14 Apr Good Friday
Today is Good Friday.
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876
“Now there stood by the cross, Mary His mother.”–John xix, 25.
Yesterday, beloved in Christ, the example of Judas the traitor was held up to us as a terrible warning upon which every sinner might meditate, and, perhaps, realize the consequences of such total atrocity and utter hardness of heart. That warning might be, for many, the very last grace vouchsafed by God! Oh, may it not be in vain! What reason has not the sinner to strike his breast, and cry out: “O God, be merciful to me, for my sins have been as great, perhaps, as those of Judas, and more frequent!” Yes, sinners, it is even so; for Judas, wretch though he was, did not try to pervert his fellow-laborers, the Apostles; while you, how many innocent souls have you not led astray, both by word and example? How many souls, most dear and precious to the Heart of Jesus, have you not turned away from Him?” Woe to him by whom scandals come. It were better for that man that a millstone be hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea.” And yet, my brethren, if, among my hearers there are any who have been guilty of grievous sin, I would say to them, do not despair. Even though each passing year has witnessed the commission of crimes, each one more terrible than the last; nay, even if you have lived as an incarnate devil, do not despair. Look upon Mary beneath the cross. Call upon her; she will take you under her maternal protection; lead you to her divine Son, who can refuse her nothing; and obtain for you the grace of a true conversion; for is she not the one chosen by God, and destined to be the Mother of mercy, the refuge of sinners?
As the subject of our present meditation, my dear brethren, let us consider the wonderful power contained in the words uttered by Jesus on the cross, those seven last words which inspired the sweet heart of the Virgin Mother with an ardent wish to save and rescue sinners. O Mary, Mother of mercy, show thyself a merciful mother, especially towards those erring children, who have come here tonight, their hearts heavy with the burden of sin! I speak in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
As it seemed good to the Lord to place a helpmate by the side of the earthly Adam, so we behold at the side of Jesus, the heavenly Adam, Mary, the Eve of the New Law; that, as by the fall of the first Adam and Eve the whole human race was plunged into an abyss of woe, so through the second–Jesus and Mary–rescued man was led to hope for heaven. It is true that, in the abstract, it was the merits of Christ alone which effected our redemption, yet, that its fruits might be imparted to man individually, Jesus was pleased to place by his side a mother–Mary–for the consolation and assistance of the human race.
Jesus merited; Mary distributes those merits. Therefore, God filled her heart with the most fervent affection for us, who have been born in sin, ensnared by numberless temptations, walking in the path to heaven, it may be, but in constant danger of going astray, and persecuted by the enemies of our salvation who rejoice when we make but one false step, hoping thereby that we will become their prey forever. Mary's heart is filled with the most unspeakable compassion for us ; and no mother, of her own natural inclination, so fondly loves a child, so tenderly cares for its welfare, so untiringly watches over it in every danger, as does Mary in regard to the children of men; especially if they have had the happiness of receiving baptism as members of the Holy Catholic Church. “Come ye all to me, and be filled with my fruits.” Thus does Holy Church cry out to those who zealously walk under her protection and patronage in the way of perfection, the path which leads to the joys of heaven.
But with far more earnestness and devotion does this exclamation come forth from the mother of love and mercy to every soul that has fallen into sin. “Come back,” this tender mother cries: “forsake your sinful lives, and live for God.” The reason why the Saviour placed His mother beneath the cross is given by St. Bonaventure, in the following touching words: “Divine mercy was pleased to place beneath the world's redeeming wood, a creature who would be wholly merciful, and her name is Mary.” Jesus did so that no sinner need ever despair, that no soul need be lost. St. Bernard says: “You dare not go to Christ because you have crucified Him, and, besides, He will one day be your Judge; but look at Mary, hasten to her; she is all mercy. In her, so tender, kind, and loving, there is nothing at which you could take alarm. She is a mother who will lead you to her Son; who will reconcile you through that precious blood He shed upon the cross, to His eternal Father.” Mary herself gave the same assurance to St. Bridget in a vision: “There is no sinner so great,” she said, “who, when he calls upon me and comes to me, will be cast off, and refused forgiveness.” During the earthly life of the Blessed Virgin, her heart burned with the desire to lead souls to Christ.
Oh, with what joy did she behold them return to the path of virtue after they had strayed therefrom, and to a life of sanctity after they had abandoned their evil ways! But, beloved in Christ, how immeasurably was this desire increased when she stood so near her dying Son, and heard the words uttered by His parched and livid lips:
“Father, forgive them; they know not what they do,” were the first precious words which welled up from the agonizing heart. The mother listened, and resolved to make it her dearest care to lead the sinner back to God, that the blood of Jesus might not be shed in vain. “O my Jesus!” was the prayer she put forth to her crucified Son, “I know well that for love of souls Thou didst choose this painfnl death, to deliver them from the curse of sin; therefore, I unite my petition to Thine, and cry with Thee: Heavenly Father, forgive! Receive my only-begotten Son; I offer Him to Thee with all His merits, together with my own, which I have gained by Thy divine grace, or may merit until the end of my life. Have mercy, I beseech Thee, upon the sinful children of men!”
“Amen I say unto thee; this day shalt thou be with Me in Paradise.”
Mary listened, and still her desire for the salvation of souls increased; for her compassionate heart shuddered at the terrible torments into which those who were lost would be plunged. And in proportion to the number saved by the life, death, and passion of Christ, will the glory and beatitude of the Sacred Heart be increased in heaven.
“Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother.”
How precious are the words which fall from the dying lips of a beloved friend! How much dearer are they when it is an only son. Mary listened, and the wish of her heart grew still more intense, as the Saviour spoke, to save every soul. By these words He solemnly declared before heaven and earth that to Mary He bequeathed the children of Adam, that she might, through her intercession, aid in their salvation with the love, tenderness, and magnanimity which has marked her love for Him. And can we doubt that the sorrowful mother promised to do so? And the blood, which gushed from the five sacred wounds, fell upon her there, thus sealing the solemn promise she made to Christ.
