Meditating On the Passion - ICWG

By Francis Fernandez


The custom of meditating on Our Lord’s Passion.

My people! What have I done, in what way have I offended you? Answer me. I gave you the water of salvation which flowed from my sorrow to drink and you gave me honey and vinegar. My people, what have I done to you? [1395]

The liturgy of these days during Lent brings us closer to the fundamental mystery of our Faith – the Resurrection of the Lord. If the liturgical year is centred upon Easter then this period demands an even greater devotion on our part, given its proximity to the sublime mysteries of divine mercy. [1396]  But we should not tread this path too hastily, lest we lose sight of a very simple fact which we might easily overlook. We will not be able to share in Our Lord’s Resurrection unless we unite ourselves with him in his Passion and death (cf Rom 8:17). If we are to accompany Christ in his glory at the end of Holy Week, we must first enter into his holocaust and be truly united to him as he lies dead on Calvary. [1397] So during these days let us accompany Jesus, in our prayers, along his painful way to Calvary and his death on the cross. As we keep him company let us not forget that we too were protagonists in all those horrors, for Jesus bore the burden of our sins, [1398] each and every one of them. We were freed from the hands of the devil and from eternal death at a great price, [1399] that of the Blood of Christ.

The custom of meditating on the Passion began in the very earliest days of Christianity. Many of the faithful in Jerusalem had themselves been present as Christ passed through the streets of the city on the eve of the Pasch. They would never forget Jesus’ sufferings as he made his way to Calvary. The Evangelists dedicated a good part of their writings to the detailed account of those events. We should read our Lord’s Passion constantly, said St John Chrysostom; what great benefit we will gain by doing so. Even if you are as hard as stone, when you contemplate that He was sarcastically adorned, then ridiculed, beaten and subjected to the final agonies, you will be moved to cast all pride from your soul. [1400] How many people have been converted by careful meditation on the Passion!

St Thomas Aquinas said that the Passion of Christ is enough to serve as a guide and model throughout our lives. [1401] One day while he was visiting St Bonaventure, St Thomas asked him where he had acquired such good doctrine as the one that he set out in his works. It is said that St Bonaventure showed him a crucifix, which was blackened from all the kisses he had given it, and explained This is the book that tells me what I should write; the little I know I have learned from it. [1402] From the crucifix the saints learned how to suffer and truly love Christ. We too should learn from it. Your crucifix ... As a Christian, you should always carry your crucifix with you. And place it on your desk. And kiss it before going to bed and when you wake up; and when your poor body rebels against your soul, kiss it again. [1403]

Our Lord’s Passion should be a frequent theme in our prayer, but especially so in these days leading up to the central mystery of our redemption.

How we should meditate on the Passion.

In our meditation, the Passion of Christ comes out of its cold historical frame and stops being a pious consideration, presenting itself before our eyes as terrible, brutal, savage, bloody ... yet full of love. [1404] We do well then to contemplate Our Lord’s Passion: in our personal meditation, when reading the Gospel, in the sorrowful mysteries of the Holy Rosary, in The Way of the Cross ... sometimes we imagine ourselves to be there, present amongst those who witnessed those moments. We take a seat among the Apostles during the Last Supper, when our Lord washed their feet and spoke to them with infinite tenderness, at the supreme moment of the institution of the Sacred Eucharist. We picture ourselves as one more among the three who slept at Gethsemane when the Lord hoped that we would accompany him in his infinite loneliness; as one amongst those who heard Peter swear that he did not know Jesus; as one who heard the false testimonies at that travesty of a judgement and saw the Chief Priest make a great show of being shocked at Jesus’ words; as one in the thick of the mob that screamed out for his death and saw him hoisted up on the cross on Calvary. We put ourselves among the onlookers and see the disfigured yet noble face of Jesus. Astonishingly, we feel his infinite patience.

With the help of grace, moreover, we can also try to contemplate the Passion of Christ as He himself lived it. [1405] It seems impossible, and of course it will always be a very impoverished view compared with the reality of what in fact took place, but it can become for us an extraordinarily rich source of prayer.

St Leo the Great tells us that Whoever truly wishes to venerate the Passion of the Lord should contemplate Jesus crucified with the eyes of his soul, and in such a way that he identifies his own body with that of Jesus. [1406]

What would Jesus, in his infinite holiness, have felt at Gethsemane, taking upon himself the burden of all the sin of the world, all the acts of wickedness, of disloyalty, of sacrilege? What loneliness must He have known when three times He found fast asleep the disciples He had taken with him for company that night? He saw too those among his friends who, in the course of the centuries, would fall asleep at their posts while the enemy remained wide awake.

The fruits of such meditation.

If we are to know and follow Christ we must be moved by his pain and helplessness; we must feel the lashes, the thorns, the insults, the neglect, the degradation.

And this should be not as mere on-lookers, but as protagonists; for it was our sins that led him to Calvary. Therefore It is good for us to try to understand better the meaning of Christ’s death. We must get beyond external appearances and clichés. We need to put ourselves really and truly into the scenes which we are re-living; to witness the sorrow of Jesus, his mother’s tears, the disciples’ flight, the courage of the holy women, the daring of those two Joseph and Nicodemus who ask Pilate for the body of Our Lord. [1407]

If it were only possible I would like to feel all that you feel. But you are perfect man and your sensitivity is so much greater than mine. At your side I see, yet again, that I don’t know how to suffer. And so I am amazed by your ability to give everything without reserve. Jesus, I must tell you just how cowardly I am. Yet seeing you nailed to the cross ‘suffering all that can be suffered, your arms spread in one gesture of an eternal priest’ (Holy Rosary, St J. Escrivá), I am going to tell you something which may seem crazy; I want to imitate you, Lord. I want to give myself truly to you, once and for all, and be ready to do all that you ask of me. I know I am not nearly strong enough to be making such a request. But I know that I love you, Jesus. [1408]

Let us, above all, come close to Jesus in his death, close to his cross which stands out in silhouette above the summit of Golgotha. But we must approach him sincerely and with the interior recollection that is a sign of Christian maturity. The divine and human events of the Passion will then pierce our soul as words spoken to us by God to uncover the secrets of our heart and show us what he expects of our lives. [1409]

By meditating on Christ’s Passion we will gain countless rewards. Firstly, it will help us to maintain a great aversion to all sin, since He was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins. [1410] Jesus crucified should be the book which we, in the manner of the saints, read constantly so as to learn to detest sin and really grow in love for such a loving God; for it is in Christ’s wounds that we learn of the evil of sin which condemned him to suffer such a cruel and ignominious death so that divine justice might be carried out. It is in Christ’s wounds that we find proof of his great love for us, for He endured such terrible pain and suffering precisely so as to show us just how much he loved us. [1411]

And we feel that sin cannot be regarded as just a trivial mistake. To sin is to crucify the Son of God, to tear his hands and feet with hammer blows, to make his heart break. [1412] A sin, therefore, is so much more than a simple ‘human error’. Christ’s sufferings will encourage us to avoid all that might be described as bourgeois attitudes, unwillingness and laziness. It will inflame our love and keep lukewarmness at bay. It will help us to mortify our soul and guard better all our senses.

If the Lord sometimes lets us suffer illness, pain or contradictions which are especially intense and serious, then it will be of great help and relief to consider the pain which Christ endured in his Passion. He experienced every kind of physical and moral pain since He suffered at the hands of the Gentiles and the Jews, of men and of women – an example being the maids who accused Peter. He suffered at the hands of princes and their officials, and at the hands of the ordinary people too. He suffered at the hands of relatives and friends and acquaintances, on account of Judas who betrayed him and of Peter who denied him. In short, Christ suffered as much as it is possible for man to suffer. Christ suffered at the hands of his friends who abandoned him, He suffered as blasphemies were hurled at him; his honour and self-esteem suffered from all the taunts and jibes; He was even stripped of his clothes, the only possessions he had. In his soul he felt sadness, emptiness and fear; in his body, the wounds and the cruel lashes of the whip. [1413]

So let us make it our intention to come closer to the Virgin Mary in these days leading up to her Son’s Passion, and let us ask her to show us how to meditate on these moments when He suffered so much for us. 

[1395] Liturgy, Good Friday

[1396] St Leo the Great, Sermon 47

[1397] St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 95

[1398] cf 1 Pet 2:24

[1399] cf 1 Cor 6:20

[1400] St John Chrysostom, Homilies on the Gospel of St Matthew, 87,1

[1401] St Thomas, About the Creed, 6

[1402] St Alphonsus Liguori, Meditations on Christ’s Passion, 1:4

[1403] St. J. Escrivá, The Way, 302

[1404] St. J. Escrivá, Furrow, 993

[1405] cf R. A. Knox, A Retreat for lay people

[1406] St Leo the Great, Sermon 15 on the Passion

[1407] St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 101

[1408] C. O’Shea, The Way of the Cross, 11

[1409] St. J. Escrivá, Christ is passing by, 101

[1410] Is 53:5

[1411] St Alphonsus Liguori, Meditations on Christ’s Passion, I,4

[1412] St. J. Escrivá, Furrow, 993

[1413] St Thomas, Summa Theologiae, III, q46 a5

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among his published works are   Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, Overcoming Lukewarmness,Through wind and Waves, and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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