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“He said, ‘The Son of man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
Then, speaking to all, he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it. What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self?”
A rather gloomy prediction of the future we hear today in our reading of the Gospel. Jesus gives a clear image of what His immediate future will hold; an image of pain and suffering, but certainly also of hope. His ressurection on the third day would have reminded his audience of the prophecies regarding the Messiah, even if most did not yet realise that the Messiah was the one telling them this. The rejection that Jesus foretells is by the hand of “the elders and chief priests and scribes”, the very leaders of the religious establishment and community. These are usually the ones that are trusted to do what is right, but their future betrayal of the ultimate truth that is God shows how deeply the salvation the Messiah brings is needed. This is more than the personal sins of individuals, but extends into the very heart of civilisation. Christ’s sacrifice will bring healing to all of society, to its individual members and to the relationships that unite them.
Christ does not only speak about Himself here, but also about us. The decision to follow Him is a big one, and just like His sacrifice and salvation, it reaches down to the very roots of our humanity and society. We must renounce ourselves, which means that we mustachieve a balance between respecting and making use of what has been given to us by God as His creation, and denying what distracts us from Him and His desire to brings us to Him. In other words, do not put yourself first, but always look at yourself as a being created by and wished by God. We must look at ourselves with His eyes, not our own. That is why Jesus speaks about losing our life “for His sake”. Just losing our lives is a shameful waste without any merit. But losing our lives for Him (in other words: handing over our lives to Him) is essentially the opposite of losing it. God gave us life, and He did not do so by accident. He has given us our very self, which is far more than the mere fact of being alive. Life has a greater meaning than that.
We are asked to lose our lives for God, which means we acknowledge the fact that our life, or being, was not ours in the first place. God will not take it and then ignore us. He will accept our very being and lead it on the path to fulfillment, to reach our full potential. And that path is hard. Jesus is the first to go that path, to show us the way. His death and resurrection foreshadows what he asks us to do. To die for ourselves and be reborn in God.
It was the Day of Preparation, about the sixth hour. ‘Here is your king,’ said Pilate to the Jews. But they shouted, ‘Away with him, away with him, crucify him.’ Pilate said, ‘Shall I crucify your king?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king except Caesar.’
So at that Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. They then took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own cross he went out to the Place of the Skull or, as it is called in Hebrew, Golgotha, where they crucified him with two others, one on either side, Jesus being in the middle.
Pilate wrote out a notice and had it fixed to the cross; it ran: ‘Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews’. This notice was read by many of the Jews, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the writing was in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. So the Jewish chief priests said to Pilate, ‘You should not write “King of the Jews”, but that the man said, “I am King of the Jews”. ‘
Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written.’
When the soldiers had finished crucifying Jesus they took his clothing and divided it into four shares, one for each soldier. His undergarment was seamless, woven in one piece from neck to hem; so they said to one another, ‘Instead of tearing it, let’s throw dice to decide who is to have it.’ In this way the words of scripture were fulfilled: They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothes. That is what the soldiers did.
Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, ‘Woman, this is your son.’ Then to the disciple he said, ‘This is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.
After this, Jesus knew that everything had now been completed and, so that the scripture should be completely fulfilled, he said: I am thirsty. A jar full of sour wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine on a hyssop stick, they held it up to his mouth. After Jesus had taken the wine he said, ‘It is fulfilled’; and bowing his head he gave up his spirit.
Like last week, there is a new set of questions to be answered. People came here in the past week to find answers, and I hope they found at least some indication of them, but if not: here is some more direct and detailed information. I will try my best to give useful and truthful answers, but in the case of some of today’s question it is really better to consult a priest, theologian or Church historian.
1. Is Roman Catholicism legal in the Netherlands?
Simple answer: yes. There is no prohibition on being Catholic or speaking and writing about being Catholic in the Netherlands. Article 6 of the Dutch Constitution protects every citizen to freely confess their faith within the limits of the law.
The Catholic Church is fully established in the Netherlands, with full diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and the Holy See, a resident Papal Nuncio and a bishops’ conference.
2. Explain why the Eucharistic liturgy is meant to be the source and summit of our spiritual lives.
This is one of those questions I referred to above. I will try to offer a basic explanation, but you are really best served with someone who is more knowledgeable about this.
The Eucharistic liturgy is the whole of rituals, words, gestures and actions we use to celebrate the Eucharist. That liturgy is a unity and reflects the content of what we celebrate: the Eucharist. And is that Eucharist that is the source and summit of the Christian life. By source we mean that everything we do as Christians has its origins in the Eucharist, and by summit we mean that that Eucharist is also the highest goal that we can achieve. Nothing exceeds or transcends it.
