By Michael Ogunu
The devotion to the Passion (sufferings) of Our Lord and Saviour is, of all forms of Catholic devotion, the most ancient, the most venerable, the most universal.
Jesus Himself has written the remembrance of His Passion deep into the hearts of His faithful. In order to imprint most deeply in our souls the remembrance of His Sacred Passion, Christ instituted Holy Mass, the unbloody renewal of the Sacrifice of the Cross.
Perhaps there is no subject for meditation more suitable for every class of persons than the most sacred Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In it many sinners find the encouragement and graces necessary for their conversion; from it many beginners derive strength and fervor wherewith to subdue their passions; in it many good Christians discover fresh incentives to advance in the paths of virtue. In short, there are none who will not find in it an inexhaustible mine of hidden treasures, and an endless source of graces and spiritual blessings. In all ages it has been a favourite exercise of the Saints, who greatly to their consolation have been in the habit of spending hours, day and night, in meditation on the bitter sufferings of their Saviour. So much is not required of the average devout Christian, but he/she is expected to daily spend half, or at least a quarter of an hour, in attentive consideration of some point of the Passion of Jesus.
How to Meditate on the Passion of Christ
We can practice devotion to the Passion (sufferings) of Our Lord by:
(1) Performing the Stations of the Cross (not only during Lent, but throughout the year)
(2) Meditating on the Five Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary
(3) Saying prayers in honour of the Passion such as the famous fifteen prayers of
St. Bridget which can be found in “PIETA” prayer book. A collection of prayers in honour of the passion can also be found in an excellent little publication (booklet) by TAN Books Publishers entitled “DEVOTION TO THE PASSION OF OUR LORD”.
Anne Catherine Emmerich's famous book on the Passion – THE DOLOROUS PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, is a great treasure. THE DOLOROUS PASSION has been inspiring thousands since it first appeared in 1833 — being based on the detailed visions of Our Lord's Passion and Death as seen by Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774 – 1824), a German Augustinian nun, and recorded by Clemens Brentano, a prominent literary figure of the day. A saintly person from her youth and a great mystic and victim soul, Sister Emmerich was privileged by God during almost a lifetime of ecstatic visions to see all the events of Our Lord's suffering and death, which visions we can now understand in hindsight were a great gift from God to the world. Her account of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, while faithful to the Bible, is heart-rending, edifying and surprising — because of its intimate detail. THE DOLOROUS PASSION recounts with incredible precision the horrendous sufferings undergone by Our Saviour in His superhumanly heroic act of Redemption. Also illuminating is its description of Mary's participation in the sufferings of her Son, so that this book gives the reader a poignant understanding of why Our Lady is often called our “Co-Redemptrix” and “Queen of Martyrs”, THE DOLOROUS PASSION is a singular book that conveys a lasting impression of the terrible Agony of Our Lord, of His infinite love for us that motivated His Agony, and how His Passion and Death were brought on by each person's sins. Copies of the book are available in Pauline bookshops.
Also useful for meditation on the Passion of Our Lord is a book entitled – THE MYSTERY OF THE CROWN OF THORNS written by a Passionist priest. But there can be no substitute for reading and meditating on the accounts of the passion narratives in the Gospels of St. Matthew, Mark and Luke in Catholic Bibles.
In meditating on the Passion of Jesus, one should also meditate on the sorrows of Our Lady, especially those associated with Christ's suffering and death. The Stabat Mater (At the Cross Her Station Keeping) hymn is perhaps one of the most poignant reminders of the sufferings of Our Lady.
In order to facilitate the practice of this holy exercise, Fr. Ignatius of the Side of Jesus in his book on the Passion of Christ entitled – THE SCHOOL OF JESUS CRUCIFIED has arranged a Meditation, divided into three points, upon the principal mysteries of the Sacred Passion of Christ, for every day of the month.
He advises that whatever mystery of the Passion one takes for the subject of meditation, one should always bestow attentive consideration on the following five points:
1. The infinite greatness of Him Who suffers.
2. The excess of suffering and ignominy which He endures.
3. How great is the love with which He suffers.
4. The infinite unworthiness and vileness of those for whom He suffers.
5. That His principal aim in all His sufferings is to be loved by men.
In his words,
Let these reflections sink deep into your mind, and if one of them, or any other point of the meditation which you are reading, should make a lively impression upon your heart, dwell awhile on it without caring to go on any further. You may even make your prayer upon the same point for several days, and even weeks, in succession, if you find it productive of good thoughts, reserving the other points for the following days, and you will soon perceive how useful such repetitions will be to your soul. After your mind has been employed in attentively considering and reflecting upon the mystery and its attendant circumstances, it will not be difficult for your will to be excited and touched by different holy affections, which you ought to pass some short time in exercising with great calmness of spirit, giving free vent to the emotions of your heart, and following the sweet impulses of God's grace.
