Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Runner's Prayer

Many people who participated in yesterday's The Run For John have asked about the prayer I used as the Benediction to begin the 5k Race. I "borrowed" it from this blog and adapted it for our use. I hope to post up the photos soon. Thank you to the original blogger.

Running is Mental: Runner's Prayer One

Our Father,

Accept our gratitude for the opportunity to participate in this contest and in the larger race of life. We accept with thankfulness the wholeness and well being which running contributes to our living. As running brings pleasure to our lives so may our efforts on this day bring pleasure to you, our Creator.

We give thanks for physical bodies wonderfully made. Help us to exercise good stewardship of the health, energy, and clarity of mind provided for our use. Bless our efforts in training to develop these gifts to their full potential.

Give us the strength to endure and the passion to persevere. Protect us from injury and illness. May we possess courage and character in adequate supply to meet the challenge before us.

Grant each of us the integrity to do our best in the quest to finish well. We can do no more and desire no less.

Thank you for the sense of community created by our common commitment to run. As we seek to realize personal goals help us to also celebrate the accomplishments of others. Grant that we may find joy not only in competition but also in the privilege of running together.

Father, we offer this run today in memory of John Bruner, who was an inspiration to us all. Grant comfort to his family and all those who loved him. May our race today be a tribute to our love for him and our union with one another in Christ.

Remind us on this day and through all of life that we never run alone.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

More than they ever hoped for

Homily 4th Sunday Easter C
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr.

At the end of his book, “The Problem of Pain”, C.S. Lewis talks about heaven. He says, “We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky,’ and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love of poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.”

At the end of the Apostle’s Creed, we say, “I believe in life everlasting.” Why? Because of Jesus’ promise in today’s Gospel, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.” If only we would listen to, know, and follow Jesus, we shall never perish, and that is the promise of eternal life.

Well, what is life everlasting, eternal life, the life to come, heaven? In his commentary on the Apostle’s Creed (found in the Office, Sat. of 33rd Week of the year), St. Thomas Aquinas makes several points.

1) First, he says, in eternal life, we will be united with God. “God himself is the reward and end of all our labors.” What does this mean? Well, St. Paul says, “At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.” And whom shall we see face to face, whom shall we know? Jesus Christ, “the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” And what shall we do when we see him, when we are united with him in eternal life?

2) Well, next, St. Thomas says eternal life consists in “perfect praise”. In his great hymn of praise in Ephesians, St. Paul says, “we exist for the praise of his glory, we who first hoped in Christ.” In a sense, we were brought into existence in order to praise God, and we are not complete until we do so. But does God need our praise? The Eucharistic Preface says (Weekdays IV), “You have no need of our praise, yet our desire to thank you is itself your gift. Our prayer of thanksgiving adds nothing to your greatness, but makes us grow in your grace.” God does not need our praise, yet he created us out of nothing so that we could share in his glory and find our fulfillment in praising him.

3) Then, St. Thomas says in the heavenly home of the saints, “their glory will be even greater.” St. Paul says (2 Cor 3:18) “All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory.” Modern man, it seems, believes only in progress, not attainment, as if one gets more pleasure out of the journey than the arrival, more thrill from the hunt than the kill, more excitement from the climb than arrival at the summit. Enlightenment philosopher Lessing would posit this question: “If God held all Truth concealed in his right hand and in his left hand the persistent striving for the Truth, and while warning me against internal error should say, ‘Choose!’ I would humbly bow before his left hand and say, ‘Father, give thy gift: the pure truth is for thee alone.’” (Kreeft, Heaven, p. 85) But St. Paul would say, “All creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and we ourselves also groan as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” And he would compare the journey with the arrival (Rom. 8:18), “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us.” Like Lewis said, “Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.”

4) Finally, St. Thomas says that eternal life consists in the complete satisfaction of every desire. St. Augustine would sum this up with his famous confession, “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our heart can find no rest until it rests in you.”