The Eucharist is Christ on the Cross, God who sacrificed Himself for us. The Eucharist is then a supreme act of love. For Himself, God need not have died, but He did so out of love for us. We needed it. He did not.
That sacrifice, that divine love, is the engine that drives our Christian life. Our love for God and our neighbours, our desire to be loved, flows from the divine love.
If we do not give the Eucharist, the Holy Mass, an important place in our Christian life, we take away the driving force, the nourishment for our Christian actions and words, our life. Christ gave Himself for us, now we need to accept Him in our hearts, and that is what the Eucharist does for us, and what we do in the Eucharist.
3. Who initiated transubstantiation in the Catholic Church?
Jesus Christ did. At the Last Supper, He gave bread and wine as His Body and Blood to His followers. And these followers were well aware of what Jesus had said about those things earlier:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate manna in the desert and they are dead; but this is the bread which comes down from heaven, so that a person may eat it and not die. I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world” (Joh 6:48-51).
When Jesus then said, at the Last Supper, “This is my body” and ‘This is my blood”, the Apostles would have remembered the above passage. Although they had no way of understanding how, they would also have no doubt that Christ was serious: He is the living bread, and the bread He now brings is, as He says, His body.
But since when does the Church refer to this mystery as ‘transubstantiation’? A quick glance at Wikipedia shows us that the term appeared in the Middle Ages, and at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215 the Church first used it in writing. But although they didn’t use the word ‘transubstantiation’, the fact of bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Christ had already been accepted by the earliest Church Fathers, such as St Ignatius of Antioch and St. Justin Martyr (both in the first half of the second century).
The answer to the question would then be: Christ initiated it, and the Church recognised the mysterious transubstantiation virtually from the very start.
4. Can I have an altar just for saints?
Well, depending on what you mean by ‘altar’, you either can or can not. If you are referring to the surface upon which the sacrifice of the Mass takes place, I don’t think you can. Such an altar is always for Christ, although it can feature images or statues of saints, of course.
However, if you are talking about a small ‘prayer table’ in your home, you most definitely can, although I would personally recommend that you also include Christ. A set place in the house where you can go and light a candle and pray is definitely a good thing, and such a place can include statues or images of saints to help us pray. Certainly when you have a special devotion to a certain saint, you may want to give that saint pride of place, and frequently ask him or her to intercede for your intentions with the Lord.
As long as there is no danger of your prayer table (ie. not an altar upon which the Eucharistic sacrifice takes place) becoming a site for idolatry, you may certainly use images of saints to help you focus on Christ and your relationship with Him.
“Is it not true that in a very short time the Lebanon will become productive ground, so productive you might take it for a forest?” (Isaiah 29:17)
With his return yesterday from a successful three-day visit to Lebanon, Pope Benedict XVI concluded what may, beforehand, have seemed like a very risky trip indeed. The ongoing protests (staged or otherwise) in Muslim countries, including some in Lebanon itself, formed a disturbing backdrop, and at times I caught myself wondering if the papal visit would end without incident. Luckily, and thank God for it, it did.
In contrast to the heated emotions and violent outburst in other parts of the Middle East, the Holy Father brought a message of peace, respect and encouragement, not just to the Catholic and other Christians in Lebanon, but to people of faith in the entire Middle East and the whole world.
Below I share some interesting passages from the various addresses and homilies given by the pope. You may read the full texts, which often include further expositions on what I have quoted, here.
