Thursday, August 18, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus Carries His Cross

Matthew 10:38:

[38] And he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me.

Matthew 16:24:

[24] Then Jesus said to his disciples: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Luke 14:27:

[27] And whosoever doth not carry his cross and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Matthew 11:28-30:

[28] Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. [29] Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. [30] For my yoke is sweet and my burden light.

Mark 15:20-21:

[20] And after they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own garments on him, and they led him out to crucify him.
[21] And they forced one Simon a Cyrenian who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and of Rufus, to take up his cross.

Luke 23:26-31:

[26] And as they led him away, they laid hold of one Simon of Cyrene, coming from the country; and they laid the cross on him to carry after Jesus. [27] And there followed him a great multitude of people, and of women, who bewailed and lamented him. [28] But Jesus turning to them, said: Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not over me; but weep for yourselves, and for your children. [29] For behold, the days shall come, wherein they will say: Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that have not borne, and the paps that have not given suck. [30] Then shall they begin to say to the mountains: Fall upon us; and to the hills: Cover us.
[31] For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?

John 19:16-17:

[16] Then therefore he delivered him to them to be crucified. And they took Jesus, and led him forth. [17] And bearing his own cross, he went forth to that place which is called Calvary, but in Hebrew Golgotha.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

In this mystery, the character of Jesus' suffering takes on a new dimension. In the previous mysteries, Jesus is a passive participant in His suffering. What He endured -- the agony, the physical torment, the mockery -- He endured passively. He was a participant in these sufferings by the fact that He allowed them to occur, but He was passive in them.

In this mystery, Jesus becomes an active participant in His suffering. He deliberately takes up the cross, the symbol of Roman torture and death, the central symbol of His own suffering and death. This is an important lesson for us. Suffering is central to Jesus Kingdom. We shouldn't run from it when it comes to us. But more than that, we shouldn't be unwilling participants, and simply accept that it has to happen. We should actively accept, to take hold of, the suffering that comes to us, to embrace it as a gift from the Father.

Note, however, that Jesus never went out of His way to cause harm to Himself. Moreover, there were certain occasions in His ministry wherein He deliberately avoided harm (think about when the people of His own district drove Him to a hill to throw Him off of it, but He escaped).

This act, then, must be understood within a specific context: the context of salvation. Jesus' suffering wasn't meaningless. He accepted this for a reason and at a specific time (both in history and during the Jewish sacred calendar), and in a unique way. He embraced the suffering of this, His Passion, for the redemption of humanity and the salvation of souls, accomplished during the Pasch, that the angel of death would pass over us, and as High Priest in the order of Melchisedech.

Thus, our suffering should likewise not be without meaning. It should not be sought out, nor endured for its own sake. Our suffering should be embraced within the context of our own redemption and salvation, offered to the Father through and with Jesus, being made perfect by the perfection of His own offering.

But be certain, for Our Lord Jesus warns us, "he that taketh not up his cross, and followeth me, is not worthy of me." We must accept the crosses, the sufferings, the come to us. Discipleship of Jesus requires it. But don't be afraid of this, because Jesus promises us something else; He promises us that the cross is sweet and light.

Take My Yoke Upon You

For anyone reading this who doesn't really know what a yoke is, I'll explain, and I'll be honest, this information is relatively new to me too, so don't feel bad.

A yoke is the wooden crossbeam that goes across the shoulders of two animals, such as oxen, and is attached to a plow or cart that they are, together, pulling. Check out this image to get a better idea:

In the Passion narrative, the obvious image of this is Simon of Cyrene helping Jesus carry His cross. You can imagine Simon bearing one arm of the cross, and Jesus bearing the other, as two oxen yoke with a burden. Well, when Jesus tells us to take His yoke upon us, what else can He mean but His cross?

On the one hand, Jesus tells us that, if we are to be His disciples, we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. On the other hand, Jesus tells to take His yoke upon us. There is a hidden mystery here. Our cross is His yoke, and His yoke is our cross. This is because Jesus has already lifted the burden of our sins upon His shoulders. Whether we pick up our crosses or not, Jesus has already done so. The true weight of the cross is not found in the sinews of its wood. Rather, it is found in the terrible cost of our sins.

