Meditation on the Centurion for Good Friday

Author’s Note: This meditation was written on Good Friday, March 21, 2008.

A Meditation on the Centurion: For Good Friday

I had heard many thing about the man Jesus of Nazareth — I had heard stories of his miracles, how he healed the lame, cured the blind, cast out demons, and even raised the dead! I thought nothing of it — I know it was people making falsehoods to entertain themselves.

But today, I met Him! I met Jesus of Nazareth!

I helped crucify Him…

The day began like any other. We were brought three criminals to execute on Golgotha — one of them was Jesus.

I saw Him from a distance. He looking like a walking, often stumbling, wound. He wore a cap of thorns on His head, and I saw the scourge marks on His body. He was completely covered in blood. I wondered how He had strength to move — for I knew it must have been extremely painful to make any kind of motion. They had forced a man to help carry His cross, because He was too weak to do it all by Himself, and they did not want Him to die on the way.

They brought Him before me. I didn’t even think. I just did what I had always done.

First, I stripped Him of His robes. He did not cry out, but he winced from the pain. All the wounds on His back had been reopened, and He began to bleed profusely.

Most prisoners are very reluctant to be executed. Sometimes, I literally have had to thrown them down upon their cross.

But He — ever so humbly, ever so patiently — slowly laid Himself down upon the hard wood.

Then, I knew I would have to nail Him. I was surprised at His countenance — it was filled with blood and sweat. I could tell He was in complete agony, but there was something more to it. There was a loving gaze in His eyes, beneath the blood.

I wondered at what His crime was — what was it they had convicted Him of… that He deserved to die in this manner.

But then, caught in my reverie, I heard the people and my fellow soldiers yelling at me, “Nail Him! Crucify Him!”

I head the other prisoners being nailed to their crosses — they cried out in pain, but the people simply laughed at their suffering.

So, with the nail and hammer in hand, I stretched out His right arm upon the beam. I looked at Him —

Our eyes met.

I cannot describe what I felt. I knew in that instant that there was something different about this man — something… extraordinary.

He looked at me, and seeing the nails in my hand, He nodded His head and closed His eyes.

My heart was racing — my hands were now shaking so badly that I could hardly hold the nail on His wrist.

I couldn’t stop — I had to do it. The voices of the crowd had drowned away in my mind — and I could only think of Him.

I raised my arm and hoped that I would hit the nail. I closed my eyes — I didn’t want to look.

Bang!

I opened my eyes — the hammer had hit — the nail had pierced. His wrist was now covered in blood.

I repeated my movements — I hit the nail again and again. Each time it drove deeper into His flesh — but He did not cry out.

He only winced with pain.

After the nail had pierced completely, I ordered my fellow soldiers to nail His other hand and feet.

I did not desire to nail Him again.

Again, He was nailed, and I could only watch as the other soldiers mocked Him and spat on Him as He was being nailed to the cross. The spectators did not help either — they shouted at Jesus and insulted Him as He laid there motionlessly.

Then, a sign came. A fellow soldier brought it forward. It said: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

“What is that?” I asked the other soldier.

He merely snickered and replied, “His title…”

The soldier took the sign to the head of the cross.

“Hail, King of the Jews,” he laughed, as he nailed it above the criminal’s head. Then, he spat in Jesus’ face.

I almost could not look — it was too gruesome.

Then, they lifted Him up. I helped to put the cross in its correct post — I did not want it falling over. I could not bear that!

So, He hung there —- Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Many of the Jewish priests and religious leaders came and mocked Him. They told Him to come down from the cross if He truly was the Son of God.

Then, I heard Him cry out —

“Father, Forgive Them, For They Know Not What They Do.”

It was too much — I tried to hold back the tears.

I did not know who this man was — but I knew He was innocent of any crime.

He hung there for three hours — form midday until three in the afternoon. Some of the other soldiers cast lots for His clothes, but I did not want to.