On not cancelling the visit, and the reason to go ahead:
“I can tell you that no one advised me to cancel this journey, and for my part I never considered doing so, because I know that as the situation becomes more complex, it is all the more necessary to offer this sign of fraternal encouragement and solidarity. That is the aim of my visit: to issue an invitation to dialogue, to peace and against violence, to go forward together to find solutions to the problems.” [Interview during the flight to Lebanon, 14 September]
“Fundamentalism is always a falsification of religion. It goes against the essence of religion, which seeks to reconcile and to create God’s peace throughout the world… [T]he essential message of religion must be against violence – which is a falsification of it, like fundamentalism – and it must be the education, illumination and purification of consciences so as to make them capable of dialogue, reconciliation and peace.” [Idem]
On the Exaltation of the Cross:
“Are not Christian communion and witness grounded in the Paschal Mystery, in the crucifixion, death and resurrection of Christ? Is it not there that they find their fulfilment? There is an inseparable bond between the cross and the resurrection which Christians must never forget. Without this bond, to exalt the cross would mean to justify suffering and death, seeing them merely as our inevitable fate. For Christians, to exalt the cross means to be united to the totality of God’s unconditional love for mankind. It means making an act of faith! To exalt the cross, against the backdrop of the resurrection, means to desire to experience and to show the totality of this love. It means making an act of love! To exalt the cross means to be a committed herald of fraternal and ecclesial communion, the source of authentic Christian witness. It means making an act of hope!” [Address at the signing of the Apostolic Exhortation Ecclesia in Medio Oriente, 14 September]
On peace through human dignity:
“Our human dignity is inseparable from the sacredness of life as the gift of the Creator. In God’s plan, each person is unique and irreplaceable. A person comes into this world in a family, which is the first locus of humanization, and above all the first school of peace. To build peace, we need to look to the family, supporting it and facilitating its task, and in this way promoting an overall culture of life. The effectiveness of our commitment to peace depends on our understanding of human life. If we want peace, let us defend life! This approach leads us to reject not only war and terrorism, but every assault on innocent human life, on men and women as creatures willed by God. Wherever the truth of human nature is ignored or denied, it becomes impossible to respect that grammar which is the natural law inscribed in the human heart (cf. Message for the 2007 World Day of Peace, 3). The grandeur and the raison d’être of each person are found in God alone. The unconditional acknowledgement of the dignity of every human being, of each one of us, and of the sacredness of human life, is linked to the responsibility which we all have before God. We must combine our efforts, then, to develop a sound vision of man, respectful of the unity and integrity of the human person. Without this, it is impossible to build true peace.” [Address to members of government, diplomats, religious leaders and cultural representatives, 15 September]
The workings of evil:
“We need to be very conscious that evil is not some nameless, impersonal and deterministic force at work in the world. Evil, the devil, works in and through human freedom, through the use of our freedom. It seeks an ally in man. Evil needs man in order to act. Having broken the first commandment, love of God, it then goes on to distort the second, love of neighbour. Love of neighbour disappears, yielding to falsehood, envy, hatred and death.” [Idem]
Freedom of religion:
“The freedom to profess and practise one’s religion without danger to life and liberty must be possible to everyone. The loss or attenuation of this freedom deprives the person of his or her sacred right to a spiritually integrated life. What nowadays passes for tolerance does not eliminate cases of discrimination, and at times it even reinforces them. Without openness to transcendence, which makes it possible to find answers to their deepest questions about the meaning of life and morally upright conduct, men and women become incapable of acting justly and working for peace. Religious freedom has a social and political dimension which is indispensable for peace!” [Idem]
The challenges of youth
“The frustrations of the present moment must not lead you to take refuge in parallel worlds like those, for example, of the various narcotics or the bleak world of pornography. As for social networks, they are interesting but they can quite easily lead to addiction and confusion between the real and the virtual. Look for relationships of genuine, uplifting friendship. Find ways to give meaning and depth to your lives; fight superficiality and mindless consumption! You face another temptation, too: that of money, the tyrannical idol which blinds to the point of stifling the person at the heart. The examples being held up all around you are not always the best. Many people have forgotten Christ’s warning that one cannot serve both God and mammon (cf. Lk 16:13). Seek out good teachers, spiritual masters, who will be able to guide you along the path to maturity, leaving behind all that is illusory, garish and deceptive.” [Address to young people, 15 September]
“I understand, too, that present among us there are some young people from Syria. I want to say how much I admire your courage. Tell your families and friends back home that the Pope has not forgotten you. Tell those around you that the Pope is saddened by your sufferings and your griefs. He does not forget Syria in his prayers and concerns, he does not forget those in the Middle East who are suffering. It is time for Muslims and Christians to come together so as to put an end to violence and war.” [Idem]
In closing, here is the rendition of Panis Angelicus that was sung during the public Mass in Beirut:
All photos: CNS photo/Paul Haring
They crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote a title and put it on the cross; it read: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
Having come to the place called Calvary, the soldiers crucify Jesus. Pilate has a sign written: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”, to insult him and to humiliate the Jews. But, without intending to do so, this inscription testifies to a reality: the kingship of Jesus, the king of a kingdom unlimited by time and space.
We can only imagine the cruelty and the unrelenting agony which Jesus experienced during the crucifixion. We enter into the realm of mystery: why did God, who became man for love of us, let himself be nailed to a piece of wood and lifted up amid atrocious physical and spiritual torments?