Our cross is Jesus' yoke. The cross He carried to Calvary is really our own. The truth is that Simon of Cyrene wasn't helping Jesus carry His cross, Jesus was helping Simon carry his. And whenever we take up the responsibility of our sins, each time we accept the sufferings that belong to us, we stand in the shoes of Simon of Cyrene, and we accept the yoke of Jesus' cross, because it's our own.

And since Jesus is already doing all the heavy lifting, we really own bear a small portion of the burden. A small portion of the burden of our own sins.

But there are two more mysteries associated with this yoke. The first is that, because Jesus' cross carries the weight of all sin, from all men, through all time, when we take up His yoke, when we unite our sufferings to His, we really take up the yoke of the sins of all men with Him. This is why, when we unite our sufferings to Christ, and carry even the small burden that we do, we carry it on behalf of all men, of all who suffer and sin. This is why our own suffering can merit the relief from suffering of others, such as those who suffer in Purgatory. It is because the cross is one, and if we pick it up, we, with Christ, pick it up not just for ourselves, but for all.

And this draws us into the second of these two further mysteries: that those who are yoked together move together. This is true. When two animals are yoked, they cannot go their own ways. As one moves left, the other must also move left, or they do not move at all. As one moves forward, the other also moves forward.

It is fitting that Jesus calls His cross a yoke. For when we pick up the cross, and bear this yoke upon our own shoulders, we become yoked to Christ. As He moves, so do we. In the mystery of the cross, Jesus works through us. This is revealed further when Jesus tells us, "Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me" (John 15:4). Insofar as we pick up our crosses daily and follow Jesus, He works in us. This is because by pickup up His cross, we are yoked together, and what work we do, He does. This is why Paul tells us that it is not he, but Jesus through Him, who works.

And the promise that Jesus makes to us, if we pick up His cross daily, is this: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light."

Weep Not Over Me, But Weep For Yourselves, and For Your Children

So, in light of all of this, what Jesus tells the weeping women begins to make sense. Though the suffering that Jesus is enduring is terrible -- remember all that has gone before, and even after His crowning with thorns, they remove the purple robe, reopening all the wounds on His body, replacing His old robes back on Him, then forcing Him to walk through the city to a country hill, carrying the wood of the cross upon which He is to be executed; humiliation, excruciating pain, the terror of impending death, and the impossible burden of bearing the weight of this cross -- though His suffering was terrible, it is nothing compared to sin.

Weep for sin, and the sins you commit. "For if in the green wood they do these things, what shall be done in the dry?" What shall be done? It is wickedness, evil action, sin that Jesus tells them to weep for, not His suffering. His suffering is redemptive, it brings about healing and easement. Do not weep for that! Weep for sins! For, because of sin we are condemned to suffering and death and eternal damnation. Sin dries up the fertility of our souls. It leaves us barren. There will come a time when that which is evil is called a blessing. Weep for that time.

When we are able to see with the eyes of Christ, our hearts will be turned. We will not run away from the cross. We will embrace it, as He did, as a beautiful remedy to the ills that plague our world. We should not be sorrowful over suffering. Our sorrow should be over evil, over the evil we commit, and over the evil we see others commit. This is the true tragedy of our world, not that there is suffering, but that there is sin!

In the face of our own failings, then, the yoke of the cross becomes a balm, which soothes our souls, and our consciences, and heals our friendship with God. So, let us each pick up our cross daily, stand in the place of Simon, and yoke ourselves to Christ. He is already carrying our burdens. Let us share in it.

God bless.

Monday, August 1, 2016

20 Mysteries: Jesus is Crowned with a Crown of Thorns - Part III

John: 14:6:

[6] Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. 

John 14:12:

[12] Otherwise believe for the very works' sake. Amen, amen I say to you, he that believeth in me, the works that I do, he also shall do; and greater than these shall he do.

