The Passion of the Lord: His Interior Sufferings

The Angelic Doctor notes that meditations on “matters relating to Christ’s humanity are the chief incentive to love and devotion.”1 During Lent, the Church reflects upon the humanity of Christ, most particularly in her consideration of the Passion. In so doing, normally much emphasis and meditation centers upon the physical sufferings of Christ: the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the Via Dolorosa, and the crucifixion. Undoubtedly, these are important aspects of the Passion to be considered and meditated upon. However, this Lent perhaps it would be profitable to spend some time meditating on the interior sufferings of the Lord during His Passion and death which are not always prominent in reflections on Christ’s sufferings.

When God the Son assumed a human nature for the purpose of saving humanity, He chose to willingly and fully consciously accept and endure sufferings which entailed that of the soul, mind and body. This means that Christ subjected Himself not only to bodily privations, but also to all the human movements which mental and spiritual anguish incite, such as sorrow, fatigue, fears, loneliness, and rejection. In his Summa Theologica, Thomas Aquinas enumerated these sufferings: “Christ suffered from friends abandoning Him; in His reputation, from the blasphemies hurled at Him; in His honor and glory, from the mockeries and insults heaped upon Him . . . in His soul, from sadness, weariness, and fear.”2

When Christ began the Passion, as both Saint Thomas and Saint Cardinal John Henry Newman remind, Christ willingly chose to embrace the entirety of man’s nature in suffering for His creation’s redemption. Newman wrote that these sufferings of the soul “cannot be painted for us, nor can they even be duly investigated; they are beyond both sense and thought; and yet they anticipated His bodily sufferings. The agony, a pain of the soul, not of the body, was the first act of His tremendous sacrifice: ‘My soul is sorrowful even unto death,’ He said; nay, if He suffered in the body, it really was in the soul, for the body did but convey the infliction on that which was the true recipient and seat of the suffering.”3

Unlike ordinary man, who distracts himself from interior and physical pain, Christ chose to remain fully conscious of these sorrows of the soul and mind during His Passion, for when Christ “determined to suffer the pain of His vicarious passion . . . He did . . . with his might; He did not do it by halves.”4 Further, Christ deliberately “offered Himself wholly, a holocaust, a whole burnt-offering; — as the whole of His soul, His whole advertence, His whole consciousness, a mind awake, a sense acute, a living cooperation, a present, absolute intention, not a virtual permission, not a heartless submission . . . to His tormentors.”5 Thus, Christ chose not only to suffer, but also to be fully conscious of the anguishes of His mind and soul during the Passion.

The interior sufferings of the Passion commenced before the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Alphonsus Liguori reflected that “this sorrow also, which most deeply afflicted Jesus Christ in the garden, afflicted him also throughout his whole life; since from the first moment when he began to live, he had ever before his eyes the causes of his inward grief; among which the most afflicting was, the sight of the ingratitude of men towards the love which he showed them in His Passion.”6 Hints of these sufferings are scattered throughout the Scriptures: the rejection which Christ received in his hometown (Luke 4:14–30) and among the Gerasenes (Mk. 5:1–20), the sorrow felt at the ingratitude of the nine lepers whom He cured, the Apostles’ lack of understanding concerning Christ’s mission and death and their attempts to persuade Christ to escape suffering and death, Peter’s insistence of remaining faithful to Christ until death, and Christ’s knowledge of the despair of Judas and of the betrayal and abandonment of His Apostles and friends.

This passion of soul escalated in the Garden of Gethsemane and culminated in the cross. There, in His anguish, Jesus longed for the companionship of His friends. He invited them to stay with Him while He prayed. Knowing what would soon unfold, Christ craved the human comfort of His apostles. Yet, His plea remained ignored as they fell asleep. This early abandonment only began the interior pangs of the Passion as Christ was soon betrayed and rejected by His apostles, friends, and followers.

There, in the loneliness of the Garden, the Lord Who knew no sin took upon Himself the guilt of all humanity. This only increased His interior sufferings, for every offense, major or slight, was before and laid upon Him Who shuddered knowing the weight and cost of one single sin to His Divine Person. Christ saw the unbelievers, not only those of His day and those who jeered Him from the cross, but also those who hardened their hearts to Him throughout the centuries. He foresaw how believers and nonbelievers alike would stray from the path of love by placing idols of materialism, comfort, pleasure, reputation, ambition, safety, self-will and human companionship before Him. He foresaw how He would be abandoned and ignored in the daily life of His people Whom He earnestly yearned to be with, and how He would be forgotten in the recesses of the hearts of those whom He had come to save. He foresaw how grace upon grace which had been bestowed upon His people, a royal race, would be rejected and cast aside in the pursuit of pleasures, popularity, and fortune. Yet, despite all, He chose to take upon Himself the sins of the world and so He prayed for those whom He came to save.

