Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Via Crucis

[31] And after they had mocked him, they took off the cloak from him, and put on him his own garments, and led him away to crucify him. [32] And going out, they found a man of Cyrene, named Simon: him they forced to take up his cross. [33] And they came to the place that is called Golgotha, which is the place of Calvary. (Mt 27.31-33)

[26] And as they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country; and they laid the cross on him to carry after Jesus. [27] And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. [28] But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children.  (Lk 23.26-28)

The via crucis, or Way of the Cross is a meditation on the sorrows of Our Lord in the last hours of His life. From what I have been told, this devotion was first instituted by St. Francis of Assisi as a means to teach us humility in the face of the suffering of Our Lord on our behalf. 

And his suffering is extreme. The cross weighs down on him, most likely a hudred pounds or more. He has to carry it across his back and shoulders, which were opened up under the cruel lash of the flagella. He has most likely lost a huge quantity of blood, and is dehydrated, and yet He continues to walk to Golgotha, knowing that was His destiny, to die for us. 

The Fourth Sorrowful mystery encapsulates that final journey. As he walks, he stumbles, and as he stumbles, the Romans, enraged, beat Him more severely. He is denied water or rest, but driven on to His execution, mocked and spat upon the entire way. 

Is this our King? Is this Our Lord? How can it be? How can He be thus treated, especially by those whom He would save?

At this point, I find it useful to put myself in that crowd. Our pride tells us that we would not mock Him, we would not spit upon Him or curse Him, but let's be honest. We already have. This great sacrifice was made on our behalf, paying a price that we cannot, and that He should not, and the only just response on our part is gratitude and repentance. But what is our response? To quote St. Augustine addressing God: "If you withhold the lash, we sin the more". If we weep when we think about Jesus's sufferings, we shed false tears, because we don't amend our behavior. 

Would that we could be like St. Veronica, who gives Our Lord a moment of peace and respite, if only by offering a cloth to wipe His face of the blood and sweat and dirt caked thereon. She did not know Him, she did not know what He had done, or was accused of doing. She just saw a man in pain, and tried to provide comfort. Would that we could finally set sin aside and take up the cross that is destined for us.

We should be walking the Way of the Cross, to pay for our own sins. But how often do we reject the cross as given us? "But I don't like that." "I don't want that." "That isn't what I had planned." We sound like recalcitrant children: "It isn't fair, why don't I get to enjoy myself?" 

And yet Our Lord never faltered from His course. Knowing our weakness, He grimly shouldered that Cross and placed foot before foot on the way to the place of the Skull. Poor sinful, stupid creatures that we are, we stand and watch, while Our Lord continues on His way.

God, grant us the grace of endurance.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crown of Thorns

And platting a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand. And bowing the knee before him, they mocked him, saying: Hail, king of the Jews. And spitting upon him, they took the reed, and struck his head. (Mt 27.29-30)

Having been beaten to the edge of death, Jesus is now subject to further suffering. Tradition holds that the Romans placed the crown of thorns on his head, and using a stick, shoved the crown so deeply onto His head that the spines drove into his skull.

Head wounds are notorious for copious blood, and these wounds would have been no different. Jesus's face must have been unrecognizable, disfigured by beating and now covered in blood. The pain must have been tremendous, if we think for a moment of the number of nerve endings in our scalps.

But that is not the sole injustice He endured. Having crowned Him, the Romans praised Him as a king, in a direct mockery of the praises heaped upon Jesus by the adoring crowds that welcomed Him earlier that week. Then, the crowds cheered Him, not understanding His destiny; now the Romans laud Him, taunting Him in His impotence.

And during it all, Jesus stands, impassive, accepting all that comes, knowing that He must endure it to secure our sanctification.

How often have we felt ourselves slighted? How often have we felt that we weren't given our due, that we were passed over, not recognized, that our "achievements" weren't praised lavishly enough? How, then, can we confront the image of our dying, suffering Master with our petty complaints and inconveniences thinking that we are in the right? He endured all for us, including the humiliations at the hands of Romans, without demanding the adoration that was His due, and we dare complain that our petty needs aren't being met.

In considering this mystery, let us embrace the sorrows given us, saying simply "Thy will be done, oh Lord", as Jesus himself said in the garden.