Finally, He said —

“I Thirst.”

I immediately took a sponge, soaked it in some of my wine, put it on a reed, and pressed it to His lips.

I wanted to do anything to help ease the pain — even if only for a moment.

Some of the people nearby said He was calling for Elijah, one of the Jewish prophets. I took no notice. I only wanted to help Him.

Finally, His hour came! I marveled at how He had managed to live so long, considering all of the blood He had lost and the suffering He had endured.

He lifted His head — raised His eyes to Heaven and said —

“It Is Finished! Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit.”

Then, he bowed His head and died.

At that moment, I knew — I understood who He was.

“Truly,” I said aloud, “this man was the Son of God!”

Some of my companions were going to rebuke me, but there was too much chaos.

Apparently, the curtain of the Jewish temple had split in two, and the Jewish leaders were in frenzy.

We were ordered to break the prisoners’ legs so they could die quickly.

One of the soldiers was going to break Jesus’ legs, but I told him, “No! He is already dead!”

The soldier looked at me in disbelief, so I took up my spear and pierced Jesus’ side.

Immediately, water and blood came flowing out.

And everyone was now convinced that Jesus had already died.

Most of the people left — some went away wailing and beating their breasts.

But — a small group came forward. There were several women and three men. One of the women said to me, gently touching my hand —

“Will you please,” she whispered with tears in her eyes, “help us take my Son down?”

She lifted her eyes to Jesus, and I knew she was His Mother.

I wanted to comfort her in her sorrow — to console her — but I could only agree to help. To do whatever I could for her and for Him.

Two of the men helped me take His body down, while the third supported His Mother. I gently took out the nails that had pierced His hands and feet, and the men placed Jesus’ body in His Mother’s arms.

Whatever heart I had left broke at that moment.

I saw the Mother gently hold and rock the bruised and beaten body of her Son — just as a young mother would hold and rock her newborn baby. She held Him tightly and her tears fell upon His blood-covered face.

Then, with all of the motherly tenderness in the world, she kissed His forehead and pressed Him close to her heart.

Her soft fingers wrapped around His head, and she slowly lifted the cap of thorns out of His wounded skull.

As she placed it beside her, I saw that some of the thorns had pierced her gentle fingers, and her hands were now covered with blood.

The men finally convinced her to let them bury Him. She simply nodded her head at their request, and relinquished her Son’s body to their devoted arms.

I watched quietly as they carried Him off to a nearby tomb. I wished to follow them — or, at least, return to the city.

But, I could not.

His Sacrifice has left me too humble to move.

Musing on Matt 5:14-16

A Musing on “The Light of the World”

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” — Matthew 5: 14-16

When I walk into a dark church, the first thing that catches my eye isn’t the Tabernacle, it’s the sanctuary candle. Most times it is the only thing that I can see, because the church is so dark.

The sanctuary candle’s presence reminds me that Christ is present – and that is all it needs to do. It does not serve any other function. It doesn’t need to smell nice, or look pretty. It’s not a decoration. It’s not practical. It is there, as a herald of Christ’s Presence in a church.

The sanctuary candle’s only purpose is to remain beside the Tabernacle, and remind us of God’s presence. And that is all.

My pastor told me to remember this idea of the sanctuary candle when I pray – that it does nothing except be with God. He said, that is what we are called to do in prayer, simply to be with God. (Or at least, in meditative prayer.)

As I meditated on this image of being like the sanctuary candle, and simply being with God, I noticed the sanctuary candle in the church and remembered the Sermon on the Mount: “You are the light of the world.”

Yes, we are. We are the light of the world – the ones who reveal Christ to others, by our ministry in the world – our serving others, teaching about the Faith, and so on. Yes, we are the Light of the World in that.

But, we are also the Light of the World in our prayer lives. Our purpose is to know, love, and serve God – but how can we accomplish that if we do not pray? If we do not talk to Him?

