Lent’s allotted forty days is the time par excellence for meditation on Christ’s Passion. That is the old thinking of many generations past but which has been cast aside in this softer, more delicate age whose predilection for comforts, pleasantries and pleasures urge its contemporaries forward. Nevertheless, that is to say, in spite of this tendency towards effeminacy, Lent is not for self-babying wimps but for serious-minded, courageous Christians, and for those who want to be such as that.
It was said of Christ that He suffered in His body as much as is possible for a man to suffer. That, in a classic understatement, would mean quite a lot. When one thinks how each and every part of the human body has a potential for suffering pain, then Christ’s Passion was indeed an overwhelming ocean of physical agonies such that no one can fully imagine them. Isaiah prophesied this of Christ when he wrote that “from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in him.” And–just to complete the true depiction of what our Lord underwent for love of our ungrateful souls–His immense physical pains were but secondary to His mental sufferings, that is, to degradation, desolation, anguish, grief, abandonment, etc. (Anyone who has suffered deep depression or desperation would concur that mental suffering exceeds the intensity of physical pains.) Our thoughts of Christ in this season ought to reflect on the consequences upon Him for our sins.
But there is yet more.
We Christians make up the mystical body of Christ–‘mystical’ here stands in contradistinction to the physical body He took on in becoming man and to His Eucharistic body in the holy Sacrament. Saint Paul said it: we, each one, are members of that mystical body. It is on account of being thus ‘incorporated’ (i.e., being in His corpus, or body) that Paul affirmed that he had to participate in the Passion of Christ who suffered in every member of His flesh. Paul’s words: “I rejoice in my sufferings for your (the Church’s) sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His body, the Church” (Col 1:24). Every
‘member’ of Christ’s body then must take its own portion, suffering with and in Christ.
Among all the saints, I highly admire Saint Peter. What a stalwart giant of a man he was! No wonder our Lord called him rock. When Peter first heard that Christ was going to receive ill-treatment, endure abuse and be cruelly tortured unto death he–mighty champion and bodyguard of Christ that he was–protested and pledged to die in defense of his Lord. But that valorous offer was rejected because it would deter our Lord from redeeming humanity through suffering. “It was necessary that the Christ should suffer and enter into His glory” (Lk 24:26). (Peter would, however, get his wish later, when he would become a martyr for Christ, when was fulfilled our Lord’s word to him: “you will stretch out your hands and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (Jn 21:18).
My purpose in writing this? You’re a cheat and unidentifiable as a member of Christ’s body if you’re not keeping some Lenten penances, for these things are, among others, your willing participation in the Lord’s Passion. This means that you should not only be thinking about the Passion of Christ–a wholly good thing to do–but participating in it: the difference being between pious reflection with sympathy, and compassion (which literally means ‘suffering with’). Do not neglect to take upon yourself your assigned part: life’s daily sacrifices (patiently endured, mind you); your mental discomforts, confusions and upset; your physical aches and pains; and, yes, the specific Lenten practices you pledged to keep. And whenever you’re tempted to pity yourself over what life has dealt you, think of Isaiah’s “Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief, wounded for our transgressions, oppressed and afflicted, the lamb led to the slaughter” and you will recoil in shame.