Several emails have come in asking advice on cultivating an authentic, genuine “personal relationship” with Christ. The answer is simple, and it comes from Our Lord Himself who has told many mystic saints and doctors of the Church the same thing: THINK AND PRAY ABOUT MY PASSION AND DEATH. Why? Because thinking about Our Lord’s torture, agony and excruciating death forces us to confront Him as a Person, True God AND True Man. Legal systems don’t sob until their capillaries burst. Philosophies don’t suffer the agony of unrequited love. Imaginary friends don’t lay down their lives. Bureaucracies don’t fight asphyxiation by pushing themselves up on their impaled feet.
Only a PERSON can do these things. Only a DIVINE PERSON did. And remember, He would go through His ENTIRE PASSION just for you alone, and He would go through it REPEATEDLY for you alone, in fact as many times as you assist at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, and even more. That is how much He PERSONALLY loves you, PERSONALLY.
Think about that early and often, and I promise that you will develop a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with Him.
The key to beginning to understand the Incarnation, God becoming Man, is Christ’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. If you recall, after the Last Supper in the Upper Room, Jesus and the apostles, except for Judas who was on his errand of betrayal already, went to the Garden of Gethsemane. John tells us that Jesus went there with the apostles frequently to pray, and thus it would be one of the first places Judas would have known to look for Him. The wheels of the Passion are in motion. Jesus knows exactly what is coming, and that it is coming within a matter of hours. He withdraws a short distance from the apostles to pray, but close enough that they can still see Him. He asks the apostles to simply stay awake (because it is now the middle of the night) and to watch and pray. Jesus withdraws and begins to pray. But what the apostles see is horrifying. Jesus isn’t calmly and serenely kneeling in prayer. Jesus is literally laying on the ground, curled up in a ball, writhing in agony. Our Lord is a quivering, trembling, sobbing mess. Jesus is in such stress and agony that the capillaries in the sweat glands in His scalp and forehead are bursting, and there is blood in the sweat that is running down His face, mingling with His tears, and dropping on the ground. This is the first bloodshed of His Sorrowful Passion. Sobbing and shaking, Jesus BEGS the Father to let the events of the next twelve hours pass from Him if at all possible, but resigns Himself to the will of the Father. Reading this, some may be unimpressed with Jesus. Afterall, many, many men and women have gone to their torture and execution fully aware of what was coming, while managing to maintain their composure. Some men, especially, might be tempted to view Jesus and being somewhat cowardly in the face of His Passion, and thus be a bit turned-off by the whole scene.
Yes, Jesus is terrified. He is more terrified in this moment than all of the terror felt by mankind in all of history combined, rasied to the power of infinity. His terror is literally testing the limits of the human body. If any of us felt anything even close to the sort of fear that Jesus felt, we would drop dead. People can and have died purely of fright and/or intense psychological stress, usually by means of a heart attack precipitated by massive adrenaline production.
But the real question is, “What is He afraid of?” His terror and agony are NOT purely centered around the physical means of His death. He is not trembling and sobbing because he is thinking solely of the pain of being scourged, or the pain of being crucified. He is curled up in a ball crying so hard that He is sweating blood because He is thinking about WHO is going to torture and kill Him.
When God took on human flesh, He took on EVERY ASPECT of our existence. He experiences things the same way that we do – except with complete purity and at an infinitely amplified level. And that includes love. And being that He is also completely God, He is in Himself infinite knowledge and infinite love. In a nutshell, this means that Jesus went through His entire life on earth completely in love with every single person. Every person He saw or passed on the street He had known from all eternity; He had created that person atom-by- atom accordingly in the fullness of time; He had intimate knowledge of that person’s every thought, desire and deed; He was infinitely in love with that person.
Can you imagine what simply going into town and walking through the market must have been like? Every face He passed was His beloved. Every person who brushed by Him was a souce of simultaneous joy and the pain of unrequited love. Every laugh He heard was a laugh He wanted to share, and every whimper of sadness was sadness He wanted to share, every struggle was a struggle He wanted to help, and every bit of pain was pain He wanted to soothe. And not in an abstract, altruistic way. He wanted to engage these things personally, as we would with our intimate beloved. But He couldn’t. Can you imagine having all of that love pent up inside of you, with your beloved so near, and have to hold it all inside? Are we starting to get an idea of how terrible and wonderful the Incarnation is?
Now consider that His love for mankind was not limited by time. He feels that level of love for every human being that has ever existed and will ever exist. You were present in His mind 1982 years ago just as much as the Apostles, and you have been present in His mind since before the beginning of the universe itself, as are all of the people who have yet to be conceived in this world.
