The Stations of the Cross

 KNOW/No Greater Love

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” Jn: 15: 12-15

The goal of this chapter is to aid us in falling in love with Jesus. There are several tried and true methods, but none without His grace. So, we must go where grace is most abundant, especially the Sacraments; we must be in His presence. The more time we sacrifice and spend there, the faster we will again fall in love with God. Love always requires sacrifice, or it is not love. Can falling in love with Jesus require anything less?

Here are three ways to fall in love with Jesus: Each has the power to work independent of the others, but combining them improves and enhances the benefits of each. First are frequent, even daily Holy Mass, and Holy Communion. There is no better way to meet and get to know intimately the object of our Love, Jesus Christ, and gain an abundance of supernatural graces. Second is spending “quality time” in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Daily will get the best results. Bishop Fulton Sheen recommended thirty minutes to an hour. When we ignore Jesus, He holds back some graces, which are a free gift to us until we deserve or ask for them. He desires to give them to us. Third is praying daily the Stations of the Cross. This is most poignant, expression and reminder, outside of Holy Mass, of what it means to be in love and prove it.

We will delve deeper into this last “secret potion.” The intent is not to provide yet another prayer form of the Blessed Stations. There exist already many beautiful, effective, pious guides. The desire is to make us present at each of the sacrificial loving steps, so that we might more fully appreciate the depth of this Lover’s love for us. Is it not easier to love one who loves us, and shows no limit to that love? All understanding of God comes through understanding the life of Christ.

Attempting to comprehend what Jesus endured in His passion and death from only the Stations of the Cross would leave a significant void in the lesson of Love.

Clearly Jesus knew what lay ahead for Him. Still, perfect lover that He is, He forgave us. Not as an afterthought, and He didn’t wait until our sins had killed Him. How do we know? Because the night He was betrayed, Jesus instituted the hierarchal priesthood of bishops and priests, the Holy Eucharist, and the Sacrifice of the Mass. This sacrifice is re-presented in an unbloody way daily through the hands of His priest. And in incomprehensible mystery and abasement, Christ chose to remain with us, body and soul; complete divinity and humanity joined for our edification, our nourishment, our salvation within the tabernacles of the only Church that He founded. These are living, loving gifts of life, not death. “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. ‘” Matt: 20: 17- 19

“Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” Jn: 18: 4  Judas and our mob of sinners came out and seized Jesus, whom Judas had identified by a kiss. Jesus greeted Judas: “Jesus said to him, “Friend, why are you here?” Mt: .26: 50 Jesus forgave Judas, but filled with Satan’s guilt and self-pity, Judas would not, could not repent, and Judas couldn’t forgive himself; in abject despair, he went out and hung himself. Salvation rejected is damnation.

The mob was more surprised than Jesus. He knew their sinister plan, and was prepared, even eager for it. Still, He must have looked both majestic in his cooperative attitude of unresisting compliance, and frightful in appearance, heaving, covered with blood on His person, and being so deprived of rest. He reminded them that they had many opportunities to seize Him, and asked why now. The answer was apparent. His hour was now at hand. “But all this has taken place, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled Then all the disciples forsook him and fled.” Mt: 26: 56

Both pleasure and pain are greatly enhanced by anticipation, foreknowledge and comprehension of what is to take place. Similarly, it is far easier to love someone who loves, or will love you in return. What Jesus was to endure out of love for us involved totally His mind, His body and His soul, and there was not a single sinner who Jesus did not love. Love is not an emotion; it is a conscious decision, a continuous act of the will that permits one to love someone, even without “liking” that person, or approving of his or her actions. Love always requires sacrifice, and love always requires a conscious decision. If you can’t forgive, you can’t love. Christ both forgives and loves us.

We take Jesus to a confrontation with His accusers.  It was the religious leaders of the time that stirred up, provoked, led and insisted that, “it is better for one man to die” than for us to suffer. Why? First because they rejected grace offered that would permit them to recognize God as Goodness. Second, Jesus was a threat, both real and imagined, to their authority; His evident power was unlimited, theirs, very limited. Third was one of Satan’s favorite tools – jealousy. Jesus was actually liked and respected, even loved by some, while they, for the most part were simply feared.

