Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Eighth Station: The Women of Jerusalem weep over Jesus

Consider that those women wept with compassion at seeing Jesus in so pitiable state, streaming with blood, as He walked along. But Jesus said to them, "Weep not for Me, but for your children."

Another curious moment on the Via Dolorosa: our Lord comes to a crowd of women crying wildly over Him as He walks to His doom. Were these women part of those same crowds who had earlier cried for His death? Were they in that crowd that cheered Him as He rode into Jerusalem? Only now do they cry out for Him.

As we contemplate the Way of Sorrows Our Lord has to pass through on our behalf, we should weep. But why do we cry out? What moves us to tears? Is it our sorrow at having caused Him pain? Or is it because we fear the judgment to come?

It is our sin that brings Jesus to such a pass. Sin is something that can only be repaid in blood, our blood. But out of love, Our Lord sheds His blood on our behalf, granting mercy to those who don't deserve it. And because of that, we might become adopted sons of God. But sons act out of love for their fathers, and here, we feel none. We sin, and sin again. And our regret is found only when we realize that we have caused Our Lord to be angry with us. We are like children, who only feel regret at misbehaving because we have been caught with our hands in the cookie jar.

A response during the Three Hours on Good Friday has Jesus confronting us: "O my people, what have I done to thee? or wherein have I afflicted thee? Answer me." And we have no answer. The sorrows we cause Our Lord ought to move us to compassion, because we have harmed the only One who truly loves us. And yet, when we weep, we don't weep for Jesus, we weep for ourselves, because we fear the just punishment that comes our way.

Dear Lord Jesus, I repent of my sins because of the judgment they have merited for me, but because they have cause You so much pain, You who wants only to love me, and be love d by me. Grant me the grace to be able to love You and to avoid causing You pain.

My Jesus, I love Thee more than myself. I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I might love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Seventh Station: Jesus Falls for the Second Time

Consider the second fall of Jesus under the Cross – a fall which renews the pains of all the wounds of the head and members of our afflicted Lord.

He is halfway there, now. Even with the help of Simon of Cyrene, the weight of the Cross becomes oppressive. The heat of the day, and the blazing sun just another lash across His fevered vision. The Romans drag Him along and drive Him from behind, beating Him with knotted ropes. Each blow wakes up the nerve endings that had seemed to have died away under the blows of the flagra, causing Him to gasp for breath. He is so very tired, and the road seems so very long. Do the voices of the crowd fall away into a soundless din? Does He see their faces?

How easy it is to fall. A missed step, a stumble onto the hem of His robe, and he tumbles down into the dust. The Cross falls on top of Him, and the clotted wounds in His back and head are bludgeoned open again, and blood begins to flow anew. The pain from those wounds rushes over Him again. The Romans are pitiless, and beat Him with their whips until He rises again.

How many times, O Lord, do I stand in line for Confession, seeking solace in Your Sacrament of Penance, sincerely repenting of my sins, only to sin again? How many times have I fallen, and thus caused You to fall again? My sins weigh you down, my beloved Jesus, and yet I pile sin upon sin, pressing down ever more upon Your bloodied and bruised shoulders. Despite all I have done, and failed to do, You have loved me, O Lord, and bestowed grace upon me, enabling me to rise again, to take up my cross, and to continue following You.

My most beloved Jesus, grant me grace, that I might successfully face the temptations that assail me in this life, that I might see You face to face in the next. Grant me the grace to persevere, placing one foot in front of the other each day, enduring through all the shocks and buffets that I am heir to. How much I deserve to fall, and not to rise, and how much You have loved me and forgiven me anew. Never let me separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I might love Thee always, and do with me what Thou wilt.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Sixth Station: Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus

Consider that the holy woman named Veronica, seeing Jesus so afflicted and His face bathed in sweat and blood, presented Him with a towel, with which He wiped His adorable face, leaving on it the impression of His holy countenance.

