Good Friday is a difficult day and a day of grace. Difficult because today we see Christ on the cross; of grace because today we see Christ on the cross. How is it possible that Christ on the cross is at the same time the most difficult thing of this day but also the grace of this day? In the contemplation of the Passion in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to ask for the grace to ask for “tears, pains, and anguish, in order that I may suffer together with Christ suffering“. (SE 1) And then, in the second contemplation, he advises us to ask “sorrow with Christ in sorrow; a broken spirit with Christ so broken; tears; and interior suffering because of the great suffering which Christ endured for me.” (SE 203) Pain, grief, confusion, tears are not emotions that are easy to deal with. In fact, many of us would rather escape these feelings, deny them, or not allow them to a be part of our lives.
As you prepare to contemplate on the Passion, find a quiet place. Sit comfortably —but not so comfortably that you are likely fall asleep. Take time to still your mind. As you enter the scene in your mind, open your heart, whilst at the same time remembering that your encounter is not about you being the doer but that you are the receiver. Let the Holy Spirit be your protagonist, ask the Spirit to guide and illuminate your heart and mind as you walk to the foot of the Cross upon which Jesus is now hanging before you.
It is extremely difficult to contemplate Christ nailed to the cross, believe me I’ve tried; Simply because its difficult enough for us to face our own pain, let alone the pain of others. On a personal level, we have our pain in illness, pain caused by our separation from a loved one, pain because of loneliness, pain due to failure, or some personal crisis. But there is also the pain of those who have suffered a great injustice, then there is the pain of those who are poor, homeless, of migrants who arrive upon our shores, of those who are persecuted because of their faith and then there all those who are suffering the violence of war, enmity between nations, social inequalities. We find that pain is mentioned somewhere in the press every day. It is the Via Crucis of those whom we have heard about or seen with our own eyes, yet decided to ignore. So much pain is extremely difficult to begin contemplating. Sometimes we prefer to ignore it completely, we close our eyes to atrocities, we deny they happened or we wipe it from our minds. But if you are honest with yourself, its always in the back of your mind, impossible to erase; we hear about conflict, terror, pain and atrocities on the news nearly every day now, so that pain ends up knocking on our minds door and asks us for mercy in one way or another. One simply cannot continue ignoring the pain of others for ever.
What is even more difficult is recognising our role in the pain caused to others, our responsibility for the pain of the world that we have caused either directly or indirectly. Anyone can cause pain to another: by our indifference and misunderstanding, through verbal or physical violence, or by closing our eyes so that we do not see what is really happening, we ignore those in need, those who ask for help, refuse to lift a finger when someone is in difficulty, we’d rather pretend we didn’t see or hear them as thought they are on another plane of existence than our own… so we carry on walking, “ooooh, that was close. But I did the right thing. Better not get involved” we say to ourselves.
It is not easy to read the description that the prophet Isaiah makes of the disfigured servant: so marred was his appearance, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of mortals —so he shall startle many, kings shall shut their mouths because of him. He was despised, mistreated, rejected and humiliated; a man of sorrows, pierced for our sins, crushed because of our iniquities; he was betrayed, arrested without just cause, he was beaten and tortured, and then murdered. It is a prophetic description of how much Christ, the servant, suffers in his humanity, and in the humanity of all our brothers and sisters who go through the test of pain, violence, and death.
But today, Good Friday, is also a day of grace. The cross of Jesus is a contradictory sign. On the one hand it shows the unjust death of an innocent person (how many innocents die unjustly every day, whilst nothing at all is done about it?) Whilst on the other, it reveals a love for Him who gave His life for each and every one of us. The whole life of Jesus is one of abundant love for us: this is the grace of Good Friday. You would have heard in the Gospel yesterday “before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
This experience of love in contemplating Christ crucified upon the cross invites us to flourish both in compassion and benevolence. Pain by itself has absolutely no meaning, it is experienced as a by-product and something that should not be there; yet pain, can acquire a meaning if it begins to change us, if it transforms us into people who are compassionate and benevolent, into people who live with an open heart and open hands to give, to help, to witness and to act.