“My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken Me?”
Mary understood the meaning of this complaint. Christ suffered, as it were, the punishment of separation from God, incurred on account of sin; but what more than all afflicted His heart, was the knowledge, that in spite of that blood He so freely shed for man amid temptations, trials, afflictions, and intense pain, for so many it would be shed in vain.
“I thirst!” It was not sufficient for the Saviour to deliver us from the curse of sin, but He would fain induce us to imitate His example, though life itself might be the penalty. Mary heard and understood the plaintive cry, and her wish grew stronger still to win souls for heaven, and console the Sacred Heart.
“It is consummated!” The work of redemption is finished, and Jesus leaves this world with the words: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” “Behold the completion of the work for which Thou didst send me here.”
This perseverance unto the end is the perfect fulfillment of the divine will; but it is a grace which, in reality, not one of the saints in heaven who reached that happy home thereby merited of himself; but as Holy Scripture tells us, and the holy fathers unanimously assert, a solid and tender devotion to Mary is a certain sign of election. “Whosoever finds Me finds life, and draws salvation from the Lord,” says the Holy Ghost, through the Church, in reference to the ever blessed Virgin Mary.
“Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit.” With the most implicit confidence may her devoted clients, as this world recedes from their dying eyes, breathe forth the prayer which the Saviour uttered on the cross.
When St. John of God was dying, suddenly there appeared to him the pure and loving Mother of Jesus at the very moment that he had ceased to hope for that favor. But Mary, who had promised to be there, sweetly said to this faithful servant: “My dear son I never forsake my children in this solemn hour.” O sinners, do not lose courage, hasten to Mary, call upon her, seek her assistance, and she will help you to make a good confession! Draw from her bleeding heart those seven swords of grief which your sins have thrust therein,–the sword of delay in conversion, of impenitence, of scandal, of indifference in matters of religion, of disdain towards the Church and her ministers. Judas forgot to call upon her. O sinners, for Christ's dear sake forget not so sure a refuge, who is ready to help, who longs to save your souls!
O Mary, with St. John we sink down at thy feet, even as if, with Him, thy adopted Son, we were now on Calvary, and cry out from the very depths of our contrite hearts: “O Mother of mercy, be merciful unto us, by the memory of those sorrows which thou didst endure upon the sacred mount. Obtain for us the grace of true contrition of heart, a life free from sin, and a happy death through Jesus Christ, our crucified Lord and Redeemer.–Amen!
“And when Jesus saw His Mother and the disciple whom He loved, He said: Behold thy Mother,”–St. John xix, 26.
Yesterday we considered St. John, the disciple of love; and his beautiful example pointed out to us, in the clearest manner, the conditions necessary for approaching the Table of the Lord, so as to partake of the heavenly food in a worthy manner; and, after its reception, to unite ourselves so intimately with Christ that our reception of the Holy Communion may be indeed like that of St. John, and produce in our souls the same effects of sanctifying love. Today the scene is changed.
Let us glance at him as he stands beneath the cross, beside Mary, the Mother of fair love, and learn no less expressly the conditions upon which we, ransomed sons of men, through the passion and death of Christ, may reap the fruits of the Redemption in their fullness for time and eternity. Today also his characteristic feature, as disciple of love, exemplifies these conditions. And why? Because the more sincere our love for Jesus, the more perfectly will our hearts be prepared to appropriate these fruits; and, from the wounds of our crucified Saviour to receive, without intermission, new distributions of grace.
O Mary, who, under the cross, didst adopt St. John as thy son, adopt us today in like manner as thy children, and obtain for us that love for Jesus which filled his fervent heart! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
If yesterday we beheld in spirit St. John at the Holy Table resting upon the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we learned also how fully he merited, above all the other Apostles, the title, “disciple of love.” And, on this day, so sad, so full of mournful memories, and yet replete with consolation too, we perceive that again he is favored, above all the other Apostles, in being allowed to stand by the Mother of Jesus beneath the cross. Oh, that we all would avail ourselves of the privilege, of being near Jesus–present in the Blessed Sacrament–by visiting and receiving the Son of God!
The fervent love which inflamed the heart of St. John shows us at once what will render our intercourse with Jesus like unto his. And now the love, which burned so brightly amid the spiritual joys of that holy eventide, retains its ardor toward the crucified One in all the desolation of this bitter hour. It glowed in the faithful heart of St. John on Calvary, and exercised a sublime influence upon the holiness of his after life.
To understand better what kind of affections they were which rendered St. John so dear and precious to his suffering Saviour, let us glance first at Mary– the, Mother of Sorrows, the Queen of Martyrs, and the type of all that is holy and beautiful in love–and think of the sentiments which filled her maternal heart as she endured each separate pain inflicted on her beloved Son, for it found its echo there. And these affections were mirrored in the dear disciple's faithful heart, causing Jesus to give, before He left this world, His loving Mother an affectionate son. And what were the feelings of this blessed Mother in that solemn hour, when she beheld the consummation of what had begun some three and thirty years before? Compassion, adoration, thanksgiving, and perfect resignation to the most holy will of God.
Ah, yes! compassion. The sight of a poor body covered with wounds, bruised, and bleeding, always awakens it, especially if the sufferer be the innocent victim of malice; and this feeling is intensified if he be connected with us by the ties of love or blood. Imagine, then, the feelings of a loving mother when her darling child lies wounded or dying in her arms!
During one of my missions the following painful illustration of this came under my personal observation: Two children–two innocent little children– were at play in the yard near by their dwelling, where an elder brother was splitting wood. Unfortunately, the stroke of the axe fell on the hand of the little golden-haired boy of five–the youngest of the three. The hand was almost completely severed from the wrist, and was kept thereon only by a slender piece of skin. Horrified, the brothers carried the little one to his mother, who gave one look and fell fainting on the floor. Judge, then, of the grief of the Blessed Virgin, who possessed the feelings of a loving mother in the highest degree.