I recall a homily given years ago on the Feast of the North American Martyrs in which the priest told the story of Isaac Jogues and his companions. In the midst of his extreme suffering, the priest pointed out, God granted to St. Isaac a bit of grace: he was transported in joy, and given a fore-taste of Heaven. God does this for all who suffer willingly: at some point, all receive a bit of grace that helps sustain the sufferer.

I wonder if this isn't the same case. Our Lord has been brutalized. Mocked, scourged, beaten, and now forced to carry His Cross to His own death, a death reserved for slaves. Around Him are all those who had praised Him a week before, now they laugh, they spit, they call out to Him, urging Him to save Himself. And now, along the way, treated with nothing but brutality and hatred, He finds a small kindness. St. Veronica comes to Him, and offers a rag, most likely rough homespun, to clean His face. He is probably drenched in sweat, if He has any fluid left. Blood is beginning to dry and cake over His forehead, His eyes, probably making His beard stiff with clots. Add to that the dust that most likely is covering Him now, kicked up by the crowds. And now, a bit of grace. A woman, one He does not know, steps forward (does she fear the guards? Does she quake before the crowds? Or does she notice them?), and holds out this small bit of cloth. Jesus takes it in hand, and wipes away the dirt, the blood, and the sweat. A small kindness, really. But like a new blossom in a forest recently burned down, it stands out, its beauty almost overwhelming already overwhelmed senses.

Would I be as brave? Would I step forward to offer Jesus any kindness at all, as He walks this road of sorrows? Or would I be in the crowd, mocking Him? How often have I sinned, causing Him to walk this path one more time? What comfort can I offer to Him who goes to die for me? Jesus, the paragon of human beauty has been beaten and disfigured, and what beauty have I given to Him? When have I felt abandoned, and received a small kindness, a small grace, and then failed to do the same in return, when it became my turn?

Dear Lord Jesus, You have undertaken this road to die for me, allow me to love Thee and die for Thee. I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Fifth Station: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus to carry His Cross

Consider that Jesus was weak and on the point of expiring. Fearing that He would die on the way, when they wished Him to die the ignominious death of the Cross, the guards constrained Simon the Cyrenian to carry the cross behind Our Lord.

Imagine being Simon of Cyrene. He is in Jerusalem, perhaps for the festival of Passover, perhaps for other reasons. There is a crowd, and, like anyone, he is drawn to it. He sees a man, carrying a cross, covered in sweat, trembling, his blood dried on his face and clothing. Is there something about the man's face? Is he in anguish, is he at peace? You stand, watching, as he struggles for each step. How can he continue?

The Roman guards begin looking through the crowd – they look at you, and grab you as you struggle. Are you to be crucified as well? They place the cross across your shoulders, and you lift the cross with the man, holding it and him up. Now his shame is yours.

What have you done to deserve this disgrace? Nothing. And yet here you are, dragging this impossible weight through the streets, receiving the blows and taunts of the crowd, along with this condemned man.

I grant myself the conceit that, unlike Simon, I would not resist the Cross, that I would willingly take it, indeed, take the place that Our Lord took for me. But it is a lie. Simon, forced by the guards, takes the Cross, and brings it and Jesus to His crucifixion. How many opportunities have I had to take up a cross, even in small ways? An inconvenience, a traffic jam, difficult students, problems with the kids, money problems; how many times, when faced with trifles, have I bristled, complained, wondered "why me", without ever asking the question "why not me"?

Lord Jesus, my love, help me. Grant me grace enough to receive the crosses sent to me with gratitude and joy, knowing that they are light in comparison to Your Cross, carried in part by Simon of Cyrene. Grant me the grace to know that at the end of this private via dolorosa lies the promise of a greater reward, an undiminished joy. Help me, Lord Jesus.

According to one tradition, Simon of Cyrene was a farmer, in Jerusalem to sell some eggs. After he completed his terrible task, he returned to find that not only were his eggs all present and intact, they were now transformed:

I love Thee, Jesus, my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Fourth Station: Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother

Consider the meeting of the Son and the mother, which took place on this journey. Jesus and Mary looked at each other, and their looks became as so many arrows to wound those hearts which loved each other so tenderly.

