on the Passion
by Father Doyle
October 12, 1956
JOANNES A. SCHULIEN, S.T.D.
+ ALBERTUS G.MEYER
“Love moves and governs all things. Tell me what you love, and I shall tell you what you are. If your love is for the world, you are its slave. If your love is for Jesus Christ, you are free; you are becoming conformed to His image; your conversation, that is your life and conduct even here below, are continually in Heaven.
Jesus Christ is alone worthy of your whole heart. But you cannot love Him if you do not know that “God so loved the world as to give His only–begotten Son,” that He emptied Himself out,” and that He laid down His life for His flock.” We must know the details of His sufferings, if we would know the excess of His love.
This little volume --- REFLECTIONS ON THE PASSION --- was written for just this purpose. It should provide the laity with short, pointed considerations for quiet prayer, the religious, with ready material for personal and profitable meditation, and the clergy, with suitable matter before-Mass reading to the faithful or for sermon seeds for Lenten courses.
IT is related that King Louis XIV of France, shortly after his ascent to the throne, stood at an open window in his palace and silently admired the simple beauty of the church of St. Denis, standing some distance away. A servant ventured to remark that all of the king’s ancestors laid buried in that church and that, doubtless, it would also be His Majesty’s last resting place. The very nest day the king ordered another palace built so that the Church of St. Denis would be hidden from his view.
Holy Mother the Church is much more realistic. She has her priests bless ashes, and then place some of these ashes on the foreheads of her children, saying at the same time, “Remember, man, thou art but dust, and into dust thou shalt return.”
Sin and death go together. Because Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, they had to submit to this dreadful penalty, and in like manner, all their descendants. To remind us of this grim fact, the Church places ashes on the foreheads of her children on each Ash Wednesday, saying, “Remember, man, thou art dust, and into dust thou shalt return.”
There is still another death which the Church would remind us of today --- the death of our vices and conscupiscences through mortification and penance. The word mortification comes from two Latin words meaning “To make death”; and so in asking us to mortify ourselves during Lent, the Church begs us to deaden our appetites and passions by discipline so that we might live supernatural lives.
The imposition of ashes, then, is not only symbolic of death, but of penance and mortification too. Since there would be no death if there had not been sin, so there can be no supernatural life without mortification and penance. The ashes should remind us, since holy men like Job and David associated ashes with penance, and the Church has been doing the same for almost 2000 years.
So you see, life, death, mortification, penance, are all brought to our minds by the simple but deeply meaningful ceremony of the imposition of the blessed ashes. Could a more a more effective way be found to signify the beginning of the penitential season of Lent? The external application of ashes to our forheads will be useless and meaningless unless and until we resolve in our hearts to use the forty days ahead to do penance in reparation for our past failures and practice mortification to condition our souls and bodies for the struggle ahead.
Spend some time today in considering the fact that you will sooner or later die and that everyone and everything you hold near and dear to you must be left behind. “To fear death before it comes,” says St. Gregory, “is to conquer it when it comes.”
Say often this prayer of David: “O Lord, make me know my end, and what is the number of my days that I may know what is wanting in me” (Ps. 38:5).
Thursday After Quinquagesima Sunday:
TRUE devotion in its highest meaning includes love for, and imitation of, the person to whom we are devoted, and Holy Mother the Church presents our prayerful devotion during Lent the Sacred Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, with fervent hope that we shall be aroused to imitate Him.
“We should,” writes Father Degnam, S.J., “go through the different circumstances of the Passion, and compare them with the occasions of sufferings we meet with in life. They are the drops of the chalice which our Lord asks us to drink with Him. His sufferings of the scourging, our physical pain; He is treated as a fool by Herod; He was rejected for Barabbas; are we not sometimes rejected for another --- set aside for some one who is certainly more worthy than ourselves? Is not the gall they gave Him to drink like the bitterness we receive when we are longing for consolation? As we look at the dead body of our Lord hanging on the Cross, we see that His Passion was one long act of submission.”
Gratitude should fill our hearts at the thought of God’s goodness in giving us His own adorable Son as a model to imitate, so that we have only to look at Him to know what we have to do. Hear Christ Himself say: “I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you also should do” (Jn. 13:15). Christ is the only way we must follow, especially in the practice of virtue, and it was during the Passion that His practice of the virtues was strikingly sublime and heroic. In the most trying circumstances our Lord gave us during the Passion examples of those virtues we somehow seem to lack – meekness, mercy, charity, silence, patience, abandonment, and obedience to His Father’s will – even to death.
Well did St. Bonaventure say: “He who desires to go on advancing from virtue to virtue, from grace to grace should constantly meditate on the Passion of Jesus Christ.”
Daily, during the holy season of Lent, let us consider together some detail of the sacred Passion and death of our Savior, beginning with the agony in the Garden. Endeavor to seize upon one thought and keep turning it over in your mind during the day. Try to see the virtue practiced by the Master and resolve to imitate that virtue. Strive to find some lesson in each of these daily considerations and resolve to put it in practice during the day. In your examination of conscience at night, examine yourself on how you kept the resolution taken that morning. Little good will result from the study of the Passion unless such a study results in our imitation of Christ. “O foolish Galatians!” cried out St. Paul, “who has bewitched you [that you should not obey the truth], before whose eyes Jesus has been depicted crucified?” (Ga. 3:1)
At the Last Supper, Christ gathered the Apostles around Him and they set out together for Gethesemani, the Garden of the Agony. The name “Gethsemani” is interesting in that it means “oilpress”; in other words, it was a place where the fresh olives were pressed and the oil extracted. What a symbolic spot chosen by the Sacred Redeemer of Mankind for the initial and awful beginning of the Passion! Here He was to take upon Himself the sins of the world and be so crushed under their terrible weight that His precious blood flowed from every pore of His body.
With reverence, then, and with contrite hearts let us begin our contemplation of the passion of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemani and pray that your heart and soul will be inflamed with love and aroused to imitate all the virtues practiced by the Savior in His Passion.
Decide now on one positive act of mortification to be practiced this very day, recalling these words of the Imitation of Christ: “The more thou dost violence to thyself, the greater thy progress will be.”
Tomorrow we shall see our Lord separating Peter, James, and John from the other apostles and taking them with Him into the midst of the garden. Thus shall we begin our study of the Passion.
Friday After Quinquagesima Sunday:
OUR BLESSED LORD had designedly planned that Peter, James, and John should be afforded but a glimpse of His divinity when it burst forth on the occasion of His Transfiguration. Now in the Garden of Olives these same Apostles would see their Lord and their God bent and crushed under the weight of sin. The thought of the Transfiguration would have to strengthen them in this hour of disillusionment.
The apostles had always known our Lord to be composed in the face of attack or crisis. For instance, when the elements of nature tossed their fishing boats until they, hardened fishermen though they were, quaked with fear, Jesus was calm and unafraid; but in the Garden of Gethsemani they were to see this same Christ prostrate on the ground bathed in a sweat of blood. That which made up the very anguish of Gethsemani was the fact that Christ, at that moment, took upon Himself the sins of the world – past, present, and future.
But why had Christ invited the Apostles to accompany Him in the Garden of Olives? Well, as He entered the darkness, He may have craved human companionship. It was not that the Apostles could do anything for Him, but that their very presence would support Him. Too, He wanted to teach them some important lesions.
The first lesson was this, that when one is oppressed, discouraged, heartbroken, and forsaken, he should pray. That is what our Lord did. He was afraid. He was overwhelmed by the sins of mankind, His Apostles, His closest friends, fell asleep – yet He prayed. Always remember what our Lord told His weak apostles when he awakened them the first time: “Watch and pray, that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mt. 26:41).
The second lesson was equally apparent. While Christ’s closest friends were asleep as He went through the initial phases of the Passion, His enemies were very much awake. At that very moment Judas was briefing the soldiers on where to find Christ and how to apprehend Him. The soldiers were getting themselves ready to arrest the Son of God.
So it has always been, and always will be – the enemies of your soul and mine, the enemies of Christ and His Church never sleep. They are always more vigilant, more energetic, more active then we are.
Resolve today to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament and let the picture of Christ in the Garden of Olives come to your mind. Approach your prostrate King – promise Him to do some positive penance for the sins you have committed. Ask Him to teach you this important lesson – that when doubts, trials, sorrows, and temptations assail you, you, following His example, will pray, pray, pray.
Saturday After Quinquagesima Sunday:
OUR LORD had suffered a terrible ordeal in His initial phase of trial in the Garden of Olives. He had, some thirty-three years earlier, taken on the burden of human nature, Now in this fateful garden, Christ took on the awful burden of man’s sins, and He rightly looked to His closest friends to share His burden in return, if only by compassion. They failed Him. They slept. Oh how the words of the prophet were fulfilled: “I looked for one that would grieve together with me, and there was none; for one that would comfort me, and I found none” (Ps. 68:21).
Note that our Lord goes back a second time to pray. This time He is even more alone then before. He prays to His heavenly Father, and his heavenly Father turns a deaf ear to His petition. His Apostles are sleeping again, and yet he prays alone. He is now in a state of supreme desolation and yet He prays. He is in a state of complete dereliction but He prays on. Learn from this lesson to pray even under the most adverse circumstances.
Consider the fact that Christ persevered in His prayer. Already He prayed to His Father saying: “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass away from Me” (Mt. 26:30).
The second prayer of our Lord was a repetition of the first, for He said: “My Father, if this cup cannot pass away unless I drink it, Thy will be done” (Mt.26:42).
The third prayer was couched in the same words – a prayer more fervent, more earnest then any uttered by any man who ever lived on this earth – yet His Father, it seemed, did not listen to His petition. Christ did not grow impatient, He calmly and resignedly adds: “Not My will but Thine be done” (Lk. 22:42).
What a great lesson in this for all of us! If the son of God must plead three times for the fulfillment of His prayer, and does so without a trace of bitterness, why are we so depressed when our prayers are not immediately answered? St. Monica prayed for eighteen years for her son Augustine’s conversion, but how richly her perseverance was rewarded. “We wait a whole year,” says St. Francis de Sales, “before the seed we sow in the ground bears fruit; and are we more impatient in regard to the fruits of our prayers?”
There is great consolation for all of us in the refusal of the Father to hear the petition of His adorable son. God the Father refused the most perfect, the most precious prayer ever uttered on this earth – but he did so to prove His love for sinful man. For the sake of sinful man He will not answer the prayer of His own Son, because had God acted otherwise, we would have all been lost. See the reason behind God’s refusal to answer our prayers – He always has the greater good in view:
From now on, never complain if your prayers are unanswered. Just keep right on praying. Say your rosary today for the grace of perseverance.