Saturday, March 30, 2013

Meditation on the Fourteenth Station of the Cross: Jesus' Body Is Placed In the Tomb

We are now at the last station of the Cross: Jesus' body is placed in the sepulchre. The crowds are gone. All of those who tormented and mocked Our Lord in his last terrible hours have disappeared. The only ones to be seen are a small group of Christ's disciples along with His Blessed Mother. The High Sabbath is fast approaching, and they must quickly anoint Jesus' body and place it in the tomb given to them by Joseph of Arimathea, who was a secret follower of Jesus.

Our Blessed Mother, through her tears and sorrow, personally cleaned and wrapped her Son's Precious Body, carefully winding the cloth around Him. How this must have reminded her of washing Jesus and wrapping Him in swaddling clothes to lay Him in the manger where He was born. And now it had all come full circle. 

Although only a small group of people were visible, we can be sure there were many angels surrounding this small group of mourners who still could not totally comprehend the fact that Jesus, so alive only a day ago, was now dead, killed in a most horrible and brutal manner. He had warned them and tried to prepare them for the great scandal of the Cross, but only Mary had listened. Only she understood what had really happened here.

The Church has gone through many dark days in her 2000 year history. There have been many times when it has seemed she was facing insurmountable odds and a deadly, overpowering enemy. But for those who truly believed, there has always been hope and faith. A great saint or saints were raised up, such as St. Joan of Arc or St. Charles Borromeo. They were always there to remind us that as threatening as the times may seem, Our Lord promised He would never leave us.

But for those at the Garden Tomb burying our Lord's Body, they only knew that our Lord was gone. He had told them He would never leave them, but now He was dead, and all of their dreams and hopes went with Him. The death of our Lord was truly the darkest day in the history of the Church right up to our time. His followers had seen Him die. They saw the nails go into His Hands and Feet, they saw the sword pierce His Side, they heard Him breathe his last. They took down His dead Body from the Cross and they knew, without any doubt, that He was gone. They put His Body into the tomb, and then they went and hid themselves from the Romans. They were beyond consolation.

How often have we doubted Our Lord? We see storms and darkness around us, we feel we're falling off the edge of the world, and we think it's all over. There is no hope. One lesson we should all take from the Passion of Jesus Christ is that what the world deems as failure is often just the opposite. When it seems we have been totally defeated is often just the time when Our Lord will deliver us in unexpected and magnificent ways. Mere physical death means nothing. As our Lord told us, "fear not them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."  Our Lord faced death and came out the victor. And all who follow Him shall defeat death as well.

St. Paul told us in Romans 8:35-37:
Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.”) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.
Those who laid Jesus' Body in the tomb on that first Good Friday had not yet seen the resurrected and victorious Jesus Christ. Even though our Lord had warned them, they could not be faulted for believing the dream had come to an end. But we have seen our resurrected Lord. We have no excuse to ever give in to despair and bitterness, no matter what our external circumstances may be. "Overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us."

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
The body of Jesus is interred in a stranger's sepulchre. He who in this world had not whereupon to rest His head, would not even have a grave of His own, because He was not from this world. You, who are so attached to the world, henceforth despise it, that you may not perish with it.
Attachment to this world will lead us to doubt and despair.  Just as Christ died without even a grave of his own, so we should be emotionally, mentally and materially detached from this world.  Our affection  should be entirely focused heavenward on our Lord.  That is where our Blessed Mother was focused, and that is why, despite her great sorrow and pain, she never gave in to anger, despair and bitterness.  As St. Francis warns us, if we are attached to this world, we will perish with it.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
O Jesus, Thou hast set me apart from the world; what, then, shall I seek therein? Thou hast created me for Heaven; what, then, have I to do with the world? Depart from me, deceitful world, with thy vanities! Henceforth i will follow the Way of the Cross traced out for me by my Redeemer, and journey onward to my heavenly home, there to dwell forever and ever.
Concluding Prayer
Almighty and eternal God, merciful Father, who hast given to the human race Thy beloved Son as an example of humility, obedience, and patience, to precede us on the way of life, bearing the cross: Graciously grant us that we, inflamed by His infinite love, may take up the sweet yoke of His Gospel together with the mortification of the cross, following Him as His true disciples, so that we shall one day gloriously rise with Him and joyfully hear the final sentence: "Come, ye blessed of My Father, and possess the kingdom which was prepared for you from the beginning," where Thou reignest with the Son and the Holy Ghost, and where we hope to reign with Thee, world without end. Amen.

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!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Meditation on the Twelfth Station of the Cross: Jesus is Crucified and Dies

We are at the twelfth station of the Cross. After hanging on the cross for three hours, Jesus' agony and torture finally comes to an end. He dies.

