The Passion of Christ is the only place where all the evil of the world converges; from the killing of Abel by his brother Cain, to the beheading of little children in Syria. The cross is like a vortex where all of human suffering like a whirlpool comes together. Suddenly it all has meaning in the words of the one who said: “No greater love has any man than he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
We meditate on the passion of Christ in order to understand the redemption. If we do not comprehend evil we will never understand the death of Jesus on the cross. Calvary is the only place where sin and evil are swallowed up by the only person who can diffuse them and give them meaning. That person is the Son of God.
In the passion, good and evil take on a life of their own in the characters and personalities that make up this drama. We are stunned as we watch, in horror, the stark reality of evil. As evil unravels before our very eyes, we see it for what it is.
Pride, deceit, duplicity, treachery, denial, betrayal, brutality, jealousy, cruelty and violence suddenly come alive in real flesh and blood characters. In the passion we actually see people who are deceitful, jealous, ambitious and treacherous. We meet the characters who are arrogant, cowardly, cruel and violent.
As we reflect on the passion and death of Jesus we have the opportunity of witnessing close up the winners and the losers in the battle between good and evil. Is it possible for a loser to become a winner? Is it possible for a winner to become a loser?
Take a look at some of the losers—they were physically close to Jesus and yet they never really got to know Jesus Christ as he really is. This is the tragedy of their lives.
We are shocked at the betrayal of Judas. He was a friend of Jesus. He was a disciple of Jesus. What happened to him? Why did he betray his master? He is the only person in the bible that Jesus calls friend. He had so many opportunities to repent and go to confession to Jesus. Too bad that Judas did not ask Jesus for forgiveness. Instead, he went out and hung himself.
Herod the puppet king was living in public adultery. He reminds us of so many public figures in our day. They will do anything for money. They will betray their consciences and sell their souls. For what? For power? For popularity? For money? For pleasure? Principle and righteousness mean nothing to them. They impress people with their power and their wealth but the eyes of God see through their weakness, their emptiness and their eternal damnation.
Pilate the Roman politician tried to hold on to power. He wanted to be popular with the people and with the Roman emperor. He reminds us of those elected officials who make a mockery of truth by holding one moral position today and another diametrically opposed position tomorrow. Their decisions are not based on reason and truth but rather on feeling, ambition and political correctness.
He reminds us of those politicians who go against their conscience on crucial moral issues and sell their souls to the devil. They are eventually abandoned by the very people they sought to please. Like so many of them Pilate died an unhappy, lonely and broken man who failed in all of his political ambitions.
Annas and Caiphas were high priests of the Jewish religion. These men were entrusted with the sacred things of God and religion. In the zeal of their youth, they couldn’t wait for the messiah to come. Now in the blindness and greed of their old age they lost their faith and betrayed their sacred trust.
How easy it is for us to lose our faith. How easy it is to forget the ideals of our youth. Do you remember when you had a passion for truth, honesty and integrity?
Sadly these leaders remind us of some of our religious leaders who covered up the scandals in the church and failed to protect the people they promised to shepherd. We are ashamed of those who failed to defend the faith against heretics and secularists.
How about the spectators—the men and women who just watched what was going on and did nothing about it? How about the people who see 4000 babies killed every day by abortion and look the other way. They choose to be selective about what evil they will tolerate.
How easily we can identify with their cowardly conduct. Our sin is that we do not make a decision. We do nothing to make society better; or we imitate the immoral actions of our neighbors and justify ourselves by saying: “everybody’s doing it.”
We avoid taking a stand on some of the important issues of life: injustice to the poor, to immigrants and prisoners; graft, bribery, abortion, contraception, fornication, adultery, and sodomy. We are content to live and let live. We lose our sense of moral indignation.
Like the spectators at the passion, we dabble in religious observance. We pay lip service to Jesus and his church. We say: I’m a good Catholic, but we do not lift our voices to defend the position of the church on the important moral issues that threaten our country and our freedom. We tolerate false witnesses, liars and careerists because it’s too messy to get involved.
We weaken the body of Christ by remaining in mortal sin and committing sacrilege, while the sacrament of confession is available to us practically every day.
Like the spectators at the passion, how shallow we can be in our approach to our Catholic faith. We accept the teaching we agree with. We reject the teaching that requires sacrifice and the risk of being rejected or thought to be politically incorrect. We are afraid.
Fortunately losers were not the only ones who showed up at the passion. There were some shining examples of winners as well.
Peter and the disciples looked like losers at first. But they grasped the opportunity for a second chance. They repented, confessed their sins and suffered martyrdom for the sake of Jesus and his church.
What about John, Mary and the other women who remained loyal at the foot of the cross? The world learned from them what it means to be faithful.
Joseph of Arimithea, who gave his tomb for Jesus’ burial has won a place in history for his courage, compassion and thoughtfulness. We honor veronica who was rewarded by Jesus for her faith and gentle care. Simon of Cyrene earned a place in the fifth station of the cross for his aid to Jesus in carrying the cross. Dismis the good thief literally stole heaven. He went to confession to Jesus while he still had some time left. They all ended up winners.
The soldier who was standing by the cross saw everything. He knew that the real hero in this drama was Jesus our savior. In contrast to the other characters, the centurion saw Jesus standing there silent, dignified, strong, courageous, gentle and generous with forgiveness. “Truly”, he said, “this was the Son of God.”
We can grow in our spiritual life by reflecting on the passion of Christ. It is an opportunity for you and me to look deeply into our own characters, in contrast to the character of Jesus.
When I look at him I see my sin more clearly. In his innocence, I see my impurity. When I sense his strength, I recognize my weakness. When I see his courage before Pilate, I see my cowardice. In his calm resolute demeanor before Herod I see my anxiety, fear and doubt. In his humility before the high priest, I recognize my pride in refusing to open my soul in the sacrament of reconciliation.
Lord remember me when you come into your kingdom. The good thief had the opportunity to make a death-bed confession. Will I be fortunate enough to have the opportunity to make a death-bed confession? Or is the lord telling me to make my confession now?