Newman wrote when Christ took upon Himself the weight of the world’s sins, the immensity of it was so great that: “God alone [could] bear the load of it”7 for

The hands of the Immaculate Lamb of God, once innocent, [are] now red with ten thousand barbarous deeds of blood . . . His lips . . . defiled with oaths, and blasphemies, and doctrines of devils . . . His eyes profaned as they are by all the evil visions and idolatrous fascinations for which men have abandoned their adorable Creator. And His ears, they ring with sounds of revelry and of strife; and His heart is frozen with avarice, and cruelty, and unbelief; and His very memory is laden with every sin which has been committed since the fall, in all regions of the earth, with the pride of the old giants, and the lusts of the five cities, and the obduracy of Egypt, and the ambition of Babylon, and the unthankfulness and scorn of Israel.

The despairing, confused, relapsed sinners, the self-righteous, stubborn, unjust, proud, vain, bloodthirsty, greedy, and indifferent throughout the centuries laid before Him — all of these and more engulfed the soul and mind of the spotless Victim in the Garden.

The immensity of such knowledge, coupled with the horror and weight of the world’s sins caused the Lord to sweat blood. For:

No soldier’s scourge has touched His shoulders, nor the hangman’s nails His hands and feet. . . . He has bled before His time; He has shed blood; and yes, it is His agonizing soul which has broken up His framework of flesh and poured it forth. His passion has begun from within. That tormented Heart, the seat of tenderness and love, began at length to labor and to beat with vehemence beyond its nature; ‘the foundations of the great deep were broken up;’ the red streams rushed forth so copious through the pores, they stood in a thick dew over His whole skin; then forming into drops, they rolled down full and heavy, and drenched the ground.8

Thus, Christ’s human nature could not seem to fathom what His divine will and love for His people have been prepared to undergo since the days of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. And so, in the garden He prayed for the Father to remove this suffering from Him. Yet, Christ ended in total surrender and conformity to the will of the One Who sent Him: “Not my will, but Thine be done” (Luke 22:42).

Once this surrender occurred, Christ faced the sufferings of weariness, betrayal, rejection and loneliness. He was met with the betrayal of one of His very own apostles, Judas, who handed His master over with a kiss: the sign of friendship. Similarly, in the chaos of the night, Christ became abandoned by His friends as they fled, fearing for the safety of their own lives, which was soon followed by the threefold denial of the Prince of the Apostles who previously had declared that he would die with his Master.

Once brought to the court of Herod, the sufferings of the soul and mind continued. He was jeered by Herod, who desired miracles to be performed, not on account of his faith, but for the sake of a spectacle (Luke 23:8). Christ was then dragged throughout the night from Herod’s court to that of the Pharisee’s. The chosen people, despite being God’s shegulah — prized possession — taunted, mocked, and committed blasphemies against the Messiah for Whom they longed. Throughout the events which ensued, the God-man Who embraced man’s griefs and carried man’s sorrows remained to silently bear alone the “chastisement which made [man] whole” (Isaiah 53:5), for there was none to comfort Him (Lamentations 1:16) as He “was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Once brought before Pilate, He was scourged, again mocked, and crowned with thorns. Those who participated in this passion made a game of the mockery: “Prophesy to us, you Christ! Who is it that struck you?” (Mt. 26:68). The Lord Who knew the very hairs on their heads and Who numbered their days, was cruelly blindfolded and spat upon while being jeered and maligned. Though undeserving of such treatment, He remained silent, while all the time having the power with just one thought, one word, to end the suffering. Yet, He allowed Himself to be so cruelly treated for the sake of His people who would all too quickly be unfaithful to Him for life’s fleeting pleasures.

Meanwhile, to increase these interior sufferings, those outside of Pilate’s house mercilessly called for His death. Upon hearing the clamor of the crowd, the Messiah knew the very people whom He healed, who were once His followers, were viciously defaming Him. The shouts of “Hosanna,” echoed throughout the holy city several days prior, become a faint memory, and were replaced with the cries of rage: “Crucify Him! . . .We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). Insult had been added onto insult and “ha[d] broken [His] heart”. In His agony, [He] “looked for pity, but there was none; and for comforters, but . . . found none” (Psalm 69:20). Truly, there was no one to comfort Him in His hour of need as the ingratitude of His people laid before Him.

