Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen presented the meditation of the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in more than one way. Two of the most noteworthy ways that Sheen presented the Passion of Christ were the following: 1) A profound meditation and reflection on “The Seven Last Words of Jesus from the cross.” 2) Sheen also presented a masterpiece of depicting the Characters of the Passion. Sheen portrays the different attitudes, profiles, virtues or vices of the many people who were involved in the Passion, suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.
“The Characters in the Passion of Christ” can definitely serve as a means for an excellent examination of conscience for each and every one of us. Most certainly, we will be able to discover and identify ourselves with many of the characteristics of the characters in the passion—some positive and worthy of praise, others negative and worthy of repudiation.
Therefore, let us enter with courage into the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by both meditating on and contemplating the characters or persons who were involved in the Passion and death of Our Lord. Hopefully, we will be deemed among the loyal friends of Jesus, those who brought deep consolation to His wounded and bleeding Heart.
We will examine a few of the characters in the Passion of Christ. Our short essay is not exhaustive, but it will give us at least a taste of the wide gamut of personalities of those who were present at the death of Jesus; it will portray different attitudes that will touch us in many ways and quite possibly motivate us to conversion!
Characters in the Passion of the Lord Jesus
1. King Herod
Jesus was shuffled to the presence of King Herod and his court. In the presence of Herod, Jesus never opened His mouth to answer his questions. This wicked King represents a sensualist, a hedonist, a man given over to the desires of the flesh. Jesus would not open His mouth because He would have only been mocked, derided and ridiculed all the more. With these types of people Jesus would assert: “Do not throw your pearls to the swine.” (Mt. 7: 6)
Today there are many sensual, hedonistic people who have given themselves over totally to the desires of the flesh! Jesus said to Nicodemus: “The flesh profits nothing; it is the spirit that gives life.” (Jn. 3: 5-6)
2. Pontius Pilate
This Roman Procurator represents many today. Basically, Pilate represents the typical coward. Claudia, his wife, had a dream of the innocence of Jesus. Pilate discarded this element of truth. He wanted to please the crowd. Pilate was “a people pleaser more than a God pleaser!”
How often do we act and react so as to please people, to be liked and applauded by people, to our detriment for rejecting God’s will and displeasing the Lord? Often human respect goes beyond respect for God!
3. Pharisee, Scribes and Sadducees
Many of those who rejected Jesus and clamored for Jesus’ condemnation represent intellectual pride. These were the intelligentsia—the educated and Biblically erudite group. They were the spiritual know-it-alls. Being confronted with a humble, less educated carpenter from Nazareth who was like a magnet, attracting countless masses by His words and deeds, was too much for them.
Really, it was their intellectual pride and envy that blinded them from being able to see, recognize, and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior! How many people today are blinded from knowing and accepting the Truth due to intellectual pride!
4. The Multitudes Watching Jesus
Many in this group are symbolic of the group of the Curious! Many people look for novelty, innovations, fads and modes to titillate and scintillate their morbid curiosity. How perilous it is those who live only for the excitement and fireworks of the moment. How true the saying: “Curiosity killed the cat!”
Many in this group are symbolic of the group of the Curious!!! Many people look for novelty, innovations, fads and modes to titillate and scintillate their morbid curiosity. How perilous it is those who live only for the excitement and fireworks of the moment. How true the saying: “Curiosity killed the cat!”
5. “Crucify Him!”
Then there are those in the world who actually have a mortal hatred for God, for Jesus, and all that pertains to God. The Sadducees, chief priests below the cross and the crowd before Pilate cried out: Crucify Him!
There exists today a growing number of individuals who cultivate a diabolic hatred for Jesus and all that pertains to God! Their numbers in the modern world continue to grow!
6. Simon of Cyrene
Returning from the fields and from work, Simon of Cyrene was compelled to help Jesus carry the cross. At first, Simon resisted and sought to avoid carrying the cross. But once he accepted the carrying of the cross, not only did he conform himself to this task, but he enjoyed helping Jesus carry the cross.
Maybe this is you and me: at the outset we flee from the cross, but once accepted, we find the yoke is easy and the burden is light. (Mt. 11: 30)
This valiant woman broke through the crowd and wiped the Sacred Face of Jesus with her veil. Jesus recompensed Veronica by allowing the impression of His Holy Face to be impressed on that veil. Are we courageous in going out of our way to help those who are suffering and in need?
