Prediction of the Passion: on Quinquagesima Sunday
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalene OCD | 7 February 2024
O Jesus, give me light to understand the mystery and the value of Christian suffering.
Lent is approaching and our thoughts turn spontaneously to the sorrows of Jesus. This Sunday’s gospel (Lk 18:31–43) brings us an announcement of the Passion.
The prediction is clear: “The Son of Man … shall be delivered to the Gentiles, and shall be mocked and scourged and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will put him to death; and on the third day He shall rise again.” However, as on other occasions, the apostles “understood none of these things, and this word was hid from them”. They did not understand because they imagined that Jesus’ mission was like an earthly conqueror’s and that He would re-establish the kingdom of Israel. Since they dreamed only of triumphs and of occupying the first places in the kingdom, any allusion to the Passion upset and scandalised them.
To those who dream only of prosperity and earthly glory, the language of the Cross is incomprehensible. Those who have a purely material ideal of life find it very difficult to understand any spiritual significance, and especially that of suffering. St Paul said that Christ Crucified was “unto the Jews indeed a stumbling block, and unto the Gentiles foolishness” (1 Cor 1:23). Rebuking St Peter, who at the first mention of the Passion had exclaimed, “Lord, be it far from Thee, this shall not be unto thee”, Jesus had said, “Go behind Me, Satan … because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men” (Mt 16:22–23). To human wisdom, suffering is incomprehensible; it is disconcerting; it can lead one to murmur against divine providence and even to lose all trust in God. However, according to the wisdom of God, suffering is a means of salvation and redemption. And as it was necessary “for Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory” (cf. Lk 24:26), it is also necessary for the Christian to be refined in the crucible of sorrow in order to attain to sanctity, to eternal life.
It was not until after the descent of the Holy Spirit that the apostles fully understood the meaning of the Passion; then, instead of being scandalised, they considered it the greatest honour to follow and to preach Christ Crucified.
The human eye has not sufficient light to comprehend the value of the Cross; it needs a new light, the light of the Holy Spirit. It is not by chance that in this Sunday’s gospel, immediately after the prediction of the Passion, we find the healing of the blind man of Jericho. We are always somewhat blind when faced with the mystery of suffering; when it strikes us in what we hold most near and dear, it is easy to get lost and to grope our way like blind men through uncertainty and darkness. This Sunday, the Church invites us to repeat the blind man’s prayer of faith: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
The world is often astonished at the sufferings of the good, and instead of encouraging them in their reliance on God, seeks to turn them from Him by urging them to defiance and false fear.
Our passions themselves, our innate tendencies toward pleasure, often cry out to us and try, by a thousand pretexts, to prevent us from following Jesus Crucified. Let us remain steadfast in our faith, like the poor blind man. He was not disturbed by the crowd that tried to keep him from approaching Jesus, and he did not give up when the disciples remonstrated with him and wanted him to be quiet; he only shouter his prayer “even more loudly”.
Let us cry to the Lord from the bottom of our hearts: De profundis clamo ad te, Domine; Domine audi vocem mean! (Ps 129). Let us not ask to be exempt from suffering, but to be enlightened as to its value. “Lord, that I may see!” As soon as the blind man recovered his sight, he immediately followed Jesus, “glorifying God”! The supernatural light which we seek from the Lord will give us the strength to follow him and to carry our cross as He did.
“O Jesus Christ, Son of the eternal Father, our Lord, true King of all things! What didst Thou leave in the world for Thy descendants to inherit from Thee? What didst Thou ever have, my Lord, save trials, pains, and insults? Indeed Thou hadst only a beam of wood to rest upon while drinking the bitter draught of death. Those of us, then, my God, who desire to be Thy true children, and not to renounce their inheritance, must never flee from suffering. Thy crest is five wounds! … So that too must be our device if we would inherit His kingdom! Not by ease, nor by comfort, nor by honour, nor by wealth can we gain that which He purchased for us by so much Blood. O you who come of illustrious lineage, for the love of God open your eyes. Behold those true knights of Jesus Christ, the princes of His Church, St Peter and St Paul: never did they travel by the road you are taking. Can you be imagining that a new road is to be built for you? Do not think that for a moment.”St Teresa of Avila, Foundations, 10
O my Jesus, the Cross is Your standard; I should be ashamed to ask to be delivered from it. From one evil only I ardently beg You to preserve me: from any deliberate sin, however slight. O Lord, I beg You by the merits of Your sacred Passion to keep all sin far from me.
But as for other evils — bodily or spiritual sufferings, physical pain or mental anguish — I beg Your light and strength: light to understand the hidden meaning which have in the plans of Your divine providence, light to believe firmly that every sorrow or trial, every pain or disappointment, is planned by You for my greater good; strength not to let myself be influenced by the false maxims of the world or led astray by the vain mirage of earthly happiness, strength to accept suffering of any kind with courage and love.