CONSIDERATIONS ON THE PASSION OF JESUS CHRIST
For the word of the Cross, to them that perish, is foolishness; but to them that are saved, that is to us, it is the power of God (1 Cor. i. 18). Thus St. Paul warns us not to follow after worldly men, who place their trust in riches, in their relatives and friends in the world, and account the Saints fools for despising those earthly goods; but to place all our hopes in the love of the Cross — that is, of Jesus crucified, Who gives every blessing to those who trust in Him. We must further remark that the power and strength of the world is altogether different from that of God; it is exercised in worldly riches and honours, but the latter in humility and endurance. Wherefore St. Augustine says that our strength lies in knowing that we are weak, and in humbly confessing what we are. And St. Jerome says that this one thing constitutes the perfection of the present life, that we should know that we are imperfect. For then we distrust our own strength, and abandon ourselves to God Who protects and saves those who trust in Him. He is the protector of all who trust in him, says David. Who savest those who trust in thee (Ps. xvii. 31; xvi. 7). They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Sion (Ps. cxxiv. 1). Therefore St. Augustine reminds us that, when we are tempted, we must hasten to abandon ourselves to Jesus Christ. Who will not suffer us to fall, but will embrace and hold us up, and thus remedy our weakness.
When Jesus Christ took upon Himself the weaknesses of humanity, He merited for us a strength which conquers our weakness: For in that he himself hath suffered and been tempted, he is powerful to help those who are tempted (Heb. ii. 18). How is this that the Saviour in being Himself tempted, was able to strengthen us in our temptations? It is meant that Jesus Christ, by being afflicted by temptations, became more ready to feel for us and help us when we are tempted. To this corresponds that other text of the same Apostle, We have not a High Priest who cannot feel compassion for our infirmities; but was in all things tempted like us, though without sin. Therefore let us go with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace in the help we need (Heb. iv. 15, 16).
Jesus Himself endured fears, weariness, and sorrows, as the Evangelists bear witness, speaking especially of the afflictions He endured in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He suffered, and thereby merited for us courage to resist the threats of those who would corrupt us, strength to overcome the weariness we experience in prayer, in mortifications, and other devout exercises, and the power of enduring with peace of mind that sadness which afflicts us in adversity.
Jesus, at the sight of all the pains and the desolate death He was about to endure, chose to suffer this human weakness. The spirit indeed is ready, but the flesh is weak (Matt. xxvi. 41); and He prayed to His Divine Father that, if it were possible, the chalice might pass from Him. But immediately He added: Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt. xxvi. 39). And for the whole time that He continued praying in the Garden He repeated the same prayer: Thy will be done! and for the third time he prayed, saying the same thing (Matt. xxvi. 42-44). With those words, Thy will be done! Jesus Christ merited and obtained for us resignation in all adversity, and gained for His Martyrs and Confessors strength to resist all the persecutions and torments of tyrants. “This word,” says St. Leo, “inflamed all the Confessors, it crowned all the Martyrs.”
Thus also, by the horror He experienced at our sins, which caused Him to fall into a bitter agony in the Garden, Jesus merited for us contrition for our sins. His abandonment by the Father on the Cross merited for us strength to retain our courage in all desolations and darknesses of spirit. By bowing His head in death on the Cross, in obedience to the will of the Father, He merited for us all the victories we gain over passions and temptations; and patience in the pains of life, and especially in the bitternesses and straits we endure in death. In a word, St. Leo writes that Jesus Christ came to take our infirmities and distresses, in order to communicate to us His strength and constancy.
St. Paul says that though Jesus Christ was the Son of God, He learned obedience by the things He suffered; from which we are to understand not that Jesus in His Passion learned the virtue of obedience not known previously, but, as St. Anselm says, He learned not only by the knowledge He had before, but by actual experience in the grievous death He endured in order to obey His Father. And at the same time He experienced how great is the merit of obedience, for by this He obtained for Himself the utmost height of glory, a throne at His Father’s right hand, and eternal salvation for us. Therefore the Apostle adds: And being consummated, he became to all that obey him the cause of eternal salvation (Heb. v. 9). He says, being consummated, because, having completely fulfilled all obedience, by suffering patiently what He endured in His Passion, Jesus Christ became the cause of eternal life to all those who obediently suffer with patience the troubles of this present life.