Passion Sunday

Catholics seem preoccupied with the sufferings of Christ: the Crucifix, the Sorrowful Mysteries, the Stations of the Cross.  As if all this were not enough, Catholics must stand at attention one Sunday each year as they listen to the entire passion narrative read aloud.

Careful, repeated meditation on the Passion of Christ is important because the Passion is the climax of the entire history of Revelation and Redemption.  It the ultimate Revelation of two intertwined realities: human sin and divine love.

First let’s talk about sin.  People often think of sin merely as a transgression of God’s arbitrary law, as a blot on our heavenly driving record.  Meditation on the Passion makes us know better.  Sin not only alienates us from God, it corrupts us, debases us, enslaves us.  The fickle crowd that carpets his way into Jerusalem with palms drives him out with a cross on his back.   One of his own betrays him to his enemies, another denies him.  The Roman soldiers, to whom he did no wrong and was no threat, took diabolical pleasure in brutalizing him.  Hard to believe that human beings are capable of such cruelty?  Auschwitz and Saddam’s torture chambers show us that such evil really does lurk in the hearts of men.  Then there is Pilate, who seems to be a much more reasonable figure.  Maybe more like us.  He just wants to keep the peace, preserve his relationship with the Jewish leaders and the Emperor.  If it means allowing an innocent man to be tortured to death — well, it’s regrettable, but that’s the price of living in the real world.  Ultimately, Pilate’s sin is an act of cowardice.  Remember, sin is not just commission but omission.  It involves what we do and what we fail to do, as we say in the Confiteor.

But, you say, it had to be so.  God planned it this way.  It was all predicted in the Scriptures.  Yes, but God’s foreknowledge does not mean he predetermined it.  All the actors in the drama were free and responsible.  Their sins are our sins.  Indeed, they represent all of us, Jew and Gentile, male and female, black, white and yellow.  That’s why Mel Gibson made an appearance in the Passion of the Christ — it was his hands that held down Jesus’ hands as they were nailed to the cross.

But the story of the passion is even more importantly a revelation of who God is.  The First Letter of John 4:8 says God is love.  The passion shows us what love means.  Love cannot sit idly by in the face of suffering.  It instead leaves comfort behind and risks itself to mount a rescue mission.  Love, therefore, must first empty Himself of glory at the Fathers right hand, and take the form of a slave (Phil 2:6-11).  From the splendor of heavenly glory to the squalor of a stinking stable.  As if that were not enough, Love surrenders himself into the hands of those who torture him to death.  He saw their torches coming in the valley as he prayed on the hillside in the Garden.  He could have walked over the mountain and disappeared without a trace in the Judean wilderness.  Or he could have used his divine power at any moment to scatter the Temple Guard and the Romans.  Till the very end, he could have come down from that cross, as the crowd taunted him to do.

But that’s just it.  He had to love till the very end (John 13:1).  Love to the max. The fullness of love in a human heart means a love that was absolutely unstoppable by anything that hell and fallen humanity could hurl against it.  And no love, no commitment is total unless it entails the supreme sacrifice of one’s life.

That’s what was necessary to redeem us out of slavery to evil, to get us out of Egypt and through the Red Sea, across the Jordan, and into the Promised Land.  It was for our freedom that he died; let’s not again willingly submit ourselves to the bondage of sin.

Marcellino D'Ambrosio, Ph.D.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For info on his resources and pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit or call 800.803.0118.

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  • Grandpa Tom

    Good article on Love. The central message of the Bible is as you stated, God is Love. In the Divine Comedy by Dante, in the very last line in Paradiso, it says (God is): “The Love that moves the sun and the other stars.” As Christians we see it was love clothed in the flesh who rode that donkey into Jerusalem (I always wondered if that donkey is in heaven). It was love which was fastened to the tree. It is love that is the glue that holds all things together. God is Love, and he that dwells in love dwells in God and God in him (1 John 4:16). We love him, because he loved us first (1 John 4:19)like an expecting mother who loves her child before the child knows her, and loves her back. In “The Dialogue of Saint Catherine of Siena,” God tells her: “The soul cannot live without love, but always wants something to love, because it is made of love, and by love I created it.”
    In the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy, we say: “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us, and the whole world; I offer you the Body and the Blood, Soul and Divinity of your dearly beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins.” It is written; Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Like a big brother who in standing up for his little brother, takes a heck of a beating, to save his brother from the suffering, because he loves him.
    In the book “The Imitation of Christ” by Thomas A. Kempis, in book 3, chapter 5, he defines love; Love is a strong force. It carries a burden, and does not feel it; it makes all that is bitter taste sweet; nothin is sweeter than love, nothing higher, nothing stronger, nothing larger, nothing more joyful, nothing better in heaven or on earth; for love is born of God and can its rest only in God. Love is watchful, swift, sincere, pious, joyful, patient, wise, forbearing, courageous, never self seeking. Love is humble and upright, not weak. It is sober, chaste, firm, quite, submissive, and obedient to authority (as Jesus was to His Father). Love is devout, and thankful to God. Love always trusts, and hopes in God, even when it lacks fervor; for there is no living in love without some sorrow or pain. I might add, love is tolerant, forgiving, and merciful. Those who are not ready to suffer and stand disposed to the will of their Beloved are not worthy to be called Lovers; for lovers must gladly embrace all hardship and bitter things for their Beloved, and never allow themselves to turn away from Him by adversity.
    St. Paul asks in his letter to the Romans (8:35-39); Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, for thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angles, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come; nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (The Immaculate Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world).