I. THE AGONY IN THE GARDEN
The passion of Our Lord began in the Garden of Gethsemani where during His public life He had gone so often to pray. On the night of His betrayal by Judas, He took Peter, James, and John and went again to this favorite place of prayer. The soul of Christ was troubled at the thought of what He was about to suffer; it was this that caused an agony so intense that His sweat became "drops of blood running down upon the ground." As a man, Christ shrank from this ordeal, praying that the hour of suffering might pass, but, as the Son of God, He willingly chose to offer it for the sins of mankind. The disciples whom He had selected to witness the agony were not asked to suffer with Him; Christ only reminded them to watch and pray.
(1) "And they came forth to a country place called Gethsemani...and He took with Him Peter, James and John." Every state in life is a vocation and therefore a means of saving one's soul. My parents who have received the Sacrament of Matrimony are living a life similar to one consecrated to God by the vows of religion. The qualities and desires which are required in the priest are, therefore, not special but distinct. In Peter, James, and John-the same disciples whom He had selected to witness the Transfiguration and the raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead-Christ saw something that would fit them especially for more intimate contact with Him. When I consider my attraction to the priestly life, I should look upon it not as a special vocation but rather as an opportunity to use certain gifts with which God has blessed me in particular.
(2) "And He began to pray that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from Him." The respect for the priesthood or could it be the fear of it? - Is oftentimes so great in the heart of a Catholic boy that he would rather not think of this calling. I, too, have tried to put from my mind the thought of the priesthood by saying: "I will decide later on." Or: "After I see what the 'other side' is like, I may think more seriously about a vocation." Yet, in my heart I know that I am turning down a suggestion that God Himself may have planted there. Why is it, with all that God has done for me, that I would consider, even for a moment, giving Him anything but the first chance with my life?
(3) "Watch and pray." While in this frame of mind, there is only one advice to follow: watch and pray! In the Garden of Gethsemani Our Lord did not command the disciples to share His suffering, but He repeated the warning that they must watch and pray lest they be tempted to leave Him or even deny Him. The inclination to turn away from the priesthood without giving it the trial that my confessor suggests, may be a temptation which will lead to the misuse of God's grace. Christ tells me to "watch and pray." This will be my motto in deciding upon a vocation.
II. THE SCOURGING AT THE PILLAR
Now that the time was approaching for Him to be turned over to the Jewish leaders, Christ aroused Peter, James, and John and told them that He was prepared to die. When Judas betrayed and identified Our Lord, He was arrested and taken before the Jewish court and then to Pilate. In the presence of the false accusers Christ was calm, saying little and many times remaining silent at their charges. His very manner suggested innocence. In keeping with the custom on festival days, Pilate offered to free Our Lord, but the Jewish people chose freedom for the criminal Barabbas instead. Still trying to satisfy the crowd but not wishing to put Our Lord to death, Pilate ordered Him scourged.
(1) "Rise, let us go. Behold, he who betrays Me is at hand." In the life of every person there are times when firm decisions must be made. Parents, teachers, business men, farmers their lives are shaped by the decisions they make. The real test of character comes when the decision reached will clearly cause inconvenience, misunderstanding, or pain. Such was Our Lord's decision to face Judas and the courts of the Jews and Romans. In my life as a priest, I shall have to make decisions of this kind, and, since my work will involve the lives of others, the decisions will be of greater importance than those made by the average layman. I can prepare now for the priestly life by being clear-cut and decisive in matters of temptation and sin, and in forming resolutions and in doing good works.
(2) "But Jesus kept silent.... He did not answer them a single word." We are told elsewhere in the sacred writings that one who controls his tongue is a perfect man. If a person were to use this gift as God intended, there would be no blasphemy, no lying, no cursing, no slander, no calumny. The unwise word, the imprudent remark, the unmeasured opinion would never be spoken. Christ could have answered His accusers, but in His stately silence the aspirant to the priesthood sees a certain dignity, control, and strength of character which he can imitate and use to great advantage in the life which he is considering.
(3) "Then he released to them Barabbas; but Jesus he scourged and delivered to them." The thought that comes to my mind as I watch the unruly crowd clamor for the torture and crucifixion of Our Lord, and for the pardon and freedom of Barabbas, is that even to-day countless millions continue to turn their backs on God while they choose instead to follow the lowest instincts within them. They are torturing the innocent Christ, who at this moment is prompting me to look to the priesthood as the best means of instructing them, of pointing out to them the way of salvation, and of leading them back to godliness and to a life of virtue. Provided I really have the qualifications, can I refuse to help in the cause of my suffering Saviour?
III. THE CROWNING WITH THORNS
The people had been stirred up by the Jewish leaders and had been persuaded by them to ask for the death of Christ. Pilate listened to their cries of hatred and, though he himself believed that Our Lord was innocent, he turned Him over to the soldiers to be crucified. Christ was taken first to the soldiers' quarters where He was stripped of His garments, and in mockery was dressed in royal robes. To ridicule Him further for saying that He was a king, these rude men placed upon Him a crown of thorns and put a stick in His hand to represent the staff of a king. Then, gathering around Our Lord, they spat upon Him and each took his turn striking Him on the head.
(1) "And they stripped Him and put on Him a scarlet cloak." The desire for happiness is found in the heart of all mankind. And so, in planning for any occupation or profession, one thinks of the success and happiness it will bring. In the priesthood, too, I look for happiness, but I know it will come not from luxury or from the type of success applauded by the world. It will rather come from the realization that I am doing God's work. This explains why it is that, even though priests to-day are in many places stripped of their human dignity or of their priestly garb, even though they are humiliated and mocked in prison camps or enslaved under communistic rule, still they find what they sought in the priesthood: interior peace and happiness in doing what God wants.
