Wednesday in Holy Week

There is one more phase in Pilate’s weak struggle with his conscience and his sense of right. He thought that if he could have our Lord scourged somehow the mob would relent and settle for His release. So the scourging was initiated and carried out by Roman legionaries – brutalized instruments of a race noted for its absence of all tenderness. “Pilate, then, took Jesus and had Him scourged,” (Jn. 19:1) but St. Matthew was more reportorial, for he wrote:  

“Then the soldiers of the procurator took Jesus into the praetorium, and gathered together about Him the whole cohort. And they stripped Him and put on Him a scarlet cloak; and plaiting a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head, and a reed in His right hand; and bending knee before Him they mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they spat on Him, and took the reed and kept striking Him on the head.” (Mt. 27: 27-30)

The Romans used various kinds of scourges. There was the stick (fustis), the rod (virga), and the whip (lorum) which was of leather-platted throngs and into the plats were woven iron spikes (scorpio) or knuckle bones of animals. Tradition has it that the latter was used by the soldiers to scourge Christ.

Behold your Savior bound to a low pillar with the six scourgers standing on a raised platform beside and above Him, and watch them, if you can, laying those cruel lashes on the bent back of our Lord! Let us go to His side and gaze into the pure eyes of Christ as He suffers in the scourging and acknowledge that it was our sins – yours and mine – that caused Him to endure such agony, and promise Him from this day on we shall never deliberately offend Him again.

There is another consideration I would have you ponder over in your mind. It concerns the reed placed in our Lord’s hand during the crowning with thorns as a mock gesture of a king’s scepter. Is it not worthy of note that the lowly reed should play such an important part in our Lord’s life? He began His public life by going to Cana of Galilee, to begin as it were the reconstruction and redemption of mankind with a man and his wife – since it was a man and his wife who had opened the sluice gates of sin and flooded this world with woe.  

“Cana,” you see, means “a place of reed.”

And now at the end of His public life the reed appears again and is placed in His hands in mockery of His royalty, and finally, it becomes an instrument of torture in itself – since the soldiers beat His thorn-crowned head with this same reed. I have always thought that the special sufferings inflicted on our Lord by the blows from the reed were in reparation for the mockery men and women make of marriage and the sins, such as divorce, abortion, desertion, and birth control committed by persons disdainful of God’s laws. Married persons will beg for the grace to fulfill the duty of their state and the unmarried will beg special graces for those to whom God has entrusted such awful responsibilities.

The Way of the Cross

God always gives me reminders of the innumerable graces He has shed upon me. I pray that I am humble enough to heed to these.
I was praying the Stations of the Cross before the midday Mass today. There were a few other people in the Church. There was a young boy, maybe 4 years old, who has down syndrome. He was sitting with his mother in the pew. I was at the fourth station, and all of a sudden he came out of his pew and genuflected. He was just a few feet away and he was looking at me so I gave him a little smile. He then proceeded to kneel down. He was saying some prayers; I heard our Lord’s Name. He kept watching me, so I continued to pray. I would stand up, go to the next Station, then with a few seconds delay, he would stand up, genuflect with me and then kneel down. He stayed at each Station, remaining one or two Stations behind me. He even remained at the Station where he was, when I went to the other side of the Church. And then eventually he made his way over. He was determined to pray at each Station. I finished before him and he remained at the 12th Station, Jesus’ death on the Cross. I was no longer there for him to follow me, so he remained. Eventually his mother came up to him and finished the last three Stations with him. He gave me a little example today, one with great significance. With the purity of his heart and his intentions, he showed a great love to Christ even if only out of emulation of my actions. How muddled are my intentions, my judgments, my love of God and of my neighbor.
Let us this week, and every day forward, remain at the Foot of the Cross. It is here that Christ redeemed us by the cost of His Most Precious Blood. Why is it so difficult for us to even spend a few moments adoring Love Crucified each day? It is here that we must die to ourselves, so that we can rise in the joy of the Resurrection.
I’ll continue to pray with this memory and the one I shared recently here concerning the Cross above.

Tuesday in Holy Week

It is strange how often a person who is too weak of character to do what he knows is right, will rack his brains for something to excuse him from doing his duty and thus will seize upon the first thing which comes to mind to relieve him of his dilemma. So it was with Pilate. He knew after he had questioned our Lord that He was guiltless, and that he should release Him. Then the thought struck him that perhaps if he offered to follow an ancient custom of releasing a prisoner on the eve of the great Jewish feast of Passover that he could manage, somehow, to have them choose Christ as against a murderer, and thus he would be rid of the problem. So he mentioned the custom to the Jews and the alternative to Christ, he chose Barabbas – a robber, a rioter, “one who in the riot had committed murder.” (Mk. 15:7)

Pilate said: “Which of the two do you wish that I release to you?’ And they said ‘Barabbas.’ Pilate said to them: ‘What then am I to do with Jesus Who is called Christ?’ They all said, ‘Let Him be crucified.’” (Mt. 27: 21, 22)

Never in the annals of human history has there been a greater example of criminal evasion of personal responsibility. Here was Pilate, who in his heart knew that Christ was innocent of any crime, and had said so in public, but now, in fact says to the mob, “you pick the victim and I’ll sentence Him whether he is guilty or not.” Many of us today, who decry the weakness of Pilate, get much the same way on many occasions. We often allow others to determine our duty. Have we not all at times said something like this:

“But every one does it”; or “Everyone else in the office tells off-color stories”; or “If my husband didn’t drink, I wouldn’t drink,” and so on.