All who witnessed the death of Jesus, with the exception of His Blessed Mother, were now of the opinion that it was all over. The man who had changed water into wine, who had healed the lame, blind and deaf, who had brought others back from the dead, was now Himself dead. He had been beaten, whipped, tortured and humiliated. No one had come to his rescue, no one had tried to save him, and it seemed he couldn't even save himself. As far as the world was concerned, Jesus was a total failure. This man hanging on the cross, barely recognizable as a human being, was now just another failed messiah. The world was exactly as He had found it, nothing had changed, and now He was dead.


All of this shows that the world always gets it exactly wrong. As Isaiah 55:8 says: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD." Throughout his ministry, our Lord said blessed are the poor, the meek, the humble, those who mourn. Jesus said the first will be last and the last will be first. When Christ started his ministry and chose his apostles, He did not go to the great halls of academia, he did not go to the great religious leaders or politicians. He did not go to the wealthy and those with influence. He chose for his apostles those who were outcasts or insignificant in the eyes of society. He chose those on whom society placed no value. He was followed by lepers and prostitutes and many whom "decent society" found "unclean."

He never hesitated to castigate those who placed great value upon themselves, such as the pharisees - the religious leaders of society - whom he called hypocrites, blind guides, blind fools, whitewashed tombs, snakes and broods of vipers (Matthew 23). He went into the temple and forced out those who were using it as a place of business.

Jesus made wildly incongruous statements such as "Take up your cross and follow me, "He who saves his life shall lose it and he who loses his life for my sake shall find it," "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters--yes, even their own life--such a person cannot be my disciple." Jesus told us that to become great we must become servants, and that we won't even be able to enter into His Kingdom unless we must become as little children. He told us that we have to constantly be forgiving one another, no matter what the offense and no matter how many times it happens. He told us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.

Now this man, who seemed a mass of contradictions, was hanging dead on a cross, and whatever hope he had offered to people was dead with him. The dream was gone and the world seemed darker than ever. Our adversary, the devil, thought he had won.

But we now know that Christ's ignominious and tortuous death on the cross was the greatest victory in all of the history of creation. By allowing men to crucify Him, Jesus had pulled mankind out of the depths of hell and delivered us from death. What the world viewed as an unmitigated failure was the greatest success story ever. What the world viewed as darkness was a great light. For the first time since our first parents rebelled against God in the garden, we were now truly free.

In all the world, there was only one person at the time of Jesus' death who was aware of what had truly happened on the Cross, of the great victory that had been achieved. That person was the Blessed Mother of our Lord. After the death of Christ, Mary comprised the entire Church of God. Only she believed, only she had faith. Her sorrow and pain were overwhelming, but never once did she waiver in her faith in Her Divine Son. She did not let the outward signs destroy her belief. She did not listen to the world. She saw the death of her Son with the eyes of faith.

There are many lessons to be learned from the death of Jesus Christ. One very great lesson is that we must not view things with our physical eyes but as our Blessed Mother did, with the eyes of faith. We must tune out what the world says. We must realize that the world will always get it wrong.

When the world rejoices, the followers of Jesus will mourn. When the world celebrates, Christians will grieve. When the world applauds, we will cry.

St. Paul wrote of this in II Corinthian 5:1-7:
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight.
Today, Good Friday, Christians mourn the death of their Savior, and what may seem to be a contradiction, we rejoice at the sight of the Cross at the same time.  We know that there was no other way, and that God was expressing His Love for His creation in the strongest terms possible.  Jesus on the Cross is the ultimate definition of love.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Behold Jesus crucified! Behold His wounds, received for love of you! His whole appearance betokens love: His head is bent to kiss you; His arms are extended to embrace you; His Heart is open to receive you. O superabundance of love, Jesus, the Son of God, dies upon the cross, that man may live and be delivered from everlasting death!

A few hours before Jesus was arrested by the Sanhedrin, He said to his Apostles:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
The Cross gives us hope and courage.  The Cross gives us peace.  The Cross gives us victory.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
O most amiable Jesus! Who will grant me that I may die for Thee! I will at least endeavor to die to the world. How must I regard the world and its vanities, when I behold Thee hanging on the cross, covered with wounds? O Jesus, receive me into Thy wounded Heart: I belong entirely to Thee; for Thee alone do I desire to live and to die.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Meditation on the Eleventh Station of the Cross: Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross

We have now come to the eleventh station of the Cross - Jesus is nailed to the cross.