The philosopher Josef Pieper, in his book “Happiness and Contemplation” puts it this way (Schall, p. 146): “Man as he is constituted, endowed as he is for a thirst for happiness, cannot have his thirst quenched in the finite realm; and if he thinks or behaves as if that were possible, he is misunderstanding himself, he is acting contrary to his own nature. The whole world would not suffice this ‘nature’ of man. If the whole world were given to him, he would have to say, and would say: it is too little.”

Yes, our desires can only be fulfilled by the transcendent God. But St. Thomas adds something interesting. In heaven, he says, “the blessed will be given more than they ever wanted or hoped for.” Basically, he is saying that even though we may see our human desires as vast and great, in fact, they are not great enough, and indeed they are nothing when compared to the infinite God. And St. Paul would anticipate this when he said, “eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and it has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him”.

James Schall puts it this way, “God exceeds all our other pleasures not by denying our other pleasures exist, but by maintaining that God is more delightful than even these.”

If this description of heaven is a “pie in the sky” that really does exist, as Lewis would point out, then we must face it now... and what about “the duty of making a happy world here and now” as our detractors would accuse us of trying to escape? Well, we have looked at Jesus’ promise, “they shall never perish”, but right before that he says, “I give them eternal life.” Who? Those who listen to his voice, know him, and follow him. So, is he talking about the life to come? No, he is referring to those who know him now and follow him here. “I give them eternal life.” Christ is the Good Shepherd who not only leads his sheep to eternal life, but guides, protects, and shelters them on the journey. We are his people, now. The flock he tends, now. So eternal life does not begin simply when we pass from this life to the next, it begins now, here, when we know Jesus, follow him, and listen to his voice. How does this happen?

1) Well, St. Thomas says that in heaven we will be united with God. So we must be united with him now in some way. How? We listen to his voice in Scripture. We are the Body of Christ, so we know him through each other. We follow him by keeping his commandments (Jn 14:15), "If you love me, you will keep my commandments” and by serving his little ones (Mt. 25:40), “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”

2) Then, St. Thomas says that the life to come will consist of “perfect praise”, which means we must begin by praising him now. We praise him through the labors of our daily life, our prayers, works, supplications and sufferings patiently endured. We praise him by faithfully living our vocation and trying to make him known, heard, and followed. And we praise him preeminently in the sacrifice of the Mass, where we our united to his prayer of praise, obedience and sacrifice to the Father, when he offered himself on Calvary.

3) And St. Thomas says that in heaven our “glory will be even greater.” How do we live this now? By following the model of St. Paul, who would say (2 Cor. 10:17), "Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord." If we have any gifts to glory in, then let us do so, not for our own sake, but for the sake of the one who gives such great gifts.

4) Finally, for St. Thomas, eternal life consists in perfect happiness, the complete satisfaction of every desire and indeed the surpassing of every desire. But what about happiness in the here and now? If we seek happiness, will we be accused of the “happy heresy”? Well, St. Thomas maintains that every human action is geared towards one thing: the sumum bonum, the greatest good, perfect happiness, which is God himself. So, all of our actions are geared towards happiness. Even in our sinful actions we are seeking good, just in the wrong place or the wrong manner. And that is how St. Thomas distinguishes himself from the “happy heretics”: for he says, we can seek happiness wrongly.

But St. Thomas also said, “the blessed will be given more than they ever wanted or hoped for”, and this same principle applies to us now when we seek that which is good. Look at the life of Christ: at Cana in Galilee when they needed wine, he didn’t ration his gifts; instead he turned the water into wine, filling 6 stone jars to the brim with the finest wine. When he fed the five-thousand, from five barley loaves they collected 12 baskets full of fragments, because there was more than they could eat. And after the Resurrection, when the disciples were fishing and catching nothing, Jesus told them to cast again, and they were not able to haul in the net because it was full to the breaking point with large fish. When Jesus gives gifts, even in this life, he gives them superabundantly, if only we would be open to his graces and trust him.

