1. In the Epistle of today's Mass, Jeremias (11,18-20) speaks to us as the suffering Saviour: "I was as a meek lamb that is carried to be a victim." This sentence expresses the attitude of Jesus toward the bitterness of His Passion. He knew every one of these sufferings in all their most concrete particulars; His heart had undergone them by anticipation, and the thought of them never left Him for an instant during the course of His life on earth. If the Passion, in its historical reality, took place in less than twenty-four hours, in its spiritual reality it spanned His entire life.
Jesus knew what was awaiting Him, His heart was tortured by it; and yet He not only accepted but ardently desired that hour, "His hour"; and He gave Himself into the hands of His enemies with the meekness of a lamb being led to the slaughter. "I have left My house," He says again through the mouth of Jeremias. "…I have delivered My beloved soul into the hands of My enemies" (Roman Breviary). Judas betrayed Him, His enemies dragged Him before the tribunal, they condemned Him to death, they tortured His body horribly; but Jesus, even in His Passion, remained always God, remained always the Master, the Lord. "I have power to lay down My life and to take it up again," says the liturgy in today's Vespers (Roman Breviary). Jesus went to His Passion "because it was His own will" (Isaias 53,7). He willed it because, as He Himself said, "This is the command which I have received from My Father" (John 10,18).
However, His ardent desire for the Passion did not prevent Him from tasting all its bitterness. "The sorrows of death have encompassed me…. Insults and terrors I have suffered from those who called themselves my friends…. God of Israel, because of You, I have suffered opprobrium, and shame has covered my face" (Roman Breviary). Let us try to sound the depths of these sacred texts which we read in today's liturgy, in order that we may have a better understanding of the most bitter Passion of Christ.
2. Today at Mass we read the Passion as recounted by Mark, Peter's disciple (14,32-72 -- 15,1-46). No other Evangelist has described so minutely the denial of Peter; it is the humble confession which the chief of the Apostles makes of himself through the mouth of his disciple. During the Last Supper, when Jesus predicted that the Apostles would desert Him that very night, Peter had protested with all the vigour of his ardent temperament: "Although all shall be scandalized in Thee, yet not I!" In vain did the Master foretell his desertion, outlining in detail: "Even in this night, before the cock crows twice, thou shalt deny me thrice." An overweening confidence in himself had blinded Peter to the truth of Jesus' words, to the possibility of his own weakness. "Although I should die together with Thee, I will not deny Thee." Peter was sincere in his protestation, but he sinned through presumption; the practical experience of human misery and frailty, by which no one, even the most courageous, can remain faithful to duty without divine aid, was lacking in him. His initial steps along this road would be taken in Gethsemane, when he, like the others, would be unable to watch "one hour" with the Master. Further, at the time of Jesus' arrest, he would flee away trembling with fear. But these two episodes would not be enough to cure him of his presumption; he would need a third, the saddest of all.
In the courtyard of Caiphas' palace, where, having recovered from his first fright, Peter had gone to watch the turn of events, he was recognized by a maid as a disciple of Jesus. Seized by the fear of being involved in the Master's trial, he denied the accusation immediately, saying, "I know Him not". Having fallen once, he had difficulty in recovering himself, and when questioned again, he made a second, even a third denial. "As he was yet speaking, the cock crew, and the Lord turning, looked on Peter." That crowing of the cock, and much more, that look full of love and sorrow, made him enter into himself, "and going out, he wept bitterly" (Luke 22,62). The blindfold of presumption of presumption fell from his eyes; and Peter, who sincerely loved Jesus, acknowledged his weakness, his fault. Because Peter no longer relied on himself, Jesus could rely upon him and would entrust His flock to him. The lesson is clear. As long as a soul depends solely upon itself, it is not ready to be sanctified, nor to co-operate efficaciously in the sanctification of others.
"O Lord of my soul, how quick we are to offend You! But how much quicker are You to forgive us! What am I saying, Lord! 'The sorrows of death have encompassed me.' Alas! What a great evil is sin, since it could put God Himself to death with such terrible sufferings! And these same sufferings surround You today, O my Lord! Where can You go that You are not tortured? Men cover You with wounds in all Your members.
"Christians, this is the hour to defend the King and to keep Him company in the profound isolation in which He finds Himself. How few, O Lord, are the servants who remain faithful to You!… The worst of it is that there are some who profess to be Your friends in public, but who sell You in secret. You can scarcely find one in whom You can trust. O my God, true Friend, how badly does he repay You who betrays You!
"O true Christians, come to weep with your God! It was not only over Lazarus that He shed tears of compassion, but over all those who, in spite of His call, would never rise from the dead. At that time, my Love, You saw even the sins that I would commit against You. May they be at an end, and with them, those of all sinners. Grant that these dead may come to life, even if they do not ask it of You. Lazarus did not ask You to bring him back to life, and yet You restored life to him at the prayer of a sinner. Here is another sinner, my God, and much more culpable than she was. Let, then, Your mercy shine forth! I ask it of You in spite of my wretchedness, for those who will not ask" (St Teresa of Jesus, Exclamations of the Soul to God, 10).