footsteps. The Gospel of Health and Wealth is a heresy.

When Christ was handed His Cross, he did not complain and say He wanted a different one. He took the one that was handed to Him, and that is what we must do. Our cross has been individually tailored for us by our Creator. He knows exactly what we need in a cross, and it is this cross that will lead us to salvation and eternal life. There is no other way.

As St. Francis told us, Jesus "lovingly embraced it and tenderly kissed it" because he knew the Cross would lead to life and salvation for the entire world. The Cross, which was an instrument of cruel torture and death, has become to the followers of Christ the ultimate symbol of love. It is the road to total happiness and peace. But if Jesus had refused to carry His Cross, none of us could be saved. The Cross only had the power to save because our Lord willingly and even joyfully carried it to Calvary.

If we willingly and joyfully pick up our Cross, it will lead us on the path of salvation. If we refuse it, we will put ourselves on the path to eternal death. The choice is ours, and it is one we must make every day and every moment of our lives.

O my Jesus, I cannot be Thy friend and follower, 
if I refuse to carry the cross. 
O dearly beloved cross! 
I embrace thee, I kiss thee, 
I joyfully accept thee from the hands of my God. 
Far be it from me to glory in anything, 
save in the cross of my Lord and Redeemer. 
By it the world shall be crucified to me and I to the world, 
that I may be Thine forever.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Meditation on the First Station of the Cross: Christ is Condemned

Pilate Condemns Jesus
A main focal point of the season of Lent is the Passion of our Lord. Many if not most Catholic churches have the Stations of the Cross every Friday during Lent. I personally think it would be a good thing to do this during the rest of the year as well to remind people that Friday is a penitential day both during and outside of Lent, but I'll leave that discussion for another time.

I am going to try to do a mediation on each Station of the Cross during this Lenten season. I emphasize the word try because I don't know if I'll actually make it.

Jesus Before Herod
Artist:  James Tissot, French, 1836-1902
The first Station of the Cross is the condemnation of Jesus. Jesus was arrested on what we now call Holy Thursday. He was whipped and beaten that night for no apparent reason other than the enjoyment of his captors. He was first brought to the Jewish Council and the High Priest who held an illegal, mock trial. They then dragged Jesus over to Pilate who declared. "I find nothing criminal about this man." When Pilate found out Jesus was a Galilean, he sent him over to Herod, who was in charge of Galilee. Herod basically played with Jesus, asking him ridiculous questions while Jesus stood in front of him completely silent. "And Herod with his soldiers, after treating Him with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Now Herod and Pilate became friends with one another that very day; for before they had been enemies with each other."  (Luke 23:11-12).

Now Jesus stood once more before Pilate who had to make a decision. Pilate had been warned by his wife, who had had a vivid dream, to have nothing to do with "this righteous man." So Pilate comes up with the brilliant solution that if he just "punishes" Jesus, that will satisfy the bloodthirsty crowds, and then he will be able to let Jesus go free and "nobody will get hurt". It never occurs to Pilate that there is anything wrong with scourging a completely innocent man.

Jesus is then handed over to the Roman scourgers who made scourging into an art. They beat and whip Jesus so mercilessly that he was barely alive and barely recognizable as a human being when they were done. Pilate then took Jesus, mutilated and bleeding, before the crowd and announced, "Ecce Homo", which means "Behold the Man." This not only did not satisfy the crowd, it incensed them more and they cried all the louder, "Crucify Him, Crucify Him!"

Pilate was now scared because he knew Jesus was a completely innocent man, and he knew that he was no ordinary man. He wanted nothing to do with this. But he also did not want a riot on his hands. At one point he gave the crowd a choice between freeing Barabbas, who was a revolutionary who tried to overthrow the government, and releasing Jesus. The crowd called for Barabbas. Interestingly, Barabbas means "son of the fathers."

Pilate finally gave into the crowd and took the coward's way out, literally washing his hands of the matter, and then handing Jesus over to be crucified.