8. The Executioners—Who Nailed Jesus to the Cross
Although this may be painful to accept, every time we give consent to committing a mortal sin, then in a real sense, we are responsible for the Crucifixion of Jesus, for the nails penetrating His hands and feet. However, by making a good Confession, we extract the nails and allow the Risen Jesus to walk!
9. The Soldiers Beneath the Cross—The Dice!
Then there were the soldiers beneath the cross as Jesus hung on the cross in His mortal agony. They were shooting dice to see who could claim the garments of Jesus. These, with many in the crowd who were watching, represent an attitude of Indifference and Apathy.
All too many today manifest an indifferent, apathetic, distant attitude or posture towards the Lord Jesus. The Book of Revelation forcefully condemns this attitude in these earth-shaking words: “You are neither hot nor cold—I wish you were—but you are lukewarm. I will vomit you out of my mouth.” (Rev. 3: 15-16)
Sad to say, there are huge numbers of so called Catholic-Christians who manifest this attitude of apathy, indifference, and lukewarmness towards the Lord, the Sacraments, and the Church. Perhaps we belong to this group. If so, time to change!
10. The Bad Thief
Despite the good example of Jesus and His most noble example of mercy and compassion—“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” (Lk. 23: 24)—the bad thief ended his life by cursing Jesus. He even had the good example of the conversion of his companion thief, but still he died with a cold, callous and cruel heart! There are those who, despite the many graces sent to them by God, simply become more hardened and callous. May God save us!
11. The Good Thief
On the other side of the coin, next to Jesus on the cross, we encounter the Good Thief! He ends his life by repenting and begging Jesus for mercy. Always ready to forgive and express mercy, Jesus opens Heaven to this repentant thief, with these most consoling words: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Lk. 23: 43) And as Sheen reminds us: “And he died a thief because he stole Heaven.” Salvation is possible even until the last moment for those who repent!
12. The Centurion Who Pierced the Side and Heart of Jesus
This Centurion, after piercing the body of Jesus that hung on the cross, came to believe! He said: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mk. 15: 39) The Blood and water that gushed from the Heart of Jesus can be an infinite source of conversion and salvation!
13. Mary Magdalene
After having lived a sinful life of promiscuity, Magdalene was converted by the love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There at the foot of the cross, hugging the cross with disheveled hair, Magdalene shows her genuine love and devotion for Jesus. Sheen stated that Magdalene represents the true Penitent.
All are called to repent and believe. Perhaps there is still something resembling Magdalene in us, needing repentance?
14. St. John the Beloved
Once again, Sheen depicts Saint John as he stands underneath the cross as representing the priesthood. A priest can be defined as a victim who offers prayers and sacrifices in reparation for sins and sinners. Jesus, the spotless Victim, hangs from the cross. Saint John stands with Mary at the foot of the cross, offering Jesus to the Eternal Father for the salvation of sinners and humanity.
May priests imitate Saint John the Evangelist!
15. Our Lady
There are many titles that can be attributed to Mary. However, Sheen names Mary, as she stands at the foot of the cross for those long three hours, the name Innocence. We all nailed Jesus to the cross due to our sins. Mary, the Innocent One, never sinned, but offers Jesus to the Father for the salvation of all of humanity.
16. The Crucified Jesus
As Jesus hangs from the cross, we have the clearest depiction of Love Incarnate. Saint Ignatius states that Jesus died on the cross essentially for two reasons:
- 1) to show us the ugliness of sin;
- 2) but especially to show us the greatness of His love for us! If you were the only person in the world, then Jesus would have suffered His Passion and death for love of you and the salvation of your immortal soul!
17. The Eternal Father
In the film of Mel Gibson, The Passion of the Christ, Jesus’ death on the cross ends with a huge drop of water falling from the heavens. Interpretation? It is the Teardrop of God the Father From Heaven.
The Father weeps at the death of His Son and the sins of humanity. But the Father allows the death of His Son for love of us and our eternal salvation.
Spend ample time meditating upon the Characters in the Passion of Christ. Which of these can you identify with in your own life? May the Holy Spirit enlighten your mind to know the truth, and the truth will set you free.