So how should we seek happiness in this life? How should we make a happy world of the here and now? Since we know that the happiness in this life will always be tempered with sorrow, incompleteness, imperfection, then we cannot seek after some man-made utopia like the opponents of Christianity. Then what can we do? Well, J.R.R. Tolkein offers this prayer, which should be the model for our prayer and action: We should pray that “what should be, will be.”

And if you think about it, that is a bold prayer of trust, but St. Paul says (2 Cor. 3:12-18), “since we have such hope, we act very boldly.” And where is our hope? In the promise Jesus made, “no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” What is it that should be? That we should declare the Word of God to the ends of the earth, that all peoples, indeed all creation, should find salvation and know and follow the Lord. What is it that will be? As St. John saw, “A huge crowd which no one could count from every nation and race, people and tongue... standing before the throne and the Lamb... never again knowing hunger or thirst... for the Lamb on the throne shepherds them... and leads them to springs of life-giving water... wiping every tear from their eyes.”

Friday, April 16, 2010

Women and Children First

Homily 3rd Sunday of Easter C, St. Joseph's
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., Pastor

Washington D.C., as you know, is a city full of monuments. Many of them are very famous: the towering Washington monument, the noble Lincoln memorial, and the moving Vietnam memorial. But there are many monuments that are perhaps overlooked in a city so full of attractions. One you can find near East Potomac Park. It is an 18-foot statue of a half-clad male, posed on a 30-foot pedestal on which is engraved the following: “To the brave men of Titanic who gave their lives that women and children might be saved.” It was built on donations that began to be collected two weeks after the Titanic sank, when Nellie Taft, the wife of the President, gave the first dollar. And each year, on April 14th, the men of the “Washington Association of the Men of the Titanic” gather for an annual black tie affair which ends at midnight with a visit to the Titanic Men's Memorial. There, they toast those brave men who gave their lives for the principle of “Women and children first.”

I’m sure that many of you have seen the movie and become fascinated by the story of the Titanic. But the heroism of these men is truly remarkable. Though I think the movie didn’t show it well, the fact is that in the steerage class, those poor who were immigrating to America aboard the Titanic, 47 percent of the women and children were saved, as opposed to only 14 percent of the men. If you remember from the movie, access to the boat deck was difficult from the below decks of steerage, so the loss of life was high. In second class, those a little higher up, some 81 percent of the women and children survived, as opposed to only ten percent of the men. And in first class, among some of the world's wealthiest people, whom the movie depicted as somewhat arrogant and contemptuous of the poor and weak, 94 percent of the women and children were saved, while all but a handful of their men drowned in the icy black waters of the North Atlantic.

One commentator said (Richard Grenier), “To this day the most prominent humane characteristic of this great maritime tragedy is the men stepping back and letting not only their wives and daughters, but other men's wives and daughters [rich or poor], take their places in the lifeboats. It's hard to imagine this today.”

Jesus would include this principle of laying down your life for another in his definition of the greatest possible love, “No one has greater love than this, than to lay down your life for your friends.” But I think many people missed this in the movie, because the true love story in Titanic was not in the sweaty, passing romance of Jack and Rose but in those who laid down their lives for others. Jack showed his love for Rose not in the steamy courtship, the parties and dancing, or the sinful romantic interludes, but instead he showed his love for her when he ultimately gave his life for her. Perhaps that was what redeemed him.

Unfortunately, in America today, we tend to equate true love with sentiment, romance, feelings, or the passion of the moment. Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with sentiment and feelings and emotions, in fact they are the basis for the drama in one of my favorite hobbies, opera. Hearing someone like Maria Callas sing “La mamma morta” will bring tears to your eyes. But these emotions are secondary to the true essence of love. The essence of love resides in the will, not the emotions. True love is a decision, an act.

When Jesus asked Simon Peter in today’s Gospel, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter replied, “Yes Lord, you know that I love you.” Then Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” And he repeated it three times, each time ending with an action, telling Peter to demonstrate his love by his actions, “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep.” That is the essence of love. Love is a decision, exemplified by Christ on the Cross who freely chose to lay down his life for his sheep, and then asked Peter to do the same. True love is not the passing, heated, lustful romance that Hollywood portrays for us as an ideal today.

