Saturday, 15 August 2015

The Mystery of the Crown of Thorns by a Passionist Father part 27.


Finally, let us consider the agency through which this most important transaction is executed. This is done by the soldiers of the Roman Governor, Pilate. They strip our Lord, and thus deprive the Jews of their religion. They clothe him with the scarlet cloak which belongs to the Roman army and government, and thus they officially transfer the true religion of God to themselves. "Mystice vestimentis, idest Judeis, nudatur Jesus: purpura induitur, idest gentili ecclesia." These are the genuine words of St. Jerome. (Com. in. Matt. 27) Admire here, the wonders of the wisdom and power of God. After the great miracle of our Lord at the resurrection of Lazarus, many Jews who had been present believed in our Savior. "Some of them, the Evangelist says, went to the Pharisees and told them the things that Jesus had done. The chief priests, therefore, and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said: what do we, for this man doeth many miracles? If we let him alone so, all men will believe in him: and the Romans will come and take away our place and nation. (Jn. 11:48) It was on this occasion, that the high Pontiff Caiphas said that our Lord should be put to death.

He has, in fact, been condemned to death by the Jewish priests and magistrates, and delivered by them for execution into the hands of the Roman soldiers. Now, God makes use of these very soldiers to deprive the Jewish people of their religion, and of their holy city, and nation ... Behold how God turns against His enemies the means they use in opposition to His divine will. Before many years hence, we expect to see a similar, but more magnificent and more complete stroke of divine wisdom and power against the modern enemies of Jesus, the malicious and bitter persecutors of his Church. With scarcely any exception, the powers of the earth have allied themselves with the power of darkness, the secret societies, to fight against the religion of Christ, and against his Vicar upon earth. God will before long use these powerful secret organizations for the destruction of those deluded governments that have hired them as allies in the unholy war, to accelerate in spite of their malice, the inevitable universal triumph of his holy religion, as foretold, by so many of his prophetical seers in the old and new testament. This great triumph must be entirely the work of God: For this end He has permitted the powers of the earth to abandon the protection of His Church. When all human hope has vanished, then the hand of God will in a more striking manner, be made apparent to all mankind. Let the faithful draw nearer to their King, crowned with thorns. Let them cover themselves with the scarlet cloak of his holy religion. Very likely, some of the more worthy members will have to dye and enrich it with the blood of martyrdom. But this blood will be the surest pledge of approaching victory and the prolific seed of a rich harvest of conversions to the Catholic Faith. The triumph of the cross is achieved by humility and suffering. Let us close these remarks with an example adapted to our present subject. Chosroas, the proud king of Persia, taking advantage of the distracted condition of the Eastern Empire in the reign of Phocas, declared war against him, marched his victorious army through Palestine, and entered the city of Jerusalem, which he sacked, and carried away with him as a trophy the cross of our Savior. The pious Emperor Heraclius, the successor of Phocas, anxious to recover this precious treasure of Christian devotion, made several overtures to the king, who rejected them with scornful insolence. In his distress Heraclius, placing his confidence in God, betook himself to fasting and prayer, fevently imploring the divine assistance. Animated with a lively faith he, with a very inferior army, attacked his powerful pagan adversary, and in three successive battles so completely routed Chosroas as to put him to an ignominious flight, who was soon after killed by his own son. Heraclius recovered the sacred treasure, which his Christian heart so ardently coveted. Full of joy he returned to Jerusalem, where he was received with great triumph. By his order a grand procession was organized. A large number of clergy and religious took part in it with several bishops headed by the Patriarch of Jerusalem. The emperor, clad in his richest and most magnificent robes of state, wearing a golden diadem over his head, and a rich purple mantle on his shoulders, devoutly took the cross, anxious to carry it to the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, built by St. Helena on Mount Calvary. But notwithstanding all his efforts the emperor could not move a single step. In the general surprise and consternation caused by this unexpected event the holy Bishop of Jerusalem, Zacharias, moved by the inspiration of God, said to the astonished monarch. "Please, your Majesty, reflect that the gorgeous robes that you wear are too much in contrast with the poverty and humility of our Savior, when, in this place, he carried the same cross to Mount Calvary". This truly Christian Sovereign, struck by the wise remark of the holy Bishop, put aside all his imperial insignia, clothed himself with poor garments, put a crown of thorns on his head, and with bare feet performed the journey with great ease and inexpressible joy of heart. In this manner the holy cross of our Lord was restored to his Church. This glorious triumph, with the previous victories over the enemies of our holy religion, were obtained by prayer and fasting, by voluntary poverty and humility. These are the victorious weapons with which all the enemies of Christ, and of his holy Church are defeated and overthrown. May we learn a lesson from this example.