At the same time there is much more. To contemplate Christ crucified on the cross or contemplating those innocents who suffer unjustly, is for us an invitation to commit ourselves to defend those that are poor and weak, to shield and protect all those whom have experienced unjust tribulation, violence and any form of denigration.
Contemplating Christ on the cross crucified is an invitation to faith, it is our belief that love is far stronger than death; that love lived, shared, given freely has a strength that overcomes all pain, suffering and injustice, especially when this love translates into harmony with the most weak and into succour for those in need. In short, when love makes us feel as though we are each other’s brothers and sisters, when we believe that every person, whatever their condition of life, is equally worthy of respect, acceptance and mercy.
What is it that you are afraid of? What is it that pains you? What is it that tortures you? Tell me. I am listening. Bring it to me. Leave it here at the foot of my Cross. Let it go. I’ve got it. Be free and Live!
I ask you to to pray for the grace of compassion, I would like you to ask for the ability to suffer with Christ—as we encounter the Crucifixion.
THE PASSION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST AS DESCRIBED BY AN A&E DOCTOR
A few years ago a French doctor, Pierre Barbet physician, and the chief surgeon at Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Paris, was in the Vatican together with a friend of his, Doctor Pasteau, president of the Societe de Saint-Luc of Catholic Doctors in France. H. E. Eugenio Maria Cardinal Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII had been in the circle of listeners. Pasteau said that, following the research of Doctor Barbet, one could now be sure that the passion of Christ Jesus and his death on the cross had occurred by tetanic contraction [a sustained muscle contraction] of all the muscles and by Asphyxia.
Cardinal Pacelli visibly turned quite pale. Then he murmured softly: We didn’t know anything about it; no one had ever mentioned this to us. Following that observation, Barbet wrote a surgeons reconstruction, from a medical point of view, of the passion of Jesus.
He posited a warning: “I am above all a surgeon; I have been teaching for a long time. For 13 years I lived in the company of corpses; during my career I have studied anatomy thoroughly. I can therefore write without presumption.” Jesus entered the garden of Gethsemane in agony, Luke the evangelist wrote, “In his anguish he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat became like great drops of blood [Hematidrosis] falling down on the ground». Luke 22:44.
The only evangelist who was able to report facts was the physician now Apostle, Luke. (Colossians 4:14) Luke reports with the precision of a clinician. Blood sweating, or Hematidrosis, is a very rare phenomenon indeed. It is produced in exceptional circumstances: to give rise to it requires physical exhaustion, accompanied by a violent emotional blow, caused by a profound emotion, and extraordinary fear. The terror, panic, the dreadful agony of feeling burdened with the sins of all of humanity must have overpowered Jesus.
This extreme tension produces the rupture of the very fine capillary veins that are under the sweat glands… The blood mixes with the sweat and collects on the skin; then it runs all over the body to the ground. We know the farce of the trial staged by the Jewish Sanhedrin, the sending of Jesus to Pilate and the ballot of the victim between the Roman procurator and Herod. Pilate yields and orders the scourging of Jesus.
The soldiers undress Jesus and tie him by the wrists to a column in the atrium. The flagellation is carried out with strips of multiple leather on which two lead balls or small bones are fixed. The traces on the Turin Shroud are innumerable; most of the lashes are on the shoulders, back, lower back and even the chest. The executioners must have been two, one on each side, of unequal build.
They stabbed the skin, already altered by millions of microscopic hemorrhages of blood sweat. The skin tears and splits; the blood gushes. With each blow, Jesus’ body starts in a jolt of pain. His strength is failing: a cold sweat beading on his forehead, his head is spinning in a vertigo of nausea, chills run down his spine. If he weren’t tied very high by the wrists, he would collapse in a pool of blood.
The mockery of a coronation during the Passion of Christ.
The passion of Christ is becoming more and more arduous as it prolongs.