The First Station: Jesus is condemned to Die

“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” Rom: 5:19

“Now the chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none.’ The high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ And the high priest tore his garments, and said,  ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death. And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ And the guards received him with blows.”  Mk: 14: 55, 61-65

The Jewish nation was in captivity, subservient to the ruling Roman Empire. Officials lacked the power to pronounce and execute a death mandate. It was the judgment of the Roman Protectorate, Pilate, who had the legal power to kill, and he had to be persuaded to issue a “guilty, go ahead and crucify him” verdict. Pilate had heard of Jesus, and did not see Him as a threat to either himself or Rome. He reckoned correctly, that jealously was the motive of the Jewish leaders, and he simply didn’t wish to make a decision in opposition to their wishes for fear of a possible Jewish revolt. Pilate knew well the power to sway the masses that the religious leaders had. Pilate’s wife had warned him not to get involved, as she had a dream about Jesus. The Romans had very little respect for life, were active abortionists, and used gruesome killings, to maintain fearful, but orderly governance.  Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” Mk.15: 2  Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this righteous man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” Then he released for them Barabbas, (a justly convicted criminal) and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified. Mt: 27: 24-26

The Crowning of thorns

A key to being a successful politician is to make as few public decisions as possible. Not to procrastinate, but to delegate. The job gets done, you can take the credit if it goes well, and you have someone to blame if it doesn’t  Pilate was brilliant in passing Jesus on to Herod, who was governor of Galilee. Herod was anxious to see Jesus perform His magic, but Herod was so steeped in sin, that he could not discern simple magic, from a miracle. A trick from an act of love. Jesus doesn’t do “tricks”; He performs miracles when they can have a soul-changing affect. He seeks, not to impress, but to save. Curiosity would not be quenched.

Disappointed, but grateful for the opportunity and recognition from Pilate, Herod joined with the rest of us sinners, issued Jesus a purple “Good Will” cloak, a sign of royalty, and a crown of long, very sharp thorns, that were pounded into the head of Jesus, just to make sure that the self-proclaimed king was appropriately attired. It’s so easy to have a laugh at someone else’s expense. We too thought it was funny. Like a lamb being led to slaughter, Jesus humbly and meekly does not resist. It is the Passover; He is the unblemished sacrificial lamb. Love gives His all, to all.

The Scouring at the pillar 

Scourging was common treatment before a crucifixion for three reasons. This was a “spectators’ sport.” The Romans were a barbaric people, and crucifixion was so common, that while they wished it to be as painful, as gruesome and therefore, as memorial as possible, they frankly got bored with the spectacles and desired to, for their own benefit, shorten the death process. But this was a special case. A person of notoriety, a celebrity, well thought of by many in the subservient Jewish community. A community that looked down with notable disdain on the low-life Romans, especially the Legionnaires. This required a demonstration of the “superior cruelty,” of the torturers, who were eager to prove their reputation was rightly earned.

We watched as the huge, muscular, sadistic Ligonier prepared his victim. The preparation was as much mental as physical. The victim’s wrist was tied to a high whipping post that would support his weight, even if the victim passed out, as was often the case. The chained victim’s body was exposed to all sides stripped naked. To instill fear, they would in the most graphic and vulgar terms, inform the victim what to expect; the ripped flesh, torn off in hunks, the biting, burning feel of the whip, and the enjoyment they derived from slowly afflicting as much pain as possible. They would lay the whip, made of leather, with chunks of sharp bone, steel balls, and hooks attached, on the back of the victim and its weight would scratch and cut them. Then confronting the victim, they would jeer and taunt them into begging for mercy, a mercy that never materialized. It was a moment of sheer joy for them to look the victim in the eye, and see enough fear to cause them to pass out of sheer fear. Normally forty less one lash were administered. Care was taken not to kill the victim, and thus spoil “the main event,” the crucifixion.

When the torturer confronted Jesus, he saw a look of pity, not fear. Jesus humbly looked him straight in the eyes, forgiveness written on His holy innocent face. This so infuriated the torturer, that he discarded the “legal whip” and got one that had longer lashes that would wrap around the body, and tear more flesh. Jesus was beaten by not one, but two torturers, who completely spent themselves, while making sure that every inch of Christ’s innocent, holy body was torn, front and back. The number of blows administered was not counted. It is likely that they far exceeded the legal limit. The beating was so severe as to make the innocent Lamb of God unrecognizable. Yet Love desired to go on, to give more and to endure more.