Even though human nature tends to become offended, indignant, and even outraged when experiencing unjust treatment, in His Passion the Lord chose to suffer silently and unjustly on account of His patience and love for mankind. In sheer loneliness of heart, He bore all so that being lifted up from the earth, He might draw all to Himself, and be all in all. Thus, He allowed Himself to be led, “like a Lamb that is led to the slaughter” to the place of His crucifixion (Isaiah 53:7). His arms, which once were extended to heal, were cruelly fastened upon the wood of the cross. The feet which traveled to preach the Good News and to reconcile men with God were now nailed to the cross. The heart which loved men until the end became torn and broken by men’s ingratitude as He slowly breathed His last. Yet, the physical tortures of the crucifixion did not satisfy the viciousness of the bloodthirsty crowd as they continued to add to the anguish of Christ’s mind and soul.

Abandoned by His followers, save for a few, Christ hung there, dying, in the presence of His enemies who seized the opportunity to mercilessly taunt: “Come and save Yourself! Come down from the Cross,” for only then would they believe Him to be the Son of God (Matthew 27:42). Yet they did not understand the weight of their words. In their attempt to persuade the Messiah to prove His divinity for once and for all by saving Himself, they simultaneously rejected the salvific act of Christ on the cross: they rejected the means of their own redemption. This ingratitude was only met with silence and words of compassion and mercy: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:32). And so, in the midst of His people’s complete ingratitude and infidelity, in total deprivation of mind, body, and soul, the Man of Sorrows breathed His last.

Saints relay that meditating upon the Passion of Christ is the most beneficial practice for man’s salvation. Jesus Himself shared with St. Faustina that she “please[d Him] most when [she] meditate[d] on [His] sorrowful Passion,”9 for He desired “that [she] know more profoundly the love that burns in [His] Heart for souls”10 which would only be understood when meditating upon His Passion. This love for souls consumed Christ’s very being, as He succumbed to all tortures of the heart, soul, mind, and body for the sake of man’s salvation, knowing that while He suffered and died for all and extended salvation to all, few would accept.

In meditating upon the sufferings of Christ, Christians are called to sympathize with the Suffering Messiah, to bear these sorrows in mind, meditate upon them, and in so doing return Love for love. As St. Paul reminds, the suffering Christ sympathizes with His people’s weakness, for He understands the human condition and their sufferings, whether they be physical, spiritual, or mental. He embraced, endured, and sanctified these anguishes during His Passion and on the cross. In return, followers of Christ must bear in mind and compassionate with their suffering Savior. Saint Paul of the Cross reflects:

What would you do in return for such friendship? It is certain that you would do all in your power to heal the bruises he received on your account. So ought we to act towards Christ: we must contemplate Him engulfed in an ocean of sorrows to save us from the eternal abyss; consider Him all covered with wounds and bruises to purchase for us eternal life. Then let us make His pains our own, sympathize with His sorrows, and consecrate to Him all our affections.11

By meditating upon the passion of Christ, Christians succumb to and are wounded by the infinite love of Christ which loved until the end. Thus, the only proper response to a love so infinite is to accept and return this love by entering into and sympathizing with Christ’s sufferings. In seeking to be united to Christ’s sufferings, the Christian grows in a deeper love for Christ, Who though rejected by all so that men may live, loved until the very end.

  1. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1948), II.II. Q. 82 a.3. Reprint, Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics, 1981.
  2. Aquinas, Summa Theologica, III. Q. 46 a.5.
  3. John Henry Newman. “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord in His Passion,” Newman Reader. https://www.newmanreader.org/works/discourses/discourse16.html.
  4. Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord.”
  5. Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord.”
  6. Alphonsus Liguori, The Passion and Death of Jesus Christ (New York: Benzinger Brothers, 1887), 248.
  7. Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord.”
  8. Newman, “Mental Sufferings of Our Lord.”
  9. St. Maria Faustina Kowalska, Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska (Stockbridge: Marian Press, 2010), §1512.
  10.  Diary of Saint Faustina, §186.
  11. Saint Paul of the Cross, “Flowers of the Passion: The Passion and the Way of Perfection.” http://catholicsaints.mobi/ebooks/flowers/wayofperfection.htm.
Maria Cintorino About Maria Cintorino

Maria Cintorino currently teaches at a Catholic school in Northern Virginia. She has been published in Crisis Magazine, Our Sunday Visitor’s “Catholic Answers,” The Imaginative Conservative and Dappled Things.

Comments

  1. Avatar Bernadette. Fakoory says:

    This work speaks to one who has experienced in some small measure Jesus Christ’ s horrendous agony suffered in the garden of Gethsemane. Illumination of conscience of one’s sins and identifying personal pain of the consequence of sin and having the faith and forbearance to unite one’s own suffering to the suffering of Christ which which is part and parcel of each individual sin committed against His goodness.

    This was a written work well done.

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