1st Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground. Luke 22:42-44
The fruit of the mystery is true contrition for our sins.
True contrition. Before we can have true contrition, we have to first truly understand that we have sinned.
Our self-obsessed, “enlightened” society would very much like to proclaim Sin as an archaic, prohibitive concept whose time is over. Moral restrictions, clearly defined standards of right and wrong, and consequences for violations are all antiquated notions wrongly imposed on people of free will, says the modern mind.
To dare to suggest that Someone outside ourselves, higher than ourselves has the authority to define right and wrong, good and evil, and then establish the just punishment for wrongdoing, well, that’s downright blasphemous in this age of moral relativism.
How can we be truly sorry if we’re not thoroughly convinced we’ve done wrong? Okay, maybe we can admit that we’ve sinned, but we haven’t done anything truly terrible, so it’s not really that bad. It can’t be that big a deal.
Take another look at that scene in the Garden. Jesus was in so much anguish that He sweat blood as He prayed! He asked God if there was some other way to accomplish the plan, so it’s obvious this Sin problem is a very big deal, indeed. The torture He was about to suffer wasn’t due to something small or trivial.
But I can’t help wondering what grieves Him more – that we sin, or that we try to cover our sin, make light of it, and even delight in it?
Is it the arrogance that inhabits our sins and causes us to deny that we haven’t just broken a rule or made a little mistake – we have sinned against a perfect and just God who also happens to love us beyond our comprehension?! Our sin is aggravated by prideful indifference. Insult is added to injury.
Why? Because it is scary as all hell, literally, to fully grasp the gravity of our own sin and the consequences of it, and were it not for the Cross and the unspeakable love of the Father, none of us could bear it. Contrition that begins out of fear of the just punishment for sin is a good place to start, but God isn’t satisfied with leaving us there. He wants to overwhelm us with His love; that crazy, illogical, endless love that took our hideous sin upon His perfect Self and endured our punishment for us.
We no longer have anything to fear. Now we are free to be repentant out of sorrow, not terror or despair. We can face our wretched condition and own up to our sins honestly, because what awaits us is forgiveness, not wrath. Once that reality takes root in our hearts, then gratitude inspires us, humility enables us, and LOVE compels us to true contrition.
“Blessed is he who transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” and you forgave the guilt of my sin.” Psalm 32:1-5
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me and I will be whiter than snow.” Psalm 51:1-4, 7
2nd Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the pillar
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.” John 19:1
The fruit of the mystery is purity, and accepting the will of God.
They used a whip made of several strips of leather that were embedded at the ends with pieces of bone and lead. No Roman limitation was placed on the number of lashings inflicted, and often the victim didn’t survive the flogging. Jesus did.
“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” Isaiah 53:5
Every blow from that cruel whip was for my sake. Every vicious tear in His flesh, every drop of precious blood that flowed was for my healing. Every agonizing moment of pain He endured was to secure my peace. His punishment, my freedom.
My impurities are not beaten out of me; they were beaten out of Him.
God deals with me gently and patiently, always with love.
I can’t even fathom the harsh treatment Jesus received in my stead. He must have cried out in pain, but He never protested. He never even tried to whisper a plea to the Father, “Stop! Please stop!”
He would do anything to rescue a lost child.
3rd Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
“They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.” Mark 15:17-20
The fruit of the mystery is moral courage.
Humiliation, in one form or another, is part of the package. It is only avoidable if we decide to deny Christ. Every single day, we’ll be presented with moments of choice: either choose Christ and risk mockery and scorn, or deny Him and remain safe, comfortable, hidden.
In a shallow culture that reveres only the Self and demands tolerance of all things while it is bitterly intolerant of Christ and His Church, we can’t play both sides.
If we’re truly following Jesus, we are going to be mocked. We will be the object of scorn and ridicule. We are going to be attacked as closed-minded, oppressive, backward, intellectually-stunted, bigoted, fanatical. We’re going to be hated and persecuted. If we’re not being treated as such, perhaps we’d better re-examine our lives and our faith. If we don’t stand out from the world, then we could be in serious trouble.
It will cost us dearly sometimes to stand firm in our faith, to go against the current societal tide, to defend the unchanging truth that others dismiss as merely religious belief. But the Humble Savior listened to the vile mockery spewing from the soldiers’ mouths and decided that your soul and my soul was worth the degradation. He could have silenced them in an instant if He’d wanted, but He loved us – He loved them – so much that He submitted to their abuse quietly. Like a lamb to the slaughter, He opened not His mouth.