The following is a description from about what it meant to be nailed to the cross:
At the site of execution, by law, the victim was given a bitter drink of wine mixed with myrrh (gall) as a mild analgesic [our Lord rejected this drink which would have eased his pain somewhat].  The criminal was then thrown to the ground on his back, with his arms outstretched along the patibulum. The hands could be nailed or tied to the crossbar, but nailing apparently was preferred by the Romans..The archaeological remains of a crucified body, found in an ossuary near Jerusalem and dating from the time of Christ, indicate that the nails were tapered iron spikes approximately 5 to 7 in (13 to 18 cm) long with a square shaft 3/8 in (1 cm) across. Furthermore, ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin have documented that the nails commonly were driven through the wrists rather than the palms.
After both arms were fixed to the crossbar, the patibulum and the victim, together, were lifted onto the stipes. On the low cross, four soldiers could accomplish this relatively easily. However, on the tall cross, the soldiers used either wooden forks or ladders.
Next, the feet were fixed to the cross, either by nails or ropes. Ossuary findings and the Shroud of Turin suggest that nailing was the preferred Roman practice. Although the feet could be fixed to the sides of the stipes or to a wooden footrest (suppedaneum), they usually were nailed directly to the front of the stipes. To accomplish this, flexion of the knees may have been quite prominent, and the bent legs may have been rotated laterally.

This is what they did to our great Creator God, the One who gave them their lives, the One who was submitting himself to this terrible death so that they and all of us may spend all eternity with Him. During all of this, Our Lord silently submitted, no complaints, no bitterness or anger at those who were doing this. Although it was the Roman soldiers who physically pounded the nails into the Precious Body of our Lord, it was all our sins that nailed him to the Cross. Each sin we commit is like a blow of the hammer against the nails. We know that Jesus will bear the marks of these nails on His Resurrected Body for all eternity as a silent witness to the horrible consequence of sin and what it took to forgive our sin. In fact, these holes left by the nails were the identifying sign to the apostles after Christ's resurrection. Luke 24:35-40:
Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,”he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!
“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Only the true God is a suffering God, only the true God allows himself to be beaten and nailed to a cross so that He might save His creation from death and destruction.
"If you really want to love Jesus, first learn to suffer, because suffering teaches you to love."
--St. Gemma Galgani
The world teaches us that suffering is bad, and we are almost obligated to do whatever we can to avoid suffering. Do you have a headache? Take a pill. Is your marriage difficult? Get a divorce. Can't stand your relatives? Just stop talking to them. Is this pregnancy "inconvenient", will it put a cramp in your lifestyle? Then get rid of that baby. Life is short. You only go around once. You have to enjoy it as much as you can. Love? That's just all about good feelings. As Woody Allen once said, "The heart wants what it wants." It's "whatever gets you through the night", as John Lennon sang.

Christ's way, the Christian way, is one of self denial. It is one that actually seeks out suffering because redemption comes through suffering. It's one that pays no attention to its own wants and desires but looks first of all what Our Lord says and follows Him no matter what the price.

From the Way of the Cross by St. Francis:
Jesus, being stripped of His garments, was violently thrown upon the cross and His hands and feet nailed thereto. In such excruciating pains He remained silent, because it pleased His heavenly Father. He suffered patiently, because He suffered for me. How do I act in sufferings and in troubles? How fretful and impatient, how full of complaints I am!
If someone accidentally bumps into me and doesn't apologize, my self-righteous anger starts to show itself.  If someone is taking too long in a check-out line, I find myself starting to grumble under my breath.  Yet our Lord - who was completely righteous and pure, without sin - gave Himself to the executioners to inflict the most hideous suffering upon Him.   We are joined to Christ by suffering with Him.  If we are to be truly Christ-like, we must also learn to suffer.
Suffering is a great grace; through suffering the soul becomes like the Saviour; in suffering love becomes crystallised; the greater the suffering, the purer the love.
--St. Faustina
It is You Jesus, stretched out on the cross, who gives me strength and are always close to the suffering soul. Creatures will abandon a person in his suffering, but You, O Lord, are faithful...
--St. Faustina 

From St. Francis Way of the Cross:
O Jesus, gracious Lamb of God, I renounce forever my impatience. Crucify, O Lord, my flesh and its concupiscences; scourge, scathe, and punish me in this world, do but spare me in the next. I commit my destiny to Thee, resigning myself to Thy holy will: may it be done in all things!
May I learn to truly look to and imitate our Lord and the suffering He endured, willingly and without complaint, completely giving of Himself for mankind.  May I learn the enduring message of True Charity which is conceived and born in suffering..

Meditation on the Tenth Station of the Cross: Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garment

At the Tenth Station of the Cross, Jesus' journey to Calvary has finally ended. He is now at the foot of His Cross. Although the journey has come to an end, His humiliation and suffering are not ended. Our Lord is now submitted to the indignation of being completely stripped of his garments and placed naked on the Cross. Our Lord is always shown with a loin cloth on the Cross out of modesty and respect for Him, but the reality is that He was completely naked when they pounded the nails in.

Jesus willingly accepted this humiliation of being jeered at and mocked so that we may be forgiven, just as He had accepted all of His Suffering up to this point. This also must have been unbearably painful for Our Blessed Mother and those with her as they stood nearby. This was one more sword thrust into her heart.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
When Our Savior had arrived on Calvary, He was cruelly despoiled of His garments. How painful this must have been because they adhered to His wounded and torn body, and with them parts of His bloody skin were removed! All the wounds of Jesus were renewed.
Jesus' under garments were no doubt dirty and soiled with his blood and sweat and sticking to his many wounds and cuts.  The Roman soldiers brutally tore Our Lord's clothes off of him, re-opening many wounds and causing more bleeding.  The purpose of stripping the victim of crucifixion was to cause even greater humiliation and to leave him more exposed to the elements and to biting insects.