Let’s go back to the Garden. Jesus takes a couple of breaks from His prayer to go back and talk to the Apostles, who are His best friends. Yes, He loves everybody, but the Apostles are different. They know, to a small extent, who He is. They have spent many days and evenings together working, playing, eating and just talking. Jesus has told them who He is, and He has told them in no uncertain terms that He loves them. And they have assured Him that they love Him too. Their relationship is not one-sided. Jesus – God Incarnate – has gotten to experience reciprocal human friendship and love with these men, infinitely lopsided though it may have been.
Jesus has just spent a considerable amount of time in agony a stone’s throw away from His beloved friends, and when He comes back to them, He finds them all asleep. He is dying. (My soul is sorrowful even unto death.) He asked them, His beloved best friends, to simply stay with Him, watch, and pray. And they couldn’t even stay awake. And this happened twice. Heart. Ache. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
Now here comes Judas. As with every other person, Jesus is loves Judas infinitely. Judas is the person Jesus loves most in the world (and that goes for every person because Jesus is God and thus has infinite capacity.) And Judas has sold Him out. It is one thing to be betrayed by an enemy. It is quite another to be sold for 30 pieces of silver (which assuming one ounce pieces would equate to just under $1000 today) by the person you love most in the world. And just to make it as terrible as possible, Judas has told the guards that the man he kisses, the man to whom he gives the gesture of FRIENDSHIP and LOVE, is Jesus. And so when Judas kisses Him and Jesus says to Judas, “You betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” there is agony there that can not be described. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
The guards. Every single one of them is the subject of Jesus’ infinite love. And they despise Him. Jesus could have stopped it all at any time, not by some act of miraculous violence, but by asking the commanding guard if he remembered that certain tree he used to climb as a child, or that certain toy. He could have frozen them in their tracks by simply reminding them of their own experiences and feelings – which He had already shared with them because He had been with them the whole time. But He didn’t, because He couldn’t. If He didn’t let them kill him, there would be no hope of ever being with them in heaven. Agony. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
Now before the High Priest Caiaphas. Same thing. Except Caiaphas, and the rest of the Sanhedrin, have been as their entire vocation and purpose in life, praying for the coming of the Messiah. They have been praying to Jesus (unwittingly) for Jesus (unwittingly). And Jesus has heard their prayers, and the prayers of all of the priests for generations past, and is finally, finally now standing in front of them. And remember, He loves them each personally. They look Him up and down and utterly reject Him. “No, no. You’re all wrong. You’re not what we want. We want a big macho-man king to vanquish the Romans and sit on the throne and then make us all rich by association. LOOK AT YOU. YOU’RE ALL WRONG. WE DON’T WANT YOU. Go to hell and good riddance.” Agony. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
Pilate. Selfish indifference. “Look man, I neither know nor care who you are or who you say you are, and frankly, I think you’re just another loon. I have a lot on my mind and I simply can’t deal with crap like this.” Agony. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
The Roman scourgers. Jesus was whipped and flagellated until most of His skin was gone by men whom He loved infinitely and intimately. Can you imagine how He felt as he walked to the pillar, turned and saw the faces of his scourgers, and seeing the face of every human being looking back at Him? Can you imagine being slowly and brutally whipped to the brink of death by the person you love most in the world? Say your spouse or best friend? It would be one thing to be whipped by a total stranger. But to be tortured by the person you love most in the world? Unfathomable agony. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
The crowds. Everywhere there were crowds of people looking on – the scourging, the trial, the streets he walked while carrying His Cross to Calvary. Every single face was intimately loved. And every single face, excepting Mary, John, Mary Magdalene and a few other women, were either viciously hostile or completely indifferent. I wonder which was worse? The reason I ask is because the opposite of love is NOT hate, as most would assume. The opposite of love is indifference. There is no greater blow that can be made to a human soul than indifference. How many people saw Jesus that day – locked eyes with Him – and honestly didn’t give a rat’s @$$ either way. “Live. Die. Whatever. Just don’t bother me. You’re messing up my plans. YOU’RE MAKING MY LIFE HARD. Now I’m going to have to go completely out of my way to get around You and this damndable mess You’re making.” This may have been the worst agony. This is the reality of the Incarnation.
Almost everyone treats Jesus with indifference to one degree or another. We are all inflicting that agony on Him. How, you ask? By sinning. We know that our sins hurt Him infinitely, but we commit them anyway. Few people sin because they actively HATE Jesus and want to hurt Him. A few do, but not too many relative to the broad population. No, most people are just indifferent. There He is at the pillar, and our sin is the next lash. And we do it anyway. CRACK! Because we’re indifferent. And again, and again.
“Live. Die. Whatever. Just don’t bother me. You’re messing up my plans. YOU’RE MAKING MY LIFE HARD. YOU’RE EMBARRASSING ME. PEOPLE THINK I’M EITHER CRAZY OR STUPID FOR ASSOCIATING WITH YOU.”
