Jesus Carries His Cross
The Long Road to Calvary
John cried out, a lone voice in the desert:
"Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight His paths." (Matt 3:3) He cried out! He didn't speak, as if it was a passing thought like: "Oh by the way, did you know the Lord is coming?" He cried out! He cried! There was urgency! There was passion! He was risking his life to proclaim the Lord's coming. When he came out to the desert, and began to tell everyone to repent, he was on the way to his death. Why did he do it? He had no choice. Only God can give that kind of courage; and John the Baptist had known the Lord from the time he was inside his mother's womb. "When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leapt in her womb." (Luke 1:41)
Did John know what kind of road they would prepare for the Lord? Did he ever, for one moment, consider it could be the Road to Calvary? God, the Father in Heaven did not reveal the whole plan to John. If He had, would John have been able to lay the groundwork for our Lord's first coming? He told everyone who would listen, to repent. Did those who were present, that joyful day, hear with their heads and act through their hearts? Did John's words find a place in their lives? When Jesus was baptized by John in the River Jordan and the Father's words descended from Heaven: "This is My beloved Son. My favor rests on Him." (Matt 3:17) was a thorn planted in their hearts? Then, why did they, three years later, place a Crown of thorns on His Head?
Our Lord received word that John had been beheaded, John, His messenger and dear cousin, the one who recognized Him, while He was still in His Mother's womb. He was dead! What did Jesus do? He went away to pray. Did He grieve? Had He seen the good that John could have continued doing and was now silenced? Or did He know in His Heart of hearts that John had lived for one purpose and that was to proclaim His coming, to pave the way for Him, the Redeemer, to save the world? John's words, "He must increase while I must decrease." (John 1:30) were they coming to pass? Did Jesus grieve for the loss to the world of this great prophet? Did the Father come to Him and prepare Him for His total mission?
When did Jesus begin His way of the Cross? Was it at Cana, the night His Mother turned to Him and said "They have no wine?" Was it when He performed His first miracle, changing the water into wine? Was Jesus trying to tell His Mother that if He does that, the world will begin to know Who He is, His walk will begin, and life as they have known it, will be no more? Was that really what He was saying when He answered His Mother: "Woman why turn to Me? My hour has not come yet?" (John 2:4) Was Jesus trying to buy one more night of normality before starting His Ministry and His long journey to the Cross? Did Mother Mary understand that she was asking Him to begin the journey that could only end up at Calvary? Could she have still said "Do whatever He tells you?" And now, she still is saying the same thing, really, at every apparition, basically "Do whatever He tells you."
Jesus had been teaching. He had been travelling the countryside healing the mind, the spirit, the body, the heart. He had been leading His children gently, holding them by the hand, along the path to understanding the Father's Will in their lives. He warned them, they could not have two masters; they would hate the one and love the other. He cautioned them not to judge one another. He brought them hope with His Words: "Ask, and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." He also made them uncomfortable. The people in towns where He performed many miracles did not turn from their sins and so He chastised them, telling them: "I assure you that on Judgment Day, God will show more mercy to the people of Tyre and Sidon than to you.” (Luke 10:14) But he never gave up on them, patiently and compassionately, consistently reaching out to them. He tried to reach them: "Do you think what I am asking of you is too difficult?" Knowing their pain, He reassured them: "Come to Me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads and I will give you rest." (Matt:11:28)
Knowing His time was near, and they would never make it without His Presence among them, He gave them Food for the journey. It has been said that the Church would not have lasted one hundred years without the Eucharist. When Jesus believed they were ready, or was it more that He knew His hour had come, He prepared them for the Gift of the Holy Eucharist. When He fed more than five thousand men (they did not count women and children in those days) with five loaves and two fish, they loved Him! They wanted more, and so they followed Him. They found Him praying in a synagogue in Capharnaum. Then He made the decision that began His walk to the Cross; He proclaimed the Eucharistic Doctrine: "I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to Me will never go hungry; he who believes in Me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35)..Most of those who had followed Him, left; hence Jesus began His lonely walk to the Cross. Then He asked His chosen twelve "Will you leave Me, too?", and one of them (Judas) began to plot against Him.