Each of us starts our spiritual journey at baptism as the reverse image of our Lord. We stand before God and acknowledge that we have sinned and are guilty and deserving of death. That is when Christ steps in and stands before God, just as he did before Pilate, and our sin and guilt is transferred to Him. Barabbas was the symbol for all of us. We, like Barabbas, were the "son of the father" as Christ told the Pharisees in John 8:44:
“You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies."
There was never a more innocent human being in the entire world than Jesus Christ. Every word and act in his life was one of total love for others. The words "self defense" did not exist in Jesus' vocabulary. He never fought back against anyone who maligned him personally. The only time Jesus fought was on behalf of others and to save souls. It was total Innocence that took on Barabbas' guilt, allowing him to go free, and it is total Innocence that takes on our guilt and frees us from enslavement to the the devil.

Romans 8:1-3:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.
We were all Dead Men Walking, but our Lord took our condemnation upon Himself. When He stood before Pilate, He was laden down with our sin, beaten and scourged for us, as Isaiah 53:5 says:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
Barabbas wasn't the only one who symbolized our guilt. Every time we deliberately sin, we are putting ourselves in the place of Pilate and in place of the crowds crying out for Jesus to be crucified. Our sins once more condemn our Savior to the Cross. We, like Pilate, can try to wash our hands and walk away, but like Pilate, our guilt will follow us. We must acknowledge our guilt. Only then will Christ be able to truly cleanse us.

When we meditate on this first Station of the Cross and think of Christ standing before Pilate who condemns Him to death, we must remember that Jesus, who was totally innocent, was condemned in our place and for our sins. From the Way of the Cross by St. Francis of Assisi:
O innocent Jesus, 
I have sinned and I am guilty of eternal death; 
but that I may Live, 
Thou dost gladly accept the unjust sentence of death. 
For whom then shall I henceforth live 
if not for Thee, my Lord? 
If I desire to please men, 
I can not be Thy servant. 
Let me, therefore, rather displease the whole world 
than not please Thee, O Jesus!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lent: Learning To Die Daily

Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the holiest, most solemn time in the liturgical year of the Church. This is a time when we should all be going on a spiritual and mental retreat from our worldly pursuits as much as possible as we mirror our Lord who, after being baptized by John the Baptist and before officially beginning His ministry, went into the desert for 40 days of prayer and fasting.
Did our Lord really need to spiritually fortify Himself against the snares and temptations of the devil as we mortal beings do? Hardly. Although Jesus could feel the same temptations we endure - He experienced the same pain and sorrow and pulls of the flesh - He was not capable of sinning. Everything He did in His Life was done as an example for us, His followers, marking the path we should follow. By going into the desert, Our Lord showed us that we must separate ourselves from the world as much as possible and draw close to God. To this end, the Church set apart 40 days prior to the Holiest Day of the Year - Good Friday - to get into the practice of saying no to our wants and desires. Venerable Bishop Fulton Sheen explained it very well. From A Christian Pilgrim:
Lenten practices of giving up pleasures are good reminders that the purpose of life is not pleasure. The purpose of life is to attain to perfect life, all truth and undying ecstatic love – which is the definition of God. In pursuing that goal we find happiness. Pleasure is not the purpose of anything; pleasure is a by-product resulting from doing something that is good. One of the best ways to get happiness and pleasure out of life is to ask ourselves, “How can I please God?” and, “Why am I not better?” It is the pleasure-seeker who is bored, for all pleasures diminish with repetition.
 Lent is about sacrifice as Bishop Sheen said:
“Unless the grain of wheat falling to the ground die, itself remaineth alone.” The power to find life through death makes the seed nobler than the diamond. In falling to the ground it loses its outer envelope which is restraining the life within it. But one this outer skin dies in the ground, then life pushes forth into the blade.
So too, unless we die to the world with its vices and its concupiscences, we shall not spring forth into life everlasting. If we are to live a higher life, we must die to the lower life; if we live in the lower life of this world, we die to a higher life, which is Christ. To put the whole law in the beautiful paradox of Our Divine Lord: If we wish to save our life, we must lose it.
I would be lying if I said I look forward to Lent, that it is something I enjoy. Lent is like spiritual boot camp. The soldiers in boot camp are forced to go beyond what they think is their physical ability to endure. They push their bodies to the extreme because they are being made ready for war, and if they are not physically and mentally ready, it could literally mean the difference between life and death. There is nothing fun about boot camp.
But as Christians, we must go far beyond anything a soldier must endure in preparing for war. We must actually die to ourselves. Colossians 3:5 tells us: "Put to death therefore your members which are on the earth: sexual immorality, uncleanness, depraved passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." This is what Lent is all about: overcoming and putting to death the sin that is within each one of us. We cannot win the spiritual war for our souls if we allow sin to dwell in our minds and bodies. The question is, how do we do eradicate sin? How is it possible to say no to our desires and wants? Unlike the soldiers in a military boot camp, we don't have to do this using just our own strength and fortitude. In fact, by ourselves we cannot overcome the sin that dwells within. We can't even begin this journey until we have been given the saving grace of God through baptism and the other sacraments, and we can't finish this journey without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the graces offered to us through the sacraments on a continual basis throughout our physical lives.

