Crosses and Crowns of Thorns

Meditation on the Passion is a hallmark of authentic Catholic spirituality: all the Mystics recommend it. Aquinas recommends it. Most of our devotions are based upon it. St. Louis De Montfort cites many voices lauding meditation on the Passion as one of the reasons to say the Rosary. As I’ve noted before, Protestants look at the Passion and say, “Look what Jesus did for me so I don’t have to suffer!” Catholics look at the Passion and say, “Look at what Jesus did, and He didn’t deserve it, but I do!”

So we try to reflect on what it was like for Him, so we will be less likely to sin and cause Him pain, so we can be moved to perform acts of reparation to atone for the great injustice done to our God.

There are so many ways we pray the Passion: Crucifixes, Stations of the Cross, the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Bridgetttine Prayers, the Devotion to the Holy Face, Devotion to the Holy Wounds, etc. Mel Gibson’s movie has given us a contemporary way to do so. Even the Psalms, prayed from a Catholic perspective, include meditation on the Passion.

Protestants don’t understand Catholic emphasis on “works”–works of devotion or works of charity–but that emphasis is not about “winning salvation” but rather making reparation for what Christ had to suffer.

Even the Stigmata, one of the more sensational aspects of Catholic mysticism, are not so much a badge of honor as a way of living the Passion, as St. Pio was always quick to note.

Many saints have had partial stigmata or spiritual stigmata, feeling the Wounds without them being visible.

For the rest of us, the prayer should be that we may feel some of that. When we reflect on the Sorrowful Mysteries, we must imagine what it was like for Jesus in the Garden, or being whipped, or having long, sharp thorns pushed into His skull, carrying His Cross, or being naled to it and hanging from it.

And sometimes, our sharing in Christ’s sufferings is more practical. Pope Paul VI once described the stress of the Papacy as a daily Crown of Thorns.

When I was a kid, I wanted to get the Stigmata. As an adult, I look into the backs of my hands and see the scars from the IVs after my surgery.

My hands have always been mildly arthritic, and my left hand has had a slight twinge of pain since I broke it 7 years ago. These twinges of pain help me to think about what Jesus went through for me.

Between sinus headaches, tension headaches from my glasses, migraines and the brain aneurysm (the latter two probably being the same), I almost always have a headache of some sort, and my head is almost always surrounded in pain. I identify with the Crown of Thorns.

Tonight, at Adoration, I chose to pray with the nice 1950s-ish Rosary pictures in the Bible I had rather than read meditations. I meditated the way St. Teresa of Avila and St. Ignatius of Loyola recommend, and I tried to really imagine what it was like for Jesus.

And I thought of the throbbing aneurysm in my descending aorta, which constantly presses on my spine these days, where I always feel a sense of dull pressure. I don’t know exactly where the aneurysm is vis-a-vis my scoliosis, but there is one definite spot that has been in pain for the past 4 years, since before the new aneurysm was diagnosed.

For a long time, I’ve had a hard time leaning back in a chair or bed without excruciating pain if I put pressure on the wrong part of my back. When I get tired or over-exert myself , the throbbing sensations and pressure that used to plague my chest in my teen years now plague my back.

Lately, without my wheelchair, it has been especially hard. I can’t sit up or stand up straight for long. I’m almost always hunched over. The pain and pressure are just oppressive.

And, so, tonight, I sat, hunched over, with that pain throbbing in my back, feeling like I had “the weight of the world” on me, and I looked at that picture of my Dear Jesus carrying that cross for me–and I thanked Him for letting me share in His Cross.

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3 responses to “Crosses and Crowns of Thorns

  1. Your comparison between Protestant and Catholic perspectives on the Passion is interesting. When the Passion of the Christ came out, I didn’t see it in theaters, mostly because I’d been told how horribly bloody and gory it was. A year later, after it had been released on DVD, a local Baptist church advertised that they were hosting a showing of the movie at their church on Good Friday. I thought about how all the Apostles ran from Jesus in the garden, and I wanted to be like St. John and The Blessed Mother, who stayed with Him through his suffering, so I went to the screening.

    Well, the movie was beautiful, and I loved it. I didn’t like the insertion of the devil, though, because it ruined the experience of feeling like I was really there. Whatever Jesus may have seen that day, the devil was certainly hidden from the sight of everyone else. But I digress…

    After the screening, the church had set up a big wooden cross, and they had a stack of nails and a hammer. They asked everyone who wanted to if they would like to hammer a nail into the cross to symbolize their own sins. After seeing the movie, though, it was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to run to a Catholic church and kiss the feet of Jesus on a crucifix, not hammer another nail into his cross.

    I’m not sure how that plays into your Protestant vs. Catholic perspective on the Passion, but I thought you might find it interesting.

  2. Oh, one more thing. While my physical health has been generally free from suffering, I do get frequent headaches, rarely severe, but I almost always offer them up while meditating on the Crown of Thorns. My adult life has also been frought with emotional suffering, during which times the Agony in the Garden comes to mind.

    When I read this in your post:

    Catholics look at the Passion and say, “Look at what Jesus did, and He didn’t deserve it, but I do!”

    It really struck me. That phrase, or one almost exactly like it, is precisely what I said to myself last Good Friday during the Catholic service (I never know what to call it, since it’s not a Mass!), after venerating the cross. It was immediately followed by my renewal of a promise I made to Our Lady many years ago, never forgotten, but long neglected, I am sad to say. She responded with a miraculous intercession to remove the worst aspects of my personal Agony in the Garden. I’ve kept my promise to her ever since.

  3. Wow! Thanks for sharing.
    A few thoughts: I always pray the Prayer before a Crucifix or Anima Christi when having blood drawn.
    I had been without a Scapular for a few days; can’t find either of my “official” ones or any small ones, so I stopped at the Catholic bookstore today and bought one. As soon as I put it on, it was like a video game: “Scapular gives you 50% strength.” I felt the above-mentioned pressure on my back literally cut in half.

    As for your story about the Baptists, it’s kind of like what Tom Howard and others have said that, in the absence of authentic rituals, people invent weird ones.

    I think it fits exactly, in that it’s “Let’s nail our sins to the cross with Jesus,” rather than, “Let’s think about what it was like for Jesus to feel the nails.” I often get the impression from Evangelicals that their attitude is, “Hey! Jesus can take it!”

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