John Paul II on the sorrowful mysteries

We stop still, in silence, on the threshold
of all that is most holy in the history of the world

As we enter Holy Week the meditations by Cardinal Wojtyla on the sorrowful mysteries prove very insightful and deepen our understanding of the gospel. Cardinal Wojtyla gave a retreat to Pope Paul VI and the papal household. The theme for the retreat, as well as the title of his book, is “Sign of Contradiction.” The book richly reveals the mind of the man who would become Pope John Paul II. As he said in his first encyclical, “man is the way of the Church,” because Christ is the redeemer of man and because Christ is God become man. As I heard the gospel proclaimed at Mass today, the passion according to St Mark, I hear Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, preaching the word for the new millennium.

Here are a few thoughts from his meditations.

Agony in the garden — “Gethsemane: a place of intense loneliness for Jesus, of almost total dereliction as he faced his Passion. It was a kind of bloodless foretaste of the passion, although the gospel-writer does tell us that his sweat fell to the ground like drops of blood (Luke 22.44) The inner reality of Jesus’ agony in Gethsemane remained hidden from his disciples, who in any case had fallen asleep from emotional exhaustion. His suffering was above all an inner suffering that cannot be compared with the sufferings of any man, even those of a saint. We have to return to the whole mystery of the divine Son who is a true man if we are to be capable of understanding all that is contained in these words: “Father, if it possible, let this cup pass from me.” And we have to ponder the whole mystery of this man who is true God if we are to be capable of understanding in some way, the meaning of these words: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.” (Rom 8:32)

Scourging at the pillar — Wojtyla explained to Pope Paul VI that the Polish people have a great devotion to the suffering Lord in his scourging. A polish hymn has it “O my Jesus how cruelly you were bound to the pillar; scourged for our great faults.” and “For my wickedness the Lord’s back is being scourged. Come you sinners, see — for you is being prepared, in the blood of Jesus, a spring of living water to quench the heart’s thirst.” And then in the third part, Mary says “Ah, I see my son, stripped naked against the pillar, scourged with whips.” Wojtyla exhorts the papal household to yearn to be among those “who have washed their garments and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation)

Crowning with thorns — here Wojtyla really shines with his understanding of the union of Christ with all men. The words “Here is the man”, “ecce homo,” have a significance which “extends far beyond the moment in time when they were spoken.” For when Pilate proclaimed these words he had inquired about the kingship of Christ. And Christ explained to him, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and yet also, “It is you who say I am a King. I was born for this, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Anyone who loves the truth listens to what I have to say.” Wojtyla now adds this: “All the kingliness of man, all man’s dignity — which Jesus came to express and renew — are here summed up in him. Now it is well known that this is a kingliness that is frequently overpowered, hurled to the ground and thrust deep into the mud. It is also well known that this is a dignity that is subjected to many kinds of humiliation. The Second VAtican Council reminds us that Jesus came in order to reveal the kingliness of man. And here visible to the whole of humanity, stands Jesus crowned with thorns! The price paid for dignity is the blood of the Son of God.” Friends of John Paul II, can there be any more exquisite and profound reason given for respect for human dignity or a way to better understand John Paul II’s zeal for authentic human rights? Ecce homo.

Carrying the cross — “And on his shoulders the full weight of the cross. . . .St Augustine wrote ‘amor emus — ponds meum.’ Here we have, clearly defined, the meaning to be derived from contemplation of the cross of Christ. Love not only uplifts, takes us out of ourselves; it also lays a burden on us. And perhaps the burden tells us more about love than do ecstasy and spiritual élan. ‘My love — is my weight.'”

Death on the cross — “We stop still, in silence, on the threshold of all that is most holy in the history of the world. A boundless love, [as Augustine said] ‘amor Dei usque ad contempt sui’ [love of God to the point of contempt for oneself].” Because in this context silence is more eloquent than any words. On Good Friday the Church remains silent. We are silent because we can find no words to fit the occasion.”.

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