Discipleship will exact a price — at the very least, humiliation and scorn for His sake. Someday it might even cost our lives. But what is the cost of the alternative?
4th Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
“Finally, Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.) John 19:16-17
The fruit of the mystery is perseverance and patience.
He was still standing after a brutal flogging that should have left him dead. His flesh is already mutilated and profusely bleeding, and His body is weak and shaky from the blood loss. Yet somehow, He withstands the pain and keeps going. I wonder if maybe the soldiers, besides being irked, weren’t just a little impressed that He was still alive after all they’d done to Him.
Maybe that’s why they enlisted some help for Him and made Simon carry the cross the rest of the way to Golgotha. “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country and they forced him to carry the cross.” Mark 15:21
But whether Jesus could walk or not, they were determined in their cause. Nothing was going to stop them from their final goal of execution.
Jesus persevered. So did Satan.
Satan was every bit as determined as Jesus that day and he was getting plenty of help from those blood-thirsty Roman soldiers. In this battle between Love and Evil, it was beginning to look like Satan would prevail.
Thus far he had succeeded in shredding Jesus’ body and utterly humiliating Him. Not a bad day’s work for a fallen angel.
(Ah, but things are not as they seem! Evil was about to be soundly, eternally defeated.)
I wonder if perhaps it was tempting for Jesus to just lie down on the dirt road and die right there. Completely sapped of strength and in agonizing pain, I wonder if He was tempted by the thought, “I can’t take another step.”
How many times have I had that thought? It seems to me that my cross is getting too heavy, or I have been carrying it for too long, and I can’t take another step. I feel weakened by some harsh blows, and it looks as though the enemy is winning.
In faithful obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus persevered. So must I. Though it seems the enemy is scoring too many points against me, I must remember he has already lost. Though I’m sapped of strength and in pain, if I remain faithful, Satan will not prevail.
“Keep walking,” Jesus says to me. “I will carry you when you are weak. I will never leave you. I have been to hell and back for you, and there’s nothing to fear.”
The 5th Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion
“When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Luke 23:33-34
“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.” Luke 23:44-46
The fruit of the mystery is faithfulness to God.
This Sorrowful pilgrimage now brings me here to this lonely hill. All the agony, the beatings and the bleeding have led me somewhere I do not want to go; somewhere I resist going with all my might.
The bitter truth is this: I really don’t want to die.
Will I walk with You along this distressing road only to shrink in fear when the final moment comes? Lord, You know that is exactly what I do, time and time again. My spirit may be willing, but my flesh is so weak. I start out well enough and I pray “not my will, but Thine” because I love You. But then the choice comes, and I stop short of the dying. I choose to spare myself. human instinct kicks in. But in sparing myself, I lose my life.
“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Luke 9:23-24
Clearly, there’s no getting around it. Following You means dying.
It means the death of my own will; in small choices, in big decisions, in little ways, in old habits. It means relinquishing my right to myself, over and over again, day after day.
What does a heart really sound like when it has died to itself? It sounds like this: “I am at His disposal – He can do with me just as it pleaseth Him, without even a thought of consulting me. I just want to be His own little one – if He so wants, otherwise I will be happy to be just nothing and He everything.”
How does a face look when the self has given up its rights? Like this: “Take whatever He gives and give whatever He takes with a big smile.”
Those are the words of Your faithful servant, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She put hands and feet to those words every single day while privately enduring the darkest interior pain. Is that kind of faithfulness within my grasp?
I am most definitely not Mother Teresa. My vocation is quite different, but the call is the same: take up my cross and follow Jesus. I’m still being called to die.
Today, my dying looks a lot like the mundane, thankless, routine tasks that I have no motivation to accomplish. Dying is me choosing patience and kindness; dying is being faithful in little things. Dying is me forgiving the one who has hurt me – really forgiving; no grudge, no animosity, no hope of vindication, just release.
Dying is me, freely and generously, choosing someone else ahead of myself. Dying is making a sacrifice that hurts, and doing it with a full heart, asking nothing in return.
Dying is victory. Dying is freedom from all that frightens me. When I die to myself, it’s my fear that’s burned to death, and real faith rises out of the ashes.
With You, there is only life. Even death can no longer harm me because Your wondrous cross has rendered it void and powerless.
You held nothing back. You willingly gave it all so that I could have abundant life. I desire that kind of faithfulness, Lord! Teach me to give my all, even in little things, and withhold nothing. Grant me the courage to carry my cross and submit to the dying it asks of me, and then I will live…truly live.