The Second Station: Jesus Carries His Cross  

“We see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” Heb: 2: 9

The weight of the cross was far more than the natural weight of the wood. It was leaded with our sins, our guilt and His loneliness. With every step, with every curse, with every insult, and with every unjust blow, Christ became weaker, and the load more difficult to bear. Love keeps giving, and true love knows no bounds.

The Third Station: Jesus falls the first time    

As we follow along the road to Calvary, trying not to miss any of the gory details out of morbid curiosity, Jesus does not see a stone in the road, stumbles and falls the first time. The fall makes us laugh and jeer and brings blows from the legionnaires. Christ has a rope tied about His waist so as to not be able to escape. He is cruelly dragged to his feet, and ordered to again pick up His heavy cross. Love never gives up. .

The Fourth station: Jesus meets His Mother  

“But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul.” Ps: 131: 2

Those of us who were there likely missed it. But when Jesus and Mother Mary met, with the first contact of their eyes, there was at least an attempt to smile. Not a happy smile, more of a knowing-understanding one, that acknowledged, this must be done. “Thy will be done, on earth,” so that heaven might, at least be a possibility for some. And that was the painful point, that Jesus, the Son of God, with Mary, the first and most perfect tabernacle, full of grace, God’s most perfect human being would endure pain and grief that neither words nor a picture can paint. So deep and so intense as to be unable to be comprehended by mortal man, and yet, only a fraction of humanity would respond to God’s graces, and accept the crosses necessary for our salvation. “Many are called – few are chosen.” Mt: 22: 14

The meeting lasted a few brief minutes, and it just barely gave Jesus the adrenaline boost, His bruised and battered body needed to carry on. Only time to say, “I love you,” to acknowledge each other’s pain, and without words, to communicate the fervent desire to endure each other’s cross. Resigned to the will of the Father, and with hearts seemingly ripped from their bodies by an invisible evil force, forgiveness seems unimaginable. But forgiveness is an issue of Love and perfect love can, perfect love does, perfect love must forgive. Mother and son are perfect lovers.

The Fifth station: Simon, the Cyrene, son of Rufes is compelled to help

“Before those who stood by you were my helper” cf. Sir: 5:12

With heavy labored breath, Christ still resigned, obedient, and desiring to serve and to save. He is grateful for the assistance, no matter the level of reluctance of also this Simon. Divine providence hints again at the importance of Simon (the soon-to-be Pope), by choosing yet another ‘Simon” to aid Jesus.

We were in the crowd, it could have been us selected. It was! We are, and we are to be, Christ Simon’s today and everyday, to everyone. For everyone we meet is a Christ, and everyone we meet is in need of assistance in carrying his or her cross. This is a second step to our conversion. Having said goodbye to His Mother, Jesus is noticeably more tired and weaker, but Love never gives up!

The Sixth station: Blessed Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

“For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and against your sins it will be credited to you” Sir: .3:14

This incident of Blessed Veronica is both puzzlement and embarrassment to us men, as we can’t understand the legionnaires allowing these acts of pity and mercy, and we are embarrassed that a woman is showing greater courage, than the men present. Women are often more ardent lovers, more focused and committed. Certainly they are more willing to take risk for the object of their love. Pride is often the greatest impediment to men being more complete, more passionate, more giving lovers. Christ the man shows us that perfect love is doable and the price that must be paid is self-sacrifice. Veronica display’s great courage and empathy, and the rewards are immediately evident in the rebirth of energy and confidence of our Blessed Lord, and the creation of the world’s first “Polaroid” remembrance of the passion. No gift was sought, but love given usually gets love in return.

The Seventh station: Christ falls a second time 

“And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.” Lk:  22: 61-62

All lovers know that it is more enjoyable to make up, than to break up. But not all lovers are willing to say, “I’m sorry.” The line that says “love means never having to say you’re sorry” is a lie. It is the act of forgiveness, and the act of asking for forgiveness that builds character, strengthens relationships, and is foundational to true love.