So, we are the Light of the World – that sanctuary candle that burns in the darkness of a church, that reminds all that Christ is present among us. We gain our strength, our confidence, our spiritual nourishment from remaining with God, as the candle does.

If we remain with God, He will enable our lights to be visible to others. Thus, prayer is all the more important in our lives of ministry. We must serve and teach others, as we have the responsibility to do. But, first we must pray – we must know the One Whom We Serve, in Whose Name we serve others.

So, as you and I go about our busy lives of work, ministry, play, rest, etc., we must be more than merely light in the world:

We must be the light that shines forth in the darkness of the world, because we bespeak the Presence of Christ within our minds and hearts – within our lives. Our very existence, like that of the sanctuary candle, should be to remind all that Christ is present within our world because He is in us and we are with Him.

I pray that, through our closeness with God, we continue to shine forth in the darkness, to give light before all men, so that they too may glorify God with us in prayer.

Musing on the Transfiguration

A Musing on the Transfiguration & Obedience

Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus…
Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen. –Luke 9:28-36

A few summers ago, I spent every Thursday teaching grade-school children about the Fourth Luminous Mystery: The Transfiguration. As we begin the second week of Lent, the Transfiguration account from Luke takes center stage in today’s Sunday Gospel. (Or, as I once heard it described, the “Shut Up, Peter” Gospel.)

The story of the Transfiguration was a difficult one to explain to children: Jesus went up the mountain with His disciples, then He changed appearance. Why? To reveal to them that He was the Son of God, and to prepare Himself for His Passion, Death, and Resurrection in Jerusalem.

While there are many thoughts out there about the experience of the Transfiguration, whenever I hear this Gospel, I harken back to what I taught my students that summer:

The Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us about obedience.

First, the apostles Peter, James, and John followed Jesus up the mountain. They probably had no idea why they were going up there with Him. Maybe He told them He wanted to pray. Maybe He didn’t tell them anything except “Follow Me” or “Come with Me.” But, they followed Him nonetheless, because they had faith in Him, and they were willing to follow Him obediently.

Then, when they arrive at the mountain and see Jesus transfigured, they hear the Voice of God the Father telling them: This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.

Yes, later, Peter had his struggles – denying Jesus and abandoning Him to the Cross, even though he had promised his Master he would die with Him. James also abandoned Him in the Garden, but his brother John the Beloved was with Mary at the foot of the Cross.

Despite their struggles of obedience during Jesus’ Passion, they were reunited with Him after His Resurrection and, after Pentecost, began preaching His Gospel to the world.

They listened and obeyed Jesus. Did they listen perfectly? No. Did they always obey Him? No. But, when they were filled with the Holy Spirit, they listened to Him and obeyed His Great Commission: Go and make disciples of all nations…

The second example of obedience we find in the Gospel today is Jesus’ obedience. He went up the mountain, more than likely, to transfigure before them as a final preparation for His Passion in Jerusalem. The Gospel tells us that He converses with Moses and Elijah about this while He is transfigured.

Before His three most trusted Apostles, He reveals Himself in all His Glory as the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. He also, it seems, reveals His Mission in Jerusalem, as the Apostles overhear Him talking to Moses and Elijah.

He has and is listening to the Will of the Father, and He commissions us to do the same. As the Son listens to the Father, so we must listen to the Son.

I gave a meditation on this Gospel reading last Tuesday to a group of high school students. I did not know beforehand I was supposed to lead this meditation, so I fell back on what I remembered from teaching it previously: obedience.

I asked them (and myself): “Where do you hear the Voice of God? How can you listen to Him better? What will God ask of you today … tomorrow… next week? How can you be more obedient to Him, as Jesus was, as the Apostles were?

Let us pray for an increase of obedience and discernment for ourselves and our brothers and sisters, especially those in authority. This Sunday, let us ask ourselves: “How can I be more obedient to the Voice of God in my life?”