And yet, with the sharp sword of sorrow piercing her heart, she stood calmly by, and thought of the priceless value of those sufferings which Jesus underwent. She, who bore so large a part in the redemption of man–Queen of Apostles, and seat of divine wisdom–adored the decree of God, which was completed through the passion and death of Christ, that through the sufferings of a God mankind should be redeemed.
Mary's heart was full of adoration combined with gratitude for her own election as Mother of the Redeemer. Gratitude that she was permitted to stand by the cross and nearest to Him. She thanked God that she was permitted to unite her sufferings with those of her divine Son; and that unto her was given to be mediatrix between Him and the human race. She bowed in meek submission, saying, as first she did in Nazareth: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to Thy word.” Thus prayed the Mother of God, even while the shadow of the cross was darkening her future life, and the sword of grief, which Simeon promised, pierced through her very heart.
And in all this St. John, the beloved disciple, was her counterpart. He felt the most tender pity when looking up at the dying Saviour, now truly the Man of Sorrows. What a change in Him since the evening of the Last Supper, that Holy Repast, the intense joy of which could never be forgotten, and which proved the sweetest solace in the anguish of the present hour! There the Son of God appeared the most beautiful among the children of men; now, the glory was dimmed, and there was no comeliness in Him. St. John was also deeply grateful for having been chosen by Christ to walk by His side through life, to stand by Him in death. He, too, made the sacrifice of his own will, as the Blessed Mother did. Compassion, adoration, gratitude, and submission!
We, too, can participate in these affections; and we must do so, if we would share to the full extent in the merits of Jesus's death. But will it suffice to stop at mere feeling? So far from it, that to think so would be one of the greatest illusions, and must be severely guarded against; for St. John tells us that we must love, not in words alone, but in deeds. That our love for the crucified One may prove itself as true, sacrificing, and faithful as that of St. John, let us keep ever in view the words spoken by Him upon the cross, which, falling upon the ear of affection strained to catch even the faintest whisper of his beloved Lord, illumined the soul of St. John for the rest of his life, and guided him in the way of salvation with their beautiful light.
Let us apply them to ourselves, and imagine that Jesus addresses us thus: “Souls redeemed by Me at the cost of such bitter anguish, if you love Me, sin no more; but profit by these my sufferings, and aim for the joys of heaven.” Ah, yes! my dearest brethren! when pleasure's seducing cup is held to your lips, and you can not quaff therefrom without committing sin, pause then, and think of the weary years of pain which Jesus spent on earth! Think of that life of toil and trial crowned in the latter years by suffering and anguish such as the mind could never conceive, and an ignominious death, and all for you! Think of this, friends, and dash the poisoned cup away!
Yes, it was sin which crucified your Saviour; and St. John grieved over the slightest shadow of evil which might have fallen on his soul; but we may well believe that, after he listened to the words: “Father, forgive,” his beautiful soul was never stained with the smallest fault.
“Amen, I say to thee; this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise.” To St. John was granted the wonderful privilege of beholding the glories of heaven while yet on earth. Detach your hearts from the empty treasures of this world; for, if you would arise with Christ, seek first the things which are of Christ.
“Woman, behold thy son.” “Son, behold thy Mother.” St. John heard the words; he glanced at Mary, drew nearer, and threw himself at her feet beneath the cross. Then he embraced his adopted Mother with all the fervor of filial love. My dear brethren, show your love to Jesus by a tender devotion and love to Mary. Love her with a truly filial love; for Christ, according to St. Bridget and other spiritual writers, has given, in the person of St. John, the entire human race to Mary as her children.
“My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken Me?” Man's life is a warfare; and, at times, it seems indeed as if we were entirely forsaken. Let us, then, like St. John, be ready to suffer every thing, and to give up our very lives rather than commit one single venial sin. Look, with the beloved disciple, at Jesus, the crucified One, and you will conquer and overcome.
“I thirst.” St. John listened. Jesus thirsts after souls, and this favored Apostle understood the mournful cry. And do you not think that he promised the Lord, as a true disciple, to spread His kingdom, and to labor for the salvation of souls, the value of which he saw more clearly in that solemn hour when he witnessed the incalculable cost of their redemption? Try, beloved in Christ Jesus, to imitate him in his zeal for the rescue of human souls.
“It is consummated.” Fidelity to the very end is the most convincing proof of true love, which “many waters can not quench,” as Holy Scripture affirms. Be faithful, then, O Christians, whose salvation has been purchased at such a price; and, for love of Him whose sufferings we commemorate tonight, falter not, but persevere until the last. And then when that awful day will dawn, which hath for you no night, or that evening twilight fall, of which you will never see the morn, with perfect hope you can sigh: “Come, my Jesus, come,” and yield up your spirit in the affections of your faithful love to Him with the longing desire of St. John, and the holy confidence of St. Francis Xavier. Ah, yes! then you may well cry out: “I have loved and trusted in Thee, O my God, and will therefore never be confounded. I die in Thy blessed arms, O Jesus, my Crucified Love.”–Amen!
“O death, where is thy sting?”–1 Cor. xv, 55.
If I, dearly beloved in Christ Jesus, have meditated with you upon the manifold miseries which drape our lives with the sable hue of gloom, I have also reminded you how Christ, the luminous Sun of justice, shines even amid this mournful night and brightens it with the most consoling rays of hope. There is, however, a still greater likeness between a dark and starless night and the condition of the departing soul. Oh, how terrible is the darkness which overshadows it at the approach of that moment which is to witness the separation of the soul from that body to which it has been so long and so intimately united–when it must depart alone, and, uncheered by the companionship of even one earthly friend, enter on a path all new and strange, “the house of its eternity!” The sight leaves the dim and fading eyes, and night comes for that dying man, although the sun's bright glow may fill the room. But, alas! the shadows fall deeper still when despair sets in, and envelop the departing soul in a night of desolation and woe.