2. The wisest monarch of antiquity said: "In the multitude of people is the dignity of the king: and in the small number of people the dishonor of the prince." (Prov. 14:28) The magnificence, with which earthly potentates surround themselves, is intended to draw to their allegiance a large number of subjects. This is the general object of human ambition. This is the aspiration of the human heart. Man likes to command. More wars have been waged to gratify this passion of ambitious dominion over multitudes of men, than through any other motive. In our present age this aspiration for power and dominion, though perhaps more sly and cautious, is as strong and intriguing as it has ever been in the human breast. This is the motive power which arms millions of men with the effective weapons of modern warfare, and keeps them, with menacing looks in an attitude of aggression, striking terror into the hearts of weaker neighbors. The higher this ambition of dominion is, the more profound the homage it demands from humiliated humanity.

Very different, however, is the meekness and humility of Jesus from the ambition and arrogance of proud men. Behold him sitting upon a cold stone, a fit emblem of the dispositions of the human heart towards him, who is the King of Kings. His diadem is a crown of sharp thorns, dripping with his life's Blood. A reed of derision has been placed in his divine hands. An old scarlet rag covers his wounded and bleeding shoulders. A number of Pagan soldiers have been gathered round his Person. But these, instead of homage, heap upon him derision and insults, the most painful and humiliating. They bow their knees before him in mockery, and with sneers salute him "King of the Jews." They approach him in turn. Some slap his cheeks, some spit upon his face, one strikes him with his hard fist, another beats down his Crown of Thorns with a heavy stroke, whilst the surrounding multitude of Jews and Gentiles applaud and encourage these horrible barbarities, with shouts of laughter. Not one person is found to say a word in favor of this innocent victim, not a single man raises his hand in his defense. Jesus can now truly say: lama worm and no man; the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people. All they that saw me have laughed me to scorn. (Ps. 21:7)

Strange as it may appear to carnal men, these scorns and reproaches, these humiliations and insults showered down so profusely upon the King of heaven and earth, are in reality the best proofs of his victory, and the most precious trophies of his complete triumphs in his war against the false maxims of this deluded world.

