The first Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony of Christ in the Garden:
“He came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. When he reached the place, he said to them, ‘Pray that you may not come into the time of trial.’ Then he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed. ‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength. In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.” (Luke 22:39-44)
This mystery of the rosary always touches my heart, because I think in it, we recognize the heaviness of Jesus' Cross beyond its physical manifestation. Before he was even arrested, Jesus suffered great sorrow, fear, and pain.
Often, I think of this mystery as a meditation on the pain of rejection. He who should have been loved beyond all words was utterly pushed away. He came to his own, and his own knew him not. I think of what it is like when you do your best to love other people, and it is not enough for them. I think of when you try to be yourself, and others hate you for it.
Unfortunately for Christ, this was not a part of his mission that could be forfeited. He prays for the pain to pass him by, but he knows that there is something greater, some good higher than the good of being loved by others and of being comfortable and safe--the good of doing the will of the Eternal Father. In itself, this self-surrendering to the will of the Father is one of the Son's greatest acts, as it both teaches us how we ought to do, as it reverses, finally the sin of human disobedience (the sin of Adam and Eve). In the Garden, the pain of self-denial was too much for Eve and Adam. Now, in Christ, self-denial results in the worst of scenarios, the death of self; but, as we will see, it is only in the death of self that the self can have lasting life.
Note also the words: "In his anguish he prayed more earnestly". Prayer was Jesus' greatest weapon.
The second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging of Christ at the Pillar:
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.” (John 19:1)
If you scan the Passion Narratives of the four Gospels, you will find that none of them spends much time on the second sorrowful mystery. It's just one line, one idea: THEN THEY BEATED HIM. As when I was studying the martyrdom stories in 2 Maccabees, what strikes me in this line is the understatement. Both in 2 Maccabees and in the Gospels a horrific act perpetrated by humans against a human is stated and the words used cannot hide what they fail to convey: humans can be disgustingly brutal. To beat another person, to violate his God-given dignity, to ignore her humanity, to rejoice in someone else's pain, is a kind of death in itself. One's conscience has had to be suppressed to think that such behavior is ever appropriate. A line has been crossed once the scourge has been taken in hand.
In this mystery we contemplate those times both when we have suffered at the hands of others, or when we have made others suffer--physically, mentally, spiritually, etc. Has causing others pain been incorporated into our daily lives--in particular, does our employment promote or allow it? Beyond us, does our society promote or allow for violence against others? What can we do to stop it?
We must remember, also, that this is part of the war of darkness against light. The darkness is rejoicing that it has finally surrounded the light. Desperately, it wants to put it out--but the light has never been brighter than when surrounded by darkness. This is the moment of triumph for the light.
The third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns:
“Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort. And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him.” (Mark 15:16-20)
The irony of this mystery is what makes it so tragic--ironic in that Jesus ought to have been clothed in purple, ought to have been crowned, and ought to have been saluted by these men. But when these men do these things, they do it to be cruel. The crown placed on God the Son's head pierces his brow, and the blood trickles down about the sacred head. Again, the face of the sweetest and most beautiful of men is shockingly marred.
This mystery calls out humanity's sinful propensity to make sport of other people--hurting them emotionally and physically to entertain ourselves. It's amazing how this kind of behavior is thought of, especially in our schools, as being "normal". There's nothing normal about a human being behaving cruelly. Cruelty is the very opposite of what we are by nature. This mystery asks us to examine our behavior and see if we make sport of others to amuse ourselves, and it demands that we stop such actions.
For Jesus' part, he reveals that no matter what others may do to us, we do not lose our dignity. They may claim we are nothing, but we are always something. In fact, Jesus' own sweetness and beauty shines out the stronger in this moment, because his goodness remains constant, even while under attack. He does not become like his assailants. We too ought not let sin compel or persuade us to forfeit our goodness.
The fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Lord carries his Cross:
“So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha.” (John 19:16b-17)
And so the nightmare continues. It's the only way to describe the Passion. The agony in the garden, the betrayal of Judas, the arrest, the false trial, the abuse, and now, after a horrific night of pain, loneliness, bleeding and crying, Jesus is forced to carry the cross--the implement of his own death. That's like asking a Frenchman to carry the blade of the guillotine to the scaffold.
At least, along the way to Golgotha, shining lights break in through the clouds of the Passion. Our Lord sees the women of Jerusalem weeping for him. One of which, called Veronica, wipes his face for him. Another was his own blessed mother, weeping her poor heart out. Simon of Cyrene, in the other Gospel accounts, helps Jesus to bear his cross. There are some people who realize that everything was going terribly wrong.
At this mystery, I often will think of the story of when St. Bernard asked our Lord what was the greatest of his unrecorded wounds and he replied, "I had on My Shoulder, while I bore My Cross on the Way of Sorrows, a grievous Wound, which was more painful than the others, and which is not recorded by men. Honor this wound with thy devotion, and I will grant thee whatsoever thou dost ask through its virtue and merit. And in regard to all those who shall venerate this Wound, I will remit to them all their venial sins, and will no longer remember their mortal sins." [If you would like to pray an approved prayer for this devotion, see: http://www.catholic.org/prayers/prayer.php?p=31]
The fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Lord dies on the Cross:
“Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 25b-30)
Believe it or not, the Crucifixion defines at the deepest level who God is and who we humans are. The Crucifixion is the ultimate revelation, far surpassing even the revelation at Sinai, and far surpassing any claimed revelation by other religious groups, as good as they may be. The Word knew that words were not enough, he had to BE the Truth to those who would look and listen. So in the face of sin and evil, he remained what he always was. Faced with choices, he chose the highest good. And, most moving of all, when he saw that we were in danger of death, he stepped in and died in our place.
Death came to claim him, but the very touch of death on him was poison to death itself.
But let us not get ahead of ourselves. Now is not the time to fast-forward to the Resurrection. We must stand beneath the Cross and look upon the Face of God and there find our meaning.
The Crucifixion, as ugly as it is, also has three beautiful moments, besides the beauty of the self-giving of Christ for our sins: 1) The entrusting of the Virgin Mary to the care of the beloved disciple; 2) the forgiving of the crowd; and 3) the promise to the "good thief" [traditionally known as St. Dismas] that he would be with Christ in Heaven that very day [note, this supports the Catholic view that saints are in Heaven already, and are not waiting for the general resurrection to enjoy beatitude.] Any of these, or all of them, make for rich subjects for meditation.
Br. Paul, OP