Yes, even to God's saints has it been given to walk through the dark valley of bitter agony before they could enter the joys of heaven. The great St. Hilary trembled when his death hour approached, thinking of the words of St. Paul: “It is terrible to fall into the hands of the living God;” but, taking courage, he exclaimed: “What! You have served God for seventy years, and now are afraid to appear before Him. Fear not, my soul, but go forth to meet your God; ” and so he departed, full of holy hope.
Would you also, my brethren, be blessed with the sweet confidence of St. Hilary at the hour of death? It is in your power–for what animates the dying Christian who has faithfully served his Lord, is a glance at the crucifix which is placed in his hands; for Christ is the Sun which brightens the dark hour of death.
O Mary, Mother of a happy passage, as the twilight of life gathers over our souls, assist us by thy prayers, that our eyes may unclose upon the eternal day! I speak in the most holy name of Jesus, for the greater honor and glory of God!
As we read in the lives of the holy fathers in the desert, who lived in their little cells in Egypt, it came to pass that an Abbot of great renown lay on his dying bed. His spiritual children, who loved and revered him for his wonderful sanctity, gathered from far and near to witness that edifying death and pray for the departing soul. The face of the dying man was illumined with divine love as he uttered distinctly the words: “Behold, the choir of patriarchs approaches to meet me.” The hermits, in awe, remained silent, and ventured not to speak; when, after a short pause, there fell upon the listening group an exultant cry: “Behold, the venerable prophets are coming to meet me.”–After a brief silence his countenance became still more brilliant as, lifting up his voice, he exclaimed: “The apostles of Christ are here, and wish to bear me away to heaven.”–Another interval of silence; the lips of the venerable servant of God moved again; and on being asked with whom he was conversing, he replied: “The angels are here, and wish me to go with them, that they may introduce me to the joys of heaven; but I ask them to leave me here still longer, that I may perform more penance for my sins.” One of the fathers then said: “Venerable Abbot, you do not need to do longer penance.”–And behold, his face shone as if he were in an ecstasy of delight, and he cried: “Jesus my Saviour cometh!” and with these words the lovely dawn of a happy eternity broke upon his soul, as it went forth to dwell forever with God.
My dearest Christians, a similar halo of consolation may one day irradiate your dying bed, if you be but faithful, when Christ the Lord, not only in vision, but with body and soul, divinity and humanity, comes to your hearts. The priest will administer to you the Sacred Host as viaticum before you go to receive the reward of a well-spent life.
This blessed assurance which I give you, however, from this holy place, can not be offered to every dying person, but only to such as have believed and hoped and loved during life, and who have observed all the commandments of God and of His Church. Even they, as I said before, may in their last agony, by the permission of God, feel a great interior desolation for their greater purification, that they may enter at once into everlasting bliss.
We have considered the trials which, from the cradle to the grave, are the lot of man, in my discourse of yesterday, and beheld the five rays which come from the sorrowful heart of the agonizing Jesus, to encourage us amid these trials and troubles, and also in the many and violent temptations which will encompass the soul.
In the terrors of death's dark night, my dear brethren, there will be seven consoling rays in the seven words which Jesus spoke upon the cross, and of those I will speak tonight.
“Father, forgive.” This is the first ray which illumines the night of death for the faithful child of the Church. It is a most sweet solace for those who have never offended God by mortal sin–who have ever cherished unspotted the white robe of their baptismal innocence. Alas! they are but few. We know that the angelic youth St. Aloysius received the tidings of his approaching death with the greatest joy, for he immediately entoned the Te Deum.
But few who pass the morning of life, not to speak of those who have borne the burdens of years, leave this world with their baptismal innocence unstained. I look around this sacred edifice and see before me a goodly multitude who have come hither to commemorate the Saviour's death, and perhaps–alas! I fear is more than a perhaps–many of them have so deeply offended the crucified Saviour that conscience torments them and gives them no rest; and they say: “What will become of us if, in our dying moments, Satan holds up the long list of our offenses in all their enormity?” Do not despair: confess those sins with fervent sorrow; the blood of Jesus will wash the guilt away; else, why did He cry to the eternal God: “Father, forgive”?
It may be that, although you have sinned, you have already repented and sought reconciliation with God by a good confession. If so, how sweet those words for you: “Father, forgive”! And Who uttered them? The same Christ Who said to His Apostles and their successors in the holy ministry to the end of time: “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained;”–the same Jesus Who, to strengthen you at the hour of death, instituted the sacrament of Extreme Unction, which washes away the least trace and stain of sin from the soul, and even the relics of sin. It is the same Saviour Who will forgive your sins at any time while the breath still lingers in your body, even at the very final moment, through the infinite merits of His passion and death. Yes, my brethren, He will do this if you but turn your dying eyes upon Him with a confiding and repentant heart; for a single drop of His precious blood, of which the value is infinite, would be sufficient to redeem a thousand worlds.
Why, then, O Christians–why should you despond? Christ is praying for you to the Father. He, the Lamb of God, Who taketh away the sins of the world, has He forgotten you? Detach your hearts from earthly goods and pleasures, for, believe me, what darkens the dying moments of so many Christians is an undue attachment to them. If a person, during the course of a long life, has set his heart upon the riches of this world and labored to amass its treasures, how grieved will he not be, at the hour of death, to feel that they are slowly but surely slipping from his grasp! Oh, then, “die daily” to the world! Seek first the Kingdom of heaven, and you may indeed cry out: “O death, where is thy sting?”
