The Crowning of Thorns
Everybody wants to go to Heaven, but nobody wants to die. Everybody wants the Resurrection, but nobody wants the Crucifixion. That has been the story of Salvation History in general, but the I-centered Twentieth Century in particular. We are coming out of a century, where everyone grabbed whatever he could for himself, no matter who it hurt, or how it affected our country or our world.
We know, Jesus did not want to die. He asked His Father in the Garden of Gethsemane, "If it be Your will, let this cup pass from Me." He could have given His Father thousands of reasons why He should stay on the earth a little longer. He didn't want to die, but He said yes! "Yet not My will, but Yours be done." There it was: that's what made Satan so furious, that complete Yes, that unconditional Yes, that Yes with full knowledge of the consequences.
Pilate, unable to move their hearts of stone, ordered our most precious Lord to be taken away. "The soldiers led Him away to the Praetorium. Then they stripped Him and dressed Him up in purple." (Mark 15:16-17) They twisted some thorns into a crown and pressed it down, piercing His Head. Further mocking Him, they placed a reed in His Hand, to represent a scepter. They contemptuously knelt before Him, hailing Him King of the Jews. When that sport ceased to entertain them, they took the reed from His Hand and struck Him, with it, over and over again on His Head. They spit at Him.
They mocked Him; they accused Him; and He was silent, never defending Himself, paying with His silence the ransom for our sins. Lord, they stripped You of all Your garments. They derided You. They taunted You, those who were not worthy to kiss Your Feet. And You did nothing!
No one wants Jesus to suffer; it calls us to accountability. If He could do it, we have the responsibility to do it, also. No one wants Jesus to stand by and do nothing, say nothing. Does that mean when someone falsely accuses me, Lord, I am to do and say nothing? "But He was God!" We love to shout that. I can hear Jesus crying out "But I was man also. I was like you in all things except Sin." We have to come to terms with the fact Jesus suffered physically. He endured all the pain we go through. We can't hide behind the fact that Jesus was God. He was Man, too.
So that there is no doubt in anyone's mind how much your Savior, the God-Man Who gave up His life for His friends and His enemies, suffered, we need to look at Jesus Crowned with Thorns! His suffering was more severe than ours, because He was taking on the sins of the world. He was suffering for all the sins which had been committed before Him, all that went on during His lifetime, and the tens of billions of sins which would be committed in the future.
How painful was that Crown on His Head? When our Lord appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, He told her that His enemies placed a Crown of Thorns on His Head, His friends on His Heart. Are we the friends who place a Crown around His Heart, today? As He looked about the crowd, at those He had touched, those He had healed, those to whom He had brought hope, those who repaid His Love by running away, who denied Him out of fear, was a second Crown placed, on His Heart?
In the Western World, we're at a disadvantage. We cannot visualize a thorn so big, it could penetrate a skull, and inflict fatal injuries. We know of little thorns from rose bushes; they draw blood and inflict excruciating pain, but are nothing compared to the spear-like thorns in the Holy Land.
We were at the Shrine of the Miracle of the Eucharist in Bois Seigneur Isaac, in Belgium, this summer. In the same Chapel which holds the Miraculous bloodstained Corporal, there is a reliquary of one of the thorns from the Crown of Thorns our Lord wore. It was about four inches long, and razor-sharp. The thorns which pierced the Head of our dear, innocent Savior, were that long and that sharp. When we go on pilgrimage to the Shrine of St. Rita, in Cascia, we meditate on the thorn that came from our Lord's Cross and pierced her forehead; it was 4 inches long!
When you journey to the Holy Land during Holy Week, you see replicas of the Crown of Thorns that Jesus wore. It is difficult to look at; reality always is. You want to turn away. Surely, Lord they did not press this crown of thorns on Your precious Head. But they did! If we can never forget that replica of His Crown, what painful memories did Mother Mary have to deal with, as she remained on earth doing her Heavenly Father's Will?
Each year, when we bring our pilgrims to the Chapel of St. Bridget in the Basilica of St. Paul, outside the Walls of Rome, we share the conversations Jesus had with St. Bridget of Sweden. He not only described how many wounds He received, as the soldiers struck Him over and over again, while tied to the pillar, He shared how one of the thorns from the Crown, the soldiers pressed down on His Head, pierced the top of His Head and came out through His forehead. It would have to have actually penetrated His skull! Jesus told St. Bridget that this was a fatal thorn, a fatal blow. Had He not been crucified, He would have died from this wound.
Early icons of our Lord Jesus depict Him with what seems to be a little curl, a wisp of hair, coming down from His forehead. This is not a lock of hair. In actuality, it is the thorn extruding from His head. If you look at the image of the Holy Shroud, the wound of one of the thorns is visible.
We want the clean, white, gleaming Jesus. A woman once came up to Penny, and tried to rip her crucifix from her neck. She screamed, "Take Him off the Cross. Why do you have to keep reminding us of the Cross?" Nobody wants that thorn to stick out from His head; they want it to be a lock of hair. Our brothers and sisters, not of the Roman Catholic Faith worship the Risen Christ. Martin Luther could not come to terms with the Crucified Christ. Jesus accepted the call to the Crucifixion; Luther could not. Jesus obeyed and we were saved; Luther disobeyed and gave birth to the greatest Scandal of the Cross our Church has ever known. But as Jesus saved His Church once through the Cross, so He does it, over and over again. That's why we can't run from the Cross. Our Salvation is through that Cross.
