And I see them - demons - around the pillar, and around the Roman soldiers. Hundreds upon hundreds of grotesque beings who can best, I feel, be described as "hate with form." These demons move among the soldiers and constantly whisper to them. The soldiers grow agitated even though, as of yet, nothing is happening.
Suddenly many of these demons rush past me and mingle with the common people and the same agitation stirs in them. I hear them hiss as they pass by me, a sound of fire sizzling with unvented energy.
The soldiers move. There is a shout. A command. And Jesus, our Lord and God, is brought out from a small doorway into the courtyard.
I see Him and my heart weeps for already He is barely recognizable, so much has He endured. His garments are stained, His once beautiful honey-colored hair darkened by blood, sweat and the filth people have battered Him with.
He moves slowly, already fatigued and in pain, and His footsteps are unsteady. There are two burly Roman soldiers, one on each side who, by keeping a hand on each elbow, move Jesus to the pillar. There they remove the ropes around His wrists and waist as well as the heavy chain which is wrapped around His neck and which crisscrosses His chest.
The soldier in charge, a youngish man a year, maybe two younger than our Lord, orders the prisoner to strip. Jesus meekly obeys, but he has difficulty pulling the long tunic over His head for the binding of His wrists has stopped proper circulation in His arms.
Impatiently the garment is yanked over His head, and because the hundreds upon hundreds of demons still harass the soldiers, they all but rip the shorter tunic off. Jesus, the Sinless One, the Pure Lamb of God, is naked except for His undergarment which surrounds His loins.
The captain gives another command and the two soldiers attach a chain again to Jesus’ wrists and they pull Him to the pillar. There is an iron ring near the top of the pillar, and through this ring the soldiers run the length of the chain until Jesus is stretched completely. Our Lord is on tip-toe and His torso and limbs are elongated as far as possible.
He says nothing but I can hear Him praying; to His Father the prayer of His Divine Heart and Soul rises. It is a continual prayer of forgiveness and it is united with Infinite Love, and also Infinite Sadness.
Another order, and the men come from under the porch where they have waited in the shade. I understand they are professional torturers in the hire of the Roman government. They are brawny men, bare-chested with muscles that bulge as each flexes the scourge or whip he holds. The three men take up their position.
The first steps forward, eyes fixed upon his victim and the whip is tested several times for accuracy and strength as it lands only inches from our Lord'’ feet, sand the hard ground is cut to pieces as dirt flies. The Roman captain nods and now the whip flies forward. Now, it is not hard ground, but soft, tender flesh that it rips.
Over and over and over again in a rhythmic motion, the whip finds our Lord’s back and curves around to his torso, chest, ribs. The head, neck, shoulders, buttocks, legs, knees, and feet are not left unscathed, and the whip bites deeply. Large, horrid long welts are raised and appear scarlet against Jesus’ white flesh.
The demons dance obscenely and scream and gesture with hysterical laughter as the torture continues. Jesus’ face is twisted in agony and he bites His lips so as to utter no sound. All the while the demons move, whispering to the soldiers, the torturers, even the crowd. It’s a scene of diabolical nature. Blood appears and the cruelty intensifies.
Without losing a stroke, as if in a precision drill, the second torturer moves forward. His scourge appears to be of leather with heavy knots along its length. H is swing is powerful and the blows land on top of the raised welts from the whip.
Now skin and tissue separate. Blood vessels spew forth blood which stains the ground, the pillar, and even splatters the torturers who, unmindful, can only use their powerful muscles to cause our Dear Lord unimaginable pain. Because this scourge is longer our Lord’s entire chest, abdomen, arms and legs front and back receive full blows.
The third torturer moves into position and like his fellow torturers his eyes are glassy, feverish in anticipation. The scourge is also long, of leather. But the end is divided into four or five strips. At the end of each strip there is tied a sharp piece of bone or stone, I do not know which because I feel as if I must faint or die from watching such cruelty given to such Love.
The demons are raging even amongst themselves now, tearing at one another as the third scourge sends pieces of flesh, tissue, muscle and, in some places a bone chip from our Lord flying around the pillar. The demons will not get near the divine flesh. They spit and utter curses and madly tear at each other in their frenzy of hate.
There is not one spot upon our Lord left unmarked by the terrible scourging. It cannot be possible that these men want to continue. They have already reduced our Lord to a piece of meat, mauled hideously by their own hands.
It is the captain of the guard who has stepped aside to hear the words of a senior officer. Then he shouts an order and the horrid whistling, slicing, thudding scourging ends. Yet it echoes in my ears, my mind, my heart and soul. O! I do not desire to see any more!
But our Lady comes and says to me: "You must watch and write as I direct, for from this my Little Ones shall love my Son as He loves them, and they shall grow strong in their faith."
The two Roman soldiers who led Jesus to the pillar now unloose the heavy chain and Jesus slumps lifeless to the ground. He appears not a human being, but one bleeding, oozing sore of mutilated flesh. Our Blessed mother tells me that many today will say it could not have been like this, so inhuman a scourging, for no man would have survived. But Jesus Christ is the Man and as His Father willed, so did He will to survive, that all of His Blood might be shed so that mankind might enter the way of perfection.