“This day thou shalt be with me in Paradise.” These consoling words were spoken by Christ upon the cross. Oh, what a flood of light they pour upon the obscure night of the departing soul! The thought–“I leave the delights and treasures of the world; but what are they in comparison to those which await me in heaven?”– inspires the heart with the wish to possess the goods of the Lord in the country of the living, and to enjoy that bliss of which St. Paul affirms: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
What throws a shadow of gloom over the dying hour is the grief the sufferer feels at leaving behind the friends he sees weeping around his bed. This is a feeling from which even pious souls are not exempt. But, Christians, be consoled; Jesus from the cross cried out: “Woman, behold thy son! Son, behold thy Mother!” If you have honored Mary, like a good child, and followed her holy example, then will she assist you in your last moments, even though father, mother, sisters, and brothers should forsake you.
Oh, what a luminous ray of celestial light is contained in the thought: “The Holy Virgin will be with me; St. Joseph, the Archangel St. Michael, and all the saints whom I have begged to obtain for me a happy death, will surround me; my guardian angel will defend me from the spirits of evil, and strengthen me to resist their attacks.”
It is true that I must leave those who are dear to me, but I will be welcomed by those of my friends who await me in heaven. Oh, what joy to be forever united with them in a home where neither death nor sorrow can enter!
“My God! my God! why hast thou forsaken me?” Thus did Christ pray in accordance with the psalm which predicted His sufferings. The pious child of the Church need never complain that God has forsaken him. Christ comes to him in the viaticum, to strengthen his soul in the supreme moment of his last agony.
My friends, it is hard to die. Death is a punishment of original sin. But how encouraging the thought: “It is the act, the most precious act, by which I give back my life to Him Who bestowed it, if I so overcome myself that I resign myself willingly to His divine decree and unite my will so entirely to His as to desire this very death, in this very place, and in this very manner, and all because my loving Saviour wished it so.” If, beloved in Christ, you can meet death with such entire resignation, the flames of Purgatory will be extinguished for you, and your Lord and Judge will bid you enter at once into the joys of His heavenly home.
“I thirst!” This plaintive cry deeply affected the Blessed Virgin and St. John. Happy the Christian who has lived only for Jesus. At the hour of death his heart will be filled with the desire of the Apostle “who longed to be dissolved and to be with Christ;” and this the more because death takes from us the possibility of ever again committing sin.
“It is consummated.” What a sweet assurance of rest and peace is contained herein! The burning love from the heart of the dying Saviour illumines the words with the brightest rays of consolation and hope. “It is consummated.” The life of toil and sacrifice of three and thirty years is over; the cruel scourging, the sharp pain of the stinging thorns, the anguish of the crucifixion, are over: “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” O blessed eye which heralds the dawn of eternal glory! What a consoling ray of divine hope, not only for the Saviour, but for the Christian about to leave this world, if he too has been faithful unto death! How trifling will then be all the labors, toils, and mortifications he endured for the love of God, and how sweet the thought of the consequent bliss which awaits his soul!
Let us so regulate our lives that we may taste this sweetness not only at the close of life, but at the close of the day when we sink into sleep, “the image of death.” “It is consummated.” “Father, into Thy hands I commend my spirit.” One glance at the crucified Jesus is sufficient to inspire the heart with the certain hope that sustained St. Francis Xavier in his last moments, as he pressed His image to his lips: “O my crucified Love, I have trusted in Thee and will never be confounded.”
Dearest Jesus, so dispose our hearts in life that at the last dread hour You may appear to us as the glorious Sun of justice, to brighten with these sevenfold rays the gathering gloom which fain would darken our passage into eternity.–Amen! (5)
Good Friday: The Greatest of All Sorrows
by Bishop Ehrler, 1891
“O all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.” (Lament, i : 12.)
I present to your pitying contemplation, this morning, my dear brethren, the mightiest, the most profound sorrow that earth has ever witnessed. It is not merely a single affliction, (such as is often endured by the human heart), but the sum of all suffering and woe, that fullness of all sorrow, united and enclosed in a single heart, and that heart, the sacred heart of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ! The King of martyrs, our divine Redeemer, appears, today, before our minds in bloody garments, saying to us: “Oh all ye that pass by the way, attend, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow.” Who will refuse to compassionate Him, overwhelmed with the bitterest anguish for our salvation? Who can live through this day, of all others in the year, without being penetrated by the most profound and sincere compassion for the mangled and martyred Lamb of God?
Behold, how our holy Church, the Bride of the King of martyrs, laments for her beloved! She can not find words to express her deep, sharp pain. Clad in the garments of mourning, with anguish in her countenance, and tears in her eyes, she sits before the Cross of her Bridegroom, and tenderly bewails His sufferings and death. To each of her children she cries out, today; “Let tears, like a torrent, run down day and night; give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thy eye cease. Arise, give praise in the night, in the beginning of the watches; pour out thy heart like water before the face of the Lord.” (Lament. 2: 18, 19.)
The bitter Passion of Jesus should always and continually engage the contemplation of our souls. Day and night, like the blessed in heaven, should we adore the wounds of our Redeemer; ever and always, should we weep with all holy souls over those sufferings which were borne for love of us. But today, my brethren, when all these agonies pass swiftly before our eyes, when the blood flows afresh, and the death-sweat oozes from his body, must not the stream of our tears, like a torrent, run down day and night? Ah! yes: the Passion and Death of our dear Redeemer reveal to us this Goos Friday morning the greatest and deepest of all sorrows.
I. Because of the extreme torments suffered;
II. Because of the person who endured those torments; and
III. Because of the cruel cause of those torments.
I. Who can fathom the depths and the bitterness of the deep sea of human anguish? Who can count the tears that have been shed since the unhappy fall of Adam? Who can reckon the cries of woe and misery, of agony and despair, that have issued from the mouth of one single suffering man? Yet there has been no earthly sorrow which can even be compared with that of our Saviour. If ail the pains and miseries of the whole earth were collected together and united in one great mass of anguish, the sufferings of our Redeemer would far outweigh them all. So immense, so profound, so overwhelming were they, that only the mighty heart of the God-Man could endure them.
