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Jesus' Passion: The Proof of Love
How much does God love us?
This question cannot be answered in human words. God loves us more than we can imagine. He always has and He always will. There is no way we can begin to understand the love God has for us.
Through the ages, God has proved His love for us in many ways - through creating the world, through creating us; through becoming man; through establishing His Church on earth that men of all times and places might come to Him. But nowhere has God proven His love so poignantly and so magnificently as in the passion and death of Our Lord. This is the proof of love which surpasses all proofs, the crowning glory of all God's marvelous acts of love. For death is a horrible thing. Who has not feared it? It is more dreaded than anything else in the world. We humans would do anything to avoid it. And here, in the Crucifixion, the only man in history who could have avoided it not only accepted death, but embraced it. This is love. This is love that cannot be compared with anything else in eternity.
The very fact that Jesus chose death for our sake should be enough to bring us to our knees, but if we begin to think what kind of death Jesus died, we find an even greater mystery of love. Jesus did not just live a normal life and then die of something fairly soft and devoid of pain, as we certainly would choose had we the power to choose our own death. He did not choose a quick and easy passing at the stroke of a sword or the shot of a gun. The death He chose was slow, horrendous, and, at the same time, absolutely empty of worldly glory: crucifixion.
It was probably the most dreaded for of execution in the world at the time of Christ. To the eyes of the Roman state, only slaves and the most detestable criminals merited this end; Roman citizens were not permitted to be crucifed, because it was simply to horrible ("Roman Crucifixion"). It was extremely painful - so painful that the word "excruciating" is derived from it, and every victim was offered a pain-numbing drink of drugged wine before going to his death - a gesture of pity towards those whom the Romans deemed most worthy of pain ("Roman Crucifixion"). Iron nails were used to pound the condemned onto the cross ("Roman Crucifixion"). With his arms stretched out in an unnatural position, a crucified man could not get his breath without lifting himself, and he could not lift himself without causing unbearable torture to his legs and feet ("Roman Crucifixion"). He might hang on the instrument of torture for hours or even days before finally expiring due to asphyxiation ("Roman Crucifixion"). The prelude to crucifixion was nearly as bad as crucifixion itself, if such a thing is possible. It was usually preceded by scourging; and the scourge used by the Romans was not simply the flimsy whip we might be tempted to imagine at first. It was composed of a handle with several thongs attached to it; and these thongs, made of leather, were barbed with pieces of sharp metal ("The Roman Scourge"). Scourging with this cruel object was such a brutal punishment that it could kill a man; a Centurian was required to give the order to stop, lest the criminal die before his time ("The Roman Scourge"). On top of this, the victim was often required to carry the crossbeam of his own cross to the place of execution; this crossbeam could weigh up to one hundred pounds ("Crucifixion").
It was this horrible form of death which Jesus chose to die. Why? Because He loves us. His death was necessary if the gates of Heaven were to be opened to us. Jesus could have chosen not to die, not to suffer; He was absolutely free in His choice to follow the Father's will: "Indeed, out of love for his father and for men, whom the Father wants to save, Jesus freely accepted his Passion and death: 'No one takes (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.' Hence the sovereign freedom of God's Son as he went out to his death" (CCC 609). This was hard for Jesus. He was truly man as well as truly God, and, as a result, He loathed death as any man does. "Jesus prays: 'My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me...' Thus he expresses the horror that death represented for his human nature" (CCC 612). And Jesus' death was a true death: He not only suffered, but suffered and died. "In his plan of salvation, God ordained that his Son should not only 'die for our sins' but should also 'taste death', experience the condition of death, the separation of his soul from his body, between the time he expired on the cross and the time he was raised from the dead" (CCC 624). The more and more we think about Christ's death, the more and more we realize what a momentous thing it is: God actually died for us. Even though our intellects can grasp this truth, our heart has no choice but to ponder it, to ask again and again the simple yet profound question, "Why?"
Why all this suffering and disgrace and death? There is only one answer: "love." "Love" was what made Jesus accept God's will in the Garden of Gethsemane, what gave Him strength to endure the scourging, what comforted Him on the cross. Jesus tells St. Faustina, "Pure love gives the soul strength at the very moment of dying. When I was dying on the cross, I was not thinking about Myself, but about poor sinners, and I prayed for them to My Father" (Diary 324). This love, which Jesus showed so gloriously for us on the cross, flows out into the entirety of God's will for us. "By giving up his own Son for our sins, God manifests that his plan for us is one of benevolent love..." (CCC 604).
What now? God has shown us the most amazing love that will ever be - He has lavished it all upon us, saving us at the price of His own life. We deserved no more than Hell, and He gave us no less than all He had to give. What is our response? Should it not be a profusion of love in return? It should be; but it is not. Jesus laments to St. Faustina, "Oh, how indifferent are souls to so much goodness, to so many proofs of love! My Heart drinks only of the ingratitude and forgetfulness of souls living in the world. They have time for everything, but they have no time to come to Me for graces" (Diary 367).
Oh, what a tragedy it is that so many souls do not understand how much Jesus loves them! How much God cares for them! What a sacrifice He made for them! Our hearts should break when we realize how the blood of Jesus flows out upon mankind, upon so many needy spirits, upon so many empty people, wanting to fill them up with grace and life and bring them to happiness eternal, wanting to shower them with love as a mother showers her newborn child with adulation - and how many souls refuse this love. They need only to open their hearts to Jesus' love and mercy and grace, and instead they remain closed - cold, empty, and miserable. Oh, let us not be among these souls. Let us not be lukewarm and ungrateful. Let us let His remarkable love pour into our hearts - let the Holy Spirit burn a fire of gratitude in our souls - let the glory of God burst in on our poor sinful spirits and make them places of unending splendor. Let us act as kindling for the holy fire which God so wants to light in this empty and gray, sinful world - for "I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!" (Luke 12:49).
Catechism of the Catholic Church. Second ed. New York: Doubleday, 1997. Print.
Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Bishops' Committee. The New American Bible, Saint Joseph Edition. New York: Catholic Book Pub., 1970. Print.
"Crucifixion." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015
"Roman Crucifixion." Roman Crucifixion. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015
"The Roman Scourge (Bible History Online)." The Roman Scourge (Bible History Online). N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2015
St. Maria Faustina Kowalska. Diary of St. Maria Faustina Kowalska: Divine Mercy in My Soul. Stockbridge: Marian, 2008. Print.