First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden
It’s instinctive for us to recoil from times of uncertainty, suffering and pain. And it’s natural for us, as a byproduct of our first parents’ act of disobedience at Eden, to always want control. The challenge for us, when faced with trials, is to open our hearts and minds to acceptance of God’s providential care. The struggles Christ faced in the Garden of Gethsemane — fear, anxiety, helplessness, etc. — have been experienced by us all. Currently, the challenges we face in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic are many: temporary separation from the sacraments and distance from our friends and family, unemployment and new financial burdens, even sickness and death. In their face, we might not be able to pray as we ought, we might feel alone, and our thinking can be clouded by temptations to doubt and the pressure of the circumstances. This is what Christ faced the night before everything — his friends, his family, his clothes, even his life — was stripped away from him. But his example compels us to trust that even the crosses that we carry in life have purpose. Let us embrace God’s will above all else by echoing the words of Jesus: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Lk 22:42).
Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
God’s own son took the punishment that rightly belonged to us. The beatings and blows that he endured were accepted willingly, out of love for each of us. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, “By his wounds we were healed” (53:5). Objectively speaking, Jesus’s scourging was an injustice beyond comparison.
In our own lives, we face difficulties and sufferings. Often do not give much consideration beyond their meaning beyond injustice. That means we can be tempted to grow angry, embittered and jaded. How do we process it all without giving into depression and despair? The key is to join our sufferings to those of Christ.
When imitating Christ’s sacrifice, accepting our sufferings in accord with God’s will and making of them a offering, our sufferings can be transformed as offerings of love. Rather than occasions for self-pity, transforming our suffering in Christ becomes a means to participate in his work of salvation.
In the end, the only way to make sense of life’s sufferings — especially important to remember now amid so much sorrow — is by understanding it all through the transformative love of Christ’s passion. We wonder: Why do bad things happen to good people? Why has this virus attacked the world so viciously? Why must we suffer? Let’s ask God for the grace to see through the pain, take each step forward in faith, and embrace what He has given us, confident in the hope that “does not disappoint” (Rom 5:5).
Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
Christ’s crown was a sign of contradiction; the crown he received was not the crown he deserved. Both acclaimed and denounced as King of the Jews, he received the crown of one whose kingdom was “not of this world.” Those who follow Christ rightfully crown him by inviting him to reign over our hearts. This means we follow “the way, the truth and the life.”
In bearing a crown of thorns, Christ the King raises the dignity of humanity, he gives new meaning to life in this “vale of tears.” He opens our hearts to all who suffer and gives meaning and purpose to all our own suffering. That can be difficult to understand, especially when so many are suffering from the outbreak of a deadly virus or from anxiety, from separation from family and community and from the inability to receive the sacraments. But Christ reigns when we invite him to enter our hearts, when in imitation of him we conform ourselves according to God’s will, and when we imitate his unbounded charity. As citizens of Christ’s kingdom, supported by his grace, may we dare to live by his example: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (Jn 15:13).
Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus Carries the Cross
Along the road to Calvary, while carrying the cross burdened with the sins of the world, Jesus encountered the goodness of friends and strangers. These models of charity console Jesus’ heart during his final agony and give him an opportunity to rest his weary body. Those who helped Christ or encountered him on the way to Calvary did so knowing they could face harm themselves. But they put their lives on the line to help Jesus carry his cross, wipe his bloodied and sweaty face, or give him a glance or word of love to alleviate his pain.
In the face of the current pandemic, healthcare professionals across the globe are doing the same in service to their sick brothers and sisters. Great are the sacrifices they make. Long is the list of selfless doctors, nurses and medical personnel exhausted from long working hours, often separated from those closest to them for fear of spreading infection, and risking infection themselves. And long is the list of many others making sacrifices to help keep safe the vulnerable in our midst. May the Blessed Mother, St. Simon of Cyrene, St. Veronica and the women of Jerusalem intercede for them!
Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: Jesus dies on the Cross
Those who suffer in extreme from the novel coronavirus, who have difficulty taking even one breath, can identify with the Crucified Christ as he hung on the cross. The weight of one’s body pressed against the lungs is what ultimately brought death for most crucifixion victims (and gave to us the origin of the word “excruciating”). No one wants to contract this virus, and so its victims can identify with the sinless Christ killed for our transgressions. As we hear in the first epistle of Peter: “He himself bore our sins in his body upon the cross, so that, free from sin, we might live for righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (2:24).
From the Cross, Christ shouted in misery, “I thirst” (Jn 19:28). Those words resonate with the faithful as we face the coronavirus pandemic and its many effects. Given the serious contagion and associated risk of death, bishops throughout many countries have suspended the public celebration of the Mass. As the faithful are left without the consolation of the sacraments at this moment of crisis, so many hunger and thirst to receive Christ sacramentally in the Eucharist. Many of the dying, especially the victims of the pandemic, find themselves without the ability to unburden their souls of sin by confession to a priest or receive the anointing of the sick, even at the time of death. As Jesus, in his final moments, welcomed the Good Thief into heaven, so we beg the Lord, in his never-ending mercy, to usher these souls into paradise.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of Simply Catholic. Follow him on Twitter@HeinleinMichael.