 Let us beg of God the grace to do what we know to be right and just, and for the grace to manfully withstand those who would even suggest our making concessions to evil for fear of man.

The second point of this consideration is equally important. Pilate poses one of the most striking questions formulated when he asked: “What am I to do with Jesus Who is called Christ?” – a question Pilate and all of us are compelled to answer in the end. Jesus stands before each of us, as He stood before Pilate, demanding reception or rejection. The question may be postponed, but we cannot get it off our hands. Every soul must stand in judgment on Christ and give a decision.

Resolve to make a thorough examination of conscience daily on how you fulfill the duties of your state in life and to what extent you permit others to determine your duty. Ask yourself, too, this burning question:

“What have I done today with Christ?” The answer God expects us to give is: “I have loved Him; I have obeyed Him in all things; I have served Him faithfully.”

Monday of Holy Week

The whole sordid story of Christ’s appearance before Pilate is one calculated to set the least of us to some deep thinking, It is frightening to ponder how close Pilate came to justification rather than to the depths of scorn earned by him for his weakness of character and the abuse of his authority. Every possible way consistent with the preservation of his free will was used to save him. 

Divine Providence was at work to spare the governor from consummating his guilt. First, there was the silence of Christ. The Savior Who had cringed under the weight of our sins in the Garden of Gethsemani now stands erect, composed and silent – a demeanor bespeaking supernatural dignity. This affected Pilate so much that St. Matthew says “the procurator wondered exceedingly.” (27:14) And even when Pilate had said the fateful words: “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him,” (Jn. 19:6) yet another appeal was made to his conscience, for the Jews replied: “We have a law, and according to that Law He must die, because He has made Himself the Son of God.” (Jn. 19:7) This open and pointed claim to the supernatural, superhuman rank, did for a moment startle the weak Pilate, for Scripture says: “Now when Pilate heard this statement he feared the more.” (Jn. 19:8)

Certainly, the involuntary awe that first came over him as he faced the Innocent Christ must have settled over him now with greater force. No one, no matter how sinful and callous, could ever look upon the face of Christ and not sense His deity. Hence came forth the earnest question: “Where art thou from?” (Jn.19:9) There was never a moment during that dread scene of judgment when Pilate was far from doing the right and noble thing – never a moment when he was far from salvation. But alas, he succumbed to criminal irresolution, he resisted impulses, he fled from the prods of conscience, he banished the warnings of his wife, and made instead a weak concession to the fear of man. When Pilate condemned the Son of God without evidence and against his own convictions, he prostituted his high office.

Not until we stand before Christ in judgment will we ever know how often and with what great effort Christ has tried to save each one of us. We shall be confused and confounded when we learn the amount of grace Christ showered upon us, often at the very moments when we were resisting the warnings of conscience, the pleading of parents, teachers, priests, and friends – bent upon doing our own will and seeking our own pleasures, albeit this involved the breaking of God’s Own laws.

Pilate had one golden opportunity, and he lost it. How much more culpable are we than Pilate, who, times, without number, have rejected God’s grace and resisted His agents, and been influenced to do evil through fear of what our fellow men would think or say?

Base and weak as Pilate was, he is in the record as having called Christ “A just Man.” When you have thought long and well on what Christ has done for you, the graces with which He has showered on you, I am sure you will be compelled to thank Him with all your soul because His mercy has outweighed His justice in your regard.

Palm Sunday

Christ’s Passion serves as an example

Christ’s Entrance into Jerusalem

The Passion of Christ is by itself sufficient to form us in every virtue. For whoever wishes to live perfectly, need do no more than scorn what Christ scorned on the cross, and desire what He there desired. There is no virtue of which, from the cross, Christ does not give us an example. 

Sign of the Passionist Order – Stained Glass at the Chapel of Saint Paul of the Cross, the Basilica of Saints John and Paul, Rome

If you seek an example of charity, Greater love than this no man hath, than that a man lay down His life for his friends (John 15: 13), and this Christ did on the cross.  And since it was for us that He gave his life, it should not be burdensome to bear for Him whatever evils come our way. What shall I render to the Lord, for all the things that He hath rendered to me (Ps. 115: 12).

If you seek an example of patience, in the cross  you find the best of all. Great patience shows itself in two ways. Either when a man suffers great evils patiently, or when he suffers what he could avoid and forbears to avoid. Now Christ on the cross suffered great evils. O all ye that pass by the way, attend and see, if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow (Lam. 1: 12). And He suffered them patiently, for, when he suffered he threatened not (1 Pet. 2: 23) but led as a sheep to the slaughter, he was dumb as a lamb before his shearer (Isaias 53: 7). 

Also it was in His power to avoid the suffering and He did not avoid it. Thinkest thou that I cannot ask my Father, and he will give me presently more than twelve legions of angels? (Matt. 26: 53) The patience of Christ, then, on the cross was the greatest patience ever shown. Let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame (Heb. 12: 1-2). 

If you seek an example of humility, look at the Crucified. For it is God Who wills to be judged and to die at the will of Pontius Pilate. Thy cause hath been judged as that of the wicked (Job 36: 17). Truly as that of the wicked, for Let us condemn him to a most shameful death (Wis. 2:20). The Lord willed to die for the slave, the life of the angels for man. 

If you seek an example of obedience, follow Him who became obedient unto death (Phil. 2: 8), for as by the disobedience of one man, many were made sinners; so also by the obedience of one, many shall be made just (Rom. 5: 19).

If you seek an example in the scorning of the things of this world, follow Him who is the King of kings, and the Lord of lords, in Whom are all the treasures of wisdom. Lo! on the cross He hangs naked, fooled, spit upon, beaten, crowned with thorns, sated with gall and vinegar, and dead. My garments they parted among them; and upon my vesture they cast lots (Ps. 21: 19).

Error to crave for honours, for He was exposed to blows and to mockery. Error to seek titles and decorations for 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 (Matt. 27: 29).

Error to cling to pleasures and comfort for they gave my gall for my food, and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink (Ps. 68: 22).

Saturday after Passion Sunday

“Now Jesus stood before the procurator; and the procurator asked him, saying, ’Art thou the king of the Jews?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thou sayest it.’ (Mt. 27: 11)
St. Matthew’s words “Now Jesus stood before the procurator” are certainly stirring words, for they point up the fact that He who shall judge the nations, Himself stands before Pontius Pilate to be judged. Pilate has won a terrible pre-eminence among the sons of Adam, for every child is taught to say that the Son of God “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”

It would be an error to say that all those who had anything to do with the death of Christ were totally depraved. Certainly Pilate was not in this class. He was actually a reluctant agent. Pilate’s sin was not so much that he failed to recognize the Messiasship of Christ, as rather that he condemned without evidence, that he acted against his own convictions, that he was influenced by the fear of man, that he had a sordid regard for place and power, which all led him to the condemnation of an innocent Man, and in so doing, he prostituted his office.

There is something of Pilate about all of us. Despite our avowals that we are followers of Christ – Christians – do we not all too frequently act against our convictions, and do we not fail to do the upright and noble thing because we fear the mob or have a servile love for human applause. Certainly we are other Pilates when we fear to say we are Catholics; when we are afraid to bow our head or tip our hat passing a church; when we are afraid to make the Sign of the Cross before grace at meals; when we are afraid to refrain from eating between meals during lent for fear of what others will think or say; when we are too timid to walk away from a person who insists on telling impure stories – these and a thousand other ways.

The sequel of Pilate’s history is affecting and instructive. The thing he dreaded came to pass, for he lost the favor of the emperor and died a suicide.

There is another point in the story that calls for our studied attention. It was Pilate’s question: “Art Thou the king of the Jews?”

trial of Jesus

Jesus did not look like much of a king as He stood there, His hands bound, and a rope about His neck. Where was His power? Where was His Throne, His crown, His scepter, His royal robes?

But to us today, how different does it all appear! Christ is throned, now far above all principality and power, and might and dominion, as He sits at the right hand of His Father.

But what of Christ in the Holy Eucharist? He doesn’t look much like a King in the tabernacles of our churches the world over. Before we place too much blame on Pilate, let us look within our own souls and we shall doubtlessly discover that we, like Pilate, have somehow failed to realize the King of kings under the humble species of bread and wine.

Before we do another thing today, let us each make an act of faith in the Divine Presence of the King of kings in the Eucharist and beg that this faith be increased so that from today on, we shall never fail to visit Him daily – if even only for a moment. Beg, too, for the courage to follow always the dictates of our conscience, and never to compromise, no matter what the pressure, in matters of faith and morals.

Blessed Sacrament St. John Cantius
Christ in the Blessed Sacrament Enthroned – St. John Cantuis, Chicago

April 7: First Friday of the Month

You can find the First Friday Devotions here.

“Learn of Me,” He says, “not to create the world, not to bring into being all things visible and invisible, but that I am meek and humble of heart.” [So St. Augustine expands for us certain memorable words of the Gospel]. To learn that great lesson let us go to schools to that Divine Heart, especially during the holy time of Lent and the Passion; let us strive to enter into It, abide there, study Its movements, and learn to conform the movements of our own hearts to Its example.

From a sermon of Bl. Claude de Colombiere entitled, “The Patience of the Sacred Heart”