Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery

Jesus Carries His Cross

Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee,
Blessed art thou amongst women,
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners,
Now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A Reading from the Holy Gospel According to St. Mark (15:20b-22)
Then they led him out to crucify him. They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus. Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull).
The Gospel of the Lord.
Praise to You, Lord Jesus Christ.

When I pray the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, I tend to incorporate certain other devotions into my meditations on the final two mysteries, namely, the Stations of the Cross and the Seven Last Words of Jesus. When I meditate on the present article's mystery, Jesus carrying His cross, for each Hail Mary, I meditate on the first ten Stations of the Cross. I then continue the Stations in the final Mystery, that of Jesus' Crucifixion, as well as certain other devotions. As such, I've decided to write these next two meditations in that format. The main reason is that they are so full of richness that just giving a blanket essay would either cause me to go on even longer than usual, or else I would feel I just wasn't doing justice to these mysteries. As it is, I'll leave much untouched of the wealth of beauty and grace contained in these Mysteries--but then, as I said at the beginning of our meditations, one could meditate for all eternity on the Mysteries of the Rosary and never plumb their depths.

Without further ado, then, I invite you to join me as we follow Our Lord to Calvary.

Hail Mary...
Jesus is Condemned by Pilate
After Jesus is scourged, and the guards have their derisive fun and crown Him with thorns, He is brought back to Pilate, who brings Him again before the mob, yelling, "Behold the Man!" He had hoped that Jesus' brutalised state might excite some sympathy and human feeling in these people, but instead it fueled their bloodlust, and they cried out "Crucify Him!" Pilate (under pressure from his wife, and rather fearing this Man before him) is reluctant to give in, but he fears a riot and censure from the Emperor more, and so gives in to their demands. In an attempt to absolve himself of his lack of courage and his perversion of justice, Pilate takes a bowl and washes his hands, symbolically proclaiming his aloofness and blamelessness in this affair. But a desire not to have any culpability and symbolic actions will never remove our sins. Pilate's bowl of water could not exonerate him--only the saving waters of baptism have that power, waters to which Pilate would never avail himself, and so for two millenia his condemnation has rung out: "He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried."

Hail Mary...
Jesus Takes Up His Cross
Criminals in the Roman Empire were often required to carry their own crosses to their execution, as Jesus Himself was required. The weight of the cross was likely around 200 lbs. Yet rather than shrink from the burden, Jesus fulfilled His own teaching, and led by example, to "take up His Cross." Jesus was never forced, was never compelled, to go to His death. Rather, He embraced the Cross--knowing that by His death and resurrection, it would become for us the Tree of Life.

Hail Mary...
Jesus Falls the First Time
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Jesus willed to take up the cross, but His human flesh, already so abused, stumbled under the tremendous weight of the wood. Yet despite the pain, Jesus struggled to His feet and pressed on out of love for us, and encourages us to get back up when we stumble, and press on for love of Him.

Hail Mary...
Jesus Meets His Mother
As Jesus continues to struggle on the road to Calvary, under the oppressive weight of the Cross, His Mother comes to Him, full of worry and concern. While on the one hand, I am sure that the Son drew comfort and strength to continue from the presence of His mother, I am sure that He likewise gave to His mother the hope and strength to bear the sorrow and suffering with Him that had been prophesied to be her lot by Simeon (Luke 2:35). What words passed between them, if any, we don't know. But I wonder if Jesus didn't remind His mother of the "dry run" He had taken her through as a boy--whether He mightn't have said to Mary in that moment, "Why are you worried? Do you still not know that I must be about My Father's business?" (cf. Luke 2:49). In Luke 2:50, it says that Jesus' parents didn't then understand what He meant. Now His meaning became clear for Mary, and she continued with Him to the foot of the Cross, uniting the sword of sorrow piercing her heart to the lance that would come to pierce His.

Hail Mary...
Simon Helps Jesus Carry His Cross
Apparently the guards in charge of Jesus' execution felt that this wounded, beaten Man was not progressing fast enough along the road with His immense burden, and so they enlisted Simon of Cyrene. Not much is known about Simon, save that he was from Africa (Cyrene). Was he a Jew of the dispersion? Was he a proselyte? It's likely, from his place of origin, that he was black, and we see again Christ's love and embracing of all people and races in His salvific mission--as Simon would be the first person literally to "take up his cross" and share in the sufferings of Jesus. Likely unwilling at first, Simon nevertheless contributed monumentally to the salvation of the world in helping Our Lord arrive at Calvary--and the experience seems to have had a profound impact on him, as Mark lists his two sons, Alexander and Rufus, as though they were known to his readers.

