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 1 Cor 2:2

“NON ENIM IUDICAVI SCIRE ME ALIQUID INTER VOS NISI ISEUM CHRISTUM ET HUNC CRUCIFIXUM.” – PAULUS

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”  –St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 2:2

A Musing on Remembering Christ Crucified

A few months ago, I was at a conference where the speaker at breakfast was a former Pentagon official. He began his speech by telling us what his typical days at the Pentagon were like, one day in particular. He said he had drank several Cokes that morning, and had told his coworkers he needed to step out for a moment, and walked down the hallway to the restrooms.

“Had I known in that moment, that was the last time I would’ve spoken to my coworkers, I would’ve said something different,” he told us.

He exited the restrooms and was beginning to walk back toward his office, which laid on the outer-most ring of the Pentagon (with a window looking out toward Virginia) when the plane hit the building.

He went on to describe how he survived those next few seconds, minutes, hours – the third degree burns on his body, the weakness in his muscles and lungs, the feeling of being on the edge of life, and the encouragement and comfort he felt when the hospital chaplain read the Psalms to him.

He had survived the terrorist attack at the Pentagon on September 11. His trip to the restroom, and various other circumstances, ultimately had saved his life, but the coworkers who had remained in the office where he’d worked had all died in the attack.

His memory of his coworkers and that day live on in his memory and on his body, as his burns are still visible, and still painful. He said every day, with every speech he gave, he remembered 9/11 and his coworkers and the others who died. He could never forget. It was thanks to God that he was alive, he told us, and he gave thanks for that every day.

Today, he shares his story with others, and continues to spread Christ’s message through his ministry. But, he understands that he lives thanks to Another.

St. Paul understood this, too. After persecuting the early Christians, and seeing a vision of Christ himself on his way to Damascus, he understood that he was living on “borrowed time.”

Just as the 9/11 Pentagon survivor saw that he was alive (physically) thanks to Christ and His Mercy, St. Paul recognized that he was alive (spiritually) thanks to Christ and His Cross.

We, as sinners, recognize the saving merits of Christ’s passion, as without them, we would have a chance to be with Him in Heaven when we die.

O My Dying Jesus, I kiss devoutly the Cross on which Thou didst die for love of me. I have merited by my sins to die a miserable death; but Thy death is my hope. Ah, by the merits of Thy death, give me the grace to die, embracing Thy Feet, and burning with love for Thee. (The 12th Station, St. Alphonsus Ligouri’s Stations of the Cross)

St. Paul mentions the saving graces of Christ’s Cross throughout his letters, but in 1 Corinthians, he marks that his ministry is centered on the remembrance of that Sacrifice which won our freedom from death.

“For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”

For the 9/11 survivor – in every speech he gave, every move of his burned body, every prayer he uttered – he remembers that he was saved from death that day, and remembers and prays for those who died.

St. Paul – in every teaching, every sermon, every shared meal and prayer – remembered the important work he had been commissioned through his ministry. He remembered Christ’s Mercy and Love – which He demonstrated through His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

In those moments of his ministry, St. Paul walked a spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary with Christ. The Crucified Lord was beside St. Paul, helping him draw others to the foot of the Cross, to remember the Sacrifice that took place there.

And, so do we, too. We remember. We commemorate the Crucified Lord with every Mass and, during Lent most especially, we make that spiritual pilgrimage through Jerusalem to Calvary by praying the Stations of the Cross.

So, let us continue to do so. May the Crucified Lord be in our thoughts, words, and actions during every moment of our day – especially those moments when we are actively ministering to others, as St. Paul did. Let us walk with Him to Calvary and commemorate His Sacrifice for us.

The Prayer to Jesus Christ Crucified

My good and dear Jesus, I kneel before you, asking you most earnestly to engrave upon my heart a deep and lively faith, hope, and charity, with true repentance for my sins, and a firm resolve to make amends. As I reflect upon your five wounds, and dwell upon them with deep compassion and grief, I recall, good Jesus, the words the prophet David spoke long ago concerning yourself: “They have pierced my hands and my feet; they have counted all my bones!”

Lord, we also offer a special prayer for those who died on September 11, 2001. May their souls, and all the souls of the faithfully departed, through the Mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen. +CHS