When the early Christians spoke about Jesus, they started with the passion. For example, St. Paul said he wanted “to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (I Cor 2:2) In today's second reading, Paul presents one of the most ancient Christian hymns. It tells of Jesus humbled unto death, but now exalted above all creatures. Scholars surmise that the passion narrative - such as we listened to this morning - circulated before the other parts of the Gospel (parables, miracles, etc.) were written down. Although it comes at the end of the Gospel, the passion is really the starting point for understanding Jesus.
Mel Gibson’s movie has helped many people appreciate the passion in a new way. To some the violence seemed excessive, but it did bring home the severity of Roman justice. Almost every adult in the Roman Empire had seen men publicly executed.* The punishment was carried out, not inside prisons, but in view of all. Before executing a criminal, the soldiers first flogged him in front of family, friends and onlookers. Then, using cords or nails, they affixed the victim to the cross, which was probably not much higher than the height of a human person.** When Paul said Jesus was humiliated, he had that image in mind. The words “scourging” and “crucifixion” evoked horror. Mel Gibson has used the cinema to bring that horror home to us.
People have asked why we focus on Jesus’ suffering when others have also suffered, some in even more atrocious ways than Jesus. Yes, but it is his passion that brings together the anguish of humanity and gives it meaning - including the suffering, small or great, which you or I experience. The question is not whether you or I will suffer, but what we will do with our trials. Will we join them to his - or give in to bitterness?
As Christians we always come back to the passion of Christ. Not because it is the last word. The very fact that we meditate on the passion indicates that we see something beyond it. The early Christians would not have gathered a passion narrative if they thought everything ended at the tomb. It would simply have been too heartbreaking – like remembering a parent’s final agony. But we know there is more, that the suffering had immeasurable worth. For that I must ask you to come with us this Holy Week as we relive the great events of our faith.
*Josephus gives this harrowing account of crucifixions:
"they were first whipped, and then tormented with all sorts of tortures, before they died, and were then crucified before the wall of the city. This miserable procedure made Titus greatly to pity them, while they caught every day five hundred Jews; nay, some days they caught more: yet it did not appear to be safe for him to let those that were taken by force go their way, and to set a guard over so many he saw would be to make such as great deal them useless to him. The main reason why he did not forbid that cruelty was this, that he hoped the Jews might perhaps yield at that sight, out of fear lest they might themselves afterwards be liable to the same cruel treatment. So the soldiers, out of the wrath and hatred they bore the Jews, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest, when their multitude was so great, that room was wanting for the crosses, and crosses wanting for the bodies."
(War of the Jews: Book 5 - Chapter 11)
**Thus the cross was at a level where dogs could attack the condemned man, as this ancient text attests:
"Punished with limbs outstretched, they see the stake as their fate;
they are fastened (and) nailed to it in the most bitter torment,
evil food for birds of prey and grim pickings for dogs."
(Pseudo-Manetho, Apotelesmatica cited by Martin Hengel, Crucifixion)
Besides such literary references, we can surmise the low height from the fact that the weight of a man would put great strain on the vertical beam as he pitched forward. The higher his body, the greater the strain. In their executions the Romans were not only severe and cruel, but also efficient. The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the cross "was elevated only in exceptional cases, particularly when it was desired to make the punishment more exemplary or when the crime was exceptionally serious."
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies (Simple Catholicism Blog)
Bulletin (Holy Week, Sharon & Unborn Victims of Violence Act, Seeing The Passion a Second Time)
my bulletin column
Parish Picture Album - April 2011
40 Days for Life (Everett, WA)
Q&A about Planned Parenthood
Another sting by Live Action: Planned Parenthood CEO’s False Mammogram Claim Exposed
Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith - Presentation for Monroe Christian Pastor. (For pdf format click here)
Background for presentation on "Reasons Young People Leave Their Faith": High School Course – World Civilization - Section on origins of Christianity. (For pdf format click here)
Parish Picture Album
Laetare Sunday: the old & the new (March 2012)
Al Kresta at Rally for Religious Freedom: "We want this to be an enduring victory for American religious liberty...The way we ensure this does not become a political tempest in a teapot: Psalm 51 'Create in me a clean heart, O God..."
Please take time to read what our bishops are saying about Religious Liberty & Conscience Protection
The Archdiocese of Seattle also has helpful resources regarding the defense of marriage and family
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
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Parish Picture Album
(view slide show of Men's Conference Volunteers)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
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photos of Diego
(teenager with eye disease helped by Mary Bloom Center)