For many years whenever I picked up my rosary to pray, I conveniently ignored the Sorrowful Mysteries. As a progressive mature Christian, I felt that using ghastly images of the torture and death of Jesus did nothing to enhance my spirituality; in fact they only made me feel sad and guilty. But I now realize that something has changed inside me. I pray the rosary much more these days, and I find that I do not hesitate to utilize the powerful images of Jesus passion to meditate upon and pray for those I love and for the world in general. This Lent I am especially drawn to the Sorrowful Mysteries as a way to pray for a suffering humanity and to be in true solidarity with all of creation as she groans toward her perfection in Christ. I wish to share here some of what I have learned and the impressions I receive as I ponder each of the Sorrowful Mysteries on the suffering Christ, the savior of all Creation.
The First Sorrowful Mystery: The Agony in the Garden
Image: Jesus is troubled, he needs to commune with his Father. He knows his death is imminent. I believe that Jesus, who is fully human truly experienced all the terrible anguish that any person would suffer knowing that they are going to be tortured and murdered in just a few hours. Jesus was also in great sorrow over the betrayal of two friends. One of his chosen had left the Passover meal early in order to sell him to those who wanted him dead and the other, Peter, would be ‘sifted like wheat’ this night so Jesus prayed for his very soul. As Jesus anguished in the garden, he needed to feel the comfort and certainty that Yahweh, his Abba, was not going to abandon him. He wailed before the God of the universe,”Why? Why can’t I do this some other way? Please help me! I’m afraid.” He needed his closest friends, their support, understanding, and comfort, but they were not there for him. Peter, who was going to deny he even knew Jesus and James and John, the “Sons of thunder”, were asleep, totally unaware of the drama that was ensuing just a few feet away,.
Application: Jesus suffers in all eternity the torment of those who are aware of some terrible pain to be visited upon them. Jesus sits on death row with each prisoner and comforts each soul who cries out at night in fear of their impending murder. Jesus knows the pain of betrayal by the ones you love. He shares this pain with each of us. As we ponder our Lord, prostrate on the earth, sweating drops of blood, we bind our thoughts and prayers with all those from the beginning of time who have and are and will suffer the anguish of the condemned. Only humans can experience the indignity and fear of knowing the time of their death. If it be at the hands of an executioner, or because their body can no longer fight the disease that is overtaking it, the affect is the same. We suffer with Jesus, the Agony in the Garden.
Prayer: “Lord, we pray for all who feel alone and lost, for all who have been betrayed and left behind by those who should be there for them, but are not. We also pray that we may share with you the suffering and anguish of the condemned. We pray for those who know the shame and regret of being the one who betrays or abandons. May they find peace and forgiveness, reconciled to those whom they have hurt. We join our voice to yours and to all those who are in mental anguish for whatever reason. We pray for strength, peace and comfort for each of these in their coming hour. Amen.”
The Second Sorrowful Mystery: The Scourging at the Pillar
Image: Jesus is brought before Pilate and is interrogated. He stands with dignity before the judge and jury. Pilate orders him to be whipped, the prescribed Roman punishment of 39 lashes, tied to a pole. Experts at torture, the Romans know just how much damage and pain to inflict without causing death. Jesus’ body is beaten bloody. He is beyond crying out, nearly unconscious when he is cut loose.
Application: Jesus is arrested and stands with us, before the unjust accuser. He goes to the whipping post with all who are beaten: Women who suffer abuse upon abuse at the hands of the one who should love and cherish them; Children who know nothing of loving hands, only pain filled slaps and punches from the hands of those who should love them; Men and boys who are physically attacked and beaten unconscious; All those from the beginning of history and all who are now being attacked, beaten; All who ever will endure damaging blows inflicted by another human being. We go with Jesus to these places of pain and torment. We share the sorrow of our Lord for the victim and the perpetuator, who is also a victim.
Prayer: “Lord, we pray for all who are arrested, handcuffed and stand before judges and courts, We pray for all who are living in cells, behind bars, in a cage for many years. We ask for peace, justice and comfort for these. We weep with those who cry out in pain as they are beaten. And we pray for those who are so broken that they serve the cause of evil as they administrator such violence and punishment upon another. May they all find their way to peace and healing, a place of comfort, free of torment? Amen.”
The Third Sorrowful Mystery: The Crowning with Thorns
Image: Jesus, hands bound, bloody and beaten, is drug away by his tormenters. Men who have power over him, mock, spit, slap and howl with laughter at his pain. They hurl insults, vulgar words, mocking his message, mocking who he is, angered by his composure in the face of violence. They force upon his head a crown weaved from thorny branches. Blood trickles down the face, whose very countenance remains one of love and sorrow for those who spit and slap, punch and mock.
