So often we will say phrases like “Enter into the passion,” “Suffer with Christ,” or “Live the passion with Jesus.” But what do they mean? They describe a way to live Holy Week, and I want to explore different ways we can do that. This blog will give you a ton of different ways, and my goal is not that you fully comprehend each one, but that two or three really penetrate your heart and help you live this Holy Week better. I will approach this from several different perspectives: from the Gospel, from St. Paul, from mystics, and from theologians. Each one helps us go deeper.
I want to examine two phrases Christ said from the cross. “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34) At first glance, this passage seems to deny that we partake in the passion because you are responsible for actions that crucified Jesus. But Jesus means just the opposite: we are responsible but he still takes them on. Thus, even our sin participates in the passion because it is what crucified Jesus Christ.
“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”(Luke 23:46) Jesus, at the end of his life, has to give everything into the father’s hands. He received everything from the father and now entrusted to him just before he expires. Sometimes, we can feel overwhelmed but we can entrust ourselves to God at this moment. When we do that, we enter into the passion. Every time we encounter something we entrust to God, we in some way participate in the passion.
Likewise, let’s view two passages from St Paul.
Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith; that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11)
For St. Paul, Jesus was everything. But the core of the gospel was the Kerygma, the transmission of the passion and death. We very often synthesize St. Paul in “For me, to live is Christ,” but we need to realize that the center of Christ as our life in St. Paul is the passion as our life. Paul wants to gain Christ and he wants to be found in Christ ,but what do we gain in Christ? We gain the passion. St. Paul sees no righteousness in himself, but looks to the righteousness of Christ: but where does Christ show his righteousness? In the passion. Ultimately, St. Paul wants to enter in to the passion in every moment and every desire of his life. But why? Because he understands that if we have died with Christ, we will rise with Christ! If we live in his sufferings and death, we also live in his resurrection.
“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20) St. Paul takes being with Christ so far that he says he is “crucified” with him. Christ lives in St. Paul – not just any Christ but the crucified Christ. If we want Christ to live in us, we have to let him be crucified in us. When we suffer, we are united to the passion. When we seek penance, we are united to the passion. We love without looking for a return, we are united to the passion. We give ourselves to others, we are united to the passion. Ultimately, if we choose, in every moment, we are united to the passion.
Then we look at two mystics. Mel Gibson used Anne Catherine Emmerich extensively for The Passion of the Christ. She participated in the passion in an imaginative way; God gave her visions of the passion with details. I don’t want to focus on the specific details, but on the meaning of receiving visions with such details. God wanted to show her the passion in more detail then he had chosen to reveal in the inspired Scriptures. In visualizing each moment she not only saw it, but felt it because of her deep love for Jesus. In fact, she felt that so strongly that two years after becoming bed ridden from the intensity of these repeated sufferings, she received the stigmata. Her physical suffering and the stigmata allowed her to participate in Christ’s sufferings. How often do we fail to realize our own physical, moral, emotional, or psychological sufferings as opportunities to enter into the passion?
Julian of Norwich would look at the cross – the crucifix – and meditate on it and from that she would develop her theology. In her 13th revelation, she asks not “How can we be united with Jesus?” but “How could Jesus be united with us?” Her general answer is that Christ’s love burns through our sins. However, we know that Christ does not just eliminate sins when he becomes united with us, but takes them on. She also adds charity to our participation in the passion: “Each brotherly compassion that man hath on his fellow Christians, with charity, it is Christ in him.” We need to realize that when we help the other who’s suffering, we help Christ in his passion, and thus we participate in the passion.
You guessed it: two Theologians. The two theologians I’ve chosen are not the easiest to read and I’ve tried to synthesize them for you but if you get lost, don’t worry about it. Sebastian Moore made a reflection that evil has always existed in the world as a diffused dust throughout the whole world. However in the passion, it crystallizes into an evil that is massive and dense – it is the nails that hold use of the cross. Once this releases all of its anger on the person of Jesus, evil loses its strength. We walk through the midst of evil every day when we see people from broken homes or with other crosses, but from time to time, that evil is lashed out at us. When the second thing happens, we participate in the passion.
“Christian meditation can be nothing but loving, reflective, obedient contemplation of him who is God’s self-expression. He is the very explanation of God and His teaching to us.” said Von Balthasar in Christian Meditation. He points out that Christianity radically switches the relationship with God from our assent to his dissent. If God is descending to us, the passion is not simply a ladder up to heaven, but a way of life here on earth. Our very existence depends on our reflection of the divine image, specifically the divine image of descent. We look at the divine image of descent and the passion is immediately the deepest descent. We participate in the passion and thus we’re able to re-ascend with God to heaven. Since we find ourselves by finding our reflection in God, we discover the true meaning of our suffering by its reflection of the passion. In fact, we discover the true meaning of everything it means to be human by reflection of the passion since this is God’s greatest descent to us. This is radically different from the vision of Julian of Norwich, who struggles to see how God can come down and let us participate with him, because von Balthasar sees our life wrapped up in God’s descent. It is no longer a mystery of how God joins with us, but a mystery of total union with him.
We are called to participate in the passion with Christ. This blog is giving you eight ways to do so, using different images or modalities. Hopefully, they help you enter in the passion this Holy Week.