(2) "And making a crown of thorns, they put it upon His head." There is one aspect of the priestly life which, in itself, should not attract me to it. I know that a good priest is always respected by those with whom he deals. Young and old alike reverence him. Rich and poor recognize him as an educated man. He is given first place at banquets, and little honors are showered upon him. But the priest does not look for these, and when he does accept them, it is not to satisfy himself but to allow his people to honor the priesthood. In thinking of this side of the priest's life, I must keep in mind that it is only through the crown of self-denial and sacrifice that the crown of eternal life will be given me. Christ taught me this when He patiently accepted the crown of thorns.
(3) "And they spat upon Him, and took the reed and kept striking Him on the head." The assault upon the priesthood by those who deny God and hate the Church might be compared to total warfare. No limit is placed on their efforts to disgrace and humiliate it; no means of torturing or weakening it is neglected. The soldiers who had custody of Our Lord stopped at nothing in their attempt to ridicule and torture Him on the night before He died. It is with this picture before me that I train myself now in the practice of mortification and penance, so that in his warfare against my soul Satan will never meet with a moment's success but will, with God's powerful assistance, be turned back and forever defeated.
IV. JESUS CARRIES THE CROSS
After the scourging and crowning with thorns the soldiers led Our Lord to Calvary to be crucified. It was a sad procession that formed and followed Christ to the hill at the outskirts of the city. Our Lord was weakened from the long hours of suffering; His body was bleeding from the scourges, His face smeared with blood and dirt. As He stumbled along, carrying the cross, the soldiers recognized His weakening condition and quickly forced one of the spectators to carry the cross behind Him. The only other consolation Christ received along the way came from His Mother Mary who greeted Him, from Veronica who gave Him a towel as He passed by, and from some of the women of the city who offered their sympathy.
(1) "And they took Jesus and led Him away." One of the virtues that will make me a strong and unselfish priest is the virtue of meekness. It is the virtue that will give me self-control and the ability to regulate my energy so that my time will not be wasted on needless activity. Meekness is not weakness; it is the sign of strength! By His own power, Christ could have escaped from the hands of the soldiers, but in allowing Himself to be led away He demonstrated what He had said of Himself before: that He is meek and humble of heart. Anyone observing Our Lord during His passion knows that He was stronger than those who held Him captive. I find strength in the meekness of Christ.
(2) "And upon him (Simon the Cyrenian) they laid the cross to bear it after Jesus." Simon did not choose the cross, but this contact with Christ changed his life. The lesson that this incident teaches me is that in itself a cross helps no one, but that it can be used as a means of penance and as a path to Christ. Of themselves, pain and poverty do not purify the soul; but used carefully they can make me a saint! The objections heard from those who do not wish me to enter the seminary, the sense of loss I feel upon leaving home, and the effort demanded in preparation for the priesthood - these I must not accept simply because "I can't do anything about it." But, like Simon the Cyrenian, I must use them as opportunities to draw closer to the cross and to Christ after whom I wish always to bear it.
(3) "Weep not for Me but for yourselves and your children." The ability to think with others and to see their point of view will fit me for a useful life in the service of others. "To be all things to all men," I must be able to share in their joys and sorrows, in their suffering and in their problems. Christ gave an example of this when He quickly offered sympathy to those who came to give it. He showed me how, regardless of personal feelings, I must think not of myself but rather of those whom my priestly life promises to help.
V. THE CRUCIFIXION
The painful journey finally ended on the summit of Calvary, where Our Lord was nailed to the cross and left to die between two thieves who were paying the penalty for their crimes. Christ freely accepted the humiliation, and, since He did not want to spare Himself in any way, He even refused the strong drink the soldiers offered Him to lessen His pain. Once during these horrible hours, His human soul cried out for help, but as the Son of God, still the Master of life, He Himself chose the moment of His death by releasing His soul and expiring with the words: "Into Thy hands I commend My spirit."
(1) "They crucified Him there, and the robbers, one on His right hand and the other on his left." In His public ministry Our Lord did not hesitate to go where He was needed. No one was excluded from His loving attention; He could not be identified with any class or any group. And even on Calvary Christ was surrounded by a variety of people: the crude soldiers, the devoted women, His holy Mother, the penitent Magdalen, the remorseful Joseph of Arimathea, and the thieves who were crucified with Him. I cannot escape the lesson that, if I am to follow in the footsteps of my Lord, I must be willing to help everyone - not only those living in comfort and who have the things of this world to offer me, but those in distress, in poverty, and in sin.
(2) "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" I have perhaps asked myself: "If I become a priest, to whom shall I turn in time of trouble? My parents have each other but in the priesthood whom shall I have?" I must recognize that the priestly life is a lonely one, and that there are times when my problems, because they are confidential, may not be shared with others. The words which fell from then lips of Christ as He hung on the cross contain the answer, for they express confidence in the mercy of His Father. I need have no fear that God will forsake me, for in those moments when I feel entirely abandoned and alone, He will draw me more surely to Him.
(3) "Into Thy hands I commend My spirit." The last words that Christ uttered on the cross are those chosen to be spoken in prayer by the priest at the end of the day. All of his activities and his plans, his thoughts and his gestures, the priest offers for God's blessing and approval. And so completely does the priest wish to give himself that he freely places his soul, too, in the hands of God as a daily renewal of the vows by which he promised to serve Him for the rest of his life. This practice I will begin at once, so that without hesitation or doubt I will daily subject my entire being to the loving custody of my crucified Saviour who first taught me how to do it.