Jesus asks pardon for those who ill-treat him.
Jesus is nailed to the Cross. And the liturgy sings: Sweet nails, sweet tree where life begins.
The whole of Jesus’ life is directed towards this supreme moment. He has barely managed, gasping and exhausted, to get to the top of that hillock called ‘the place of skulls’. The executioners stretch him out on the ground and begin nailing him to the wood. They place the nails first into his palms, piercing his torn flesh. Then he is hoisted up until he hangs straight from the vertical shaft of wood which has been fixed into the ground. The feet are then nailed. Mary, his Mother, contemplates the scene.
The Lord is firmly nailed to the cross. He has waited for this for many years, and this day He is to fulfil his desire to redeem all men ... What until now has been an instrument of infamy and dishonour, has been converted into the tree of life and the stairway of glory. A deep joy fills him as he extends his arms on the cross, for all those sinners who will approach him will now know that he will welcome them with open arms ...
He saw – and this filled him with joy – how the cross was to be loved and to be adored, because he was going to die on it. He saw the witnessing saints who for love and in defence of the truth were to suffer a similar martyrdom. He saw the love of his friends; he saw their tears at the foot of the cross. He saw the triumph and the victories Christians would achieve under the standard of the cross. He saw the great miracles which, with the sign of the cross, would be performed throughout the world. He saw so very many men who, with their lives, were going to be saints, because they would know how to die like him, overcoming sin.
He reflected on the many occasions we would kiss the crucifix; on our beginning again so often ...
Jesus is raised on the cross. Around him is a distressing scene. Some pass by, and jeer; the chief priests, more scathing and sarcastic, scoff at him; others, indifferent, are mere spectators. There is no reproach in Jesus’ eyes – only pity and compassion. He is offered harsh wine and myrrh. Give strong drink to him who is perishing, and wine to those in bitter distress; let them drink and forget their misfortune, and remember their misery no more.
It was the custom to make such humanitarian gestures with condemned men. The drink – a strong rough wine with some myrrh – had a numbing effect and made the suffering more bearable.
Our Lord tasted it as a sign of gratitude towards the person who offered it to him, but wished to take no more, so as to drain the chalice of suffering. Why so much suffering? asks St Augustine. And he replies: Everything he suffered was the price of our ransom.
He was not content to suffer a little; he wished to drink the chalice to the dregs without leaving a single drop behind, so that we might learn the greatness of his love and the baseness of sin, so that we may be generous in self-giving, in mortification and in the service of others.
Christ is crucified: our Redemption is accomplished.
Crucifixion was the most cruel and insulting form of execution which was known in ancient times. A Roman citizen could not be crucified. Death followed after a prolonged agony. At times, the executioners hastened the end of the Crucifixion by breaking the legs of the crucified. From apostolic times till to-day, there have been many who cannot accept a God made man who died on a piece of timber to save us: the drama of the cross continues to be a scandal for the Jews and folly to the gentiles.
There has always been, and there still is to-day, a temptation to detract from the value of the Cross.
The intimate union of each Christian with his Lord requires a full knowledge of his life, this chapter of the Cross included. Here the Redemption is accomplished; here one finds the key to suffering in the world; here we learn a little about the malice of sin and the love of God for each man. We do not remain indifferent in front of a crucifix.
By now they have fastened Jesus to the wooden cross. The executioners have ruthlessly carried out the sentence. Our Lord, with infinite meekness, has let them have their way. It was not necessary for him to undergo so much torment. He could have avoided those trials, those humiliations, that ill-usage, that iniquitous judgement, and the shame of the gallows, and the nails and the lance ... But he wanted to suffer all this for you and for me. And we, are we not going to respond?
Very likely there will be times when, alone in front of a crucifix, you find tears coming to your eyes. Don’t try to hold them back ... But try to ensure that those tears give rise to a resolution.
Fruits of the Cross. ‘The good thief.’
The fruits of the Cross were not long in coming. One of the thieves, acknowledging his sins, turns to Jesus: Lord, remember me when you are in your Kingdom. He speaks to him with the confidence of a companion in anguish. He would certainly have previously heard of Christ, of his life and of his miracles. But now he has met up with Jesus, just when it seems that his divinity is most obscurely hidden. And he has seen Jesus’ behaviour since they began their march up to Calvary: his silence is impressive, as is his compassionate gaze at the faces He encounters on the way. He has observed his great majesty despite his exhaustion and so much suffering. The words he now utters are not extemporized. They express the end result of a process which began within him when he first met Christ. He has not needed to see any miracle to be converted into a disciple of Christ; to be a first-hand witness to Christ’s suffering has been sufficient. Many others were to be converted on meditating these same events of the passion related in the Gospels.
Our Lord is moved when, amidst all the insults, he hears that voice which recognises him as God. After so much suffering they would have filled his heart with joy. I assure you, he replies, that this day you will be with me in Paradise.
The efficacy of the Passion is limitless. It has filled the world with peace, with grace, with forgiveness, with happiness in souls, with salvation. The Redemption which Christ carried out just once, is applied to each person who freely accepts it. Each one of us can truly say: The Son of God loved me and gave himself up for me.
No, not for all of us, but for me, as if I were the only one. The salvific action of the Redemption is carried out whenever Holy Mass is celebrated.
Jesus Christ wishes to submit himself out of love, fully conscious, totally free, and with a sensitive heart ... No one has ever died like Jesus Christ, because he was Life itself. No one has expiated for sin like Him, for He was purity itself.
Now we receive the copious fruits of the love of Jesus on the Cross. Only our ‘not wanting’ can waste for ourselves the Passion of Christ.
Very close to Jesus is his Mother, with the other holy women. There too is John, the youngest of the Apostles. When Jesus saw his Mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his Mother, ‘Woman, behold your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold your Mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Jesus, after giving himself in the Last Supper, now wishes to give us what he loves most on earth, the most precious thing that still remains to him. They have stripped him of everything else. And He gives Mary to us to be our Mother.
This gesture has a double significance. On the one hand, Jesus takes care of his Mother, totally fulfilling the Fourth Commandment of the Decalogue. On the other, he declares her to be our Mother. Thus the Blessed Virgin advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, enduring with her only-begotten Son the intensity of his suffering, associating herself with his sacrifice in her mother’s heart, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this victim which was born of her. Finally, she was given, by the same Christ Jesus, dying on the Cross, as a mother to his disciple.
The sun’s light is extinguished and the earth is left in darkness. It is close on three o’clock, when Jesus cries out: ‘Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?’ That is, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’ (Matt 27:46).
Then, knowing that all things are to be accomplished, that the Scriptures may be fulfilled he says: ‘I am thirsty.’ (John 19:28).
The soldiers soak a sponge in vinegar and, placing it on a reed of hyssop, they put it to his mouth. Jesus sips the vinegar, and exclaims: ‘It is accomplished.’ (John 19:30)
The veil of the temple is rent, and the earth trembles, when the Lord cries out in a loud voice: ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’ (Luke 23:46). And he expires.
Love sacrifice; it is a fountain of interior life. Love the Cross, which is an altar of sacrifice. Love pain, until you drink, as Christ did, the very dregs of the chalice.
With Mary, our Mother, it will be much easier, and so we sing with the liturgical hymn:
O dear Mother, fount of love,
Touch my spirit from above;
Make my heart with yours accord.
Let me mingle tears with you,
Mourning him who mourned for me,
All the days that I may live,
By the cross with you to stay,
There with you to weep and pray,
Is all I ask of you to give ...