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 God the Holy Spirit

Author’s Note: This is the third of a three-part series of musings on Each Person of the Holy Trinity. This musing is on God The Holy Spirit. Read the Musing on God The Father and the Musing on God The Son.

Musing on God The Holy Spirit

Last night I prayed – ironically enough – to the Holy Spirit for some guidance on what to muse on in today’s post.

I flipped through the Bible, especially the Epistles of St. Paul, because – let’s face it – when (my man!) St. Paul wasn’t writing about Jesus Christ, he was writing about the Holy Spirit. Seriously.

Then, I’d like to think I got my inspiration, because I began to wonder at the term “Spirit” (as opposed to “Ghost”) and what it means for us when we call someone, or something, “spirited.”

A spirited person, according to the dictionary, is one who is courageous, energetic, animated and lively. We call them “spirited” because they have an unusual – or extraordinary – amount of “spirit.” They’re passionate and zealous – they have an unusual sense of freedom and preciousness of life.

There is one example of such a “spirited” person that immediately came to mind: St. Peter, giving the post-Pentecost evangelization speech. Full of the Holy Spirit, he stands on the rooftops and speaks to the masses, full of life – no longer doubting, afraid, or indifferent. He is passionate, courageous, and animated in his manner and his speech. And the people notice.

He is a spirited individual, in this instance, because he is filled with the Holy Spirit.

An individual is called “spirited” because they are lively – they are full of “life. And, as we hear in the Scriptures, it is the Holy Spirit who gives us this life. (See Romans 8)

…for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. –2 Cor 3:6

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. –John 6:63

For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace… But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Rom 8:6, 11

Yes, the Spirit gives life, and gives it in abundance. But, I say we should ask the question: “How? How does the Spirit give us life?” (Again, I would argue) He gives life by:

  • Creating and sustaining us
  • Moving us
  • Uniting us

After all, there’s a reason we call the Holy Spirit the “Author of Life.”

CREATING AND SUSTAINING US

Tradition tells us the Holy Spirit, with the Other Two Persons, took part in creation of the Universe and Humanity.

Let Us make man in Our Image, after Our Likeness… –Genesis 1:26

And, some theologians have interpreted the “mighty wind that swept over the waters” in Genesis 1:2 as the Holy Spirit and His First Movements of Creation.

But, as we tend to attribute Creation to The Father, let us focus more on Spirit as the Sustainer of Life.

In the Scriptures and the liturgies, the Holy Spirit is connected with or manifested as things in nature that sustain life – fire, wind/breath, water, and clouds. We realize how important any of these things are in the natural cycle: clouds bring shade and rain; water quenches our thirst; fire keeps us warm in the cold; and wind is what we inhale and exhale daily.

But, whereas these things sustain physical life, the Spirit sustains our spiritual life – our relationship with The Triune God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him… So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. –Romans 8:9, 12-14

When we sin mortally, we no longer have the Spirit of God dwelling within us. Thus, we must beg for God to restore the Spirit to us through our repentance and by confessing our sins.

But when the Spirit dwells in us, which we pray it always does, we recognize ourselves as Temples of the Holy Spirit. We must ensure our spiritual and physical well-being, because the Spirit of God is in us – and that is a precious gift. If we do not take care of ourselves (again, spiritually or physically) we may lose that gift.

Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. — 1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19-20

We must continue to see the Spirit of God dwelling in us – sustaining us and all our brothers and sisters. Let us take care to treat ourselves and others with dignity, and to act as Temples of the Holy Spirit; for we “have been bought [for] a price,” so let us rightfully glorify the Lord as such. Let us glorify the Spirit, Who is within us.

MOVING US

In a very over-simplified analogy, if we are like a car or some other vehicle, the Holy Spirit is not only our fuel tank – which sustains our travel – but it also our engine. It is what enables us to move. While we might decide which direction we want to take, it is the Spirit dwelling within us that enables us to move. But, when we take our hands off the wheel, and let Him take over, He will guide us where we need to go.

My pastor put it in a different way: when you bike against the wind, it’s strenuous, difficult, and exhausting. When you bike with the wind, it’s a breeze (ha, pun intended). You feel relieved, because the wind is doing half of the work for you. So it is with the Holy Spirit. You will still have trials – there will be hills to bike up – but with the Wind at your back, it’s always so much easier than going against It.

(Side note: That’s why I’m so thankful to live in a windy state. The Holy Spirit is constantly working around us and with us!)

The Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican, above which is a large stain-glass window of the Descent of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not only the fire that keeps us warm, but the furnace – the boiler – that fills our souls with a Divine Heat and propels us closer to God by doing His Will. I like to think of the Spirit as a driving wind – it drives, leads, guides, pushes, propels, fills, accelerates, and moves simultaneously.

For any number of Biblical examples of being led or guided by the Spirit, you need only to look at the prophets, Kings David and Solomon, the Apostles (post-Pentecost), and Jesus Christ Himself.

Truly, the Spirit is not only within us, He is around us. He tugs at our hearts from inside our beings – He leads us onward from His Inner Presence.

In Him we live and move and have our being. –Acts 17:28

Read more on Movements of the Spirit from this blog.

UNITING US

A closer look at the stained glass above the Chair of St. Peter.

And, because the Holy Spirit is within us, His Presence enables a grand union: between God (The Father and The Son) and His children.

Only think: the Spirit that is within you is the same Spirit that proceeds from God The Father and God The Son – from Their Eternal Love for One Another.

For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. –Mt 10:20

Yet, even as the Spirit unites us to the First and Second Persons of the Trinity, the Spirit also unites us to all our brothers and sisters – whether on Earth or in Heaven. For, as (my man) St. Paul writes:

To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good… But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Cor 12:7,11-13

As discussed earlier, we must recognize the Spirit of God in others and treat them as Temples of the Holy Spirit. Also, we must recognize that our brothers and sisters are our spiritual family because the same Spirit that dwells in them dwells in us also.

As science recognizes that all humans are connected and related because we descend from common ancestors, we Christians know that we are spiritually related because we have The Same Father, The Same Savior, and The Same Sanctifier all dwelling in us.

Generally, we treat our family differently than other people. We look out for them; we help them, even if we are ashamed of them; we sometimes think “If they weren’t my family, I don’t know if I would do this for them.” Hopefully, we don’t, but sometimes that is the case. We take special care of our family members because they’re family – and sometimes for no other reason.

Whether they’ve abused our generosity, disowned us, or hurt us (and themselves) repeatedly, we still care for them, even if we don’t love them.

But, we should do this for all people – because we are One Family in Christ. We are the Church. We are all sanctified by the One Holy Spirit of God.

Shouldn’t we take care to make sure that those in whom the Spirit dwells are loved and cared for? Shouldn’t we go out of our way to help them and forgive them, despite all they’ve done?

We shouldn’t help someone only because they’re family. We should help, love, and guide all people because God asks us to be One Body – One Spirit in Christ.

But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary… But God has so composed the body… so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. –1 Cor 12:20-26

So, let us pray to God The Holy Spirit, that He may continue to sustain, move, and unite us in Christ and His Church. Amen. +CHS