The principal affections to which one may excite one's mind during meditation upon the sufferings of Jesus, according to Fr. Ignatius, are as follows:
1. Admiration — How is it possible, you may say, that a God can suffer so much for the love of me, a vile creature? Oh, what excessive love and charity!
2. Gratitude — By exciting yourself to interior emotions of gratitude and appreciation of the greatness of the benefits bestowed upon you by Jesus in His Passion, feeling how much you are indebted to your dear Redeemer, and resolving constantly to praise and thank Him for His infinite love toward you.
3. Compassion — By compassionating your Crucified Jesus overwhelmed with sorrow and suffering, and by earnestly desiring that you had been present to have afforded some relief to your most afflicted Lord.
4. Contrition for your sins — By considering all that those guilty pleasures in which you have indulged contrary to the law of God have cost Jesus Christ, and how large a share you have had in His Passion and Death. Bewail your sins at His feet, and firmly resolve to die rather than ever more to offend a Father so worthy of your love.
5. Love — By protesting that you will bestow all the affections of your heart upon Him who has so much loved you, and by desiring to have, if possible, a thousand hearts solely occupied in loving Him, and corresponding in some measure with His infinite charity. Offer and consecrate yourself entirely to the love of Jesus Crucified. Desire that He may be known and loved by all men.
6. Prayer — By asking of Our Lord grace to love Him, to imitate Him, and never to offend Him.
Endeavor to inspire your heart with lively feelings of confidence that God will grant all your requests through the merits of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Your most fervent request ought to be for grace to correct some habitual fault, to overcome your predominant passion, and to practice that virtue in which you are most deficient, and which has occupied a prominent place in the subject of your meditation, thereby to imitate Jesus Christ; for the imitation of Christ should be the principal object of every meditation on His Passion. Having made the affections, you should proceed to resolutions. Promise Our Lord that you will never more displease Him by mortal or even deliberate venial sin. Determine to avoid such or such a fault (name it), and to make use of such or such means (specify which). For example, to fly from such or such a house, to avoid such and such a companion, instantly to dismiss this or that thought, immediately to curb those bursts of passion, to place a guard over your eyes, to keep silence on such and such occasions, etc.
It should be remembered that the principal fruit of one's prayer consists in these resolutions, and far more in keeping them faithfully. Place them in the sacred Wounds of Jesus, and in the hands of Mary, and implore grace to put them in practice. Keep them in view during the whole course of the day, and an occasional examination as to the manner in which you are practicing them will be a most efficacious means of ensuring your fidelity.
Whoever follows the instructions here given, the writer assures us, will discover by experience how easy a practice is meditation on the Passion of Jesus Christ. Meditation is in fact nothing more than the exercise of the memory, understanding and will, upon some mystery or truth of our holy Faith. Now, if we are accustomed to exercise those powers from morning till night on sensible objects which are often sinful, we should be able, with the assistance of God's grace, to exercise them in the consideration of the bitter Passion of Jesus Christ, our most loving Redeemer.
Benefits Derived from Meditating on the Passion of Christ
Tauler, one of the great mystics of the Middle Ages, says: “Once when a venerable servant of God asked Our Lord what a man merited who exercised himself devoutly in meditating upon His Passion, Christ answered: 'By such meditation he merits:
1. To be cleansed from his sins.
2. To have all his negligences supplied by the merits of My sufferings.
3. To be strengthened so that he will not easily be overcome by his enemies.
4. That My grace will be renewed in him as often as he reflects on My sufferings.
5. That I refuse him nothing that is profitable, if he earnestly ask for it.
6. That I lead him to perfection before his death.
7. That I assist him in his last hour, protect him against his enemies, and give him an assurance of salvation'”.
Meditating on the Passion of Christ cleanses us from our sins:- It is impossible for a soul who takes Our Lord's sufferings seriously to heart, to continue offending God willfully, especially by mortal sin.