“But I love you. This is all for you.”
“That’s your choice, and your problem. Not my circus, not my monkeys.”
“All I ever did was love you.”
“Oh, F*** you!”
Agony beyond words. This is the Reality of the Incarnation.
That is why Jesus was sobbing in agony in the Garden. He didn’t fear the physical pain. He feared being utterly, completely and totally rejected to the point of toture, execution and the indifferent witnessing of this by the person He loved most in the world, which is YOU. And ME.
He feared not being tortured and killed, but being tortured and killed by the person He loved most in the world. And despite this, He still chose to go through with it all. He went all the way to the end, just so there would be a CHANCE that one day we might knock on HIS door and say, “I love You, too. Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
“The Lord will overshadow thee with His shoulders, and under His wings thou shalt trust: His truth shall compass thee with a shield.” Psalm 90: 4-5
Read the medical description of death by crucifixion below, and then ponder the words, “The Lord will overshadow thee with His shoulders.”
[This is a paraphrase of a summary of an ARSH 1965 article on crucifixion by Dr. C. Truman Davis entitled, “The Anatomical And Physiological Details Of Death By Crucifixion”, originally published in Arizona Medicine. Since it is widely reproduced on the internet, I have taken the liberty of cleaning up a few things, and correcting scripture citations. Additions of my prose are in red brackets.]
Crucifixion is the most painful death ever invented by man and is where we get our term “excruciating.” It was reserved primarily for the most vicious of male criminals. Our Lord refused the anesthetic wine which was offered to Him by the Roman soldiers in keeping with His promise recorded in Matthew 26: 29, “And I say to you, I will not drink from henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I shall drink it with you new in the kingdom of My Father.” Our Lord was stripped naked [This is very important. The depictions of Our Lord with His loincloth intact on the Cross are for the sake of modesty, particularly for women and children. He was naked. The humiliation of being hung naked with no way of covering one’s self was in integral part of the humiliation of crucifixion. Our Blessed Lord spared Himself nothing – the agony of His Passion was maximal.] and His clothing divided by the Roman guards. This was in fulfillment of Psalm 21:19, “They parted My garments amongst them; and upon My vesture they cast lots.” The Crucifixion of Jesus guaranteed a horrific, slow, painful death.
Having been nailed the Cross, Our Lord now had an impossible anatomical position to maintain. Jesus’ knees were flexed at about 45 degrees, and He was forced to bear His weight with the muscles of His thigh, which is not an anatomical position which is possible to maintain for more than a few minutes without severe cramp in the muscles of the thigh and calf. Our Lord’s weight was borne on His feet, with nails driven through them. As the strength of the muscles of Our Blessed Lord’s lower limbs tired, the weight of His body had to be transferred to His wrists, His arms, and His shoulders. Within a few minutes of being placed on the Cross, Our Lord’s shoulders were dislocated. Minutes later His elbows and wrists became dislocated. The result of these upper limb dislocations was that His arms were 9 inches longer than normal, as clearly shown on the Shroud of Turin. In addition, prophecy was thus fulfilled in Psalm 21:15, “I am poured out like water; and all my bones are scattered.”
After Our Lord’s wrists, elbows, and shoulders were dislocated, the weight of His body on his upper limbs caused traction forces on the Pectoralis Major muscles of His chest wall. These traction forces caused His rib cage to be pulled upwards and outwards, in a most unnatural state. His chest wall was permanently in a position of maximal respiratory inspiration. In order to exhale, Jesus had to push down on the nails in His feet to raise His body, and allow His rib cage to move downwards and inwards to expire air from His lungs. His lungs were in a resting position of constant maximum inspiration. Crucifixion is a medical catastrophe. The problem was that Our Blessed Lord could not easily push down on the nails in His feet because the muscles of His legs, bent at 45 degrees, were extremely fatigued, in severe cramp, and in an anatomically compromised position.
Despite what is shown in all Hollywood movies about the Crucifixion, the victim was extremely active. A crucified victim was physiologically forced to move up and down the cross, a distance of about 12 inches, in order to breathe. The process of respiration caused excruciating pain, mixed with the absolute terror of asphyxiation. As the six hours of the Crucifixion wore on, Our Lord was less and less able to bear His weight on His legs, as His thigh and calf muscles became increasingly exhausted. [And bear in mind that He had already been scourged until most of His skin was gone, was thus in deep shock, and was then made to march approximately two kilometers while carrying His own Cross. While fully human, Our Lord’s strength during His Passion was unfathomable.]