How then do we see true love in modern life? Not many of us will be called to literally lay down our lives for another – nowadays they make ships much better than the Titanic. But we are called to lay down our lives in other ways, on a daily basis, through sacrifice, denial of self, and service of others before our own needs. If you are looking for true love, true happiness, then look to how you can sacrifice your own desires for others. And we can do this in many ways.

You can do this in marriage, through the self-giving love of the spouses. When I meet with young couples preparing for marriage, I explain to them this ideal: that if they don’t think of themselves, but of their spouse first, then they will be truly happy. If you think only of yourself, you’ll never be satisfied because no one can ever completely live up to your expectations. But if you deny yourself and think of your spouse first and their needs, then you will find happiness. Why? Because when both spouses are doing their best to serve the other, then both end up happy. That often sounds like an impossible ideal, as I know many people struggle in marriage. But it is possible with a little humility, reconciliation, and the help of the Lord.

Outside of marriage, you can live this ideal of true love in the people you serve through whatever kind of work you have been called to do. This applies to any walk of life. Some may be called to lives of service like Mother Teresa, who helped the poorest of the poor in Calcutta. Others serve through their professions, doctors, nurses, teachers, and so on. But others may be called to more simple lives. Whatever you are called to do, as St. Therese of Lisieux taught, do it with great love, and then you will be a saint. You can meet and serve and love Christ in every person you meet.

For young people, you can live this ideal of love in faithfulness, in not giving in to the fads and fancies of the age but instead remaining faithful to the Lord, to your family, to your studies and duties, and to the plan that the Lord has for each of you when he calls you by name and says, “Follow me.”

If you want to discover true love in today’s world then start by loving Christ. Love him in your families, the people you meet, the people you serve, and then you will be able to say with Peter, “yes Lord, you know that I love you.”

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Wounds of Christ in Today's World

Homily 2nd Sunday Easter C 2010, St. Joseph's
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., Pastor

We do not know for sure what happened to Thomas in the after days; but there is an apocryphal book called The Acts of Thomas which purports to give his history. It is of course only legend, but there may well be some history beneath the legend; and certainly in it Thomas is true to character. Here is part of the story which it tells.

After the death of Jesus the disciples divided up the world among them, so that each might go to some country to preach the gospel. India fell by lot to Thomas. (The Thomist Church in South India does trace its origin to him.) At first he refused to go, saying that he was not strong enough for the long journey, doubting again, this time his own strength.

Well, the story goes that a merchant from the king of India had come to Jerusalem looking for a skilled carpenter. It so happened that Thomas was a carpenter. They happened to be in the market place at the same time, and the merchant came up to Thomas and said, “you may come with me now, as I have just bought you from your master.” Thomas was taken aback and said, “how can that be?” And then suddenly, Thomas saw Jesus, and the merchant said, “Is this your master.” “Yes.” “Well, he has just sold you to me, now will you come.” And again, Thomas submitted and finally agreed to go to India. "I will go whither thou wilt, Lord Jesus, thy will be done." It is the same old Thomas, slow to be sure, slow to surrender; but once his surrender is made, it is complete.

Thomas went to India, and the story continues that the King of India commanded Thomas to build a palace, and Thomas said that he was well able to do so. The king gave him money in plenty to buy materials and to hire workmen, but Thomas gave it all away to the poor. Always he told the king that the palace was rising steadily. The king was suspicious. In the end he sent for Thomas: "Have you built me the palace?" he demanded. Thomas said: "Yes." "When, then, shall we go and see it?" asked the king. Thomas answered: "You can’t not see it now, but when you depart this life, then you shall see it." At first the king was very angry and Thomas was in danger of his life; but in the end the king too was won for Christ, and so Thomas brought Christianity to India.

There is something very lovable and very admirable about Thomas. Faith was never an easy thing for him; obedience never came readily to him. He was the man who had to be sure; but once he was sure, he went to the ultimate limit of faith and obedience.