1. The prophet Isaias beheld in a vision the future sufferings of the Messias, and saw the holy Victim covered with blood and wounds; but when he attempted to paint the picture of the King of Martyrs, O then, my brethren, he was bewildered by the terrible, the awe-inspiring apparition. “Who hath believed our report? And to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? He shall grow up as a tender plant before him, and as a root out of a thirsty ground; there is no beauty in him, nor comeliness; and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness that we should be desirous of him; despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with infirmity.” (Is. 53: 1-3).
“A worm, and no man; the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people,” (Ps. 21 : 7.), our Lord Jesus Christ has suffered all the pains which the soul can suffer. He has borne the excess of mental sufferings, such as anguish and fear, sorrow and desolation, dejection and dereliction–all that can inflict torture upon the heart of man. He cries out: “My soul is sorrowful even unto death” (Matt. 14: 34.); and then He sinks to the earth overcome by so fierce an agony that it forces a bloody sweat to issue from every pore of His sacred body. Each separate torment which He afterward endured in all the members of His body, He consented to suffer beforehand in His heart and soul. “Where is there a grief like unto my grief?”
2. Yes, my brethren, He suffered in every member of His sacred body. “From the sole of the foot to the top of the head, there is no soundness therein; wounds and bruises and swelling sores: they are not bound up, nor dressed, nor fomented with oil.” (Is. 1 : 6.) His head is crowned with piercing thorns; His eyes are filled with blood that streams from His wounded brow; His cheeks are bruised by the blows of a wicked servant; His hands and feet are pierced through with cruel nails; His heart is opened with a spear; His shoulders are torn with terrible lashes, and all His wounds are inflamed and widened by the repeated taking-off and putting-on of his sacred garments. “Where is there any sorrow like to my sorrow?”
He endured every kind of affliction–His bitter chalice contained every form and species of woe. As a babe, He was repulsed by His own creatures, and forced to accept as a birth-place, a cold and miserable stable. As a helpless and harmless child, He was threatened with death, and obliged to flee from His own country into a distant and barbarous land. When grown to manhood, His chosen people, to whom He had shown naught but kindness, whom He had loaded with favors and benefits, despised and persecuted Him. They said: “He hath a devil,” and they sought to take His life. They tried to rob Him of His honor and reputation. He was betrayed by one of His own disciples, and sold by him for a contemptible sum of money, and this under the mask of friendship. He was deserted by His cherished disciples, who had sworn to follow Him unto death. He was bound with cords, and led forth like a criminal amid the wild clamor of His enemies. He was falsely accused, and dragged about from one tribunal to another. He was mocked and despised; a murderer and robber was preferred before Him. He was deprived of His clothing before the eyes of the whole people, and thus, stripped naked, was nailed to the cross: and even on the cross He was scoffed at and denied unto the end. Indifference and cowardice, human respect and treachery, hypocrisy, derision, malice, in fact, every kind of evil, had a share in His torments. “Where is there any sorrow like to my sorrow?”
He suffered from every class of men, priests and laymen, princes upon their thrones, and the scum of the people; strangers who knew Him not, and those of His own race; pagans who persecuted Him through ignorance, and Jews who had been instructed in the Law; soldiers hardened by cruel warfare, and judges who were appointed to protect the innocent; the ignorant who were the blind tools of the malignant Pharisees, and the learned who were filled with evil wisdom–all conditions of human society, all degrees of rank, became His enemies. He had not one executioner alone (as has the greatest criminal), but hundreds and thousands of them. “Where is any sorrow like unto my sorrow?”
He suffered throughout His whole earthly career, since no moment of it was free from pain and affliction. All the days of His life, the awful vision of His future sufferings stood out clearly before His omniscient eye, filling His soul with unspeakable woe and dread. Death itself did not put an end to the outrages heaped upon Him; for when He hung lifeless upon the cross, His enemies continued to wreak then vengeance upon His sacred remains. They pierced His side with a lance; they sealed up His grave and placed a watch upon it so that “that deceiver,” as they called Him, might not come forth from the tomb. Jesus, as St. John remarks, knew ” all things that were to come upon him.” (John 18:4.) “My sorrow is continually before me,” the Psalmist says in His person. (Ps. 37 : 18.) “My enemies have trodden on me all the day long; for there are many that make war against me.” (Ps. 55 : 3.)
3. Where is there sorrow equal to His sorrow? He suffered all these pains and sorrows from those who had been His friends, and for whose salvation He had descended from heaven to earth. His people, chosen before all the nations of the earth, whom He had led out of Egypt, fed with manna in the desert, opened the fountain of living water in the hard rock; whose enemies He had subdued, through whose cities, towns, and villages He went about blessing and doing good–this, His chosen people, prepared all these afflictions and humiliations for Him, their Messias. “The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel hath not known me.” (Is. 1 :3.) “I have brought up children, and exalted them, but they have despised me.” (Is. 1 :2.) Hearing these lamentations of our outraged God, must we not again exclaim: What sorrow is like unto His sorrow!
4. He endured all these sufferings without the least alleviation. No earthly consolation was offered Him, for His disciples had all fled; no heavenly comfort was sent to lighten His pain. He offered Himself willingly to suffer, and He wished to drink the bitter chalice even to the dregs. For this reason, He refrained Himself as far as possible from the succors of His Divinity, so that He might be, as it were, abyssed in the very depths of sorrow. “I have trodden the wine-press alone, and of the Gentiles there was not a man with me.” (Is. 63 : 3.) “I looked for one that would grieve together with me, but there was none; and for one that would comfort me, and I found none. And they gave me gall for my food; and in my thirst, they gave me vinegar to drink.” (Ps. 68 : 21, 22.)
In heart-felt sympathy, my brethren, let us, today, contemplate this deep ocean of suffering, for to nothing else can the great and bitter sorrows of our Redeemer be compared. “Let tears like a torrent run down day and night: give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thy eye cease.” The earth, the elements, and all inanimate nature once trembled on this day with grief and compassion for the mangled Lamb of God, and shall we, for whose salvation He was slain, alone remain indifferent? Let us fall upon our knees before our crucified Jesus,–let us venerate His sorrows, and detest with bitter tears the sins which caused His unspeakable sufferings.