Peter’s true repentance and sorrow, made the second fall less painful. Adam’s sin wrought in us concupiscence, the natural tendency to sin, further aided by our free will. There is a price for sinning. (“The wages of sin are death.” Rom.6: 23) The price Christ paid, and a price we have to pay. Those who claim that simple believing will lead to salvation need to read the second chapter of James. There is more joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, than a hundred perfect souls. It is God’s redeeming mercy and love that saves us, but it requires free-will cooperation on our part.

The Eighth station: Jesus meets the holy women 

“They will console you, when you see their ways and their doings” Ezra: 14: 23

Again it is women – this time mothers, empathic, courageous, nurturing, and loving – that challenge the Roman legionnaires for access to the Christ. They are concerned about the souls of sons, husbands and brothers, who are participating in this killing of the Holy Innocent. They grieve for Jesus and for their men. A mother’s sixth sense can usually “feel” goodness or evil in a man. They sense the presence of evil’s influence over us, and know in their hearts that Jesus is an innocent man. Filled with pity and outrage at the injustice being perpetrated against Jesus, the kindly women know that, someone sometime will have to repay justice for this insane injustice. They are concerned about the meek and humble Jesus, and their men who will have innocent blood on their hands. They weep for and with Jesus, and have their worst fears confirmed, that there will be, must be, a retribution and repayment for this atrocity. At times true love must be tough love, to be truthful love. Throughout history, actions, both good and evil, have drawn consequences. A free will is not a free ride. Love is a destination requiring active participation, usually gained by giving. Divine Justice demanded a just response. These women knew Jesus as Good, but time n’again refused to recognize him as God! Thus Christ reminds them, gives them yet another opportunity at salvation. “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and for your children.” Lk 23: 27 Do they hear? Do we?

The Ninth station: Jesus falls a third time

It’s not the failing or falling that causes damnation; it’s one’s prideful neglect of repentance. It is simply the decision not to get back up, not to seek forgiveness.

The Judas like leaders of the church in Jerusalem were politically astute. Desiring to be seen as just, not as vengeful, with great diplomacy, and even greater hypocrisy, forewent the pleasure of following every step of the way, depriving themselves, of the joyful sight of every blow, every insult, every profanity, every fall. Hypocrites indeed, and in deeds, they went ahead toward the “finish line” so as not to miss the really good and cruel stuff. “You will know them by their fruits.” They witnessed with concealed joy the third fall, and their hearts skipped a beat; don’t let Him die yet! They desire blood vengeance, and the excruciating crucifixion is longed for, waited for, like lovers anticipating the wedding night embrace.

The kangaroo court judges and we other sinners, watch as the totally spent Christ is plastered to the rough earth that He created, unable to move, much less continue on His own. Simon, now eagerly lifts the sin- leaded load of the cross, for he has seen goodness up close and personal, and is now able to recognize Godliness. Simon is converted, and so are some of us. Nearly everyone in attendance has witnessed other crucifixions. No one has ever seen such meekness, such humility, even a cooperative attitude. It reminds one of a Pascal Lamb being led to slaughter without complaint. But this isn’t a dumb lamb, this is an intelligent human being; this is God, this is true Love.

The Tenth station: Jesus is stripped of His Garments. 

“And many spread their garments on the road, and others spread leafy branches which they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed cried out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” Mk: 11: 8-9

In order for us to better understand the motive and effect of the “stripping,” we might consider a man who has spent a twelve to fifteen hour day in the very hot summer sun, putting on a new roof. He too is exhausted and spent from the heat and physical exertion. Nearing the end of the job, he misses the head of the roofing nail, and slams his thumb. Instantly he is revitalized as the pain has a shocking, awakening effect on his body. Adrenaline is now flowing rapidly and freely, and the traffic cop brain is sending urgent messages of pain through out his entire body. Like a bucket of ice water in the face of a sleeping man, he is instantly awake and alert.