Why did those from whom He had come, and for whom He had come, (the chosen people) leave? Why did Judas betray Him? Bishop Sheen said our Lord's teaching on the Eucharist was too much for them to bear, and so they killed Him. Was it too simple? Did it require too much faith? Did His teaching now lack the excitement, the sensationalism they had found in the miracles He had performed in their midst? It began with grumbling; it ended with Crucifixion. Jesus scolded them: "Stop your grumbling!" "I am the Living Bread that comes down from Heaven. If anyone eats this Bread he will live forever. The Bread that I will give is My Flesh for the life of the world." (John 6:51).They did not understand; they did not know Him; they did not want Him any longer. They had had expectations of Him that He would not fulfill; they would silence him. They could no longer look upon Him. They wanted Him to disappear, and so they killed Him.
Jesus began to form and prepare His Church. He asked His followers, first, "Who do people say that I am?" (Matt 16:13) They gave Him multiple answers: Elijah, John the Baptist, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets. Then Jesus turned to the Apostles: "Who do you say I am?" (Matt 16:15) Peter professed: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." (Matt 16:16) Knowing Peter's wisdom was not from man, but had been revealed to him by His Heavenly Father, Jesus proclaimed him rock and declared that upon him He would build His Church. Jesus, at that very moment in time, chose Peter as His first Pope. And even after Peter denied Him three times, Jesus did not take back His Mission from Peter. For Jesus always did the Will of His Father in Heaven. Knowing this was His Father's Will, He gave an irrevocable yes! And so, with His Yes, not only did Jesus found His Church, but the Holy Trinity, One and inseparable, created her. The world was given Mother Church, and would know her, after she flowed from the Bleeding Heart of our Savior on the Cross.
On the way to Jerusalem, Jesus ascended Mount Tabor, bringing Peter, James and John with Him. It was so breathtaking, so beautiful, so peaceful up there, on this mountain high above the patchwork fields, away from all the problems below. The Lord showed them His Glorious Self: "As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: His Face was shining like the sun, and His clothes were dazzling white." (Matt 17:2) Peter, James and John heard a Voice descending from Heaven: "This is My own dear Son, with Whom I am pleased - listen to Him!" (Matt 17:5) Peter was so excited, he wanted to pitch tent up there: "Lord how good it is for us to be here!" (Matt 17:4) Would he have been so eager, so elated if he had known this was Jesus' way of preparing them, strengthening them for the walk through the valley to the next high place, Calvary?
The walk to Calvary had to be a lonely one. Jesus had tried to prepare His disciples: "I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life." (Matt 17:22) Like so many of us, Peter did not hear: "I will be raised to life." The enemy of fear and uncertainty deafened his ears to Jesus' consoling, reassuring words. All Peter could say was: "God forbid it, Lord!" (Matt 16:22) As You, Jesus, saw Your first Pope weaken so many times, as You see us disappoint You with our own needs and agendas, how do You stick with us, Lord?
Our biggest enemy is fear, Lord. Fear is the reason Peter denied You three times, fear of pain and death. Today, the world is very busily engaged in spreading fear and hopelessness. One of our local priests said, the other day, during his homily: "Over the gates of hell, there is a sign which reads `Abandon hope all you who enter.'" Well, that's not where we want to end up. We definitely do not want to take any road that might lead us there.
So, now that we know the enemy's game, what do you say we walk beside Jesus and take up our own cross, as we prepare for the Resurrection, and the Glorious Mysteries. Whenever we are tempted to ask the question "Why me, Lord?" we need only to open the New Testament and read the life of Jesus. We will discover the Way of the Cross started before Jesus entered Jerusalem. And as we then start to meditate on our own walk, we will meet that Precious Savior who has been walking beside us all our life, and if we dare look upon Him, we will bless Him for our life and all that has happened, is happening and will happen.