Hail Mary...
Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus
Filled with compassion, a woman breaks from the crowd. What can she do to help the Lord? She feels so inadequate, yet is compelled to do something. She takes her head scarf and gently wipes Jesus' face, clearing it of the blood, allowing some of His human features to be seen again after the beatings. It's a small thing. It's all she can do. Yet Jesus appreciates it, and gives her a gift in return--the gift of His Image, left on her cloth, a relic for the Church to remember that serving God is not accomplished in the grand acts, but in the little actions of love and devotion done with heroic faithfulness--even if no one else notices.

Hail Mary...
Jesus Falls the Second Time
Angered by all the "audience participation", the guards force Jesus on more quickly, and despite the help from Simon, He falls again. The guards lash out again as He lies there on the road, beating His already broken body. Why is it that in our need and our pain, the world seems to conspire to keep us down? And yet, heroically, Jesus got up and took another step forward, keeping His eyes focussed on the goal.

Hail Mary...
Jesus Meets the Holy Women of Jerusalem
Along the road, many women have followed Our Lord. Their tender hearts are broken to see Him so abused, to see justice so lacking. They plead to the guards for mercy for Jesus, but Jesus does not want mercy from His captors. He wants to bestow mercy on the world. And so He speaks to the women, out of concern for them, and for the entire city of Jerusalem. And so He warns them that their tears must not be shed for Him, but for themselves and their families, because the sins of the people will bring their destruction. In failing to recognise their Messiah, they have rejected His forgiveness. In claiming Caesar to be their King, they will bring Caesar's wrath down on them before long. Jesus tells the women to pray and make reparation for the sins of Jerusalem before it is too late. Why is it only women? Where are the men? True sons of their father Adam, they have turned coward when their courage is needed most, and have perverted their strength into cruelty. Yet all through Christ's Passion, the women stayed close by His side.

Hail Mary...
Jesus Falls the Third Time
Just as His journey was nearing completion, Jesus' strength gave out again, and He fell a third time to the earth. Weakened and dehydrated from loss of blood, the very thought of getting up must have been agonising. How often do we ourselves fail to persevere in carrying our own crosses. So often do we fall short that we are tempted to despair of God's mercy, and thus wallow in our sinful state, afraid to return to God, thinking this time, surely, there will be no welcome, no forgiveness. And yet, despite it all, Jesus slowly got back up, and struggled His way to Golgotha. It is there He would die, over the fabled plot of Adam's grave, in order to bury with His own death the guilt of Adam's sin in all who will get up and join Him there, at the foot of the cross. Jesus continued to rise after repeated falls to show us that there is always mercy for us if we rise up, despite repeated failings, and struggle on in Confession, in penance, in the working out of our salvation.

Hail Mary...
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments
Atop the hill, the guards take Christ and forcibly remove His clothing from Him. The blood from His wounds had begun clotting on the long journey to Calvary, and now the scabs tear away with the cloth, reopening His stripes in a shock of new pain. Later, in fulfillment of prophecy, the guards will divide up Jesus' clothes, and, rather than tear His seamless tunic, they cast lots for it. For now, they take the naked Christ and prepare to nail Him to the cross He bore. In stripping Jesus, the guards hope to shame and humiliate Him, but for the perfectly humble, there is no further humiliation. For the One without sin, there can be no shame. When Adam and Eve dwelt in the Garden, they were free of sin, and were naked and knew no shame. When they sinned, they realised their nakedness, felt their shame, and vainly strove to cover their nakedness and their sin. God, in His mercy, provided the first animal sacrifice in order to clothe their nakedness and cover their sin. Now, Christ, the Lamb of God, will by His death fulfil and abolish animal sacrifice in Himself, and as the sinless Lamb, will without shame be stripped of His clothing--the New Adam, crucified on the Tree of Life, reconciling us to God.

Let us then take up our own crosses and follow Jesus to Calvary. May His Mother console us on the way, and the prayers of all the saints strengthen us as Simon and Veronica ministered to Jesus. And may we find the grace and the courage to rise again and return to the Divine Mercy of Christ, no matter how many times we stumble and fall along the way. Amen.

(Category: Catholic Devotions: The Rosary.)

1 comment:

Melissa said...

"Let us then take up our own crosses and follow Jesus to Calvary. May His Mother console us on the way, and the prayers of all the saints strengthen us as Simon and Veronica ministered to Jesus. And may we find the grace and the courage to rise again and return to the Divine Mercy of Christ, no matter how many times we stumble and fall along the way. Amen."

What a wonderful prayer to in a sense bring the stations together and relate them to our lives.