During Holy Week the Church turns her focus to the greatest sufferings known to man: the sufferings of Christ. But year after year, many people have overlooked one of the most important truths— a truth which I was blind to for so many years until a saint recently revealed it to me. Saint Alphonsus de Liguori once poignantly wrote, “And who can ever explain and comprehend the inward pains of his soul, which a thousand times exceeded his outward pains ? This inward torment was such that in the Garden of Gethsemani it caused a sweat of blood to pour forth from all his body, and compelled him to say that this was enough to slay Him: My soul is sorrowful even unto death” (Matt. 26:38).
Mystics are not shy when it comes to Christ’s brutal sufferings. After all, Christ appeared to many of them. According to Saint Bridget of Sweden, Our Lord received 5480 blows to His body while His Crown of Thorns penetrated His skull. Furthermore, His ribs were exposed from the Scourging at the Pillar as His most pure flesh was torn to pieces. As the Psalmist declares, “But I am a worm, and no man: the reproach of men, and the outcast of the people” (21:7).
The following are just a few of Christ’s spiritual sufferings, hidden in the depths of His soul, but nevertheless more painful than His bodily wounds:
Fear of suffering
In the Garden of Gethsemani, Our Lord saw all of His future sufferings before His eyes, especially His Crucifixion. But what hurt Christ the most according to the mystics was the rejection by the very people He came to save, which is you and me. In other words, Christ’s Passion and Death meant little to so many people.
Saint Matthew’s Gospel recounts that “he began to grow sorrowful and to be sad” (26:37). Some translations use the word “fear” instead of sorrowful. Many of us frequently face the temptation to fear. What if I lose my job or my spouse? What if? Our Lord is gracious to withhold these sufferings from us, hiding from us even the day of our death. Long before the creation of man, Christ knew how and when He would die. In the Garden, the new Adam did not flee in fear, but stood His ground against all the future sufferings that were presented to Him. Still, Our Lord’s interior sorrow exceeded every martyr’s pain combined.
In the Gospel of Saint John, it says that Our Lord was “troubled in spirit” at the thought of His betrayal (13:21). Yes, even God Himself was deeply troubled. Every person has experienced some level of betrayal, but the most bitter betrayals always come from those closest to us, those we love such as our spouse, our children, our parents, or are very dear friends. The infidelity of a spouse or a dear friend gossiping behind our back rips us to the core. Despite Judas’ betrayal, Our Lord sought to win him back by lovingly washing his feet. We too must forgive our betrayers rather than hold grudges. We can choose heaven or hell on earth. The pain and wound might only fully heal in the next life, but it is important that we offer forgiveness, which in turn frees us and our betrayer.
In the depths of Christ’s soul, He was bereft of any spiritual consolation. He experienced the dark night of the soul during the darkest moments of Good Friday. And the sight of His Sorrowful Mother only deepened the pain.
Throughout our lives we too go through the ebb and flow of consolation and desolation. But never has our desolation compared to Christ’s. I dare say His desolation was a taste of hell. Only in heaven will we appreciate just how much desolation Christ experienced.
On the Cross, the world’s greatest love, Our Lady, stood by God the Father’s greatest love, His only begotten Son. Despite such love, only a few remained with Christ until the end. As He looked for His Apostles from the Cross, trying mightily to open His blood stained eyelids, perhaps He thought to Himself: “Could you not stand with my Mother? Could you not stay with Me?” And yet, He saw only a few faithful souls. Even more painful, He felt abandoned by the Father.
When we go through difficult times, sometimes we wonder where God is or why our friends have left us. But the truth remains: The closer we come to the Cross, the fewer friends we have. In all of our suffering, Our Lord wishes to be all in all. He wants us to belong completely to Him, so that we might console Him rather than seeking His consolation.
The Catholic Church must go through everything her Head, Christ has gone through. We too must experience these same spiritual sufferings of fear, betrayal, desolation, and abandonment if we wish to reach Heaven.
Throughout Holy Week, Our Lord says to us, “Can you drink the chalice that I shall I drink?” (Matt. 20:22). If we wish to bask in the beatific vision, we must be scourged interiorly in order to be conformed completely to Christ Crucified. Everything we hold near and dear must be stripped away, especially any spiritual consolations. We must pass through the dark night of the soul to reach the light of eternal bliss. We must interiorly suffer like Christ.
As we seek to console Christ’s agonizing Heart in the Garden this Thursday, as we seek to remain with His mother at the foot of the Cross on Good Friday, let us remember this truth: there is only one true, innocent victim in this world and His name is Jesus Christ. Yes, all of us have shared in His victimhood, and sadly, many of us have victimized others, but each of us has mortally wounded Our Lord by our sins. We have betrayed Him. We have killed Christ and we crucify Him again each time we sin. Therefore, let us always keep our eyes fixed on the Cross, never forgetting the reason He came: to die for us sinners. Let us no longer only see Christ Crucified racked in bodily pain, but Christ Crucified pierced in the depths of His soul.
Image: Agony in the Garden by George Richmond, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.