Our modern theology tells us that when we sin, we break relationship with Jesus, and I'm sure that's true, and upsetting. But if we come to terms with the fact that when we sin, we take our foot, and kick Him with all our might, in His Side, as He's carrying the cross, that our sins might just have been the catalyst to make Him buckle under and crumble, bloody, face-first onto the ground, if we love Him the way we say we do, we have to want to cut off our leg, before sinning against Him. And yet, we sin and sin and sin.
When Jesus walked along the Via Dolorosa (the Way of the Cross), the soldiers poked Him, prodding Him, although He needed no prodding. He fell three times, Face down into the dirt, weighed down by the Cross. But He got up! On Pilgrimage, whenever we walk the Way of the Cross and I behold my Lord, alone and abandoned, the weight of the Cross crushing Him, looking up at me, with such a look of human helplessness, I want to shout: "Don't get up, Lord. Stay down! No more, Lord. Don't let them hurt You, anymore. Why do You get up? Is it so that when I don't want to begin again, when I don't want to carry my cross, I will remember You, weighed down by the Cross, getting up, going on to Your Death?"
There was no one to help You carry Your Cross, Jesus. No one considered it a privilege or honor to take Your Cross from Your Shoulders. Simon of Cyrene had to be forced into helping You with Your Cross. Peter stood a safe distance away, to avoid confrontation, pain and possibly death.
I have had a desire to be like Mother Mary, ever since I discovered Bob loved and admired her so. Sadly, I knew, I was more like my patron saint, St. Paul, than Mother Mary. Be careful what you pray for; you might get your wish. One year, during Holy Week, at twelve noon on Good Friday, we were standing at Calvary, in Jerusalem, on the side, watching the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and his pilgrims process by, carrying the Cross. They had been walking about 15 across. Now, as they were approaching the entrance to the Church of The Holy Sepulchre (where Calvary is) the road became narrow, barely three deep. I was so enthralled with the procession, I was not aware that my grandson was in danger until I heard Bob crying out: "Robbie, they're crushing you!" I whirled around. Our grandson's face was red like fire. He looked as if all the breath was being squeezed out of him. He was being crushed! I began to swing my arms in an attempt to push through pilgrims who had suddenly become a wall of menacing impenetrable bodies. I was blind and oblivious to everything and everyone but saving my grandson. Suddenly, I heard a voice: "I'm on your side." It was my Bob. I had been punching my Bob, and not even knowing it, in an attempt to save my grandson. All of a sudden, I looked around. I thought: Is this where Jesus met up with Mother Mary? Is this where she said Yes, one more time? Is this where she said nothing, but said so much with her silence. Did her eyes say: "It's all right, Son, I say Yes. I love you and I do not know how I will live without you, but I know this is what You have to do, and I say Yes." I started to weep. Well, I wanted to be more like Mother Mary, and Jesus was showing me how very far I would have to walk. Mother Mary, how did you do it?
We knew a family who was losing their ten year old daughter to cancer. They were a model family of hope and love. One time, when we visited them, it was the little girl's birthday. The family propped her on a bean bag chair on the floor. She could not see and could barely hear, but all the members of their church came and knelt in front of her, bringing her gifts. We could not hold back our tears; it reminded us so of the Baby Jesus in the manger.
The father used to call us almost every day. One night, more into the wee hours of the next morning, he called; he apologized; he said he couldn't sleep. He cried, he just couldn't carry his cross that night; it was too heavy. I asked him if he would invite Jesus into his home. Would he allow Jesus to help him with his cross? I told him that Jesus was not an apathetic bystander. He was very involved in his life. He did not have to be prodded, as had Simon, who reluctantly helped Jesus carry His Cross. Why didn't he hand his cross to Jesus? I told him that the Lord would love to help him. Now this daddy was a simple faith-filled soul. He said yes, he would, and we both hung up. The next morning, he called and said he had done what I had suggested. He said his arm hurt so badly, he could hardly raise it. I asked him what had he done. He answered: "When I asked Jesus to carry my cross, what could I do but carry His."
