Excerpts from MEDITATION ON THE PASSION
Rev. Reginald Walsh, O.P.
Burns Oates & Washbourne LTD, London
with Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur, 1922
PILATE'S EFFORTS TO SAVE OUR LORD
Let us lovingly contemplate our dear Saviour as His enemies lead Him once more back to Pilate. "Herod sent Him back to Pilate." If Herod was glad when Pilate sent Jesus to him, not so Pilate when Herod sends Him back again. In the early morning the tumult was but a spark of fire compared to what it has grown to now. The Priests and Ancients came back foaming with rage and indignation as if they were wronged and injured men who have a right to demand reparation. "The Roman had made fools of them by parading them through the streets. He must make amends by compliance. Now they are no longer afraid of a tumult among the people - the multitude are backing them. They return more resolved, more reckless, more prepared to browbeat Pilate - to force him to crucify Jesus.
See our suffering Lord as He is led back to the Praetorium. This time He is led by a much longer road, that the people may see the state of ignominy to which He is reduced. Mark - how extremely rough and uneven the road is, and watch the soldiers, who, encouraged by the Pharisees, can scarcely refrain a moment from tormenting Jesus. How does Jesus receive this vile treatment? He bears all sweetly, humbly, offering not the smallest resistance! He prays constantly to His Father for strength not to sink under these brutal sufferings, but to accomplish the work of His Passion for our redemption! How great His love for us! What a lesson of fidelity to us! How easily we are turned away from fidelity to Him on meeting with the least difficulty, contradiction, or humiliation.
It was about eight o'clock when the procession reached the palace of Pilate. Note how dense the crowd is! See - the Pharisees walking to and fro, endeavouring to incite and infuriate them still more. Pilate has assembled upwards of a thousand soldiers, whom he posts round the Praetorium, the Forum, and his palace. He has not forgotten the insurrection that took place last year at the time of the Pasch. See our Blessed Mother, Magdalen, and the holy women - they are near and can see all that takes place. John at first was with them - then he goes to be nearer to his Blessed Master. The Pharisees lead Jesus, still clothed with the garment of mockery, through the midst of the insolent mob. O suffering Heart of my Jesus, help me to understand the depth of Thy love! - that love is indeed proved by deeds. The archers, with their usual brutality, drag Jesus up the stairs of the Praetorium. His enemies take their seats at the entrance to the Forum.
See - Pilate reclining on a kind of easy-chair, with a table before him, surrounded by his officers - "He calls together the Chief Priests and Magistrates and the people." Little pleasure, indeed, does it give this weak man to see this great wave rolling in on Him. His perplexity is increased - always the case with the soul that is vacillating and ungenerous with God. The situation is becoming every hour more alarming. Such is the inevitable result of cowardice and half-heartedness in God's service. "No one can serve two masters." But Pilate still confides in his own powers and resources. Till now, only the Chief Priests and Ancients and leading men have been admitted within the gate into the court of the castle, the Lithostrotos. At present he calls the people, and trusting to his powers of persuasion, he harangues them from the tribunal that stands there. He calls in the people in the hope that they may side with him and strengthen his hands against the Priests and Ancients.
Hear Pilate: "Behold, I find no cause in Him; no, nor Herod neither." Observe: Judas has acquitted our Lord of all crime; Pilate has done the same; Herod has virtually declared Him innocent. Pilate now again ratifies his verdict: "I find no cause in Him. I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him." Observe, how at once Pilate's last state becomes worse than the first. All of a sudden, in his panic, the sense of justice, honour, mercy, and compassion has become so deadened, that He is not ashamed to utter the words: "I will chastise Him, and release Him."
Pilate's new expedient is received in sullen silence. Again he is labouring to serve two masters, and it cannot be done. He wishes to let Jesus go, because He is innocent, and because he, a Roman Governor, and a servant of the Roman Emperor, dreads to condemn an innocent man. On the other hand, he wishes to satisfy the Sanhedrin, and therefore is willing to chastise Jesus, and chastise Him most cruelly. The result is that he satisfies neither. The Priests and Magistrates see at once that Pilate has taken a great plunge downward. To meet them half-way he has made a rapid and deep descent. They have only to show a bold front, to persevere, and the weak man will fall deeper and deeper into the abyss.
What a lesson to us! Never try to effect a compromise between God and self or the world - it will prove most disastrous. Give everything - everything! God must be Master! - "Strive to enter by the narrow way" - self-surrender. Pilate's frame of mind illustrates what St. Ignatius means by his first degree of humility. He says that the first degree of humility necessary for salvation consists in this: that I am so subject to my Creator that I will not, even to gain the whole world, deliberate (reflect well on deliberation) about committing a mortal sin. We can understand what he means by deliberating, from what we see in Pilate. His state of soul throughout is that of a man deliberating about mortal sin. He wishes to do right if he can conveniently do so. He is not willing to do wrong for a small price; but if he has much to lose by doing right, or can gain much by doing wrong, he is ready to give up God and conscience, and do the wrong.
Oh, let us take to heart the words of the Divine Master, and we shall always come off gloriously triumphant: "Seek first the Kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you." Pilate's state of mind also represents the second class in St. Ignatius' meditation on the three classes: those who are ready to do many things, but not the one thing necessary. But in the service of God there can be no half measures. "If thou wilt be perfect - sell all."
COLLOQUY. - "O good Jesus, have compassion on me. Lord, there is no courage, no strength, no security, but in Thee. Dear Lord, keep Thy almighty hand upon me. No wisdom avails, if Thou, my Jesus, cease to govern me; no guard I can keep on myself will profit me, if Thy loving Providence watch not over me. For if I am left to myself, I sink and perish: but if Thou, sweet Saviour, visit me, I am raised and live. For I waver, but by Thee, my Jesus, I am fortified; I am tepid, but by Thee, O loving Lord, I am inflamed with love.
Ah, Lord, how humbly should I think of myself! - how little I should esteem whatever good I may seem to have! When, O my Jesus, I consider my strong inclination to evil, my cowardice in Thy service, I feel that my only hope is in Thy protecting grace. O Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, and leave me not one moment to my own weakness. Teach me, dear Lord, to be generous - to give and not to count the cost. Take, Lord, everything - I want to live for Thee alone - to be true to Thee always - and in everything. O Mary, be propitious to me - turn thine eyes of mercy towards me. O Mother, I have need of Thee!
Jesus or Barabbas
Observe Pilate's trouble and unrest. He has called the people into the Lithostrotos and taken them into Council.
Note how unnerved he is by the sight of the crowd, and the bold, angry aspect of the Rulers. He has just uttered these words of wicked weakness: "I find no cause in Him. I will chastise Him, therefore, and release Him." This word, " I will release," reminds the people of their Paschal privilege, and they began to desire that he would do to them - as he had ever done. It does not seem that as yet they have at all determined what prisone.r they shall release. Pilate, who is entirely intent on getting out of his troubles by finding a middle course between justice and injustice, when he hears the wish of the people, falls in with it at once. His intellect, sharpened by his strong wish, sees in this petition of the people a door unexpectedly opened for his escape.
Pilate turns his back on the Priests and Ancients - puts their wish completely aside, and leaves it entirely to the people to decide, saying: Whom will you that I release unto you, Barabbas or Jesus? that is called Christ? - only giving them a choice between two - Jesus, Who is innocent and much esteemed and a prisoner simply because the Rulers are jealous of Him, or Barabbas, a notorious criminal and murderer. Then he puts a leading question to them, in order to suggest the answer which he wishes: Will you that I release to you the King of the Jews? For a time there is no response. They look at one another, and break up in various groups, eagerly discussing the question.
Note - the action of the Priests and Pharisees. They are furious and dispatch emissaries to persuade the people to demand the death of Jesus. With what amazing energy, untiring industry, giant efforts of perseverance, these enemies of our Lord work to bring about His crucifixion. Mark - how they leave nothing undone to secure their evil purpose - sending their servants in every direction, and going themselves among the people to gain their vote against Jesus. O good and gentle Lord Jesus, if we loved Thee as Thy enemies hate Thee, we, too, would move and persuade the multitude, and they would cry: "Not Barabbas, but Jesus!"
Again Pilate came forward on the platform, and once more demanded: "Which of the two am I to deliver up to you?" Ah, listen to the cry which resounded through the courtyard: "Not this Man, but Barabbas!" O terrible choice! One repeated every hour throughout the world. The whole multitude together cried out, saying: "Away with this Man; release unto us Barabbas." And the most loving and compassionate Heart of our dear Lord and Saviour is answering: "O My people, what have I done to thee, or in what have I molested thee? answer me" (Mich. vi.). And the blessed Angels are in sadness, repeating: "Is this the return thou makest to the Lord, O foolish and senseless people? Is He not thy Father that has possessed thee and made thee and created thee?"
Oh, what scene of the Passion is more often reproduced than this competition between Jesus and Barabbas? - the world and self are continually put in competition with our Blessed Lord. And alas! with the same results, "not this Man, but Barabbas!" Those who forsake Jesus Christ to gain only Barabbas - self or the world - will, when the perishable things of this world pass away, utter the everlasting wail: We fools! we fools! The serpent deceived us! How great an outrage to the loving, merciful Heart of Jesus, when a soul sets up the idol self or the worldly spirit in any shape or form, in opposition to the will or Spirit of Jesus, her Divine Spouse and Master. Then, too, does she say in heart and act -"Not this man, but Barabbas!" "Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and ye gates, therefore be very desolate, saith the Lord. For My people have done two evils. They have forsaken Me, the Fountain of Living Water, and have digged themselves cisterns - broken cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. ii.).
Contemplate our dear Mother listening to the words, " Not Jesus !" How great her suffering - how she loves those who are loyal and devoted to Jesus! To her we continually say: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." One part of our meaning is that the Lord, in her, takes the place which self usurps in us. Mary's heart, her tastes, all her inclinations, her whole will - is for Jesus, her Son and her Lord. Jesus is always present to her heart, and her one desire is to give Him pleasure always and everywhere. Never has Mary once in her life, in order to please her self, given the least displeasure to her Son. Never has she in any way, however small or slight, shown a preference of herself or of any creature.
Most earnestly, O our dear Mother, do we cry to thee. Mother of God, pray for us sinners. O Mother, we have need of thee! For (1) it is thy office, as Mother of God and our own dear Mother, too - to bring Him forth in our hearts, that He may reign in place of self; and (2) even if thou wert not bound - as Mother of God and Mother of men - to bring Him forth in us, yet out of charity, as thou art full of grace, and full of love for thy Son, share with us some of thy love for Jesus, that the cry of our heart may ever be: Not Barabbas, not any creature, not self! but Jesus always - always - Jesus. My Lord and my God, my Spouse, my Master, my Redeemer "Who loved me and delivered Himself up for me."
Let me frequently and diligently exercise my soul in making acts of loving preference for Jesus, such as the Saints made. The Psalms and New Testament abound in them. "For what have I in Heaven? and besides Thee, Lord Jesus, what do I desire upon earth?" (Ps. lxxii.). " Better is one day, is one hour, in Thy courts above thousands" (Ps. lxxxiii.). Lord Jesus, not my will but Thine be done. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as in Heaven. God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of my Lord Jesus Christ, by Whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world. "I am sure that neither death, nor life ... nor things present, nor things to come, nor might, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord " (Rom. viii.).
Look at our dear Lord as He accepts, with so great love, patience and sweetness, the humiliation and outrage of being put in competition with a murderer and then set aside and despised by the whole people - and all for me. Oh, how much He loved me! Men would think it an unbearable calamity to be condemned to death unjustly that another may be set free; but in reality one so treated may be a most privileged Saint, permitted to drink the chalice with his Divine Master. ... Love is shown by deeds - shall I not value every opportunity of accepting and bearing humiliation and contempt with Jesus condemned and set at naught for love of me?
"What evil has He done?" asked Pilate, for the third time. "I find no cause in Him - I will scourge and then acquit Him." But the cry - "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" burst from the crowd, and the sounds echoed like an infernal tempest: the High Priests and the Pharisees vociferated and hurried backwards - urged by the demon of hate and jealousy. Pilate at last yielded; his weak pusillanimous character could not withstand such violent demonstrations; he delivered up Barabbas to the people, and condemned Jesus to be scourged.
O my dear Jesus, through the love of Thy Sacred and suffering Heart, keep me always and in all things faithful to Thee. May I never seek or prefer to Thee and Thy Blessed Will myself or anything in this world. Thou alone, my Jesus, art my God and my Eternal King. Give me, dear Lord, the generosity and courage to become a voluntary sharer in Thy humiliations. Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; open the eyes of my soul, O dear Jesus, to see the value of humiliation, and strengthen my weak and wavering will, to embrace the practice of it with constancy and fortitude. Cast on me, my Jesus, my Lord and my God, one efficacious glance of love and compassion. O Mother, I have need of thee! Through the love thou " dost bear thy Divine Son, help me to be truly humble, to value humiliation and all that will give me possession of that virtue which is of so great account in the sight of God.
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