John 14:17:

[17] The spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him: but you shall know him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you. 

John 14:27:

[27] Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid. 

John 15:3-5:

[3] Now you are clean by reason of the word, which I have spoken to you. [4] Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. [5] I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit: for without me you can do nothing.

John 15:9-10:

[9] As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. [10] If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father' s commandments, and do abide in his love.

John 15:11-15:

[11] These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and your joy may be filled. [12]This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. [13] Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. [14] You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you. [15] I will not now call you servants: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you.

John 15:18:

[18] If the world hate you, know ye, that it hath hated me before you.

John 15:20:

[20] Remember my word that I said to you: The servant is not greater than his master. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you: if they have kept my word, they will keep yours also.

John 16:6-11:

[6] But because I have spoken these things to you, sorrow hath filled your heart. [7] But I tell you the truth: it is expedient to you that I go: for if I go not, the Paraclete will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. [8] And when he is come, he will convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgment. [9] Of sin: because they believed not in me. [10] And of justice: because I go to the Father; and you shall see me no longer. [11] And of judgment: because the prince of this world is already judged.

John 16:20:

[20] Amen, amen I say to you, that you shall lament and weep, but the world shall rejoice; and you shall be made sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

In part I of this "miniseries," I mentioned that in this third part I would delve deeper into the centrality that suffering takes in His Kingdom, at least for the time being, and that I would examine how Jesus approaches suffering both in this mystery, and the others, why He approaches it this way, and why doing likewise will lead to great joy for us.

Well, here we are. I think by examining these latter questions, regarding Jesus' approach to suffering, we may come to understand why suffering is a central part of His Kingdom, though, in the end, some words will certainly need to be said about it.

Before I begin, though, I would like to take this opportunity to summarize the previous two parts. In part I, I looked at the Mystery of Jesus' coronation with a wreath of thorns, as emblematic of the Person of Jesus, as God, as King, as sufferer, as victor, as bridegroom. I pointed out that all of Jesus' sufferings from the previous Mysteries were present still, and that they would remain to His death, that from His agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, His suffering only grew, and would continue to grow to its culmination in His death.

In part II, I explored the origins of human suffering and death in the Fall of our first king, Adam, through his Original Sin, which was a sin of pride, of disobedience, and of hatred. This Original Sin has left its mark on all of human history. It has marred human relationships, from romance to politics. It, and all human sin, is the source of human suffering, and of human death, both physical and spiritual.

Jesus came to change this. So, let's look at that.

He Will Convince the World

In Jesus' discourse to the Apostles just prior to His Passion, He explains that He must "go to the Father," and that when He does, He will send the "Paraclete" (or Consoler), and that this Paraclete would "convince the world of sin, and of justice, and of judgement" (John 16:8). This teaching, I believe, gives us the key reasons for Jesus' coming.

He came because of sin, which is the source of human suffering and death. He came because of justice, because without it, sin and death would persist. He came because of judgement, because without justice for humanity, the judgement of Hellfire is certain, as it is certain for the demons. The central element here is justice: it restores the ill that has gone before it, and it prevents the ills that may yet come.

Justice, then, is the central reason. But there is something else here that goes beyond logic. Logic and reason come out of God, they are expressions of unity, consistency, and integrity of His infinite and eternal intellect. This is true, also, of Justice, which is an expression of the unity, consistency, and integrity of His infinite and eternal will. But the central character of God is different. It is both reasonable and just, but it is neither of these things. It is what we call Love.

And it is for Love, that Jesus came. "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). If Jesus came to suffer and die for us, then it is for this reason: love. 

Jesus tells us, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life" (John 14:6). Goodness is the proper object of the will. So, Jesus shows us the Way of Goodness. Truth is the proper object of the intellect. So, Jesus teaches us the Truth. Life is the proper object of love. So, Jesus came to give us life. The most important of these is love, because the lie leads to death, the sin leads to death, and hatred leads to death, and the only path to life is love. So, truth and goodness are reliant on love.