Application: Jesus knows what it feels like to be tormented, bullied, mocked. He suffers with each child and adolescent who is unable to stop the bullying, the ones who cry at night, plagued with doubt about their own value as human beings because of the lies and pain heaped upon them. Jesus know the weakest among us who are taunted and made to feel less than, and he also weeps for those who dish out such pain. He knows that they too are victims of evil. No person or creature of God goes unnoticed when they are tormented by another. Jesus is the comforter of all those who suffer. We bind our hearts to his so we too may know the pain, depression and doubt they suffer.
Prayer: “Lord, we pray for all those who suffer the horrific demoralizing effects of bullying; teenagers who are in danger of ending their lives, children who cannot escape their tormentors, handicapped persons who are degraded and left behind, adults who are trapped by cycles of verbal abuse. We pray for all who are incarcerated, and are victims of abuse from those who control their lives. We also pray for those who are so trapped in their own pain, that they inflict pain on others. May they each find freedom from abuse, feel safe and loved. Amen.”
The Fourth Sorrowful Mystery: The Carrying of the Cross
Image: Jesus, weak and beaten bloody, is forced to take on the burden of his own instrument of death. The heavy wood cross beam is his to carry. He drags it along the dusty road to Golgotha, falling, one, two, three times. Simon of Cyrene is enlisted to help with the burden. Spectators line the path, many yell insults. They have no empathy for the suffering man before them. But then Jesus stops and speaks words of comfort to several women who are weeping. One named Veronica, uses her veil to wipe the sweat and blood off Jesus face. Mary Magdalene and Mary Jesus mother also watch the horrific parade, they do not flee. These women bare witness and share in Christ suffering by their very presence.
Application: The Cross of Christ symbolizes necessary suffering, the suffering we must endure just by being alive. How we accept and handle ‘our cross’ is how we share in the suffering of Christ and the world. Our cross can come in the form of prolonged illnesses, disabilities, or infirmities. We may live in an intolerable situation with no relief available. There are all manner of addictions, our own and those of others, to be overcome or simply endured. Our life may consist of caring for a family member who suffers. Like Mary’s our pain is just as intense as that of our ailing loved one. Our cross may be a life of poverty, deprivation, or isolation. Maybe we have mental demons that will not allow us rest or peace. Any ongoing situation or condition which causes suffering is part of the Cross of Christ. Each of us has our cross to carry. And we should always be mindful of the crosses of others. “Take up your cross and follow me.” Jesus said. And so we do. This is how we, like Simon, share the burden of the Cross of Christ.
Prayer: “Lord, we pray that each of us accepts what we cannot change in our lives and learn to bear our cross with faith and dignity along with you. We pray for the grace to know our limits and to accept the help we need as you did, as we journey through our life, heavy laden. We pray we are always aware of others and the crosses they bear, willing to lighten their burden, never passing up the one who is Christ to us. Amen.”
The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery: The Crucifixion
Image: The soldiers roughly strip Jesus of all his clothing, fling him naked to the ground where they begin the process of crucifixion, the torturous execution designed by the Romans. Nails hammered through his wrists, ropes used to hoist the cross beam to its post. Another large spike, bind his feet together, his only support for the next few hours. Jesus begins the agonizing process of dying. Pain radiates from every nerve ending, loss of blood weakens his heart, and anguish torments his thoughts. Yet he forgives those who administer his death, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”
On either side of him, are two men also dying? Jesus feels compassion for them. One is preparing for the next life, seeking grace and redemption. Jesus speaks words of life to him, giving him hope.
Knowing his mother stands below, witnessing the horror of his death is far worse than all the physical pain. Jesus speaks to her, wanting to comfort her.
Where is his Abba? “Why have you forsaken me?” he cries out. Then in complete surrender to his father’s will Jesus releases his sprit. “It is finished.”
Application: Jesus was stripped naked and flung to the ground so he knows the pain and degradation of all who have had to lay exposed and vulnerable before their attackers, all who have endured sexual assaults and rape. He was executed by the state. His death sentence came after an unjust trial and the means by which it was accomplished was meant to cause the most excruciating pain imaginable. Jesus shares in the agony of all the millions of humans since the beginning of time that endured long painful deaths. He hangs on the cross, his life seeping out in solidarity with all who have been murdered, all who have been tortured to death, all who have been executed. Jesus’ death cries out to all who claim to be his followers. All death sentences are unjust. “Thou shall not kill”. And yet Jesus feels compassion for those who are caught up in the state sanctioned murders, too. All who claim innocence because they are just “doing their job.” These too need mercy and forgiveness.
Prayer: “Lord, we pray for all who have suffered the horror of sexual assault. We pray for comfort and healing for their bodies, minds and souls.
And we pray for the end to all state sanctioned murders. We stand in solidarity with all who fight the injustice of allowing men and women to languish on death row, knowing their execution is approaching. We pray for all those who are part of the machinery of death, those who feel they are only ‘doing their job.’ May they find a way out, a way to live their conscious? May all who continue to support and promote the death penalty experience grace and light, so they too can become bearers of light, not darkness. Amen.”