STATIONS OF THE CROSS: First Station — Jesus Is Condemned To Death, by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

Bernardin stations of the cross

From The Journey to Peace

Pilate addressed them again, for he wanted Jesus to be the one released.  But they shouted back, “Crucify him, crucify him!”  He said to them for the third time, “What wrong is this man guilty of?  I have not discovered anything about him that calls for the death penalty.  I will therefore chastise him and release him.”  But they demanded with loud cries that he be crucified, and their shouts increased in violence.  Pilate then decreed that what they demanded should be done.  He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown in prison for insurrection and murder, and delivered Jesus up to their wishes. (Luke 23:20-25)

Jesus Accepted the Price of Being a Prophet

The Gospels often portray Jesus as an itinerant prophet who is led by God’s Spirit.  Like the lives of the prophets of old, Jesus’s life is not his own.  It belongs entirely to his father who sent him into the world with a prophetic, saving, reconciling mission.  Prophetic ministry is often difficult because the prophet’s message falls on deaf ears, is unpopular or countercultural, or is resisted with outright hostility.  Moreover, people sometimes – wittingly or unwittingly – try to lure a prophet from his God-given mission.

Jesus often confronted serious obstacles to his mission.  Let’s focus our attention on this dimension of his prophetic ministry.  If we are truly united with the Lord, we will experience both his joys and sorrows, his peaceful moments as well as the tense ones.  I am particularly impressed with the way Jesus responded to pressures, hostility, intrigue, fickleness, shallowness, indifference.  Despite the fact that he is God’s son, Jesus had to grapple with the diverse forces of his day – just as we do.  That is why – if we want to understand ourselves and our own ministry better – we must first focus on Jesus and learn from his ministry.

At various times and in diverse ways, Jesus faced the fierce hostility of both demons and humans.  As we know from the events during the last week of his public ministry, a very fine line divided the crowd chanting “hosannas” from those demanding his death.  Particularly intense was the hostility of those whose very task and purpose in life were challenged by his message.  At times, only Jesus’s oral authority was challenged.  At other times, however, his very life was threatened!

Grappling with difficult issues and people each day is part and parcel of our ministry.  We cannot reasonably expect to escape from it.  Why?  Because the message we proclaim often goes against the grain; it is not what some people want to hear.  In many instances, it goes against the mores of the moment.  But it helps us to know that this was very much a part of Jesus’s own life and ministry – that he, too, had to deal with it each day.  He was able – but not without considerable cost to himself – to confront successfully the hostility of the crowds and demons as he went about proclaiming the Good News.

O God, my strength and my shield, give me the in-
tegrity and the courage to proclaim the risen Lord
and his gospel faithfully. Help me acquire the per-
spective of faith when I encounter opposition to
your word, so that I may be united with your son in
his humiliation and suffering for your greater glory.

The Burden of the Cross is Heavy Indeed

Allow me to share with you some of what I have learned about the truth of this during the past three and a half months.  On Thursday, November 11, 1993, the media carried the story that I was going to be sued in a sexual misconduct case.  I had heard rumors of such a suit earlier in the day but did not know what the specific allegation entailed.  You can imagine how I felt!  The next morning, Friday, as I was reciting the rosary as part of my morning prayer, I began to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries.  When I began with the “agony in the garden,” I was suddenly able to understand much more deeply than ever before what that moment means in Jesus’s life.  I felt very close to him in his agony, and also asked the Father, “Why me?”

The past three and a half months have been very painful.  I was very embarrassed by the charges, which I knew were absolutely false.  I had to stand – literally before the entire world – again and again to declare my innocence.  Fortunately, I received a great outpouring of support from throughout the Archdiocese and, indeed, the entire country and the world.  But I was also very disturbed by those who seemed, on the mere basis of the widely publicized charge, to assume that I was guilty.

The love and prayers of so many friends were a great comfort to me.  But I would not have survived the burden of this cross had it not been for the time I spent in prayer each day.  Ultimately, it was only my intimacy with the Lord – which grew and deepened these past few months – that enabled me to have a sense of inner peace, which in turn allowed me to continue my pastoral ministry each day.  As I said earlier, this is a great mystery, but our suffering can bring us very close to Jesus.  And that makes all the difference in the world!

My God, your beloved Son encountered the mystery
of suffering throughout his life, but, when he stood
before Pilate, he entered into that mystery more
deeply. Help me accept suffering in my life by
uniting myself more closely with the risen Lord
through prayer each day.

With God’s Love We Lack Nothing

The question, “Why me?” has been asked by countless people through the ages.  That question crossed my mind, I assure you.  As you know, in November 1992, I had suffered the humiliation of a false accusation of sexual misconduct.  So when I discovered that I had cancer in June 1995, I wondered why God had also allowed this to happen to me.  We often tend to assume for some reason that when hardship or tragedies occur, God has punished or abandoned us.  But in his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul lays that assumption to rest once and for all.  No creature – absolutely no one—can separate us from God’s all-powerful love that comes to us through his son, Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39)  No adversity can prevent our access to God’s love.  God has not rejected or abandoned us.  His love for us is absolute, not conditional.  And if we have God’s love, we have all we need.  We lack nothing.

Loving God, I, too, sometimes ask myself – and
you – why something bad has happened to me.
Deepen my faith and trust in you so that I will
truly believe that nothing can separate me from
your love. With the assurance of your love, I will lack nothing!

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