The rape like attack of Jesus has the same effects. The tearing off of all His garments, glued to His wounded bloodied body, as flesh is savagely, cruelly torn off in chucks, reopens old wounds, and creates some new ones. Instantly, the flow of adrenaline and blood is reestablished, and once again the numbed body comes alive with raw nerve-endings. Jesus is again fully awake, fully alive, nerve endings ripe for further abuse. Bleeding profusely from ripped open wounds, the sadistic premeditated wake up call works exactly as planned. Now He is ready for the main show. Love desires to give even more. Is concupiscence, fear, or hypocrisy the culprit? Do we, or can we blame someone other than ourselves for choosing to serve Satan rather than God? “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, how soon, how easily we forget. Love understands and forgives us.

The Eleventh station: Jesus is nailed to the cross 

“And the flesh of the sacrifice of his peace offerings shall be eaten on the day of his offering” cf Lev: 7 “The sacrifice of a righteous man is acceptable, and the memory of it will not be forgotten.” Sir:  35:7

It was maniacal sadistic genius that devised the forty-five degree angle of the foot-nailing platform. If it had been flat, it would have been far easier for the victims to breathe, as they had to regularly push up from their legs in order to get air into their lungs. It would have taken longer for the victims to die, but it would not cause pain equal to the actual nailing every time they needed air in their lungs. The forty-five degree foot angle meant that each time they used their legs to raise themselves; their body weight would enlarge the nail holes, sending excruciating, heart pumping, blood curling pain to every nerve ending in the body. And the hanging bodies needed air in the lungs to stay alive or they would suffocate. The victim could choose between indefinable intense pain, and choking to death. Some – choice. It made for great spectator involvement. Betting on the time of death was common.

As for the nailing, because of the intense pain, if a victim had thoughts about fighting back, here is where it happened. The Romans were stunned when Jesus, like a King assuming his throne, meekly lay on the cross, stretched out Him arms, and allowed Himself to be nailed to His throne. A Legionnaire sat on His chest, while two others kneeled, one on each arm and held tight the wrist, palm up. The guard doing the nailing would press the large nail into the flesh, pause an instant to allow the victim to comprehend what was about to take place, and with a single hammer blow, pound the nail through the flesh, into the wood. They would allow for some of the pain to subside before proceeding to maximize the pain. Let them beg for mercy, they always did, regularly mixed with profanities. But only muffled moans came from the Jew’s king. No shrieking, no profanities, no cries for mercy, just heart wrenching, soul searching involuntary moans. The Romans were suitably impressed. Love conquers all.

 

 

The Twelfth station: The Son of God dies for our salvation

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” Rom:  6: 5

What is the asking price for the sacrifice of the Son of God? It is no less than we are to sacrifice our very lives and surrender our free will to do His will. This is to be accomplished by discerning God’s will for our vocation, and in every instance, with divine assistance, making God’s will, our avocation. We are to know, love, and serve God in this life, that we may be happy with Him in the next. We are to actively teach others to do the same.

The Thirtieth station: Christ is taken down from the Cross and placed in His mother’s arms

Mother, you joined your Son in His crucifixion, knowing that both as God and as man He is Perfect Holiness, completely without sin or error. All He did was Love and teach others to love. This, His only crime caused Him and you such soul-wrenching pain and despite your merciful forgiveness, your total and completely joined sacrifice will not be sufficient to redeem all of mankind. I marvel at your love, compassion, obedience, and the God given power of our free wills. “Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”

The Fourteenth station: Jesus is laid In the Tomb

God is Spirit and has no need of a tomb. It is God as man, divinity and humanity joined that is buried. The body human remains in the tomb for three days, while the soul of Christ, His divinity descends into the land of the just UN-judged (Limbo) to release them into heaven. The divinity of Christ remained with both His dead human body and with His human soul. Their just reward has been waiting salvation’s call and the time of justice is at hand. Christ also, in a show of Divine Justice, visited hell, to demonstrate that there is and must be a price paid for willful rejection of The Almighty – eternal damnation. Christ died and was buried as a man and on the third day arose Body and Soul (as the God-man), to prove and substantiate all that He taught, and all that was foretold. It was sublime evidence of truth and Perfect Love from Perfect Love.

 

“Greater love has no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends” Jn: 15: 13.

God Bless You; Pray much!

Patrick

Advertisements