The Passion of Christ Today
by Father John A. Hardon, SJ
There is something special about the liturgical seasons. They are, in a true sense, meant to be year-round reminders of the cardinal mysteries of our faith, and a daily inspiration to put into practice what we believe.
The season of Lent is no exception. Humanly speaking we may look forward to the end of Lent and the dawn of Easter Sunday. But supernaturally the spirit of Lent should pervade the whole year. So we ask ourselves: What does the season of Lent mean?
The season of Lent means many things.
- It is a season of penance, during which we are to perform some extra mortification and self-denial to expiate our sins.
- It is a season of preparation for the coming of Easter and the commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection from the dead.
But Lent is especially a period during which we are to be more than ordinarily conscious of our Lord’s sufferings and death. In other words, Lent is the season of Christ’s passion.
Saying this, however, we are saying more than meets the eye. What do I mean? I mean that meditating on the passion of Christ is more than reflecting on a past memory.
Certainly God became man in the Person of Christ, in order that as man He might suffer and die for our sins. The agony in the Garden, the betrayal by Judas, the scourging and crowning with thorns, the mockery by Herod, the unjust condemnation by Pilate and the bloody crucifixion on Calvary were all real. They did take place. And Lent is that time in the liturgical year when believing Christians try to be more aware of these facts, and make them a vivid object of their prayerful meditation and prayer.
Christ is Suffering Now
All of this is true. But it is not the whole story. Our faith tells us that the Savior really suffered on the Way of the Cross and died in His physical body, and that He can personally die no more.
But faith also tells us that Christ is still alive in his Mystical Body on earth, and this Mystical Body can suffer even now. It can suffer indeed. Remember that Christ identifies Himself with His members, as He told St. Paul, “Why do you persecute me?” This St. Paul remembered all his days. Time and time again he came back in his letters to tell us:
- The church is the Body of Christ.
- The faithful in Christ are Christ in His mystical Body on earth.
Now we ask: Is Christ in His Mystical Body suffering today? Is He being crucified today? He is. And we had better make sense of this continued crucifixion if we wish to remain faithful in the following of Christ, which means in the imitation of Christ, which means to become like Christ in carrying our cross on the way to our death, even as He carried His cross on the way to Calvary.
What is this crucifixion of ours that is to imitate the passion of the Savior? It is the crucifixion of massive persecution that the Church of Christ is suffering in our day: The Church is being persecuted in communist countries like Soviet Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, and Romania; in Red China, North Korea, and Vietnam.
The Church is being persecuted in nations like the United States, where so many of the laws are in open contradiction to the teachings and precepts of Christ:
- Where the murder of unborn infants is legalized;
- Where contraception has become a way of life;
- Where the media continue an endless barrage of propaganda against the Catholic Church, and some of the nations largest newspapers as a consistent, regular, years’ long policy downgrade things Catholic, canonize the Church’s traitors, and literally brainwash millions of American citizens with a secularism that is, if anything, more godless (because it is professedly anti-Christian) than the paganism of the Mediterranean world in which Christ was crucified.
But most sad of all, the Church is being persecuted from within, by her own members and – what an irony – by her chosen souls who had vowed themselves to serve Christ and now have become His crucifiers. In the sixteenth century, when Christendom was split asunder and a flood of evils fell upon the Church of God, the then Pope Adrian VI solemnly declared that the calamity was “a punishment for the sins of men and especially for the sins of priests and prelates.”
What Adrian VI said then, his successor John Paul II could say now. The hand of God has touched the Church of God for many reasons, most of them mysterious and beyond our understanding; but among these reasons is the justice of God, who is castigating us for our sins and, with emphasis, for the sins of religious, of priests, and of prelates who were called to be the light of Christ to a world in darkness, and who have often failed to live up to their sublime and terrible responsibility.
As we reread the homilies of the late Pope Paul VI or of the present Holy Father, we see how clearly the Vicar of Christ sees the crucifixion of Christ in the modern world. It is, in plain words, Calvary re-enacted all over again.
What should be our reaction to all of this?
First of all we should not be surprised. Remember what our savior foretold.
- “What they have done to me, they will also do to you.”
- “The disciple is not greater than his Master.”
Secondly, we should actually rejoice. Strange words but true. Remember?
- “Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
- “Happy are you when people abuse you and persecute you and speak all kinds of calumny against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward in heaven will be great.”
Finally — and this should be the main lesson we ought to learn from the passion of Christ today — in the sufferings of the Mystical Body — the real meaning of Christianity is to be found in the cross. A Christian is one who embraces this cross.
- To be a true Christian means to expect the cross.
- To be a true Christian means not to run away from the cross.
It means to recognize what those who suffered before us to pass on the faith to us realized: that in the cross is salvation; in the cross is life; in the cross is strength of mind; in the cross is joy of spirit; in the cross is height of virtue.
All of this is true, as the passages of the Gospels make eloquently plain. But on one condition. The cross and suffering and crucifixion — Christ’s and ours — have only as much meaning as we have faith and love. We ask, therefore, to believe, and we ask to love. So we pray:
“Dear Jesus, You died on the cross to show me the value of suffering. Teach me to learn this hard lesson. Teach me to see in You my God who became man and died for love of me. Help me to become like You, my crucified Spouse, that I may die to the world and myself, for love of You. Amen.”
Taken from Spiritual Life in the Modern World.
Copyrighted © 2002 Inter Mirifica. Used with permission.
Previously published in the Tilma, Spring 2002.