The Passion of the Lord

To behold the Cross and to behold the truth are acts which can only be accomplished with the virtue of courage. The pusillanimous need not apply.

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Nearly a quarter of a century ago (2000), an elderly Chinese man’s death in Stamford, Connecticut, was reported in the media. His name was Ignatius Kung, and he had lived in the United States since 1988. He was born in his native China at the beginning of the twentieth century (1901), and there he had received the oil of Baptism making him a Catholic. He belonged to what later would become known as “the underground church”—meaning that he eschewed the government-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association.

It was the oil of Holy Orders though which made Ignatius Kung’s Catholic faith so intolerable to the Chinese government. In 1955, while Bishop of Shanghai, he and several hundred priests were arrested and imprisoned for counter-revolutionary actions. For the next thirty years, the bishop was imprisoned and forbidden from exercising his ministry. He was secretly named a cardinal (in pectore) by Pope John Paul II in 1979. In 1988, Cardinal Ignatius Kung left his homeland to live quietly as an exile about an hour from New York City. At the age of 98, he succumbed to stomach cancer, and thus did the Church gain another intercessor to help us be faithful disciples.

The second reading at the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Good Friday is a passage from the Letter to the Hebrews. This New Testament Epistle is addressed to a community of Jewish Christians undergoing persecution about the time of the Temple’s destruction in the year 70. The sacred author is appealing to these suffering Christian men and women by calling to mind Jesus, who is the great High Priest (cf. Hebrews 4:14). With the great High Priest already passed through the heavens, the Hebrew Christians are bid to hold fast to their confession (cf. Hebrews 4:14). Referencing again our great High Priest, we are reminded that Jesus was tested in every way (cf. Hebrews 14:15). Not failing the test of suffering in the Passion, Jesus also never sinned (cf. Hebrews 4:15).

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The crucible of suffering is obviously not an unimportant detail in the Lord’s Passion. In fact, the Passion and suffering are one in the same. Neither, then, can we forget what else Jesus showed in His suffering. He was obedient. “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered,” the text from Hebrews says. It’s what we just heard a few days ago, on Palm Sunday, when the second reading at Mass, the kenotic passage from the Letter to the Philippians, instructed us that Jesus was obedient unto death (cf. Philippians 2:8).

These same elements of suffering, holding fast to faith, being tested, not sinning, and obedience are also found in another biblical reading which has guided us in our Lenten journey. It is a passage from the Book of Daniel, a text we heard at Mass on Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Lent. It is the heroic tale of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. These three figures are servants of the Lord who refuse to submit to the demands of King Nebuchadnezzar. 

They are consequently ordered to be thrown into a white-hot furnace (cf. Daniel 3:20), thinking this will surely change their minds and bring them to worship the golden statue erected by the king. Not even this kind of suffering though would cause the three servants to renounce their confession of faith. Despite being severely tested then, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego do not succumb to sin; they remain obedient to the one, true, living God (cf. Daniel 3:95).

What makes all of this so pointed is that it involves a king—Nebuchadnezzar—who represents the state in getting compliance from the three servants of the Lord. In the case of Jesus, the government is involved, too. It is represented by Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, who holds the life of Jesus in his hands. Recall here though the statement Jesus makes to Pilate: “My kingdom does not belong to this world” (John 18:36). Pilate then goads Jesus: “Then you are a king?” (John 18:37). At this point in the exchange, Jesus says to Pilate, “For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth” (John 18:37).

The kingship of truth—that is what’s at stake in the Lord’s Passion. And it is what’s at issue in our lives, too. Am I willing to suffer for the truth? Am I willing to hold fast to it? And am I willing to obey the truth all the while others around me are seeking its banishment from the public square? The kingship of truth—that is what’s at stake in the Lord’s Passion. And it is what’s at issue in our lives, too. Am I willing to suffer for the truth? Tweet This

St. Thomas More, the great sixteenth-century English statesman, served a king, Henry VIII, but there was no doubt he was God’s servant first. Where, though, are the Catholics today who are like Thomas More? While praise is heaped on those “brave enough” to speak “their own truth,” why is there only moral cowardice before the truth? Truth is not in the eye of the beholder. No, we behold the truth as we do the Cross. To behold the Cross and to behold the truth are acts which can only be accomplished with the virtue of courage. The pusillanimous need not apply.

Today, on Good Friday, we behold the Cross liturgically; that is, we use a replica of the true Cross on which hung the Savior of the world. Three times, we are bid to look and then to adore. Three is a most important number in the Passion of Christ. Peter, not incidentally, denied knowing Jesus three times (cf. John 18:37).

All Cardinal Ignatius Kung had to do was deny Christ once, saying he would agree to a government control of the Church founded by the Crucified One. But he dared not do that. To him, the Cross was liberation from all that was false and duplicitous. It must be that way for us. Otherwise, we will find ourselves prisoners inside our own darkened consciences, unable to make a jailbreak because of our own supine inclinations.

Praised be the Crucified Lord!    


  • Msgr. Robert Batule

    Msgr. Robert J. Batule is a priest of the Diocese of Rockville Centre. He is currently the Pastor of Saint Margaret Church in Selden, New York. He is a former Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic Social Science Review. He has contributed essays, articles and book reviews to various publications over several decades.

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