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Father Vincent Hawkswell

We scourged him; we crucified him

Voices April 8, 2019

Jim Caviezel as Jesus in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Jesus freely accepted his torture and death for each one of us, writes Father Hawkswell. (20th Century Fox)

Passion Sunday, Year C 
First Reading: Is 50:4-7 
Second Reading: Phil 2:6-11 
Gospel Reading: Lk 22:14-23:56

As we listen to the account of Christ’s passion this Sunday, we should remember he endured it “willingly,” as the Second Eucharistic Prayer emphasizes. Not only did he willingly allow himself to be captured, but he also freely accepted his torture and death at every moment afterward.

When Peter drew his sword, Jesus said, “Do you not suppose that I can call on my Father to provide at a moment’s notice more than twelve legions of angels?”

Earlier, he had said, “No one takes [my life] from me; I lay it down freely. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”

On the cross, “realizing that everything was now finished,” he said, “I am thirsty.” They soaked a sponge in some wine, stuck it on a hyssop branch, and raised it to his lips.

Now Jesus had not drunk one of the ritual cups of wine at the previous night’s Passover supper. He had told his apostles he would not drink it “until the day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s reign.” On the cross, after tasting the wine, he said, “Now it is finished,” bowed his head, and died.

All this suggests that Jesus acted deliberately, knowingly, and freely, to the very end, when he “delivered over his spirit.” No one took his life from him; he laid it down freely, and he decided when.

This does not mean that Jesus was somehow inhuman. We know that he was fully human, but his humanity was unfallen, as Adam’s had been before the fall.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says Adam and Eve were created in a “state of holiness and justice.” In this state, “the radiance” of God’s grace affected “all dimensions” of their life. They “would not have to suffer or die.” Death was not part of God’s plan for them, for he planned to “fully divinize” them.

The mastery over the world that God offered them was “realized above all within man himself,” the Catechism says. It was “mastery of self”; they were “unimpaired” and “ordered” in their “whole being.”

It was their fall that shattered “the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body,” the Catechism says. That was what gave the devil, “who thenceforth had the power of death,” a “certain domination” over them and their descendants.

We know that Mary, benefiting “first of all and uniquely from Christ’s victory over sin,” was “preserved from all stain of original sin” – and if Mary, then surely Christ. We can assume, then, that in Christ, the “control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body” was intact.

In his full, unfallen manhood, then, Christ suffered actively, not passively, until he had finished what he had to do, and then deliberately laid down his life.

This consideration can only enhance our appreciation of what Christ suffered for us. Jim Caviezel, the actor who played Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, was chained to a post with a board set up behind him to absorb the blows from the whips, but at one point, he said, he took a blow to his back when one of the soldiers aimed poorly.

It “hit me with such a velocity that I couldn’t breathe,” he said. “It’s like getting the wind knocked out of you. The stinging is so horrific that you can’t get air. I turned around and looked at the guy, and I tell you, I may have been playing Jesus, but I felt like Satan at that moment.”

This is what Christ suffered voluntarily, blow by blow. By the end of his scourging, Isaiah’s words must have been true: so disfigured did he look that he seemed hardly human.

Let us remember that it was all for us. Each of us helped to deliver at least one of those blows.