A soldier, barely out of his teens, comes running and throws a bucket of cold, dirty water over our Lord. The shock, which our Lady says was like an electric current of extreme heat and pain, brings Jesus back to consciousness. He puts both hands on the blood-spattered ground and tries to rise, but there is no strength.
Propelled still by Lucifer’s demons the two guards yank Jesus upright, and it is grotesque to see our Blessed Lord try to stand upright. It is His Will alone that permits Him to find His footing.
The short tunic is pulled roughly over His head, then the longer tunic. I understand that the soldier regards this as another aspect of the process of torture.
Jesus staggers, nearly falls and the guards drag him off to the side. They push him down upon a rough-hewn bench, not out of kindness but to prepare Him for yet more pain and humiliation. From the corner a soldier rushes forward with a thick bundle of branches covered with thick, long thorns. He gestures at Jesus. The soldiers laugh uproariously and nod agreement.
One of them, who is older with graying hair, takes the tangle of thorny branches and hacks at it expertly with his sharp sword. He carves it into a crown-like cap and hands it back.
The two guards, not wanting to be stung by the thorns, use the tips of their own swords to place this ca-like crown on top of Jesus’ head. Once it is there, they use the flat end of their swords and push with all their strength till the crown has sunk into place.
Laughter, scorn, rebuffs of every kind fill the air while Jesus’ Head is pierced over and over by these thorns that are thick and tough. His forehead is pierced and blood seeps down into His eyes, and trickles along His nose and drips to the ground.
Our Lady, truly sobbing, reminds me that where, in H is Holy Infancy, His head was possessed of silky curls, there is now a long, sharp thorn where each silken curl lay!
Another soldier finds an old discarded military cloak, which is hastily thrown over His trembling shoulders, while yet another finds a reed and places it in His right hand.
Throughout, Jesus has uttered no cry, no word. But His prayer has been ceaseless and filled with the Divine Will.
How the demons laugh, their evil eyes glowing with hate. They move the soldiers to bend their knees and strike their breasts as one by one they come before this human wreck and proclaim: "Hail, King of the Jews!" while Jesus, His beautiful eyes no longer beautiful, accepts, endures, suffers and offers all to His Father in Perfect Love!
Imagine, if you will, the married couple in Cana thanking the water jugs for making wine, or the blind man thanking the mud for giving his sight back. But many of us are about to do that very soon.
On Good Friday, we shall come together to give praise, honor, and thanksgiving to God for giving us the ultimate sacrifice for our redemption. A triangular shaped object will be brought out, covered in a purple cloth. The priest will intone: "Behold the wood of the cross on which hung the Savior of the world." (or words to that affect) To which we will respond, "Come let us adore Him." (ibid)
As the cloth comes off, many will see a cross, but no Christ. As though it was the cross that saved us and not Christ.
The 'cross' was host to many people. The slave rebel Spartacus, the unrepentant thief, and the good thief (and probably millions before and after Christ). What makes the cross the path of salvation is that Christ hung on it? "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).
"A company of evildoers encircle Me; they have pierced My hands and feet-- I can count all My bones-- they stare and gloat over Me; they divide My garments among them, and for My raiment they cast lots" (Psalm 22:16-17).
"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:14-16).
"...this is My blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:28)
The story is told that when St. Francis of Assisi was brought before the Sultan, the Sultan had a carpet of crosses laid before him so the man of God would not approach him. As St. Francis was led in, he calmly walked to the Sultan. "How can you walk on the cross of your God?" "That isn't the cross of my Lord," replied St. Francis, "but that of the unrepentant thief."
It is Christ ON the cross, the crucifix, which is, and should be, our focus of adoration and love. To paraphrase 'Look at the expression of true and total love. See how His arms are open to embrace you, His face bowed to kiss you, His side opened to show you His heart.'
The cross was nothing more than an instrument of execution, much like the electric chair or the headsman axe. It was Christ ON the cross that transformed it into an 'instrument' of hope, love, and redemption.
Like the social virtues, sins do not exist in the abstract, but are the consequence of personal acts.(31) Hence it is necessary to bear in mind that America today is a complex reality, the result of the attitudes and actions of the men and women who live there. It is in this real and concrete situation that they must encounter Jesus.
Among the Saints it has produced, “the history of the evangelization of America numbers many martyrs, men and women, Bishops and priests, consecrated religious and lay people who have given life . . . to [these] nations with their blood. Like a cloud of witnesses (cf. Heb 12:1), they stir us to take up fearlessly and fervently today's task of the new evangelization”.(38) Their example of boundless dedication to the cause of the Gospel must not only be saved from oblivion, but must become better and more widely known among the faithful of the continent. In this regard, I wrote in Tertio Millennio Adveniente: “The local Churches should do everything possible to ensure that the memory of those who have suffered martyrdom should be safeguarded, gathering the necessary documentation”.(39)
NEXT MONDAY: Installment six - Chapter Two: Popular Piety