Reflect, dear reader, that the kingdom which Jesus our Lord came to establish upon earth, is that of contempt for the honors and homages of men. He came to establish among men the reign of humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, and forgivness, in opposition to the spirit of pride, ambition, arrogance, oppression, revenge and persecution, which have tyrannized over the hearts of men since the fall of Adam. Such being the object of our Savior's incarnation, such being the end of his mission upon earth; by what means could this great teacher and king make us understand and appreciate better the spirit of this sublime and heavenly legislation, than by receiving slaps, and spittle upon his sacred face as tributes due to his person, by receiving sham adoration, derisions, blasphemies and maledictions, instead of homage, and by bearing all these insults, humiliations and outrages, with unconquerable meekness and superhuman patience? ... The mere sight of our Lord despised, dishonored and outraged by the impious and the wicked, shows at once who he really is, and what is the intended object of his mission to mankind. In beholding Jesus in the hall of Pilate, crowned with thorns, we learn that he is the Messias, the Savior, the King, who ransoms his people from the curse of sin, which made these thorns spring from the earth. In beholding this divine Lord, and sovereign king of heaven and earth, mocked, derided, slapped and spat upon, we learn from his example what virtues are expected from his followers, and what account we should make of the praises, honors and applause of men. In short, when we contemplate Jesus in his humiliations and sufferings, we learn the doctrines of his Gospel, more effectively than when we hear them preached by the most eloquent orators. Jesus, covered with wounds, Jesus crowned with thorns, Jesus defiled with spittle, Jesus bruised and bleeding from the soles of his feet to the top of his head, is the living mirror that faithfully represents to the eyes of Christian faith, the real condition of our fallen human nature, which he came to assume in order to cure and save us from temporal and eternal misery. From the extreme severity of the remedy, we practically learn the desperate condition of our spiritual malady. Our souls must have been frightfully wounded, and horribly degraded by sin, when it became necessary for our Redeemer to be scourged at the pillar, crowned with thorns, pierced with nails, mocked, derided, buffeted, spat upon in order to heal and cure them, and to lift them up from the trough of their degradation. "He became their Savior, the prophet says, in his love and in his mercy he redeemd them, and carried them, and lifted them up." (Is. 63:8)

Our merciful Lord having as we have seen, transferred his covenant from the ungrateful Jews to the Gentiles, and wishing to establish his Church among them, and unite her to himself as the inseparable spouse of his heart, he consented to assume her deformity represented in his wounds, and wash her in his blood, in order to communicate to her the divine beauty of his grace, and endow her with the immense treasure of his merits.

Hence, St. Paul says: "Christ is the head of the Church. He is the Savior of his body. He loved the Church and delivered himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it by the lover of water in the word of life, that he might present to himself a glorious Church not having spot or wrinkle, nor any such thing, but that it should be holy and without blemish." (Ephes. 5:25) Christ is the head of the Church, hence, to make her his spouse and our queen, he consented to be crowned with thorns. To exalt her to this sublime dignity and to merit for her the admiration of mankind, and the profound and sincere homage of his followers, he humbled himself, and meekly accepted in the hall of Pilate the mockeries, derisions, insults and outrages of the Roman soldiers. He is the Savior of his body. Hence, to heal the wounds of sin which he found in it, and to cleanse it of the accumulated filth of ages of crime, he subjected his own innocent body to the lashes of the scourge, to the bruises of blows, to the wounds of nails and spear. The blood and water, which issued from them, is the sacred laver, in which he cleanses our souls. The injustice of Pilate, the Roman Governor, and the cruel barbarity of his satellites, could not make him change his determination of establishing his Church among the Gentiles, and of fixing in Rome the throne of his universal dominion. During the painful hours of his passion, in his immediate contact with these Pagan Romans, our Lord has more closely watched their dispositions and character. In the Roman Governor, Pilate, our Lord observed wise maxims of government, foresight, respect for authority, fidelity to his imperial master, love of justice, a conciliatory disposition of character, regard for the rights and demands of the people. If Pilate hesitated in protecting our Lord's innocence, and reluctantly consented at last to his condemnation: it was through fear of offending the leading men of Judea, giving occasion to an apparently inevitable riot among the excited multitude, and a consequent revolution in that fickle and discontented people, and thus jeopardize the Roman authority in that province. If our wise and just Lord could not approve the weak and vacillating conduct of Pilate towards him; yet he understood and made due allowance for the circumstances, and the motives of his policy. Moreover, our Savior, in reward of the favorable disposition of Pilate towards him, had determined to show him mercy, and convert him to his faith. This conversion was accomplished through the prodigies wrought at his death and resurrection. It was according to Tertullian, in consequence and as a proof of his conversion that Pilate sent to the Emperor Tiberius in Rome, an official relation of all the events that took place during the passion, death and resurrection of our blessed Lord. The following are Tertullian's words: "Ea omnia super Christo Pilatus, et ipse jam pro sua conscientia christianus, Caesari tunc Tiberio nunciavit." (Apolog. Cap. 21)