But Jesus was showing us much more in allowing Himself to be stripped, as St. Francis says:
Jesus was despoiled of His garments that He might die possessed of nothing; how happy will I also die after laying aside my former self with all evil desires and sinful inclinations!
We, as followers of Christ, must strip ourselves of every affection for this world. As St. Francis says, we must lay aside "all evil desires and sinful inclinations." Jesus' clothes were sticking to his body and bloody wounds, and it was very painful when they were harshly torn off. Our sins and attachments to this sinful world are a much deeper part of our soul, and to remove them from who we are as a person can be very painful. This can mean losing our friends and even our family. It could mean leaving a job that we love, rejecting certain types of music and clothing, even rejecting certain foods if such food has become an addiction.

St. Paul writes in II Corinthians 6:14-17:
14Bear not the yoke with unbelievers. For what participation hath justice with injustice? Or what fellowship hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath the faithful with the unbeliever?
16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God; as God saith: I will dwell in them, and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.
17Wherefore, Go out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing:
We must strip ourselves of anything and everything that comes between us and God.  This can and usually is a very painful process, and something that can take an entire lifetime to completely accomplish.  Many if not most of us do not fully complete this by the end of our lives, and that is why God in his great mercy has given us Purgatory, to burn off those last attachments we have to this dying world.

I John 2:15-17:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
Our Lord told us in the Beatitudes, in Matthew 5:29-30:
29 “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.
Certainly no one is advocating that we actually cut off parts of our body or put our eyes out, but the message is that we must be willing to detach ourselves from anyone or anything if it causes us to be separate from God.  Any attachment to this earth can result in the loss of eternal salvation.  It is that serious.  When our Lord allowed his clothes to be torn from His Body, he was showing us the way to let go of all that spiritually encumbers us.

From St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
Induce me, O Jesus, to lay aside my former self and to be renewed according to Thy will and desire. I will not spare myself, however painful this should be for me: despoiled of things temporal, of my own will, I desire to die, in order to live for Thee forever.
Everything in this world apart from God leads to death . Everything we see around us is going to pass away, and if we try to hold on to anything in this world, we will perish with it. That is why we must detach from it, and it is a painful process. We may have very few consolations along the way. It is a long, difficult road which is pictured by Jesus' journey to Calvary. Our pain might be as constant as the suffering of Jesus.

But if we are willing to let go and instead turn to the things of God, where there is true life, we will be rewarded with an eternity of happiness and peace.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Meditation on the Ninth Station of the Cross: Jesus Falls the Third Time

The Ninth Station of the Cross is the third fall of Jesus. If you have ever done the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic Church, you may have noticed that in comparing the stations in which Jesus falls - the third, seventh and ninth stations - you will see that each time our Lord falls, it is closer to the ground, so that by his third fall he is usually laying flat on the ground. Our Lord is physically and literally drained, having lost a good portion of his blood and also suffering from severe dehydration. He has no physical strength left. But as St. Paul wrote in II Corinthians 12:10:

For when I am weak, then I am strong.

And in the prior verse, verse 9, we are told:

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

God cannot work with or through those who are "feeling their oats", who feel strong and independent. Our Lord gave us the example of what it means to be a servant of God. St. Paul told us in the book of Philippians that Christ emptied himself (Philippians 2:5-8):
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

No one in all of human history was stronger than Jesus when he struggled in physical weakness to walk the Road of Calvary and then hang helpless on the Cross.  It was through this act, done by a man so physically weak he could not stand up, that salvation came to the world. The smaller we make ourselves and the weaker we are, the closer to God we will be and the more He will work in us.  This lesson was taught by one of our greatest modern saints, St. Thérèse of Liseux, both a saint and a doctor of the church:
[U]nderstand that to love JESUS, to be His Victim of Love, the weaker one is, without desires, or strengths, the more apt one is for the operations of that consuming and transforming Love. . . let us love our littleness, love to feel nothing, then we shall be poor in spirit, and JESUS will come for us, far off as we are. He will transform us in love's flames.
If we are to walk in Christ's steps, we must become as dependent upon the Father as he was.  Self-help programs are anathema to the Christian.  There is no such thing in a Christian life as "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps."  In fact, in many ways there is no such thing as "self" in the Christian life.  Any time we start focusing on ourselves and our "abilities", we are excluding Christ.  It is when we are down on the ground and unable to stand up, as Christ was on the road of Calvary, that Our Lord can really work in us.

