|Mateo Cerezo. Ecce Homo. 1650|
Many of us pass busily through Lent barely taking a moment to examine our lives or reflect on Christ’s life and love for us. Others feel weighed down with guilt and shame and struggle with accepting God’s forgiveness. No matter where our hearts lie this Lent, this is a time of grace for us. A time to encounter Christ anew. Lent is meant to be life-changing! Not as a time to be overcome with sadness in contemplating the suffering and death of Jesus, but rather as a time to be captivated by pondering, in awe, the depth of our Savior’s Love for us! “Good Friday is the drama of love by which our everyday life is sustained … it is the key to understanding the ‘love that moves the sun and all the other stars’” writes Fr. Richard Neuhaus.
Last Lent, in a dark and empty church, I was praying the Stations of the Cross–overwhelmed with the depth of my sinfulness. As I walked the stations, my sin was ever before me as I begged Jesus to forgive my sins, my failures and their consequences. As I prayed with Mary and contemplated her sorrow at witnessing Jesus’ torture and death, the image of Jesus being placed in the arms of His Mother came to mind, which caused me to reflect on the first instance Mary held Jesus in her arms — newly born and wrapped in swaddling clothes. It moves me deeply to consider that Jesus came into the world and left the world in the arms of His Mother… but O, how differently! The lifeless, broken body being placed in the arms of His Mother now takes the place of the once perfectly formed newborn Son which the Father sent to us in Love. Following the crucifixion, Jesus is disfigured by sin — broken, bloodied, rejected and spurned, the Man of Sorrows, marred beyond recognition — this is the same Jesus that Mary receives once more in her lap as she offers Him back to the Father. O, what have we done to You, Jesus, Our Savior, Emmanuel, God’s Presence in the world?
While our hearts are meant to be pierced, we are not meant to be overcome with sadness — because this is not the end of the story. Jesus rises to new life! And we, too, are meant to be raised to life with Him! But, first, we must enter into His passion and die with Him. As I imagined the great suffering He endured, I contemplated Jesus receiving blows and scourges and vehement insults and blasphemies and imagined the pain Mary felt as she witnessed these atrocities being committed against her Son. But, while doing so… an amazing realization came to me; it was the understanding that Jesus never for a moment or even for a fraction of a moment – not even for a split second — felt angry or vengeful towards his attackers!
The Holy Spirit inspired me with the realization that Jesus, as Love enfleshed, never felt even a moment of anger or hatred toward those who were harming him – even as they were whipping him, even as they tore his flesh off his body or nailed Him to the Cross, or insulted and spit upon Him. He, Who is not only their Creator, but their Redeemer and the Dearest and Deepest Lover of their souls, never for a moment reacted angrily! As the God Man, He endured such cruelty and felt every physical and emotional blow, and yet being Love Himself, He could not NOT love — and so even as He was being abused, he loved and forgave his attackers (Read: He loved me and forgave me, each of us!) immeasurably… completely …. forgiving each of us whom He created out of love, even as they (I, we) abused, mocked, ridiculed and blasphemed Him by our sinful, selfish ways!
This realization changed me profoundly! It overwhelmed me with emotions so strong that it moved me to sob to the deepest core of my being — deeply and for a long period of time – as I came to understand in a deeper way, how much Jesus loves me – even in my sin – He doesn’t hate me or even feel anger toward me –even for a moment! Recognizing in a deeper way that “While we were sinners, Christ died for us!” Romans 5:8.
He looks at me – at each of us — His attackers – only with love and compassion and forgiveness, which He articulates in His first words spoken from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Luke 23:34.
And I recognized that through the different trials of life, Jesus had been preparing Mary for this hour. He had been expanding her heart, so that she, too, could echo Her Son’s loving mercy. So at this moment she could recognize and embrace us as her own children. When Jesus entrusted Mary to us and us to Mary, Jesus was entrusting us with His greatest gift — the Mother who would lead us into Love — and at the same time, He was entrusting us to her, we who crucified her Son!
I can’t express how deeply moving and healing this realization has been to me — how often I have meditated on this and how often I have wept in gratitude for God’s limitless forgiveness and mercy. The overwhelming weight of my sin was lifted from me as the chains and shackles of regret and shame were shattered! My tears were not tears of despair, but of deep healing joy in recognizing that the guilt and shame I carried was crucified with Christ, and I have been set truly free from the power of sin and death. In my heart, I had realized the tremendous power of the Sacrament of Confession! I wish I could express the depth of transformation God’s love worked in my soul that day!
Jesus doesn’t take our sin lightly, the Cross and Passion shows us the horrible wages of sin….yet, because of His great love for us, He bears the just weight of our sins in order to transform us — by, through, and in love — in order to share His Divine Life with us, make us into children of God, and heirs of the kingdom! We, who repent and receive His loving forgiveness, are now crucified to sin and death, but alive in Christ Jesus, redeemed and made new creations by experiencing Jesus’ compassionate forgiveness and responding with hearts aflame with gratitude and humility! That is the amazing grace of Jesus’ love — it convicts us to the core of our being, but not for us to wallow in guilt and shame, but to transform us, to transform our sins and their consequences, and lead us into glory! This is good news!!!!
An article entitled, “What’s In A Gaze?” echoes my experience (and all Christian experience): “This gazing upon Christ—and receiving His gaze—changes us, transforms us, bit-by-bit, healing our hearts and enabling us to entrust our lives to Him.” This is the way in which Saint John Paul II encouraged us to experience Jesus: “To contemplate the face of Jesus and to contemplate it with Mary, is the ‘programme’ which I have set before the Church at the dawn of the third millennium” (Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 6). “Conversion to God,” he continues, “always consists in discovering His mercy” (Dives in Misericordia, 13).
“The human heart is converted by looking upon him whom our sins have pierced” (CCC 1432).
O Jesus and Mary, in this time of grace, I pray that each of us experiences your LOVE so profoundly that it pierces through our busyness, our indifference, neglect, guilt, shame and sadness, so that we are transformed and made new! May your loving mercy convert our hearts ever anew!
© 2015 Janet Moore. All rights reserved.
This article was also published at CatholicMom.