With long thorns, harder than those of the acacia, the torturers weave a kind of crown and apply it to his head. The thorns penetrate the scalp and cause it to bleed (a surgeon knows just how much a scalp can bleed). From the Shroud it is noted that a strong blow received from a wooden rod, struck at an angle left a shocking bruised wound on Jesus’ right cheek [known as the “Buccal region region of the face”]; His the nasal Ala was mutilated by a fracture on the “wing of the nose” [the lower lateral surface of the external nose]. Pilate, after displaying Jesus now in tatters to an angry mob, hands Jesus over to them for crucifixion. They load the large horizontal arm of the cross on Jesus’ shoulders; weighs approximately fifty kilos. [110.23 Lbs.] The vertical pole had already been positioned on Calvary [גֻּלְגֹּלֶת–Golgotha]. Jesus walked barefoot through the streets on an uneven pebbled ground.
There is evidence that the soldiers had pulled Him along with ropes. Mercifully, the path Jesus had to walk was not very long, approximately 600 meters. With excruciating pain and severe difficulties Jesus manages to put one foot in front of the other; he often falls to his knees. The impact being even greated due to the 50Kg beam on his shoulders. Jesus’ shoulder is covered with bruises, cuts and sores. When he falls to the ground, the beamslips of His shoulders and breaks the skin of his shoulders and back [excoriation]. Upon Calvary the crucifixion begins. The executioners attempt to strip the condemned; but his tunic is agglutinated to the wounds therefore the removal of Jesus’ clothing would have been excruciatingly painful for Him.
Have you ever had to remove a dressing gauze from a large open wound or sore?
Have you never suffered this trial yourself, in Jesus’ state it would have required general anaesthesia?
Perhaps we may gain an understanding form this regarding His Passion. Each thread of cloth adheres to the tissue of living flesh; to remove the tunic, the nerve endings which at this stage would have been exposed by the sores and ripped flesh. The executioners caused several barbaric lacerations on His body. I would be extremely surprised if His injuries had not caused syncope [a transient loss of consciousness and muscle tone].
As Jesus is laid out on his back, His blood starts to flow again.
His wounds have become encrusted with blood, sweat, dirt and gravel. They laid him out on the parallel arm of the cross. The torturers measure with care. Using a gimlet [small T-shaped tool with a screw-tip for boring holes in the wood] to facilitate the penetration of the nails. Now the horrendous torture begins. The executioner takes a long pointed and square nail, places it upon the wrist of Jesus; and with a practiced clean blow of the hammer he embed’s it into the wrists and knocks it firmly back into the wooden frame’.
Jesus’ face would have squirmed with the pain, his face would have reflected a frightening aspect. At the same instant his thumb, with a violent motion, went anteriorly into the palm of his hand: his median nerve also called “labourer’s nerve” –the only nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel– was injured, and would have presented an ape like hand deformity when attempting to form a fist –like the benediction sign– due to the compression of the median nerve. One could only imagine what Jesus must have felt at this time: an excruciating, very sharp pain that spread through his fingers, surged, like a conflagration of fire, into his shoulders. This would be a most unbearable pain that a man could feel when it assaulted his brain stem, thalamus and cerebral cortex, the type of pain that one experiences which results in syncope, causing one to lose consciousness.
But Jesus did not loose consciousness yet. His nerve had been cleanly severed! Opposed to what we would normally find during surgical trials, where the nerve is normally destroyed only partially: the lesion of the sympathetic trunk remained in contact with the nail: when Jesus’ body is eventually suspended on the cross, His nerves were over-extended just like a violin string stretched to snapping point. With each movement, jolts like electric shocks, pulsate and vibrate, triggering unimaginable and excruciating pain, a passion that very few of us indeed would have been able to endure to this point.
The torture of Jesus was estimated to have lasted for approximately three hours. The same torments are repeated on Jesus’ other arm, resulting in the same pains. The executioner and his assistant grasp the ends of the beam; they lift Jesus up by first placing him in the seated position, and then standing upright; then lowering slightly back, leaning Him against the already positioned vertical pole. Then the horizontal arm of the cross is quickly snapped into the vertical pole creating the form of a cross. Jesus’ shoulders grazed painfully on the rough wood and splinters would have entered his already lacerated flesh. the sharp points of the crown of thorns passing through the skin and subcutaneous tissues of the scalp, lacerating the vessels and causing a considerable amount of blood loss due to the retraction of the torn vessels. Jesus’ head then tilts forward, as the diameter of the crown of thorns prevents Him from resting his head back against the wood. Every time Jesus raises his head, the sharp pain would repeat.