[There is a P.S. to this story. Although this family was Baptist, they called the Pope their Pope. They wondered if we knew Pope John Paul II, and if we could write to him and ask him to pray for their little girl. We said, we didn't know the Pope personally, no more than any other Catholic, but we would be glad to write. The Pope's letter to us, promising to pray for the little girl and the family, arrived on the Feast Day of St. Jude, October the 28th, the day the little girl died. It meant so much to the family, they gave the letter to the local newspaper, who promptly printed it.]
Lord, only the women dared to walk with You to the Cross. Oh, Veronica, what did you see in the eyes of Jesus as you wiped the Blood and Sweat from His most Precious Face? Oh women of Jerusalem, did you know what our Lord was talking about, as He told you to cry not for Him but for yourselves and your children. Oh Lord, what did You see at that moment? Were those women of Jerusalem standing in for the women of the world who would hold the lifeless bodies of their children in their arms, victims of a world that considers life so expendable?
Are you one of those women who Jesus was speaking to? Is He talking about your children? Is He asking you to look around and see what kind of a world, what kind of a country, what kind of a Church we are leaving to them? Is our Lord walking alone, as schools, secular television and the world take Him out of our children's lives? Will our children know Him, after we are gone? Do our children know Him, now? Was our Jesus talking to us? Is He talking to us, today? Is He crying out to us, in pain, as He carries the Cross of those millions of babies that are being so brutally killed-for-profit?
You say, you were not born when Jesus walked the Way of the Cross, abandoned by everyone but His Mother, St. John and some women. Do I hear you say you would not have stood by when they crucified our Lord, when they mocked and spit upon Him? How much a part of the Mass are you? Is your mind wandering back to the business of life? When you see someone leaving the altar area with the Lord in their hands, obviously unaware of Who it is they are holding, no less what to do with this most precious Host, our Lord truly present: Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, do you just sit there, not wanting to bring attention to yourself? After all what if you are wrong; you wouldn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, or be embarrassed.
Is Jesus not your Brother? Is He not your Affair? When someone, whether in print, at the movies or on television, or in your presence mocks Him, criticizes His Church, His Word, the Commandments He laid down, attacks His most Holy and Beloved Mother do you stay politely silent, uninvolved? Bishop Sheen said that those who stood apathetically by while our Lord walked His Way to the Cross and hung there breathing His last Breath, hurt Him more than those who drove the nails into His Hands and Feet, wounded Him more than those who spit upon Him, pierced His Heart more painfully than the centurion whose sight was restored when he placed the Lord's precious Blood on his eyes.
Our Lord Jesus asks us: "Can you not spend one hour with Me?" Respond yes, and then head toward the Tabernacle in your church where Jesus is waiting, no, longing for you.
Are you a spectator during the Sacrifice of the Mass? The Mass is not a spectator sport! Or are you an active participant? For you see before you, your Lord and Savior, the same Crucified Lord, that same Jesus Who was born to die for us, coming to life on the Altar through the priest's calling upon the Holy Spirit and his consecrated hands. You witness the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of your Lord, Who is once again interceding with the Father for the redemption of your sins and my sins. And if you do not feel tears rushing to your eyes, then there is no life in you. You do not know Him. Be not surprised if someday He says to you: "I do not know you."
Our brothers and sisters, we love you with the Hearts of Jesus and Mary. Live these Sorrowful Mysteries, not only during Lent, but every day of your life. Enter into His Heart and consecrate yourselves and your whole family to Him and His Beloved Mother through His Sacred Heart and her Immaculate Heart. Journey with Him and His Mother on the Way of the Cross. You say, you want a personal relationship with Jesus? Will you get to know Him through the Cross? If you say Yes, as He did, then you will experience the joy and exhilaration of an ongoing Resurrection, not only on Easter Sunday, but on all the Easter days, the Lord has prepared for you.
We want to leave you with a prayer Padre Pio prayed before the Crucifix where he received the Stigmata in San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy:
"You call Me the Way but you don't follow Me
You call Me the Light but you don't see Me
You call Me the Teacher but you don't listen to Me
You call Me the Lord but you don't serve Me
You call Me the Truth but you don't believe in Me
Don't be surprised if one day I don't know you."