St. Alphonsus impresses this upon us by affirming: “A soul who believes in the Passion of Jesus Christ, and frequently thinks thereon, will find it impossible to go on offending her Saviour”.
It strengthens us against temptation:- Frequent and devout meditation on the sufferings of Our Lord has the wonderful power to enable us to overcome our passions. St. Augustine writes in his Confessions that whenever he was tempted by the demon of impurity, he resisted Satan successfully by meditating on the Wounds of Jesus. “As often as I am tempted”, he says, “I seek refuge in the Wounds of Jesus. I fly into the Heart of the mercies of my Lord!”
It will lead us to perfection before our death:- One of the principal sources of our sanctification is the tender and compassionate remembrance of our Saviour's sufferings. St. Bonaventure addresses these words to the soul seeking perfection: “If thou, O man, wouldst advance from virtue to virtue, if thou wouldst lead a perfect life, then meditate daily on the Passion of Christ. Nothing else can so powerfully urge the soul to holiness. The painful Wounds of our Saviour's body penetrate even the hardest of hearts and inflame the coldest of souls with love”.
It gives us the assurance of a happy death:- St. Alphonsus Liguori says, “Souls that are tormented by the devil and tremble for their eternal salvation will feel great consolation in withdrawing their eyes from the outward world and fixing them on the Cross where Jesus hangs, bleeding from every wound”.
It insures for us a special glory in Heaven:- This was revealed to St. Gertrude. Once on the feast of St. John the Evangelist she beheld how this beloved Apostle enjoyed a special bliss in Heaven because he had always begun his contemplations with the remembrance of our Saviour's Passion, of which he had been an eye witness.
Moreover, we should love to meditate upon the Passion because therein our Saviour makes His virtues shine forth with great brilliance. He possesses every virtue in His soul, but the occasions of manifesting them especially arise in His Passion.
His immense love for His Father, His charity for mankind, hatred of sin, forgiveness of injuries, patience, meekness, fortitude, obedience to lawful authority, compassion ― all these virtues shine forth in a heroic manner for our imitation. Jesus in His Passion is our Divine model in suffering. If, therefore, we frequently contemplate His sufferings and strive to imitate His virtues, we shall receive special graces which will transform us little by little into His likeness and prepare us to share in His glory in Heaven.
According to the promises of our Lord to Sister Mary Martha Chambon,
“Those who pray with humility and who meditate on My Passion, shall one day participate in the glory of My Divine wounds. Their members will receive from them a resplendent beauty and glory”.
“The more you shall have contemplated My Painful wounds on this earth, the higher shall be your contemplation of them glorious in Heaven”.
“The soul who during life has honoured and studied the Wounds of Our Lord Jesus Christ and has offered Them to the Eternal Father for the Souls in Purgatory will be accompanied at the moment of death by the Holy Virgin and the Angels; and Our Lord on the Cross, all brilliant in glory will receive her and crown her”.
“My Holy Wounds sanctify souls and insure their spiritual advancement...Offer Me your actions united to My Sacred Wounds, and even the smallest will have an incomprehensible value...
“Offer them often to Me for sinners because I thirst for souls. At each word of the invocation that you utter, I will let a drop of My Blood fall upon the soul of a sinner”.
The Passion of Christ is one of the most profitable sources in attempting to facilitate a more intimate union with Our Lord and it traces a sure path towards holiness. This is why meditating on the Passion of Jesus has been a favourite theme for many of the saints during the whole course of Church History. Our Lord Himself, in numerous occasions throughout the ages by means of all His saints, His most privileged souls and the Magisterium of the Church has spoken of the transcendent importance of meditating on His Passion, and not simply meditating on it but living out interiorly, intensively and continuously all that Jesus Himself suffered for love of us.
St. Augustine assures us that there is no spiritual exercise more fruitful or more useful than the frequent reflection on the sufferings of Our Lord. St. Albert the Great, who had St. Thomas Aquinas as a student, learned in a revelation that by simply thinking of or meditating on the Passion of Jesus Christ, a Christian gains more merits than if he had fasted on bread and water every Friday for a year, or had beaten himself with the discipline (whip) once a week till blood flowed, or had recited the whole Book of Psalms everyday.
Lord Jesus, crucified for love of us, Your heart was pierced by a lance and flowed with blood and water. In your mercy, draw us to your open heart, cleanse us from our sins and help us to grow daily in your love. Amen.