Then His feet were nailed into position.
Around noon, Jesus becomes thirsty. He is severely dehydrated, not having drunk or eaten anything at all since the previous evening. The features are haggard, emaciated. His face looks like a mask of blood. His mouth is half open revealing cracked bleeding lips, his lower lip already drooping. His throat is scorched dry and it burns, nevertheless Jesus would have been unable to swallow [deglutation]. He is thirsty. A soldier extends to His mouth, on the tip of a spear, a sponge soaked in a sour drink called posca made by mixing sour wine or vinegar with water and flavouring herbs; a standard —cibus castrensis – camp fare– beverage for Roman soldiers.
Yet, this is only the beginning of the inhumane torture that Jesus had to endured.
A strange physical episode commences in the body of Jesus. The muscles of His arms begin to stiffen in an accentuated contraction: the deltoids, biceps are tense and raised, the fingers begin to curl. These are uncontrollable cramps or muscular spasms. On the thighs and legs the same grotesque rigid accentuation; the toes curve downwards. He takes on the qualities of someone suffering with like an injured man with tetanus also known as lockjaw. This it is what doctors call tetany a prolonged muscular action which causes sudden, powerful, and extremely painful contractions of muscles. These episodes can cause fractures and muscle tears, and include fever, headache, restlessness, irritability, feeding difficulties, breathing problems, burning sensation when passing water, urinary retention and loss of stool control, when the cramps are generalized: the muscles of the abdomen stiffen in motionless waves; then the intercostal ones, those of the neck and the respiratory system. His breathing gradually became more laboured and painful with each breath, becoming shorter. The air enters with a hissing sound but He would hardly been able to exhale. At this stage Jesus would only have been able to breathe with the upper part of his lungs. It would have felt as though he was drowning, doctors call this “post-immersion syndrome” we are more familiar with the term dry-land drowning, where it causes a spasm in the airway, forcing the airway to close up, making it very difficult or impossible for the body to convert oxygen to carbon dioxide and vice versa. Jesus would crave for air: like an asthmatic in full crisis, a gradual discolouring of the skin or mucous membranes which is called Cyanosis.
Jesus, overcome by asphyxiation, suffocates. The lungs, swollen with air, can no longer exhale. His forehead is beaded with sweat, his eyes popping out of their sockets. The pain to his head would have been excruciating and would have pounded his brain!
Yet what happens? Slowly, and with superhuman effort, Jesus manages to obtain some support from the nail through His feet. He braces himself, with very small movements, he pulls himself up slightly, relieving the pull on his overstretched arms. His chest muscles immediately relax. Breathing becomes easier and deeper, his lungs empty and his face regains its earlier pallor.
Why on earth would he want to do that? Creating additional pain with His effort? He does this because He wants to say something: ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ [Luke 23:34]. After a moment the body slumps again and asphyxiation resumes. Seven phrases of Jesus said upon the cross have been handed down to us: every time he wants to speak, Jesus will have to force himself up, holding himself upright on the nails of his feet… Unimaginable!
A swarm of flies (the L. sericata) has a metallic blue-green-gold coloration, and is normally found as seen on carrion and can cause myiasis on humans), were buzzing around His body; they furiously swarm on His face, but he cannot drive them away. Sometime just before three in the afternoon, the sky suddenly darkens, the sun is obscured and the temperature drops dramatically.
Jesus continues to struggle; now and then He attempts to rise a little to breathe, it is the prolonged and slow asphyxiation of a doomed person as though being strangled and occasionally slackened to enable Him to catch a breath just as He is about to suffocate. He does this several times. A torture which lasts for three hours. All His pains, the thirst, the cramps, the asphyxiation, the vibrations of the median nerves. Yet he did not cry out in pain.
His heavenly Father (and as a last test) seems to have completely abandoned him: ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’Jesus asks.
At the foot of the cross stood the mother of Jesus, Mary most Holy. Can you imagine the torment of His Mother? Jesus lets out a cry: “mashelem–it is finished”.
And in a loud voice he finally says: ‘Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last. And dies.