God, grant me the grace to accept the sorrows destined for me with the simple obedience shown by your dear Son...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The agony at the pillar

"Pilate, then, took Jesus and had him scourged." (St. John 19.1)

How much horror is contained in such a short sentence. And how much sorrow. Jesus is taken away by the Romans and subject to scourging. To be whipped would have seemed a blessing. Scourging is a technique of punishment that is almost admirable in how fiendish it is. Making use of physics, the Romans developed a method of beating a man that increased the agony of the victim. The principle element was not a whip, per se, but the flagellum:

The heavy metal bars at the end of each leather strap would carry a greater deal of force due to their greater mass, and, when it comes in contact with flesh, would dig in, requiring the torturer to pull with force to get the flagellum to dislodge, opening up a wound. 

According to tradition, it is this tool that the Romans used on Jesus as he was chained to a pillar in the Antionia Barracks. They would have operated in teams, taking turns so that they would not wear themselves out. They stopped short of killing him, however, because, as a rebellious Jew, Jesus would be crucified by the Roman authorities. 

The blood shed must have been terrible. That Holy Blood, spilled on our behalf, would have covered the ground. Jesus's body would have been a single open wound, ripped open, bringing nothing but agony. And, according to scripture, Jesus endured it without a sound "He was offered because it was his own will, and he opened not his mouth. He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and he shall not open his mouth (Is 53.7)."

Tradition holds that the Blessed Mother witnessed his scourging, knowing it was necessary for the lives of all. Who could endure to see their own child suffer like this? She stood, trusting in God's promise to her, and in Her Son's destiny. 

When we reflect on this moment in the Rosary, in the life of Our Lord, we must pause and wonder about our own sorrows. What have we endured that has caused us to question God? What have we suffered that compares with this? What suffering can we offer up in recompense? Ours is an unpayable debt. Obedience to God's will, then, is simply an obligation, borne by the price Jesus paid for us. 

How often have I complained because I was tired, because I was sick, because I was uncomfortable? How often have I complained because I didn't get what I wanted, because I was inconvenienced, because I was afraid? How often have I feared to undergo fasting, sleeplessness, prayers, meditations, because it was difficult? May Our Lord forgive my selfishness, my smallness, my stupidity. May I gladly embrace the trials sent to me, knowing that they are given to me to repay the debt that I cannot repay.

Please God, grant the the Grace of a Holy Lent.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Tap dancing in the minefield...

If I had a personal motto, it would probably be "More guts than good sense". This would explain the ear-piercings in college. And the 60 mile bike trip to Gettysburg. In the rain. And the marathon that I just signed up for. This would also explain the rest of this post.

A woman named Sandra Fluke, a 30 year old law student at Georgetown University, went to Congress to testify concerning the requirement by Obamacare for employers to provide paid coverage for contraception to their employees. This requirement covers Catholic employers as well. For those who haven't been paying attention, the use of contraception is a mortal sin, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is based on the Catholic understanding of the purpose and place of human sexuality (if you haven't read Humanae Vitae, it is really worth it; in it the Catholic doctrine is laid out fairly clearly; this way you can see for yourself, rather than have it spoon fed to you by commentators with an agenda). Thus, for a Catholic employer to be required to purchase birth control, in any form, for an employee would place that Catholic employer in a state of moral sin, which would result in a loss of Heaven. 

For those who haven't figured this out, this means that we have to choose between following our conscience or following the civil law. The whole purpose of the Constitution was to prevent that sort of thing from happening. 

So Sandra Fluke finds herself in front of Congress, speaking about birth control at Georgetown, which may have been a part of a longer-range agenda on her part. This, of course, results in Rush Limbaugh behaving like an ass (really, Rush, we might share a viewpoint or two, but do you have to be such a dick?), the President swooping in to be the Daddy-in-chief, and the press in general spunking its collective undies at the thought of Rush Limbaugh getting canned.

What has been lost in the whole conversation is the question of contraception as a part of health care coverage. Irregular cycles which are treated with the same drug used in the birth control pill aside, what exactly is the health care issue at stake? Sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy are two of the most preventable conditions in human experience.

High cholesterol can be the result of diet, but also genetic predisposition. The same for obesity, diabetes, heart disease. Jim Fixx, the man who helped spark the "running revolution" died of heart failure. So one can diet, exercise, do everything right, and still come down with a disease requiring treatment.