"Pick up your Cross, and follow Me." We are all given crosses. They are designed especially for us, unlike the one our dear Lord Jesus had to carry. They are just the right height and weight. They are fashioned to fit perfectly, because we have been given just enough grace to carry them. "My grace is enough for you." (2Cor 12:9) Accept your cross; no, embrace your cross. You don't want anyone else's cross. It wouldn't fit. You wouldn't have enough grace to carry it.
When our nineteen year old son died of an overdose of drugs, we were devastated. We thought no other cross could be as heavy, or as painful. We didn't think we could carry it. We felt like we were crumbling under the weight of it, until we met a person who had just lost a spouse. When that person told us she could never carry our cross, we realized that we would collapse under the weight of her cross. God never gives us a cross we cannot carry.
We are not heroes. Please believe me, we don't want to suffer; we don't want to die. We don't want to experience physical pain, much less emotional or spiritual pain. We want the Resurrection. We want that clean Jesus, dressed in brilliant white, with not a wound on Him. But that's not the way it works. We know we can't have that Resurrection without the Crucifixion. But we say, "How, Lord? How can I endure that pain, that suffering? How can I let a thorn the size of a nail, be pounded through my skull? I'm not strong enough for that." What is the answer? I want to know as well.
We were on Mother Angelica Live a few months ago. A woman called in and asked what the meaning of Signal Grace was. Mother defined Signal Grace as a special grace given for a special need. She used as an example, the early Christian martyrs, who waited their turn at the Colosseum and the Circus Maximus, as they witnessed their brothers and sisters being torn to pieces by the ravenous animals. They waited and sang songs in praise of Our Lord Jesus. That took Signal Grace. Mother Angelica mentioned St. Maxmilian Mary Kolbe, a Saint of the Twentieth Century, who gave up his life, in the death camp of Auschwitz, Poland in 1941, so that another might live. When he went up to the Nazi officer in charge, and made his request, it took Signal Grace to give up his life for a perfect stranger. Pick up your Cross and follow Me. My grace is enough for you.
An afflicted Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate. A Crown of thorns had been jokingly placed on His bleeding Head, a purple cloak draped mockingly on His wounded Shoulders; blood and sweat poured forth from His scourged Flesh; Pilate wanted nothing to do with Jesus. This had gone too far. Lord, how did the mob dare to look upon Your suffering? How could those You had healed, those You had forgiven, how could they been a party to Your humiliation?
"Ecce Homo!" Pontius Pilate cried out, "Behold the Man." He was hoping for some sympathy, some remorse from the crowd. After all, they had been His followers; they had pursued Him from place to place; they had hailed Him, just the Sunday before, as He entered Jerusalem. But the crowd was deaf to his plea. They had been stirred up into a wild, angry frenzy. I believe that some were even too afraid to defend Jesus. The violent few have always been able to intimidate the frightened many into doing their will. "Away with Him; crucify Him!" they shouted. When we choose the world and its acceptance before Jesus, are we not rejecting Him? When we just stand by while the very vocal few take over and shout "Crucify Him!" are we not shouting "Crucify Him" by our silence?
Pontius Pilate's wife had had a dream. She sent word to her husband to have nothing to do with the death of this Innocent Man. It was a Feast Day of the Jews. At this time, Pilate would allow them to choose a prisoner to be released. They chose a murderer and thief. "Give us Barabbas! Give us Barabbas!" Whom do we choose? When we vote for preservation of our comforts, instead of preservation of human life, whom do we choose? Who is our Barabbas?
Then Pilate, seeing the crowd's unrelenting condemnation of Jesus, took some water, and turning to the people, washed his hands, saying "I am innocent of this man's blood. It is your concern." (Matt 27:24) To a man, they all shouted: "His Blood be on us, and on our children." Oh, Lord, how very often the sins of the parents are suffered by the children. Today, when we are being told that anything goes, and then we wake up to see the innocent lives that are suffering, the babies infected with AIDS because one or both of his parents bought into that lie, it makes us tremble. Oh, Lord, not the innocent children. Let it stop, now!
When Pilate asked what harm Jesus had done, what could they have replied - He healed us; He forgave our sins so we could start over; He brought us the Bread of Life; He fed us in body and spirit? What could they have answered? "Crucify Him!" they shouted all the louder. Jesus was the Light. With His Light, He brought to light all the sins that had been done in darkness. When they condemned others, He revealed to them their sins, cautioning them not to judge lest they be judged. They couldn't be superior, couldn't look down on anyone with Jesus present; He knew all there was to know about them. They had to silence Him. Crucify Him!
Are we a party to our Lord's walk to His death? A young man once asked Penny, how she felt about the Nuns having a Convent outside of Auschwitz? When she asked what the problem was, he said it was a reminder to the Jews that Christians killed 6,000,000 Jews. Penny said "No Christians killed Jews at Auschwitz or anywhere else. Godless Nazis did." "Well," he said, "the Germans just watched and did nothing." "Oh, then Germans were accountable because they just watched their Jewish brothers and sisters go by in trains at night, to death camps? Were these Christians condemned for standing by, doing nothing to try to stop it?" Penny then asked him if we, the people of the United States, are accountable for watching our innocents go to our American death camps, the Abortion Clinics? Are we not condemned for standing by, and doing nothing? He replied, he didn't get involved in such things. She said: "Neither did the Germans."
Forgive us Jesus; we don't want You bleeding and dirty; we don't want a Crown of thorns on Your Head. We want to see You as Christ the King with a gold crown on Your Head, victorious. We don't really want to look upon You and the Cross. You told us to pick up our Cross and follow You, that Salvation was through the Cross. But it's so hard. Forgive us, Jesus, we know not what we do. Or do we?