What was it really that made Christ so weak?  Certainly his physical weakness came from his multitude of physical wounds and loss of blood.  But this is what St. Francis tells us in his Way of the Cross:
Jesus, arriving exhausted at the foot of Calvary, falls for the third time to the ground. His love for us, however, is not diminished, not extinguished. What a fearfully oppressive burden our sins must be to cause Jesus to fall so often! Had He, however, not taken them upon Himself, they would have plunged us into the abyss of Hell.
The real cause of Christ's weakness was our sins which He had taken upon Himself, and that is the same cause of our own personal weakness. Sin has a way of deluding us into thinking that we are powerful and self sufficient, that we have no need of God in our lives. Too often, it is when we think we are the strongest that we are the most removed from our Creator. Sin "puffs up", it makes us think we are something we are not. As St. Francis wrote, if Christ had not taken our sins upon himself, we would have quite literally been plunged into hell.

In walking the road to Calvary with our Lord, we too will often find ourselves on the ground unable to help ourselves.  That is when we need to remember that this is a time when we can be strongest because the obstacles to the Holy Spirit are being removed from our lives.  When we are weakest, then we are strongest.
Most merciful Jesus, I return Thee infinite thanks for not permitting me to continue in sin and to fall, as I have so often deserved, into the depths of Hell. Enkindle in me an earnest desire of amendment; let me never again relapse, but vouchsafe me the grace to persevere in penance to the end of my life.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Meditation on the Eighth Station of the Cross: The Women of Jerusalem Weep Over Jesus

In the eighth station of the Cross, we see the women of Jerusalem weeping over the suffering of our Lord. Up to this point, only women have shown compassion for our Lord on the way to Calvary. First was Pontius Pilate's wife. She had many dreams about Jesus and begged her husband not to have anything to do with the crucifixion of this Holy Man. Then, of course, we saw the great sorrow of our Blessed Mother as she suffered along with her Son. This was followed by Veronica, running out among the crowd and the soldiers to wipe the Face of Jesus.

Luke 23:27-31 gives us the following narrative:
27 And following Him was a large crowd of the people, and of women who were mourning and lamenting Him. 28 But Jesus turning to them said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 “For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ 30 “Then they will begin TO SAY TO THE MOUNTAINS, ‘FALL ON US,’ AND TO THE HILLS, ‘COVER US.’ 31 “For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
Unlike Jesus' reaction to Mary and Veronica, our Lord is almost rebuking these women who were showing compassion for His suffering. He tells them outright, "Don't weep for me, who am innocent." Our Lord was looking into the faces of these compassionate women, and in spite of all his pain and suffering, he was not thinking of himself but of the future of Jerusalem. He knew that these women and their children would suffer in just a couple of decades when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. This would be a time when many would wish they never had children because it is so terrible to watch them suffer and die. People at that time were actually seeking death.

The Jewish Wars began in 66 A.D. and they were a direct revolt by the Jews against Rome’s authority. Titus with his Roman legions arrived at the outermost northern Wall of Jerusalem, the Passover of 70 A.D. The Romans built embankments of earthenwork, they placed battering rams and the siege began.

The Roman army numbered 30,000; while the Jewish army numbered 24,000. According to Tacitus they were 600,000 visitors crowding the streets of Jerusalem for the Passover. After five months the walls were battered down, the great Temple was burned down, and the city was left ruined and desolate, except for Herod's three great towers at the northwest corner of the city. These served as a memorial of the massive strength of Jerusalem's fortifications which Titus of Rome had brought to rubble.

The legions of Rome brought the captives to Caesarea and after over one million Jews were killed, 95,000 captives were taken as prisoners, and among them was Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian. According to Eusebius, the Christians saw the might of the Roman army and through prophetic warning, fled to Pella.
Msgr. Charles Pope of the Archdiocese of Washington sees an "eerie and prophetic connection" to our time of Jesus' words to the weeping women. From his article on the Archdiocese of Washington website:

But what of us? How, does this text speak to us? It a word or three: Horribly, poignantly and prophetically.
It does not take a genius to see that the Lord’s words are true for us in ugly and sickening ways. Our bloodbath is far worse that 70 AD. 55 million are dead from abortion in America alone since 1973. And add to that the 100 Million + who were killed in the last century alone for ideological purposes in two world wars, a cold war, and the pogroms and systematic starvation of Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot and their successors.
Though we like to think ourselves civilized in comparison to previous centuries, our blood bath is far deeper than any age before. True, we murder our millions in less publicly brutal ways. We do not experience hoards of warriors descending from day to day on unsuspecting cities. Our brutality takes place in more hidden ways, out of sight if you will, in concentration camps, abortion “clinics”, killing fields, and remote locations away from cameras.
Yes, our murder seems more abstract, but it is not. The death toll is almost unimaginable. And meanwhile we go on considering ourselves civilized.
And the Lord Jesus, looking beyond 70 AD must have seen our times and had them in mind when he said to those women of old that they would see an enemy (Satan): dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls.
Yes, Satan has deceived us with deceptions of power, distortions of freedom, and crushing lies of “choice.” 55 million dead in American alone since 1973, our children dashed to the ground.
The Lord goes on to say, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed.’  Yes, and those days are here, days when people celebrate barrenness, have themselves surgically sterilized, and celebrate contraception. The days are here when the greatest danger seems to be the “terrible and fearsome proposition” of getting pregnant, of having “too many children.”
Yes, the days are here when most people cry out: blessed is barrenness, blessed are small families. Life it would seem, is a terrible burden to be contracepted and aborted away and some awful threat. It is an age that cries out “Blessed the career women who has not stymied her life and progress by the terrible and terrifying prospect of children.”
Yes, said the Lord to those ancient women, in effect, “You think this is bad? The days are actually coming when things will be so bad and so dark that people will celebrate NOT having children, will celebrate barrenness.”
But the Lord does not stop there. He goes on to describe quite well the culture of death so literally lived out in our times: people will say to the mountains, ‘Fall upon us!’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us!’ 
Anyone with a tender heart would have been moved to tears at the sight of our Lord's suffering.  The fact that so few were touched by Jesus' suffering shows the coldness and hard-heartedness of the people of that time.  But as Msgr. Pope shows us in his article, we live in a time that is far more evil than Jerusalem at the time of Christ.  When we look at Christ's suffering, He wants us to think of not how he suffered as much as why and the real cause of his suffering, which is our sins.  He wants us to mourn not for him, but for those who refuse to turn away from the sin that put our dear Savior on the Cross.

Christ's suffering had cosmic meaning and purpose:  He suffered to save mankind from sin and death.  The result of his great passion was to pull us literally from hell.  But the suffering of those in Jerusalem  in 70 A.D. and in our evil time will lead only to final damnation.

St. Francis' Way of the Cross:
These devoted women, moved by compassion, weep over the suffering Savior. But He turns to them, saying: "Weep not for Me, Who am innocent, but weep for yourselves and for your children." Weep thou also, for there is nothing more pleasing to Our Lord and nothing more profitable for thyself, than tears shed from contrition for thy sins.
Yes, we need to weep and mourn when we see the suffering of Jesus, but what should really move us is the cause of His suffering, which is the sin and evil in this world, and our own sin.

From Msgr. Pope:
Of times like 70AD and times like these Jesus says, “Weep.”
Yes, Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:4). And who are those who mourn? They are those who see the awful state of God’s people, that God is not know to them, that they do not glorify God or even know why they were made, they are confused, deceived, and misled. And some, seeing this are mourning and weeping, they are led to prayer and action, to speaking out, and pointing once again to the light, from the dark places of times like these.
Mourn with Jesus, and pray for a miraculous conversion for times like these, times which seem eerily consistent with the dreadful things Jesus prophesied. 
This Saturday is Holy Saturday.  It has been my experience that Holy Saturday is one of the busiest days at abortion clinics.  It seems that the Adversary really stirs women to kill their babies in that time between the observance of Good Friday, the most solemn holy day of the year, and the great celebration of Easter, when our Lord rose in victory over sin and death.  I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that the tabernacles in all the churches around the world are empty and Holy Saturday is the one day the Church does not celebrate Mass.  Does this somehow gives Satan a false feeling of freedom that he does not have the rest of the year?

From St. Francis Way of the Cross:
O Jesus, Who shall give to my eyes a torrent of tears, that day and night I may weep for my sins? I beseech Thee, through Thy bitter and bloody tears, to move my heart by Thy divine grace, so that from my eyes tears may flow abundantly, and that I may weep all my days over Thy sufferings, and still more over their cause, my sins.
Cry and mourn not for the suffering Savior, who is actually in his most triumphant moment, but for yourself and those around you, who are being destroyed by our own sins.

Lord Jesus Crucified, Have Mercy On Us.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Will the Real Pope Francis Stand Up?

Pope Francis' Pontificate is not even two weeks old at the time of this posting, and he has already come under intense scrutiny as to how he will conduct himself as pope and whose interests he will serve.  Liberals are tending to claim him as one of their own, convinced he will loosen up the teachings of the Catholic Church to bring it more into line with the modern world.

From American Spectator:
“I was overwhelmed by joy,” said Hans Kung, the dissenting European theologian, in a radio interview after the elevation of Pope Francis. “There is hope in this man,” gushed Kung, who predicted that Pope Francis will conform to the progressive interpretation of Vatican II and not follow the “line of the two popes from Poland and Germany.”
Leonardo Boff, one of the fathers of liberation theology, was quoted in the German press as saying that Francis is “more liberal” than commonly supposed.
Cardinal Roger Mahony took to Twitter to proclaim that the Church would move from high church to “low” church under Francis: “So long Papal ermine and fancy lace!”
The National Catholic Reporter approvingly quoted an unnamed Vatican diplomat as saying that “the Traditional Latin Mass brigade is finished.”
Esteban Paulon, president of the Argentine Federation of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals and Transsexuals, told the Washington Post that Pope Francis is “known for being moderate” and when “he came out strongly against gay marriage, he did it under pressure from the conservatives.” According to Sergio Rubin, whom the Post calls his authorized biographer, Pope Francis initially “urged his bishops to lobby for gay civil unions” as an alternative to gay marriage.
Many Traditionalists are afraid Pope Francis will undo everything Pope Benedict XVI did and take away the Traditional Mass. 