There are, of course, today those people who like Thomas want to probe the nail prints in Jesus’ hands and put their hands in his side. If you want to see the wounds in Jesus hands, remember what he said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me... 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'” The wounds of Jesus still exist today, and they exist in his people. Nowadays, we have the opportunity to see those wounds when we can comfort the sick or the elderly, those who are alone or feeling abandoned, those who are doubting or confused, those who need a friend during a time of crisis or need. We have all sorts of opportunities to see the Lord’s wounds and respond to his call to serve.

If you want to arrive at the certainty of truth in today’s world, then you need simply do what Thomas did: totally submit yourself to the Lord and say, “My Lord and my God!”

Friday, April 2, 2010

There is Your Book of Meditation!

Good Friday, April 2nd, 2010, St. Joseph's, Dalton, Georgia
Fr. Paul D. Williams, Jr., Pastor

There’s a story that St. Francis of Assisi was praying one day before the famous San Damiano Cross, when one of the younger members of his order came to him and asked, “Francis, I am looking for a good book of meditation, can you recommend one?” Well, St. Francis kept praying silently for a few moments, then turned to the young man, pointed to the Cross, and said, “There is your book of meditation!”

Many saints, of course, came from the Franciscan order, following Francis’ rule of poverty and penance. One of them was St. Bonaventure, who was noted for his deep and insightful writings on the doctrine of the Church. Well, the story goes that St. Thomas Aquinas, also one of the most brilliant men in the history of the Church, was visiting him and asked where he had acquired such profound insights into the Gospel. St. Bonaventure simply showed him a crucifix, which was blackened from all the kisses he had given it, and explained, “This is the book that tells me what I should write; the little I know I have learned from it.” (CG 2.37.1) And St. Thomas himself would say, “The Passion of Christ is enough to serve as a guide and model throughout our lives.”

And throughout the history of the Church, Good Friday has been a time for Christians to meditate on the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Many different liturgical traditions have developed in the East and West to help this meditation. In the West, we have the tradition of the Reproaches of Good Friday, which will be sung during the Veneration of the Cross. Some places, like Oberammergau, Germany, are famous for their Passion Plays. In the East, some Churches have a tradition where, in the middle of a silent, cavernous Cathedral, they hammer several very large nails into a cross with a large metal hammer. It echoes throughout the church, clang, clang, clang. It’s so moving that by the end of the service, half the church is weeping and wailing in lament. And in some Latin American countries, they will sometimes have very vivid recreations of the Crucifixion.

So, let’s meditate on this book of the Cross, the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t think I will be as dramatic as some traditions, but I will be realistic, so I just want to caution those of you who may be a little sensitive.

To do this, I thought I would share with you something I found a while back on the Internet. I came across a copy of the famous report from the Journal of the American Medical Association, published during Lent of 1986 (March 21), titled, “ON THE PHYSICAL DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST.” It was written by several medical doctors associated with the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, along with a couple of Christian ministers.

The doctors did not intend, they said, “to present a theological treatise”, but rather, they wanted to present “a medically and historically accurate account of the physical death of Jesus Christ”, based on what they could deduce from the testimony of scripture, early tradition, historical customs of the time, and even the famous Shroud of Turin (which, despite the skepticism of critics in the past, has recently been shown to date from the time of Jesus). I don’t intend to read the whole thing – it’s about 14 pages – but I do want to give you some highlights as a way of meditating on the reality of the Passion of our Lord.

The Passion, of course, actually began the night before Good Friday, after the Last Supper, when Jesus took his Apostles to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. While there, as St. Luke would recount, (Luke 22:44), “He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.”

The reports says, “Although this is a very rare phenomenon, bloody sweat may occur in highly emotional states … As a result of hemorrhage into the sweat glands, the skin becomes fragile and tender… Jesus' actual blood loss probably was minimal… but, in the cold night air, it may have produced chills.”