It is therefore, out of Love, that Jesus came to us. He came to give us life. But, remember, untruth and evil lead to death, they lead to hatred, therefore, it is not for love alone that Jesus came, but to restore us in fullness, by teaching us the truth, that we may know the truth and not be susceptible to deception, and by acting in complete goodness, that we may walk in His path, and obey His commandments into all goodness.

By this, our natures might be restored.

The Justice of Suffering

But the question has to be asked, why is suffering so important? Why did Jesus have to endure such terrible suffering, and even death? If love and justice are the answers, why do these things demand suffering? The truth is that love and justice do not demand suffering, of themselves. They do demand this in the face of sin, though. 

By sin, we violate our relationship with God, and we harm our own natures. The two consequences of sin are suffering and death. This is the teaching of the Church, a fact of our Faith.

By way of analogy we can understand the "mechanics" of what's going on here. If you take a knife, and you make a cut in your arm, we may say that you have violated the natural integrity of your arm, separating the skin and muscle tissues. This "state" is, in a sense, unnatural. It is also painful, and that pain is a natural consequence to the unnatural state of your arm being cut.

If we try to remove the natural consequence of pain, that leads us to all kinds of problems. The body's nervous system responds to the pain, and activates it's natural healing mechanisms. The blood begins to clot, forming a scab over the wound, a protective barrier that will allow the wound to heal, and to prevent further blood loss. If we could remove pain from our experience of that wound, our body's nervous system would not activate, the clot would not form, the wound would not heal, blood would continue to flow out of it, and it could very well become infected. This, inevitably, will lead to death. We see this in leprosy, wherein the body's nervous system begins to shut down, and over time parts of the body go numb, and pain reception is lost.

But, besides activating that which causes healing, pain also acts as a warning against future wounds. Having felt the pain of having my arm cut, I will work to prevent this occurring again in the future. If I remove the pain, I will not avoid this in the future, causing further wounds, which, accumulating, will lead to death more quickly.

This is how sin works. This analogy is as applicable to the corruption of our natures, as it is to the corruption of relationships. Thus, because the natural consequences of sin are suffering and death, in order to heal the wounds left by sin, it is right and just that we accept these consequences, without attempt at avoidance of them. In accepting these consequences, and allowing them to occur in our lives, we begin the healing process. If we attempt to avoid them, we will only fall further into the death-state of our sinfulness.

Thus, whatever healing Jesus would accomplish in His work of Salvation, it had to come by way of suffering and death. This is the only justice manner of our healing. What we lost, we regain by accepting the consequences of our sin: suffering and death.

Our True King

This is an incomplete picture, however. Justice demands a right and fitting restoration against the crime committed. If what we lost, we lost by way of a particular kind of sin, the to regain what was lost, it must be regained in a fitting act of goodness. The practice of "serving time," for example, may be a just punishment for some crimes, but not a just punishment for others.

The sin of our first king was particular. It was first an act of pride, second an act of disobedience, and third an act of hatred (turning back on God). The act itself was that of reaching for Divinity, the right to determine truth and goodness according to his own choosing. The restorative act, then, had to be a fitting counterpoint to this.

Thus, Jesus "Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man" (Philippians 2:6-7). This was an act of humility; He did not deem Divinity to be something to be sought after at in His humanity. Adam was proud, seeking Divinity.

Thus, Jesus "Saying: Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done" (Luke 22:42). This was an act of obedience; He accepted God's will, even if it meant death. Adam disobeyed God's will, even if it meant death.

Thus, Jesus "[...] also hath loved us, and hath delivered himself for us, an oblation and a sacrifice to God for an odour of sweetness." This was an act of love; He loved us, and he loved the Father, and He lived for both. Adam sinned out of love for himself only. By his sin, he violated his relationship with God, and his relationship with Eve.

Jesus is our True King, who leads us into all glory. He leads us into truth, He leads us into goodness, and he leads us into life and love. He does so by showing us His way of suffering. So, let us abide in the love of Jesus, by following His commandments. 

Let us be particularly attentive to this one: "If any man will follow me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Mark 8:34).

God bless.