The Christian life means opening ourselves up to the Saving Grace of the Trinity, just as Mary, our Blessed Mother, did. We must follow her lead in saying yes to the Holy Spirit. She never argued, she never looked for excuses or another way of doing things. She completely trusted in God in whatever He asked of her. This is how we "put to death" the "sin that does so easily beset us", as described in Hebrews 12:1. This is what Bishop Sheen told us:
If we are to live for Christ, we must “die daily”. Lent is an ideal time to think about our own death. A happy death is a masterpiece and no masterpiece is ever perfected in a day. Dubois spent seven years in making the wax model for his celebrated statue of Joan of Arc – and it stands today as a ravishing perfection of the sculptor’s art. In like manner our death must appear as a ravishing perfection of the many years of labor we have given over to its mold by dying daily.
The greatest reason we fear death is because we have never prepared for it. Most of us die only once – WHEN WE SHOULD HAVE DIED A THOUSAND TIMES – yes, even daily. Death is a terrible thing for one who dies only when he dies; but it is a beautiful thing for him who dies before he dies.
Lent means dying before we die.  Remember what Our Lord told us:  "He that findeth his life, shall lose it: and he that shall lose his life for me, shall find it."  (Matt. 10:39)

Go into the desert with our Lord during this Lenten season. Turn off the world as much as you are able. Go to confession, spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament, do some spiritual reading, pray and fast, give of your time and treasure to others. These are all ways of saying Yes to God and no to yourself. These are the ways in which we die to ourselves so that, as Venerable Bishop Sheen told us, when we come to the end of our physical lives, we will have already died to ourselves so often that physical death will not be our enemy but merely the culmination of our struggle on earth.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Pope Benedict XVI Stepping Down on February 28

I woke up to unbelievable news this morning. Pope Benedict XVI is stepping down as Pope on February 28. He has mentioned in the past that he might do this, so we shouldn't be taken totally by surprised.


Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced he will resign on February 28, a Vatican spokesman said.
Pope Benedict XVI on Monday announced he will resign on February 28, a Vatican spokesman said.
The 85-year-old pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals Monday morning.
``After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths due to an advanced age are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,'' he told the cardinals. ``I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiriual nature, must be carried out not only by words and deeds but no less with prayer and suffering. 
However, in today's world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of StPeter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary _ strengths which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately the ministry entrusted to me.'' 
The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII, who stepped down in 1415 in a deal to end the Great Western Schism among competing papal claimants. 
Benedict called his choice ``a decision of great importance for the life of the church.'' 
The move sets the stage for the Vatican to hold a conclave to elect a new pope by mid-March, since the traditional mourning time that would follow the death of a pope doesn't have to be observed. 
There are several papal contenders in the wings, but no obvious front-runner as was the case when Benedict was elected pontiff in 2005 after the death of Pope John Paul II.

I have great affection, admiration and respect for our Holy Father, and I have no doubt that he made this decision after much prayer.  It seems to me that he wants very much to be part of the election of his successor.  This would also seem to point to the gravity of the times in which we live in that the Holy Father feels that the one who sits in the Chair of Peter must have both strength of mind and body to deal with all of the challenges facing the Catholic church today.

For whatever it's worth, and that is basically nothing, I am pulling for Cardinal Raymond Burke as our next Holy Father.  

Cardinal Raymond Burke

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