Remember what he was praying? (Luke 22:42-48) “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” And then Judas would come to betray him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?”

The report then recounts the arrest of Jesus, the trial before the temple authorities, first Annas and then Caiaphas, as we read tonight, and it notes that his physical condition was worsened as “the guards then blindfolded him, spat on him, and struck him in the face with their fists.” They condemned him to death for blasphemy and then took him to the Romans. After being passed from Pilate to Herod and back, “Pilate finally granted their demand and handed over Jesus to be flogged and crucified.”

The report then speaks about the general health of Jesus: “The rigors of Jesus' ministry (that is, traveling by foot throughout Palestine) [makes it] reasonable to assume that Jesus was in good physical condition before his walk to Gethsemane. However, during the 12 hours between 9 PM Thursday and 9 AM Friday, he had suffered great emotional stress (as evidenced by bloody sweat), abandonment by his closest friends (the disciples), and a physical beating (after the first Jewish trial). Also, in the setting of a traumatic and sleepless night, had been forced to walk more than 2.5 miles to and from the sites of the various trials. These physical and emotional factors may have rendered Jesus particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of the scourging.”

And then it goes into detail on what we call the Scourging at the Pillar: “Flogging was a legal preliminary to every Roman execution… The usual instrument was a short whip with several single or braided leather thongs of variable lengths, in which small iron balls or sharp pieces of sheep bones were tied at intervals… For scourging, the man was stripped of his clothing, and his hands were tied to an upright post. The back, buttocks, and legs were flogged, [usually by two soldiers alternating]. The severity of the scourging was intended to weaken the victim to a state just short of collapse or death.”

“As the Roman soldiers repeatedly struck the victim's back with full force, the iron balls would cause deep contusions, and the leather thongs and sheep bones would cut into the skin [and subcutaneous tissues]. Then, as the flogging continued, the lacerations would tear into the underlying skeletal muscles [and produce quivering ribbons of bleeding flesh]. Pain and blood loss generally set the stage for circulatory shock. The extent of blood loss may well have determined how long the victim would survive on the cross.”

According to Jewish law, Jesus would have been flogged 39 times – 39 times – after which the Roman soldiers mocked him, “placing a robe on his shoulders, a crown of thorns on his head, and a wooden staff as a scepter in his right hand… Then they spat on him and struck him on the head with the wooden staff. And when they tore the robe from Jesus' back, they probably reopened the scourging wounds.”

“The severe scourging, with its intense pain and appreciable blood loss, most probably left Jesus in a pre-shock state. Moreover, bloody sweat had rendered his skin particularly tender. The physical and mental abuse meted out by the Jews and the Romans, as well as the lack of food, water, and sleep, also contributed to his generally weakened state.”

The report says that at this point, “Jesus' physical condition was at least serious and possibly critical.”

And he still had before him the journey up the hill of Calvary.

The report continues, “It was customary for the condemned man to carry his own cross from the flogging post to the site of crucifixion outside the city walls. He was usually naked. Since the weight of the entire cross was probably well over 300 pounds, only the crossbar was carried. The crossbar, weighing 75 to 125 pounds, was placed across the nape of the victim's neck and balanced along both shoulders… Jesus apparently was so weakened by the severe flogging that he could not carry the crossbar from the Praetorium to the site of the crucifixion one third of a mile away, so Simon of Cyrene was summoned to carry Christ's cross, and the processional then made its way to Golgotha, an established crucifixion site.”

And when he reached the top of Calvary, his ordeal was not over.

“Here, Jesus' clothes, except for a linen loincloth, again were removed, thereby probably reopening the scourging wounds. He then was offered a drink of wine mixed with gall. By law, the victim was given this as a mild analgesic, which Jesus tasted but refused to drink. Finally, Jesus and the two thieves were crucified.”

About crucifixion in general, the report says, “Each wound was intended to produce intense agony, and the contributing causes of death were numerous… When the victim was thrown to the ground on his back, in preparation for transfixion of his hands, his scourging wounds most likely would become torn open again and contaminated with dirt. Furthermore, with each respiration, the painful scourging wounds would be scraped against the rough wood of the cross. As a result, blood loss from the back probably would continue throughout the ordeal.”