The Rorate Caeli blog, written by Traditionalist Catholics, is deeply apprehensive about Cardinal Bergoglio’s elevation to the papacy, in particular because they say he was hostile to the traditional Latin mass in his archdiocese. But that’s not the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt they posted sympathetically from an analysis by an Argentine Catholic journalist:
Of all the unthinkable candidates, Jorge Mario Bergoglio is perhaps the worst. Not because he openly professes doctrines against the faith and morals, but because, judging from his work as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, faith and moral seem to have been irrelevant to him.
A sworn enemy of the Traditional Mass, he has only allowed imitations of it in the hands of declared enemies of the ancient liturgy. He has persecuted every single priest who made an effort to wear a cassock, preach with firmness, or that was simply interested in Summorum Pontificum.
We reject all false optimism, and this is the spirit we will keep here, and it does not matter if many do not like it. In the web, it is quite easy to avoid things one does not like.
The article quotes from another traditional Catholic blog:
UPDATE: My trad Catholic TAC colleague Michael Brendan Dougherty is grim:
There are reasons to believe that Pope Francis is a transitional figure, unlikely to affect major reform at the top of the church. He is not known as a champion of any theological vision, traditional or modern. He is just two years younger than Pope Benedict was upon his election eight years ago. He has deep connections to Italy, but little experience with the workings of the Vatican offices. A contentious reading of Pope Francis’ rise is that Benedict’s enemies have triumphed completely.
It is unusual for a one-time rival in a previous election to triumph in a future one. And there is almost no path to Bergoglio’s election without support from curial Italians, combined with a Latin American bloc. Low-level conspiracy theories already flourish in Italy that Benedict’s resignation was the result of a curia determined to undermine his reforms. This election will only intensify that speculation. An older pope who does not know which curial offices and officers need the ax, will be even easier to ignore than Benedict.
Many seem to be viewing this pope in terms of what they want from him, as in the case of liberals, or in what Pope Francis might take away, as in the case of Traditionalists.  All, of course, are judging him on what they perceive to be his action and the rumors - true or false - that are flying around about what he has allegedly done in the past.

Peter Denies Jesus
I thought of this today at Mass when the long Gospel of Matthew 26:3-75 and 27:1-60 was read.  Part of this Gospel involves the scandalous behavior of our first Pope -  St. Peter - and how he reacted at the Crucifixion of our Lord.  We are told that he actually denied Jesus Christ, saying he didn't even know the Man:
69 Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said.
70 But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said.
71 Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.”
72 He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!”
73 After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.”
74 Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!”
Can you imagine how the media and others would treat the election of St. Peter to the Papacy: "And this man is going to lead the Church? He is weak and selfish, breaking down in the face of adversity. How can we ever trust him? Do you know that our Lord actually called him Satan at one point? He constantly puts his foot in his mouth, and you can't trust anything he says. He pledged his undying loyalty to the Lord, and only a few hours later he was denying he even knew him! We're all doomed."

Did you ever wonder why a Pope must take a new name when he is elected? It is because he no longer belongs to himself. One he accepts election to the Chair of Peter, he is Peter: "Tu es Petrus." The pope is no longer Karol Wojtyla, Joseph Ratzinger or Jorge Mario Bergoglio. All of those men, in effect, ceased to exist when they became pope. Everything a pope says and does in his official acts as Pope from the time of his election and acceptance is guided and controlled by the Holy Spirit.

I'm certainly not saying that a pope cannot sin and rebel in his personal life against God. We, unfortunately, have seen many examples of this in the 2000 year history of the Church. But not one of those sinful popes ever misled the church in faith or morals. "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church." That was said to St. Peter and all of his successors. The Pope is the rock of the Church on earth.

All of those liberals who are salivating at the thought that major dogmas of the Catholic Church will be changed or those Traditionalists who fear that everything they love and believe in will be taken away are showing that they place no trust in the guidance of the Holy Spirit or the promises of Jesus Christ.

The Pope is not just a political figure. He is not just some guy who happened to be at the right place at the right time (or wrong place and wrong time, depending on your point of view). And he is no longer the same person he was before he became pope. Of course he still has his own personality and style. But he is not free to take the church in any direction he chooses. He still has freedom of will in his personal life, but he does not have freedom of will as Pope. That is why no one is ever allowed to judge a pope's actions.