Our Lord carries His Cross, the one He bears for us, with ever weakening steps, and along the way, he meets His mother, Our Lady. This was the purpose for which He was born, which she freely accepted in that first moment, when she said "Let it be done to me according to His will…", that joyful acceptance that signaled our salvation. Now, however, what does she see? Her only child, beaten, bloodied, weakened and dragging the instrument for his own ignominious death. Where is that gentle face she stroked gently as He slept? Where is the boy whose laugh was her delight? What parent wouldn't weep to see their own child so badly mistreated?

And Our Lord sees His mother, the woman who brought Him life and tended Him as He grew, through skinned knees and bloody noses, and now, as He is covered in His own blood, His flesh rent from the scourges, she stand helpless, unable to comfort Him, and He feels her pain more keenly than His own.

If anyone born in this world can be thought of as innocent, it is these two, mother and Son, and yet they suffer the most bitterly of all. The suffering of one breaks the heart of the other. We see the yearning they feel to comfort one another, and the anguish that overcomes them as they acknowledge their powerlessness to do so.

The sorrow of Our Lady is easily felt by any parent who has had to impotently watch their child in pain or afraid. We see this life that we helped bring into the world in need, and we are unable to meet it.

As she sees her Son carried away from her, did Mary suffer doubt? Did she know this was how He would save us?

Dear Lady, forgive me for causing your Son to die, and causing you so much pain. I beg from Our Lord the grace to love you as my own mother, and to continually remember Your passion that I might always be united to You in Your sorrows.

I love Thee, Jesus, my love; I repent of ever having offended Thee. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Third Station: Jesus falls for the First Time

Consider this first fall of Jesus under His cross. His flesh was torn by the scourges, His head crowned with thorns, and He had lost a great quantity of blood. He was so weakened that He could scarcely walk, and yet He had to carry this great load upon His shoulders. The soldiers struck Him rudely, and thus He fell several times in His journey.

I once tried to figure out how long Jesus spent awake without food or water until his death. If we assume that He ate and drank at the Last Supper, which would have occurred around sundown, and he then proceeded immediately to the Garden of Gethsemane afterward, Our Lord had gone for 18 hours after the Last Supper without sleep, food or water. If we add to that the stress of the beatings and the scourging, it is a miracle to think that he was able to walk at all.

And yet he did. He shouldered the Cross, which rested on the open wounds that made up His back, and he moved forward, step by laborious step. His utter exhaustion must have been extreme: starved, dehydrated, and desperate for sleep He was now burdened with his unjust burden. Each step must have brought a new jolt of pain. Each breath he drew must have burned. Blood would have obscured his vision. And on all sides the crowds, jeering, hooting and laughing at the sight of one for whom they shouted "Hosanna"! And he falls, driven down by the weight, and the pain, and the sorrow.

But that weight was not the weight of the Cross.

Jesus was sent as a sacrifice, as the scapegoat. It was given to Him to carry the sins of all humankind on His shoulders as he went to his death. By this only could we be freed from the bonds of sin and given the hope of Heaven. Upon that Cross were heaped the sins of all of us.

It is accepted that we do not cause pain to those we love. So why would we sin, knowing that it is we who are driving Our Lord to His knees?

He walks his lonely path, surrounded by enemies, abandoned by friends, and yet we don't care enough to avoid causing Him more pain. My sin drives Him into the dust only to be beaten more harshly by the Roman soldiers. It is my sin that has brought Him to this terrible road, this Via Dolorosa, and there I have abandoned Him.

Grant to me, dear Lord Jesus, to accompany You on Your road, that I might suffer for You, as You have suffered for me, that I might repay the debt that I owe, a debt that I must repay, but cannot.

I love Thee, O my Jesus, with my whole heart; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to offend Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

The Second Station: Jesus is made to carry His Cross

Consider that Jesus, in making this journey with the cross on His shoulders, thought of us and offered for us to His Father the death that He was about to undergo.

Jesus stands condemned, and is prepared to take up a cross that is not his, to pay for crimes he has not committed on behalf of those who are undeserving, to say the least.

You have to give it to the Romans. Wherever you may stand on the death penalty, no one asks the condemned to bring the implement of execution to the place of execution. Fear of your death is compounded by the humiliation of dragging the device of your torture and eventual death to the site where you will spend the last hours of your life. The Romans weren't simply content to kill their enemies, they wanted to crush any hope of resistance.

The cross, now exalted by Our Lord, was originally a death reserved for slaves and non-Romans. The death it brought was excruciating, it covered its victims with ignominy, and shocked the populace. Our Lord took his cross freely, knowing the death he would be exposed to.

What occurred at that moment, when he looked at the cross, and took it in his hands? He had been scourged, he had been crowned with thorns, he had been mocked and spit upon and beaten, and had gone through it all silently, enduring it all with …what? Grace? Quiet sadness? And now, standing before his cross, his final burden, he takes it upon his shoulders.

How often have we been given a burden to carry, much less onerous than this one? How often have we been asked to shoulder a task and see it through, and resisted because it wasn't our problem? How often have we been angered because we think that something has been unjustly demanded of "our" time? In light of the sorrows that Jesus endured, our complaints seem petty indeed.

Would that I could revisit each of those occasions, and accepted those burdens with the same equanimity as Our Lord. Would that I could treat each "demand" on my time (odd to think of it in those terms, as if I could possess something that is ultimately not real) as an opportunity to take up a cross, to suffer as Our Lord suffered, and possibly repay him for the sufferings he endured.

Dear Lord Jesus, grant me the grace to bear my burdens as you did the Cross, and that I might grow in perfect patience and resignation to your divine will.

I love Thee Jesus, my love; I repent of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Monday, March 01, 2010

The First Station: Jesus is Condemned to Die.

For Lent I thought I might try something different. I wanted to spend some time reflecting on the Via Dolorosa, the Way of Sorrows, that marked Jesus's last moments on Earth. His sacrifice can only be truly appreciated if we can grasp the torment he endured. Caveat lector: I am not a theologian, nor a very good Catholic, so if I write something that seems inconsistent, assume that I am wrong.

Consider that Jesus, after having been scourged and crowned with thorns, was unjustly condemned by Pilate to die on the cross.

(From The Way of the Cross According to the Method of St. Alphonsus Ligouri)

Christ stands condemned by the very crowds that praised him a mere week before. He is dragged away; a thief and murderer is freed in his place. Pilate washes his hands, hoping to absolve himself of any stain in this sordid affair.

What image must Our Lord have presented? His face had been bludgeoned by the guards for their own entertainment, his face was covered in his own blood pouring from the wounds caused by the spines on the crown that had been shoved down onto his head. His back, covered now by his robe, was a raw, open wound.

He is surrounded by enemies. Pilate, the Temple officials, the crowd. They cry for blood. His blood. And yet, his face is not creased with anger, or hatred. We only see sadness in his eyes: "O my people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I molested thee? answer thou me" (Mic 6.3). He knows the pain that is to come, compounded by the knowledge that it is unjustly dealt, and he still refuses to condemn.

Where do we stand in this? Our sins have brought Our Lord to this pass. And as he stands, we cry out for blood, his blood. Having come into the world to save us from a similar fate, he has earned our love, and yet we repay him thus, crying out for him to die. And still, he does not condemn. He looks at us merely in sadness, and forgives.

Dear Lord, you stand condemned for my sins, and I can do nothing more than continue to sin. Permit me to accompany you on this journey, my beloved Jesus, that I might turn to you and love you more than my self.

I love Thee, my beloved Jesus; I love Thee more than myself; I repent with my whole heart of having offended Thee. Never permit me to separate myself from Thee again. Grant that I may love Thee always, and then do with me what Thou wilt.

Lord Jesus, crucified, have mercy on us!