II. Consider next, my beloved Christians, the dignity of the Person who endured those sufferings.
1. Who is this Man of Sorrows who appears before us, with torn and bleeding body and pierced heart?” Who is He that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra?” we ask in astonishment with the prophet Isaias. (Is. 63 :1.) “Why then is thy apparel red, and thy garments like theirs that tread the wine-press?” (Is. 63 : 2.) No human heart is strong or heroic enough to carry such a burden of sorrow, without being crushed, broken, annihilated! Ah, my beloved, the Man of Sorrows is the only-begotten Son of God–the strong and mighty Deity, who, for love of us, has borne all these torments; who in order to make satisfaction for our sins, took their crushing weight upon Himself and suffered in our stead. He, the Man of Sorrows, saw the want and misery of the earth, He saw the corruption of sin which had opened the abyss of hell, and closed the gates of heaven. From the throne of His heavenly glory, He looked down with grief upon the earth, and saw that only His own almighty hand could rescue it from its extreme and hopeless wretchedness. The prayers and sacrifices of centuries had been inadequate to appease the divine wrath. Neither Angel nor Archangel could make the requisite satisfaction to the offended majesty of God, or deliver the world from its impending ruin. Penetrated with an incomprehensible love, the Divine Word cries out to His heavenly Father: “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not; but a body thou hast fitted to me . . . then said I, behold I come . . . that I should do thy will, O Lord!” (Heb. 10: 5-7.) “The Father did not lay the cross upon His Son without His consent,” says St. Cyril, “but the Son has given Himself for us on the cross, and the Father has agreed to it, so that the mystery of salvation might be accomplished.” (St. Cyril.)
2. The Man of Sorrows bore within Him a divine heart, and He suffered with the strength and supernatural power of a divine being. It is true that while He suffered intensely in His human nature, the divine nature was incapable of suffering, yet the divine, being united with the human nature, could not but sympathize with the sufferings of the latter. Indeed, Christ as God wished to sympathize with and share the sufferings of His humanity, so that, thereby, a sacrifice of infinite value might be offered to His Heavenly Father, as an infinite atonement for our sins. Where is there a sorrow like unto this sorrow?
Go through all the ranks of human beings, my dear Christians, and contemplate the misery which meets you on every side. Ponder well the greatest sorrow that has ever been the portion of any earthly creature, and you will acknowledge, after all, that it is only the suffering of a human heart. For all its depth and intensity it is only the trembling outcry and complaint of a finite human soul. But the sorrow which Jesus Christ endured, contains within its unfathomable depths–the unsearchable emotions of an incarnate God! Again: were it possible for the Angels of heaven to experience pain; nay, more, if they accepted it with the whole power of their angelic nature, the united sufferings of all that multitude of mighty spirits compared with those of our Redeemer, would be only as a soft sigh which trembles for a moment on the summer air. Where is sorrow like unto his sorrow?
3. Behold, again, this Man of Sorrows, and meditate upon the lessons of His wounds. Consider not merely that grand, divine Heart which bears human suffering with superhuman strength, but, if you would still further sound the depths of Christ's excessive sorrow, contemplate, also, that sacred body which is led like a lamb to the slaughter. Not a human body formed from base and sinful dust of the earth is the body of Jesus Christ, but a miracle of the omnipotence and wisdom of God. It is a wonderful creation formed by the Holy Ghost in the immaculate womb of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary. Not merely royal blood flows through His veins, the tender plant from the root of Jesse, but this body is created by the divine operation of God Himself. As all the works of God are more perfect, the clearer and the more forcibly they show forth His power; as the manna which the Lord sent from heaven was sweeter and more exquisite than any earthly food; as the wine which our Saviour created at the marriage of Cana was finer than any juice of the vine; as Adam, the first man, had a most beautiful and perfect human body, because God Himself had formed it from the slime of the earth–so the body of Jesus Christ was more wondrously beautiful and perfect than that of any other human being. It was fine and delicate and perfect beyond all creatures, and formed with special capabilities for suffering. He was appointed to be the Lamb of God, to bear, and to take away, the sins of the world. According to the will of God, as well as through the nature of His holy body, the humanity of our Redeemer must have felt all His pains and sorrows much more keenly and intensely than could any other human body. The greatest and sharpest agony struggled and raged in the most sensitive and delicate of vessels; but through the will of God and the love of our Saviour, the vessel, not being able to break, endured and felt that extraordinary anguish to the bitter end. The fiercest fire, finding the most inflammable material, continues, without consuming or annihilating it, to feed upon it with ever increasing violence, as long as divine Justice requires the holocaust! Where is there a sorrow like unto this sorrow?
4. “Go forth, ye daughters of Sion; and see King Solomon in the diadem wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals.” (Cant. 3:11.) Behold your Bridegroom, who has delivered you through such exceeding sorrow, and has espoused Himself to your soul at such a great price! Not only will we fall down in adoration and extol the sufferings of our Redeemer, but lovingly we will raise up our eyes to the King and Bridegroom of our souls, and gratefully consecrate the love of our hearts to Him, the Incarnate God, who has given the whole of His divine and human nature to suffer for our redemption!
III. Come now, my dearly beloved, and descending once more into the deep abyss of our Saviour's Passion, let us search with sincere earnestness for the cause of these terrible sufferings, this ineffable sorrow.