It was for love. Love. It is the law of love that leads us to give our own lives for the good of others. We see this in mothers who face even death in order to bring their children into the world. Or parents who have lost a child in war or in acts of terrorism, yet choose not to seek revenge.
Jesus, on Calvary you embody all of us,
every man and woman, of the past, present and future.
On the cross you taught us to love.
Now we begin to understand the secret of that perfect joy
of which you spoke to the disciples at the Last Supper.
You wished to come down from heaven, to become a child,
then an adult, and thus to go up to Calvary,
in order to teach us by your life the meaning of true love.
Gazing at you on the cross, we too, as families, husbands and wives, parents and children, gradually learn to love one another, and to love and cultivate around us that openness which generously gives and gratefully receives. An openness capable of suffering, and of transforming suffering into love.
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.”
“Because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”
And there we go. With Christ we ascend the sloping streets of Jerusalem to Golgotha, to His sacrifice on the cross, to our own eternal redemption.
Today, like previous years, we’ll be travelling there in this blog too. At 45-minute intervals, we’ll stop at one of the 14 stations of the Via Crucis. We’ll do so with all Catholics the world over, all who profess faith in Christ and wish to follow Him in their lives, and especially with the vicar of Christ and all in Rome. The texts in the stations here are the ones used at the Via Crucis in Rome, presided over by Pope Benedict XVI. They are, as I have reported earlier, written by Italian couple Danilo and Anna Maria Zanzuchhi, and are focussed on the plight of families.
The artwork used is the work of David O’Connell, and may be seen in real life at St. Richard’s Church in Chichester.
Recently, it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI would be penning a children’s book called ‘The friends of Jesus’. In it, he is said to focus on the relationship of fourteen men with Jesus. Yes, men. The fourteen are the twelve original Apostles, St. Matthias who went to replace Judas in the twelve, and St. Paul who, while never part of the twelve, is generally considered an apostle all the same.
Following the release of this little news item certain people have gotten into a huff about the fact that the book only deals with men. “Surely, they say, women were also Jesus’ friends? So why are they not in the book? It must because the pope doesn’t like or is afraid of women.” That is a basic summation of their logic.
In the first point they are correct. There is enough Scriptural evidence that Jesus’ followers included both men and women, and some women indeed had a notable relation to Christ. The Blessed Virgin in the first place, of course, but also St. Mary Magdelene, and the other women who were present at the Crucifixion. But the pope doesn’t write about them. Why not?
The answer seems straightforward when one considers the aforementioned list of men. They are the Apostles. The Apostles are a very clearly identified group of men. Like it or not, the fact remains that there was not a woman among them.
“But women were also Jesus’ friends”, the masses clamour. Yes, and here we have the core of the problem. The term ‘friend’. It’s somewhat simplistic term to refer to the actual relationship that Jesus had with the Apostles. For a children’s book it’s use is understandable, of course, and we shouldn’t read to much into that, if you’ll pardon the pun.
Back to the problem of the term ‘friend’. There seems to be something of a consensus that Jesus and the Apostles were friends, mates, who met up for meals and conversation, maybe a party here and there, and nothing more. That idea limits the person of Christ to the strictly human; he becomes nothing but a good and nice man, who had some clever things to say. He was good, he had smart things to say, of course, but He was much more than that. Christ, after all, is God. And the Apostles knew that, although it took them a while. Christ is God, He brings salvation to all, and that fact must have coloured the relationship between Christ and the Apostles. They were much more than friends. He was their Lord and Saviour, and they in their turn were tasked with very specific and special duties in the Church He established.
Of course, He was also the Lord and Saviour of the women He knew, like He is to everyone who ever lived and will live. But the aforementioned tasks given to the Apostles made their relationship, the ‘friendship’ unique. Selecting them as the group to focus on a book is quite understandable. That is not a matter of ignoring the women in the life of Jesus and the women in the Church of today, but the complete opposite: the acknowledgement of the ‘friendship’ of Christ with His apostles.
In writing any book, an author must make choices. The pope could have taken a random selection of people to describe in his book, but he didn’t. He chose a specific group, the people who were closest to Christ in His active ministry here on earth. And as I said, calling them friends is correct but incomplete. It is, however, understandable for a children’s book which deals chiefly with getting to know Christ as someone near to us, as a friend. That can be the basis for further development of our relationship with Him. Seems like a fairly good place to start for children.
Politics and gender issues are misplaced and misguided in this and many other cases.