Not so sexually transmitted diseases. Or sexually transmitted infections. Or whatever they are called now. I'm so old I still remember when they were venereal diseases.

One does not have a genetic predisposition to Herpes. And it is eminently preventable, by simple self-control. Unfortunately, you can't bottle it and charge several hundred dollars to an insurance provider for it, hence the noise about providing contraception as a part of "reproductive health". And when we say "reproductive health", they aren't talking free sonograms for the Catholic mother of 10, or prenatal vitamins (those things are bloody expensive!). Oddly enough, "reproductive health" is all about the prevention of reproduction. No, we're looking for the next pill or procedure we can charge for. When in doubt, follow the money. Pharmaceutical companies don't make money off of good behavior.

No, it is not an issue of "health". It is an issue of sex. To quote Dale Bumpers, a Democrat congressman, "When they say it's not about sex, it's about sex." Why do people want employers to cover birth control in their insurance packages? So they can have consequence-free sex. Sex without the fear of being "punished with a child". That seems to be a personal moral decision. I can see no reason why an employer should be forced to pay for it. If an employer wants to, more power to him or her. But to require an employer to subsidize an employee's behavior that runs contrary to the employer's conscience, that is a dangerous road to take.

This is not a part of the "health care crisis". One could argue that there is no such crisis to begin with. This nation is blessed with one of the finest, most innovative, most advanced health care systems in the world. What we have is a crisis of health coverage. What we have is a crisis of health care costs. What we don't have is a crisis of contraception.  Hell, you can go to a Planned Parenthood and pick up a supply of rubbers for an eventful weekend for free. And oddly enough, our tax dollars go to support Planned Parenthood in this endeavor. Even now, I am forced by dint of circumstance to commit a mortal sin.

So, why don't we decide at this point to continue the discussion of heath care, without the canard of "reproductive health"? It takes out a moral issue that can only serve to divide and prevent any real discussion on the matter. Which may be what the politicians want. As long as each has its camp that hates each other, they stay in power.

If only we could discover the genetic predisposition to politics. Then we could neuter the bastards before they reproduce and taint the gene pool. That's reproductive health.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden

[36] Then Jesus came with them into a country place which is called Gethsemani; and he said to his disciples: Sit you here, till I go yonder and pray. [37] And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad. [38] Then he saith to them: My soul is sorrowful even unto death: stay you here, and watch with me. [39] And going a little further, he fell upon his face, praying, and saying: My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. [40] And he cometh to his disciples, and findeth them asleep, and he saith to Peter: What? Could you not watch one hour with me?
[41] Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh weak.[42] Again the second time, he went and prayed, saying: My Father, if this chalice may not pass away, but I must drink it, thy will be done. [43] And he cometh again and findeth them sleeping: for their eyes were heavy. [44] And leaving them, he went again: and he prayed the third time, saying the selfsame word. [45]Then he cometh to his disciples, and saith to them: Sleep ye now and take your rest; behold the hour is at hand, and the Son of man shall be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
 Gospel of St. Matthew 26.36-45

"God grant me the grace of fervor in prayer."

Imagine the sorrow that drove Jesus to ask to be freed from his coming trials. He had known only His Father's will from the day He was born, and now He turns away, seeking release. St. Luke adds a line to the story of Jesus's temptation, that the Devil left Him alone "for a time". And here, as Our Lord faces His painful death on the Cross, is met again by the Devil, tempting Him to give it all up and be simply a man. And Our Lord now tastes fear for the first time. To our salvation, he makes the response that saves us, the response that Adam and Eve failed to make when they were in a similar garden: "Thy will be done".

It is at this moment that Our Lord is the most human, the most vulnerable. He fears, he weeps, he dreads the punishment to come. I read this passage and think about this human Jesus in agony, and I wonder if I would have the strength to surrender the safety of self-will, accepting God's Will in all things. The voices of temptation plague me, whispering that despair is easier, urging me to give in. But there is a quiet voice, one that lies deeper still that says "Hold on. Trust God.Wait and see." I cling to this voice when I hear it, as it is a voice of promise, of confidence and utter humility. It is the voice of Our Lady, who also knew suffering that same night. 

Help me, Blessed Mother, to endure.