How was he transfixed to the Cross? “Iron spikes, 5 to 7 inches long and ¾’s of an inch in diameter, probably were driven [into the wrists] crushing the rather large median nerve, resulting in excruciating bolts of fiery pain in both arms.” Because of the impalement of various ligaments by the iron spike, the hand of the victim would contract into “a clawlike grasp.” Likewise, “The feet were fixed to the front of the cross by means of an iron spike”, causing more injuries, pain, and blood loss.

The report continues, “The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion, beyond the excruciating pain, was a marked interference with normal respiration, particularly exhalation. Adequate exhalation required lifting the body by pushing up on the feet and by flexing the elbows and adducting the shoulders. However, this maneuver would place the entire weight of the body on the feet and would produce searing pain. This would also painfully scrape the scourged back against the rough wood. As a result, each respiratory effort would become agonizing and tiring and lead eventually to asphyxia.”

According to tradition, Jesus was on the Cross for at least three hours. Each breath was an agony.

It goes on, “The soldiers and the civilian crowd taunted Jesus throughout the crucifixion ordeal, and the soldiers cast lots for his clothing. Christ spoke seven times from the cross. Since speech occurs during exhalation, these short, terse utterances must have been particularly difficult and painful. At about 3 PM that Friday, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, bowed his head, and died.”

They pierced his side with a lance to make sure that he was dead, a fatal wound that was taught to most Roman soldiers, and immediately blood and water flowed out.

The report concludes, “The actual cause of Jesus' death, like that of other crucified victims, may have been related primarily to hypovolemic shock, exhaustion asphyxia, and perhaps acute heart failure. Death by crucifixion was, in every sense of the word, excruciating (from the Latin, excruciatus, or "out of the cross").”

Why did this happen? The Reproaches of Good Friday ask that question. “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me! I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the Cross. For forty years I led you safely through the desert. I fed you with manna from heaven and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the Cross. What more could I have done for you? I planted you as my fairest vine, but you yielded only bitterness: when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, and you pierced your Savior with a lance… I opened the sea before you, but you opened my side with a spear. I gave you a royal scepter, but you gave me a crown of thorns. I raised you to the height of majesty, but you have raised me high on a cross. My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!”

It was sin that caused the crucifixion of Jesus. But not just sin in general, or just the sin of the people of the time, the leaders, the people, the Roman authorities and soldiers. It was our sin that brought about the Passion and Death of our Lord. The new catechism says, 598, “We must regard as guilty all those who continue to relapse into their sins. Since our sins made the Lord Jesus Christ suffer the torment of the Cross, those who plunge themselves into disorders and crimes crucify the Son of God anew in their hearts (for he is in them) and hold him up to contempt.”

St. Francis of Assisi would say, CCC 598, “Demons did not crucify him. It is you who have crucified him and crucify him still when you delight in your vices and sins.”

Why? Why would Jesus endure this? St. Paul said (Philip. 2:8), “he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.” Jesus freely accepted his Cross, freely gave his life, in obedience to the will of the Father. Why? St. Paul would say in wonder (Romans 5:6-7), “Only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

You see, Jesus accepted the Cross because of his great love for us, because of his desire to show us his mercy and forgiveness, and, through what he suffered, he “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” That is why the Cross is the greatest book of meditation: How could you ever be attracted by sin when you see what sin caused? How could you ever despair in your own sufferings and hardships when you see how much Jesus suffered? How could you ever doubt God’s love for you when you gaze into your Savior’s eyes on the Cross?

That’s why tonight is a celebration, a cause for immense joy, when we should be singing Hallelujah! Yes, we must be sorrowful for our sins, but we should also rejoice in the love of our Savior and pray as St. Francis of Assisi did, “We adore you, Lord Jesus Christ, and we praise you, for by your Holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”