1. On account of our sins, my brethren, the Son of God came down from the glory of heaven. A great invalid lay suffering upon the earth, and a great Physician must needs appear to save and heal him. Love moved the good Samaritan Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world, to take pity on sick humanity, and to offer to His heavenly Father the atonement for our sins. But was it necessary that our Saviour should suffer so much and so deeply? Would not a single sigh from his divine Heart have sufficed to appease the wrath of the Eternal Father? Certainly; one single drop of His precious blood was sufficient to cleanse the whole world from sin. A single work of our divine Saviour is everlasting and infinite in its redeeming power. Then, wherefore, has He borne the supreme measure of sorrow? Why did He wish to drain the bitter chalice to the dregs? It was to expiate our sins in general, as well as in particular. Every sin that has been or will be committed upon the earth He, in His character of Mediator, has atoned for. “Behold the man,” cried out Pilate, as he presented the scourged and bleeding Redeemer to the gaze of the Jewish people. “O, Pilate!” we must exclaim, “thou hast announced a deep truth!” Before us stands the Man who has taken upon Himself all the sins of the human race, and who bears them and atones for them in His own body. Before us stands the Man in whom we can see our sins and their punishment. “Surely He hath borne our infirmities, and carried our sorrows; and we have thought Him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But He was wounded for our iniquities, He was bruised for our sins; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him, and by His bruises we are healed.” (Is. 53 : 4, 5.)
2. Contemplate, today, the sufferings of our Saviour, my beloved brethren, and see if there is one sin which He has not taken upon himself and expiated. Consider first, our individual sins, and in them you will recognize all the sins of the world. Faithless and ungrateful, humanity has turned away from the the good God, and bartered His friendship and love for the miserable wages of sin. The disciples, fleeing, abandon their divine master; Judas betrays Him for thirty pieces of silver; His enemies take Him prisoner, and bind Him like a criminal; they drag Him from one tribunal to another. Behold the man who continues in his vices, who is not satisfied with one sin or one insult to the Lord! They weave a crown of thorns and press it upon His head; they place a reed in His hand, and clothe Him in a garment of mockery. Behold the man who raises his head proudly and haughtily, who would elevate his throne as high as the stars in heaven! They scourge Him with cruel lashes, until His sacred body, which is exposed naked to the gaze of the rabble, is covered with blood. Behold the man who shamelessly wallows in the lusts of the flesh, rejoicing in them, and defiling his body with the filth of iniquity. Pilate releases a murderer, and condemns innocence to death. Behold the man who, full of envy, and jealousy, grudges his neighbor his position, or his fortune. They pierce His hands and feet with cruel nails. Behold the man who misuses his members for sin, whose feet hasten upon the road to ruin, and whose hands are greedily stretched forth towards injustice. They give Him gall and vinegar to drink. Behold the man who indulges in gluttony, and gratifies all his sensual appetites! They mock Him in His sufferings, and cry out to Him: “If thou art the Son of God, come down from the cross!” Behold the man who, in his anger, knows no limit to his hatred and revenge! In death, they pierced His Sacred Heart; and at the same time they pierced the soul of the man who had given away his heart to strange gods. Behold the man of sin! Behold the man of punishment!” It is not the Redeemer and the Saviour,” each one of us might exclaim, “that hangs before me upon the cross, it is I myself whose sins he has borne and atoned for, it is the man of sin that is crucified in Him!”
“What was the cause of Thy suffering, O Son of God?” exclaims St. Anselm. “I was the scourge of Thy pain; I the cause of Thy death; I the sting of Thy torments; I the ground of Thy condemnation. O marvelous verdict, O mysterious dispensation! The wicked sin, and the just is punished; the guilty commit the offense, and the innocent atones for it; the master pays for what the servant has broken; God becomes surety for the debts of man.”
3. Wherein lies the cause of all these incomprehensible sufferings of our Saviour? He did not wish merely to bear all the sins of the world in His afflicted person, but, also, to make an everlasting and superabundant satisfaction for us, in order to lay up for us an everlasting and superabundant merit. “Christ has paid much more than we owed,” says St. Chrysostom; “as much as the ocean exceeds a drop of water, so much do Christ's merits exceed our guilt.” (Hom. 20 in Epist. ad. Rom.) This superabounding merit of Christ does not merely blot out all the stains of sin and its punishment in us, but it, also, wins for us in the richest measure all the graces necessary to our souls for the gaining of everlasting life. As the good Samaritan did not merely raise up the wounded man from the wayside, and wash his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, but, also, out of love, placed him upon his horse, and brought him to an inn, and left money for his further care, so our Redeemer, the genuine Good Samaritan, does not simply heal the wounds of Our hearts through His atonement; but, also, gives us, through His holy Passion, all graces in the highest degree. He would reveal to the world His everlasting love and its great power; therefore has He suffered so much for us. As the loving pelican opens its breast and gives its own life-blood to feed its famishing brood, so does Jesus, our Pious Pelican, nourish and strengthen our souls with His own sacred Blood, the last drop of which He shed for us.
Today, then, my beloved brethren, let us descend into the holy mystery of the Passion of our Lord. And when we have gone down into the deep well whence such streams of suffering and sorrow burst forth, each one of us may strike his breast remorsefully, and cry out to himself in bitter sorrow: “Thou art the cause of all these innumerable sufferings of Thy Redeemer!” Our sins have prepared these pains for our loving Saviour. Therefore “let tears, like a torrent, run down day and night: give thyself no rest, and let not the apple of thine eye cease.” Today, at least, dear Christians, let us pour out our hearts like water before the face of the Lord. When King David learned and recognized of old the justice of God in his family, and when the punishing hand of the Lord was revealed to him, then that royal penitent “kept a fast, and going in by himself, lay upon the ground. And the ancients of his house came to make him rise from the ground, but he would not: neither did he eat meat with them.” (2 Kings 12: 16, 17.) So let us spend in the holy practice of prayer and penance this solemn day, in which the Justice and the Mercy of God have been so clearly revealed to us: and let us promise the Lord, my dear brethren, at the foot of His cross that, henceforth, we will never again renew His endless sufferings, and unspeakable sorrows, by any future relapses into sin. Amen. (6)
Image: Crucifixion, artist: Gabriel Wüger , circa 1868. (14)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff