Modern man does not know how to cope with suffering. Oftentimes even Christians look upon suffering as something below their dignity, a “persecution from the evil one.” In our Catholic Faith, we look at suffering as a purification and a powerful prayer. We unite our suffering to that of Our Lord Jesus. We understand it as a gift from the Father since, it is usually suffering that has the power to change lives. The following are reflections of suffering in this sense; we hope you find them useful as we continue in this Lenten season.
Though true piety can produce and stimulate emotion, piety is not, principally, emotion. Piety begins in a well-formed intelligence, that is, an intelligence schooled in catechetical study and an exact knowledge of our Faith. These truths should govern our interior life. Piety resides in the will. We should seriously desire what we know well. It is not enough, for example, to know that God is perfect. We need to love the perfection of God and, consequently, we should desire some of this perfection for ourselves. This is what it means to desire sanctity.
“To desire” does not mean to feel vague and sterile whims. We only seriously desire something when we are prepared to make every sacrifice to obtain what we desire. Thus, we only seriously desire our sanctification and to grow in love of God when we are ready to make every sacrifice to obtain this supreme goal. Without this willingness, any “desire” is but an illusion and a lie. We may feel greatly moved when we contemplate the truths and mysteries of Religion, but, if we do not derive serious and effective resolutions from them, these mysteries will be of no help to our piety.
This is especially the case during the days of the Passion of Our Lord. It is not enough to follow the various episodes of the Passion with a feeling of compunction, which feeling, though excellent, is insufficient. During these days, we should give Our Lord sincere proofs of our devotion and love. These proofs can be given by firmly resolving to change our lives and to fight for the Church.
The Church is the Mystical Body of Christ. When Our Lord asked Saint Paul on the way to Damascus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” Our Lord was telling him that by persecuting the infant Church, Saul was persecuting Him, Christ.
To persecute the Church is to persecute Jesus Christ, and if the Church is persecuted today, it is Christ that is persecuted. In a certain sense the Passion of Christ is being repeated in our days.
“Jesus, knowing all that would happen to Him, went forth, and said to them: ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him: ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them: ‘I AM He.’ As soon as He had said to them: ‘I AM He’; they went backward, and fell to the ground. Again, He asked them: ‘Whom do you seek?’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you that I AM He.’” (John 18:4–8)
When Our Lord was arrested, He did two seemingly contradictory things. On the one hand, He spoke in such an authoritative voice that His listeners fell to the ground. On the other hand, He stooped to pick up Malchus’ ear, severed by Peter’s sword, and reattached it to the man’s head. He Who terrified also consoled. The same One Who speaks forcefully replaces the severed ear. Is there not some teaching here?
Our Lord is always infinitely good. He was good to those who sought Him that night as Jesus of Nazareth, and also good when replacing Malchus’ ear. If we desire to be good, we should learn to imitate Our Lord’s goodness. We should learn from Him that there are moments when it is necessary to know how to energetically hurl the enemies of the Faith to the ground, as well as to know when it is necessary to show compassion to those who want to hurt us.
Why did Our Lord say, “I AM He”? Was it only to physically shake those who wanted to arrest Him? Why do such a thing when He would, a little while later, voluntarily give Himself up? The reason is that if He spoke so loudly to the ears, it was only so He could speak even more loudly to the hearts.
We do not know if those men ultimately profited by the grace they received, but the fear they certainly felt when falling at the sound of the Master’s voice was just as valuable as when that same voice shouted, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”
Our Lord spoke loudly to the ears. Though they fell to the ground, the same voice that struck the bodies and deafened the ears raised the souls that were prostrate by opening the ears of the spirit that were deaf. Sometimes it is necessary to speak forcefully in order to heal.
“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it, and struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his right ear. And the name of the servant was Malchus.” (John 18:10)
The Redeemer acted differently with Malchus. When He replaced his ear, cut off as a result of Saint Peter’s zeal, Our Lord certainly wanted to grant him a temporal good. However, by healing his ear, Our Lord wanted, above all, to open the ear of his soul. So, He Who had healed the spiritual deafness of a few with the forcefulness of His Divine voice, cured the same spiritual deafness of Malchus with words of sweetness, and a physical miracle.
We live in an epoch of terrible spiritual deafness. If there was ever a time when mankind needed to listen to God’s voice, ours is such a time; but ours is also an era that certainly has the hardest of hearts.
The Divine Master shows us that, if we want to cure our own spiritual deafness, as well as our neighbor’s, He is the only one who can do so, as mere human means are useless.
Let us be one with the blind man of the Gospel who shouted to Our Lord, “Domine, ut videam!” — “Lord, that I may see!”
Let us take advantage of the celebrations of Holy Week to ask Him to help us to hear, “Domine, ut audiam!” — “Lord, that I may hear!” We don’t know how Our Lord will heal our spiritual deafness—nor does it matter. Let us fulfill His Divine will whether He speak with the terrible voice of reprimand and punishment or with the sweet voice of consolations. What really matters is that we beseech Him, “Lord, that I may hear!”
Let us at least listen wholeheartedly to Our Lord’s voice and, by sincerely opening our souls to the graces He grants us, bring about within ourselves the fullness of the kingdom of Jesus Christ, which the enemies of the Church hope to banish from the face of the earth.
“And when morning was come, all the chief priests and ancients of the people took counsel against Jesus, that they might put Him to death.” (Matthew 27:1)
The Jewish people yearned for the coming of the Messiah. However, when He did come, they persecuted Him. He performed miracles and the people applauded. But the priestly class, which was the highest political class, was afraid: “Who is this Man that has won the people’s enthusiastic favor? What will happen to our power? He is a danger to us!”
In a method often used today, the persecution began with calumnies and twisted questions designed to trap, questions contrived in the laboratory of insincerity.
The first and greatest of all revolutions broke out during Holy Week. A revolution is, by definition, a revolt of those who should love and obey but, instead, choose to rebel against legitimate authority. Our Lord possessed every possible degree of power and authority over the human race. The mission of the Jews was to acknowledge Him as the God-Man and submit to His sweet rule. They did the opposite. They neither acknowledged Him, nor admired or submitted to Him. And this disposition of soul was due to bad will and envy. They did not want His Law because they were corrupt and Our Lord taught austerity. They revolted and killed Him. The revolution of Holy Week was the greatest of revolutions because rebellion against such high authority cannot happen again.
May the thought of our scorned Redeemer fill us with adoration and compassion for Him, as well as indignation against the revolution that led to His crucifixion.
“And they brought Him bound, and delivered Him to Pontius Pilate the governor.” (Matthew 27:2)
Pilate was a governor without a backbone. Although he knew the multitude would not resist the Roman soldiers, and therefore could count on an easy, brilliant victory, he absolutely did not want to use force to do what was right and just.
Instead, Pilate entered into dialogue with the mob and proposed, “Whom do you want me to release: Barabbas, or Jesus that is called Christ?” (Matthew 27:17)
Barabbas was a notorious head of a seditious band of rogues. He was the worst possible criminal, filled with dishonor and evil. Jesus was the utmost symbol of dignity and represented the best in the Jewish people. He was a descendant of David, the most eminent figure of the Old Testament. He had done only good to everyone.
Centrist that he was, Pilate thought that the Jews would never prefer Barabbas to Jesus. He did not understand that when men do not follow Jesus, they necessarily choose Barabbas. Pontius Pilate only condemned Him because of the political maneuvering of the priests. They told him, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend.” (John 19:12) It would have been easy for Pilate to defend himself against this accusation. However, faced with the possibility of losing his office as governor of Judea, Pilate cowardly had Jesus killed.
As a result of his vile ambition, Pontius Pilate committed the greatest injustice of history.
“Then Pilate took Jesus, and scourged Him.” (John 19:1)
Pilate thought that, by scourging Jesus, he would satisfy the Jews and so be able to set Him free. This is how the weak always think: compromise, give in to evil so as to appease it. However, this only makes things worse.
The torturers bound His hands and brought Him to the pillar amidst blows, shoves, and laughter. His meekness, goodness, and willing unwillingness to defend Himself contrasted with the brutal, senseless, and cruel hatred. Oh foolish illusion that by tying His hands He would be immobilized! It would be enough for Him to say, “Cords, loosen,” and they would fall to the ground! Had He so wished, the cords could have also become serpents to attack His evildoers.
What is extraordinary is that He gave Himself up to be scourged. We can imagine His sweet groans. His Most Holy Body writhing in pain, His adorable flesh torn by the whip. This was the flesh of the God-Man! He stood, full of dignity, meek and without protest, conversing with the Eternal Father within Himself.
We can also imagine at that moment the Son of God, Supreme Governor of all events, thinking about the blessed civilization that would one day be built on the merits of His Passion. Alas, He also saw that at a certain moment the Christian nations would turn against Him and would be dominated by an anti-civilization. Because this world would deny a personal God, it would also deny man’s personhood and individuality.
In this flattened anti-civilization, mankind would affirm total equality, thus becoming enslaved to a rebellious communist utopia. This utopia would deny property, and therefore justice; would deny the family, and therefore purity; would deny religion, and therefore all that is sacred; would deny tradition, and therefore history. By inverting all values, this anti-civilization would produce a great chaos, a great vacuum in which the former-Christian peoples would drown. This anti-civilization is the tyranny of matter, of the machine, of anonymity, and of atheism — in a word, the reign of Satan.
Our Lord could have lamented like the prophet David: “What profit is there in my death . . . ?” (Psalm 30:9) What profit is there in my blood, which I shed so generously and so abundantly?
“And the soldiers weaving a crown of thorns, put it upon His head; and they put on Him a purple garment.” (John 19:2)
Our God, crowned with thorns! Does this not prove that God’s royalty is the royalty of pain? Let us accept suffering: suffering from humiliations; suffering from injustice; suffering from the untiring effort to do good; suffering from self-denial. To take suffering out of Christianity is to insult Christ Who accepted a crown of thorns. To be Christian and to be afraid of suffering for God is to reduce God to a mere banker who satisfies our every whim, or to a simple servant who serves us at our bidding. To eliminate suffering from Christianity is to remove its backbone.
Are we only fair-weather friends? Indeed, it is not Christian to be afraid to sacrifice ourselves for Christ, our greatest Friend. Let us not commit the felony of abandoning Jesus on Calvary. Let us not strike a blow to His face, wounded for love of us, by sinning. Let us not be heartless hyenas, but rather “meek, and humble of heart” as He. (Matthew 11:29)
“Then he delivered Him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led Him forth.” (John 19:16)
In former times the cross was a humiliating, painful way of executing criminals. Thus, the word “cross” meant the same as “shame,” just as the word “handcuffs” today make us think of prison, condemnation and rebellious prisoners. In those days the cross recalled the idea of a criminal so wicked and depraved that only through death by crucifixion could his crime be atoned for properly.
The cross was thus a symbol of torment and disgrace. By nailing Our Lord Jesus Christ to the cross, the intention of those who condemned Him to death was not only to kill Him, but to kill Him in the most shameful and dishonorable manner possible, so as to completely ruin His reputation and glory.
What a contrast: He, the condemned, was in fact, the Judge of that most severe punishment. Though apparently defeated, Jesus was the only Victor. The cross is the wood of defeat, shame, and pain, but it is also the wood of glory. Whoever is crushed by the cross is the winner. Whoever wins without the cross is the loser.
“And bearing His own cross, He went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha.” (John 19:17)
Each one of us has a cross to carry. Each one of us would like to be something he is not, to have something he has not, to be able to accomplish something he cannot. We need to let go of being what we are not, having what we have not, and accomplishing what we cannot; this is the way for all of us.
May Our Lord give us a love of our cross just as He had for His. Instead of bearing the Holy Wood with disgust, our Redeemer embraced and kissed it because He was fulfilling His mission on earth. Our cross consists in fulfilling our mission. Let us embrace it tearfully, but lovingly. And let us say, “I will never cease to ask for strength, and I will thus carry my cross to the height of my Calvary!”
Our Lord bore every pain as though He were a king going to his coronation. He did this with dignity, with serenity, steadfastly, and without hesitation. Nothing was spared Him, whether physically or spiritually. He entered into the depths of suffering with the resolution of a hero, thus appearing before the justice of the Eternal Father resplendent with pain. This is how He saved the human race: with each step, the worst happened to Him, yet He accepted everything, entirely, without asking for any delay. He never asked anyone to pity Him. The suffering was such, that, at times, His strength failed, but He immediately arose and went on.
This thought helps me overcome my faint-heartedness! If I wish to meet Our Lord Jesus Christ in His sublime beauty and sanctity, I must embrace my own cross, too.
“And when they came to the place which is called Calvary, they crucified Him there.” (Luke 23:33)
Prior to the crucifixion, we can imagine the infinite beauty of Our Lord, the beauty of His physique and the luminosity of His Sacred Face, where the aesthetic principles of the universe resided. The grace of His gestures, the elegance of His bearing, the sobriety of His manners and goodness must have exerted a strong attraction. When He spoke, who could imagine the tone of His voice, its inflections and unique capacity of expression?
But when He was nailed to the cross, He was deformed, without beauty, and one massive, bloody wound. This great victim was innocence itself. He had never sinned. He was the personification of virtue. He never had the need to make up for anything, but nonetheless, did so without measure.
Why?–because of the gravity of our sins. We should feel deep sorrow and regret at the sight of Him, the Innocent One Who bore sins with the sinner. He Who was most pure, most sacred, carried them for me! This should stir us to a great trust. One who was redeemed at such a price need only ask to obtain the necessary grace to practice virtue and the good that will lead him to Heaven.
Today, Our Lord’s pains are caused by the blasphemies and scorn against the Catholic Church, as well as the worship of the idols of a pagan society: egalitarianism, sensuality, revolt, impurity, murder, theft, adultery. Which of God’s commandments are not transgressed today? What is my attitude in face of this situation?
Facing my sins and the insufficiency of my atonement, I must kneel, strike my breast, and firmly resolve to sin no more.
“When Jesus therefore had seen His mother and the disciple standing whom He loved, He said to His mother: ‘Woman, behold thy son.’ After that, He said to the disciple: ‘Behold thy mother.’ And from that hour, the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:26-27)
Saint John the Evangelist was at the foot of the cross also representing a sort of summit. His love had reached a high point. He was the beloved disciple.
On Holy Thursday, he had rested his head on Our Lord’s breast and heard the pulses of the Sacred Heart of Jesus then beating with love for all mankind. Later that night, just as the other apostles, he had slept and fled. However, he was the virgin Apostle, the beloved Apostle, and virgin souls, even in deplorable situations, find the means and strength to fulfill their duty.
On the other hand, God protects virgin souls. God attracts virgins to Himself. Thus, not only did Saint John have the honor of being the disciple of love, but also of being present at that summit of love when Our Lord died on the Cross. In this way he represented all the Apostles and rescued the Apostolic College from complete disgrace.
Furthermore, in this zenith of love he received the ultimate reward, because there can be no greater gift than for a person to receive Our Lady as a present. When Our Lord said, “Woman, behold your son,” and then to Saint John, “Behold your mother,” he received a priceless gift.
“At about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying: ‘Eli, Eli, lamma sabacthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?'” (Matthew 27:46)
Our Lord shouted from the height of the Cross. That heart-wrenching cry was due to the extreme sense of abandonment in which, seemingly, God had left the Word Incarnate. The soul of the Redeemer suffered a spiritual agony caused by the lack of divine comfort.
However, the most excruciating pain was caused by the consideration of the sins He had before Him. He not only saw the sins of the people around Him and those of all who had abandoned Him, but also the offenses against God that would be committed in the future.
Because the Incarnate Word could see everything, this foresight also made Him suffer in His Via Dolorosa, His Sorrowful Road. The whole of history passed before His exhausted gaze clouded with blood, in a body where life was ebbing away. Certainly the Divine Savior was overwhelmed by the vision of the immense and universal disorder of our days, and this led Him to that anguished cry: “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?”
Divine Providence has ordained that we witness today’s tragic scene. In doing so, the Redeemer of human kind invites us to open our eyes and examine this situation head on just as He, in the Garden of Gethsemane, measured all the horrors of His Passion.
“One of the soldiers with a spear opened His side: and immediately there came out blood and water.” (John 19:34)
Our Lord had already died when the soldier, known as Longinus, pierced His side. In this way, Our Lord’s Sacred Heart shed the last drop of blood, the last drop of water, for our salvation. What extreme mercy! What extreme goodness! What extreme compassion!
All the blood in the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ was shed, to show that He gave us everything. He did this without holding back a single drop, because of His immense desire to save us. One drop of His blood would have sufficed to save the world, yet He shed all His blood to the point that the last drops were mixed with water. He wanted to hold back nothing in order to redeem us.
My God, how many times have I pierced the Heart of Jesus like the lance of Longinus? It could have been through grave sin; but certainly through my chronic habit of indifference, which is the reason I do not change, I do not progress nor do I want to progress. I see others progressing, but I can’t be bothered.
According to tradition, Longinus was blind in one eye. A bit of the water gushing from Our Lord’s side fell on his blind eye, which was healed, and he later became a saint. Who knows, maybe I will also receive this grace of becoming a saint. Oh Lord, at the moment of Your death, I beseech You to grant me this grace.
“And taking Him down, he wrapped Him in fine linen, and laid Him in a sepulcher that was cut in stone, wherein no man had yet been laid.” (Luke 23:53)
Lord Jesus, I contemplate Your body taken down from the cross, Your humanity seemingly crushed, and Your infinitely precious blood shed during Your Passion. Oh, Man of sorrows, your soul and body suffered as much as a man could suffer.
As long as this world exists, You will be our model of suffering with all its nobility, strength, gravity, sweetness, and sublimity. This is a model of suffering not only considered rationally, but also from the infinite perspective of faith; a suffering understood theologically, as a necessary penance and an essential means of sanctification.
Through the infinite merits of Your Most Precious Blood, grant our minds the necessary clarity to understand the role of suffering in our lives and grant us the strength required to truly love it.
It is only by understanding the role of suffering and the mystery of the Cross that humanity can save itself from the tremendous crisis it undergoes. It is just this understanding of suffering that can save from eternal punishment those who, even at the moment of death, reject Your invitation to accompany You on the Via Dolorosa.
Multiply on Earth souls who love the Cross. This is the marvelous grace we ask of You this Holy Week in the twilight of our civilization.
Realize the fact that you are doing something which, if you make an upright examination of conscience, you will find that it is wrong.
Our Lord’s question was reminiscent of one Our Lord Himself asked the man who hit Him during His Passion:
“If I have spoken evil, give testimony of the evil; but if well, why strikest thou Me?”
In fact, Saint Paul gave no answer to Him because he had none to give. He simply responded: “Who art Thou,Lord?” And he said “Lord” right away because he sensed Who it really was. Our Lord answered: “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.”
By saying “Whom thou persecutest,” Our Lord made clear Who He is. He was telling Saint Paul: See Who I am.See Who you are persecuting, and therefore measure how hideous your crime is.
After this, Our Lord adds a somewhat mysterious statement: “It is hard for thee to kick against the goad.” The goad is the wind. He was saying that it is hard to oppose the wind. In this case, the wind is the blowing wind of grace that for a while had been calling Paul to conversion, but he resisted it. The context at least leads to this hypothesis.
Saint Paul answered in his own radical way. He wasted no time. He saw that he was wrong and placed himself at the service of God. He asked: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me do?” The Acts of the Apostles say that he was trembling and astonished as he asked the question. In other words, the blow had hit home. He was disoriented and afraid. He was shaken as he went through a short ordeal of a few minutes which completely changed him and shook his soul. Our Lord then said to him: “Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do.
Why did Our Lord not tell him what to do right away? The whole dialogue took place while Saint Paul was blinded and prostrated on the ground. He was told to arise and go to the city and find out what he must do. In other words, he must receive Our Lord’s orders slowly, subjecting himself with humility like a child who takes orders from his superior.
Our Lord was telling him: Go, therefore, groping and advancing step by step, to find out what I want, because I am your Lord and command you as a servant, who is under his Lord’s orders and can do nothing else.
Thus, Saint Paul did not know what God wanted of him. He did not even know if God might want him to remain blind for his whole life. He, the great Paul, the excellent and illustrious Pharisee, was now going to enter the city of Damascus like a child, led by the hand. In other words, it was the complete breakdown of his pride. The text of the Acts ends thus: “But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus.”
In other words, he entered Damascus as a blind man. There he would be blind for a few days, until the scales would fall from his eyes.
The preceding text is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on January 24, 1966. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.