There was increasing dislocation of His wrists, elbows and shoulders, and further elevation of His chest wall, making His breathing more and more difficult. Within minutes of crucifixion Our Lord became severely dyspnoeic (short of breath). His movements up and down the Cross to breathe caused excruciating pain in His wrists, His feet, and His dislocated elbows and shoulders. The movements became less frequent as Our Blessed Lord became increasingly exhausted, but the terror of imminent death by asphyxiation forced Him to continue in His efforts to breathe [because His suffering had to be maximal – He had to give us absolutely all of His love].
Our Sweet Lord’s lower limb muscles developed excruciating cramping from the effort of pushing down on His legs, to raise His body, so that He could exhale, in their anatomically compromised position. The pain from His two shattered median nerves in His wrists exploded with every movement. Our Lord was covered in His Precious Blood and sweat. The blood was a result of the Scourging that nearly killed Him, and the sweat as a result of His violent efforts to expire air from His lungs.
Throughout all this He was completely naked, and the leaders of the Jews, the Romans, the crowds, and the bad thief crucified beside Him were jeering, swearing and laughing at Him. In addition, Our Lord’s own Blessed Mother was watching this, united to His suffering.
Physiologically, Our Lord’s body was undergoing a series of catastrophic and terminal events. Because Jesus could not maintain adequate ventilation of His lungs, He was now in a state of hypoventilation (inadequate ventilation). His blood oxygen level began to fall, and He developed Hypoxia (low blood oxygen). In addition, because of His restricted respiratory movements, His blood carbon dioxide (CO2) level began to rise, a condition known as Hypercapnia. This rising CO2 level stimulated His heart to beat faster in order to increase the delivery of oxygen, and the removal of CO2. The Respiratory Center in Our Lord’s brain sent urgent messages to his lungs to breathe faster, and Our Lord began to pant. Jesus’ physiological reflexes demanded that He take deeper breaths, and He involuntarily moved up and down the Cross much faster, despite the excruciating pain.
The agonizing movements spontaneously started several times a minute, to the delight of the crowd who jeered Him, the Roman soldiers, and the Sanhedrin. However, due to the nailing of Our Precious Lord to the Cross and His increasing exhaustion, He was unable to provide more oxygen to His oxygen-starved body. The twin forces of Hypoxia (too little oxygen) and Hypercapnia (too much CO2) caused His heart to beat faster and faster, and Our Lord developed Tachycardia. His Sacred Heart beat faster and faster, and His pulse rate was probably about 220 beats/ minute, the maximum normally sustainable. Jesus had drunk nothing for 15 hours, since 6 pm the previous evening.
Our Lord had endured a scourging which nearly killed Him. He was bleeding from all over His body following the Scourging, the crown of thorns, the nails in His wrists and feet, and the lacerations following His beatings and falls. Jesus was already extremely dehydrated, and His blood pressure fell alarmingly. His blood pressure was probably about 80/50. He was in First Degree Shock, with Hypovolaemia (low blood volume), Tachycardia (excessively fast Heart Rate), Tachypnoea (excessively fast Respiratory Rate), and Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating). Sometime after noon Our Lord’s Sacred Heart probably began to physically fail. Jesus’ lungs probably began to fill up with Pulmonary Oedema. This only served to exacerbate His breathing, which was already severely compromised. Jesus was in Heart Failure and Respiratory Failure. Jesus said, “I thirst” [partly] because His body was crying out for fluids [but also because He was thirsting for souls – both to love them and to be loved by them]. Our Lord was in desperate need of an intravenous infusion of blood and plasma. He could not breathe properly and was slowly suffocating to death. At this stage Our Lord probably developed a Haemopericardium: plasma and blood gathered in the space around His Sacred Heart, called the Pericardium. This fluid around His Sacred Heart caused Cardiac Tamponade (fluid around His Sacred Heart, which prevented it from beating properly). Because of the increasing physiological demands on Jesus’ Sacred Heart, and the advanced state of Haemopericardium, He may have eventually sustained Cardiac Rupture. His Sacred Heart may have literally burst [before being pierced by the lance of Longinus]. Heart failure was probably the [ultimate physical] cause of His death, [while our sins are the true cause of His suffering and death].
When the Romans wanted to expedite death they would simply break the legs of the victim, causing the victim to suffocate in a matter of minutes. This was called Crucifragrum. At three o’clock in the afternoon Our Lord said, “It is consummated.” At that moment, He gave up His Spirit, and He died. When the soldiers came to Our Lord to break His legs, He was already dead. Not a bone of His Body was broken, in fulfilment of the prophecy in Exodus 12: 46. Our Precious Lord thus died on the Cross after six hours of the most excruciating and terrifying torture ever invented, after enduring torture in the twelve hours prior to His crucifixion which, by itself, would have been sufficient to kill any other man.