It is for this reason that no sane man would ever desire to be pope. Although it is the most powerful office in the world because the Pope is the divinely chosen head of the one true Church of Jesus Christ, in actual fact the Pope has no personal power at all. He is a puppet of the Holy Spirit.

Before resigning, Pope Benedict pledged his complete obedience and loyalty to his successor, even though he had no idea who that would be. How could he do that? Didn't he want to make sure first that his successor would be the kind of pope that he, Benedict, thought he should be? Pope Benedict XVI was telling us with this statement that it does not matter who, individually, occupies the Chair of Peter. The real One occupying the Chair of Peter is the real Head of the Church - Jesus Christ. When we pledge our obedience and loyalty to the Vicar of Christ, we are making this pledge to Jesus Christ Himself.

The secular media is going to do what it is going to do. They see the pope as just another political figure. But we, as Catholics, must realize that the Pope is unlike any other man on earth. There is no politician or head of state who can compare to him. He is going to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It may or may not be what we think is right, but like the Pope, we need to get our own pride and ego out of the way and realize that as smart as we are, the Holy Spirit knows better than we do.  

The Israelites were ready to throw Moses over when he led them out of the land of Egypt to the Red Sea. They were being pursued by Pharaoh's army with no escape. Moses' command to them was "Be still and see the salvation of the Lord." I think that is some of the best advice that has ever been given in the history of mankind.

In other words, when it comes to the Pope - SHUT UP!!!  Or as they say here in Brooklyn - "SHADDUP!"

Thank you.

The Seventh Station of the Cross: Jesus Falls the Second Time

Our Lord continues on the Way of the Cross. After experiencing unspeakable cruelties and humiliations, we have just seen an act of loving compassion in the kindness of Veronica, who ran out with no regard for her physical safety to wipe the blood, sweat and spittle from Jesus' face. But this act of kindness has no effect on the Roman soldiers, who continue to force Jesus beyond his human ability. He is suffering from severe blood loss and dehydration. There is no part of his body that has not been wounded or bruised in some way. Although Veronica has wiped his face, the blood from his head wounds continues to pour into his eyes, and he can barely see.  Notwithstanding the help of Simon of Cyrene who was taking the major load of carrying the Cross, Jesus' physical strength gives out and once more Our Precious Lord falls to the ground.

The Roman soldiers show no mercy and continue to beat him and yell for him to get up. Once again, in their cruelty the Roman soldiers are actually helping our Lord continue on to Calvary where He will save the world.

We know that Jesus was walking this cruel road to Calvary completely on his own human strength, or lack thereof.  Yet He is the same one who cured the lame, blind and deaf and even brought the dead back to life.  How could one who had the power of the universe and more at his fingertips be in such a powerless position and subject to such unspeakable cruelty?

As Jesus said in the Garden of Gethesame when he was arrested, (Matthew 26:53-54):
Or do you think that I cannot appeal to My Father, and He will at once put at My disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  How then will the Scriptures be fulfilled, which say that it must happen this way?”
The soldiers  like Pontius Pilate, may have thought they were in charge.  Here was a man so weak that a tiny child could have overpowered him.  He had no physical strength left and was very close to death.

But the soldiers were wrong.  Jesus was in complete control of everything that was happening to him.  At one point Pontius Pilate said to Jesus, "Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"  Jesus answered him:
You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.
Likewise, the soldiers had power to inflict cruelty on Jesus only because this power was given to them from above.

Why would the great Creator God allow himself to be so humiliated and apparently powerless in the face of his enemies?  One very strong message that our Lord was sending us is that without the Grace of God, we have less strength and means to resist our Adversary than Jesus had physical strength to carry His Cross at this point.  And we will surely fall if we try to use our own strength to resist sin just as we see our Lord physically fall.

St. Francis said in the Way of the Cross that it was not the weight of the cross or even the cruelty of the soldiers that caused Jesus' fall, but our sins:
The suffering Jesus, under the weight of His cross, again falls to the ground; but the cruel executioners do not permit Him to rest a moment. Pushing and striking Him, they urge Him onward. It is the frequent repetition of our sins which oppress Jesus. Witnessing this, how can I continue to sin?
The physical torture did not cause Jesus any where near the pain he felt as when he took on our sins. The weight of the Cross - far more than his weakened body could handle - was as light as air when compared to the weight of our sins. The actual cause of Jesus' fall, as St. Francis tells us, was our sins. When we see Jesus laying on the ground and physically spent, we must realize that it was our sins which put him there.

When we look at the physically torn and weakened body of Jesus, we are looking at the result of our sins.

St. Francis offers this prayer:
O Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me! Offer me Thy helping hand, and aid me, that I may not fall again into my former sins. From this very moment, I will earnestly strive to reform: nevermore will I sin! Thou, O sole support of the weak, by Thy grace, without which I can do nothing, strengthen me to carry out faithfully this my resolution.
Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!

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