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I’d like to start off this discussion of Christ’s being crowned with thorns with a short prayer:
Dear Lord, remembering how You endured the cruel crowning with thorns in your Passion, never let me adopt the attitude of those soldiers who mocked You. When I am most discouraged by those who scorn You today, let me not lose hope, but rather cry out in my heart, much like those Cristeros who fought for our faith in Mexico a century ago, “Viva Cristo Rey! (Long Live Christ the King!)”
During Lent and Good Friday we give special attention to our Lord’s Passion. As such this is a good time to contemplate Jesus’ Crowning with Thorns, just one part of the intense physical and emotional abuse He suffered in His Passion. It’s as if Christ willed to suffer for our salvation literally from His head, with his ignominious painful crown, to His toes, when He was brutally nailed to the cross in His crucifixion.
But we also know Jesus Christ as the King of Kings. As such, it’s as if the literal mockery He received in the crowning was a foreshadowing of the symbolic one He would receive at the hands of countless tyrants who would seek, much like their ultimate mentor Lucifer turned Satan, to make themselves God, from Herod and Nero in ancient Rome through 20th century despots such as Adolf Hitler in Germany and Joseph Stalin in Russia.
Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels have Jesus being scourged and then led off to be crucified when the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, essentially caved into the mob’s demands for our Lord’s crucifixion.
In John’s Gospel, Pilate makes one last attempt to stop Jesus’ death after the crowning. Note that differences in certain details in these Gospels should not detract from our belief in the overall veracity of the brutality described in these accounts.
When contemplating Jesus being crowned in the third decade of the Rosary, as seen also in Mel Gibson’s great movie The Passion of the Christ, I often think of those brutal sadists among the Roman soldiers in the Gospels treating our Lord with such derisive contempt and think “Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?”
Granted as God He was much much bigger than all of them yet they did not know that! The fact that He offered no resistance to them makes their bullying all the more contemptible!
Yet in the excellent Ignatius Study Bible the footnotes in Mark’s Gospel imply that the soldiery were unwittingly bearing witness to our Lord’s royal identity and the symbolism of the scepter, robe and crown foretells our Lord’s true Kingship over sin and death.
However, God’s authority has been usurped here on earth for over two millennia now. And even more than that when you consider fallen humanity’s rebellion against our Creator from Biblical accounts of such events as the Golden Calf worship and the wanton idolatry practiced by the citizens of Judah that led to their tragic subjugation and exile by the Babylonians in the 6th century BC.
Note that there was a fatal combination of arrogance and ignorance present throughout our Lord’s Passion displayed in the crowning. Jesus claimed His kingdom to be heavenly not earthly, in the sense that he was not claiming to be a warrior King of the Jews like King David. Yet this fact was beyond the grasp of those who took delight in making Him suffer in His crowning.
And yet, this key to true peace by acknowledging Jesus as King and center in our hearts still eludes us centuries later! In 1925 Pope Pius XI, well aware of our tragic alienation from God released an encyclical titled Quas Primas establishing the feast of Christ the King.
At that time many of the world’s elites were enamored with the notion of a brotherhood of man free from supposedly superstitious notions of religion. Regimes in Russia and Mexico (as mentioned earlier) for example, were militantly anti-clerical.
(On that note, I mentioned the words “Viva Cristo Rey!'' in the prayer above, as it was the battle cry of the Cristeros fighting a fierce persecution of Catholics in Mexico under an aggressively secular regime in the 1920’s.)
It was in this context that Pius wrote that “The rebellion of individuals and states against the authority of Christ has produced deplorable consequences … the seeds of discord sown far and wide… society, in a word, shaken to its foundations and on the way to ruin...Oh, what happiness would be ours if all men, individuals, families, and nations, would but let themselves be governed by Christ!”
Indeed, imagine how much less strife would we see in this world if we all made a better effort to follow His law of Love established in the Ten Commandments!
For those of you meditating on the crowning with thorns in the Rosary I would like to share excerpts from some church approved private revelations about this horrible event. (As a reminder, you don’t have to believe such revelations as you would the Nicene Creed, for example, but those approved by the church have been found worthy of belief nonetheless and can be quite helpful for meditations to increase one’s faith!)
First we have this account from visions given Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in the 19th century as recorded in the great book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Her account has the soldiery more as cheering jeering witnesses encouraging “cowardly ruffians who were eagerly waiting to gratify their cruelty by torturing and insulting our Lord...about fifty in number, and the greatest part slaves or servants of the jailers and soldiers.
Although forbidden to leave their ranks, these soldiers nevertheless did their utmost by laughter and applause to incite the cruel executioners to redouble their insults; and as public applause gives fresh energy to a comedian, so did their words of encouragement increase tenfold the cruelty of these men.
In the middle of the court there stood the fragment of a pillar, and on it was placed a very low stool which these cruel men maliciously covered with sharp flints and bits of broken potsherds. Then they tore off the garments of Jesus, thereby reopening all his wounds; threw over his shoulders an old scarlet mantle which barely reached his knees; dragged him to the seat prepared, and pushed him roughly down upon it, having first placed the crown of thorns upon his head.
The crown of thorns was made of three branches plaited together, the greatest part of the thorns being purposely turned inwards so as to pierce our Lord's head. Having first placed these twisted branches on his forehead, they tied them tightly together at the back of his head, and no sooner was this accomplished to their satisfaction than they put a large reed into his hand, doing all with derisive gravity as if they were really crowning him king.
They then seized the reed, and struck his head so violently that his eyes were filled with blood; they knelt before him, derided him, spat in his face, and buffeted him, saying at the same time, 'Hail, King of the Jews!' Then they threw down his stool, pulled him up again from the ground on which he had fallen, and reseated him with the greatest possible brutality.
It is quite impossible to describe the cruel outrages which were thought of and perpetrated by these monsters under human form. The sufferings of Jesus from thirst, caused by the fever which his wounds and sufferings had brought on, were intense. He trembled all over, his flesh was torn piecemeal, his tongue contracted, and the only refreshment he received was the blood which trickled from his head on to his parched lips. This shameful scene was protracted a full half-hour, and the Roman soldiers continued during the whole time to applaud and encourage the perpetration of still greater outrages.”
Again, you don’t have to believe all the details here as if they were part of a fifth Gospel, as these came from very detailed visions she experienced, but the sadistic derision those men of Mighty Rome showed Christ rings true here nonetheless.
This second account comes from Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun to whom our Lord gave many heartfelt and heart rending revelations in the early 1920’s, as recorded in the book Christ’s Appeal For Love. Here Jesus offers us His own thoughts about the crowning, which according to Him immediately followed His being brutally scourged. We see Him here offering up His suffering to expiate our often foolish pride in the eyes of the world.
“When at last, exhausted by their exertions, these hard and cruel men desisted, they wove a crown of thorns and drove it deep into My head, and as they filed before Me, they mockingly cried out: “We salute Thee, O King!” Some insulted Me, others savagely struck Me on the head and each and all added new agonies to those which already racked My body.
O you whom I love, contemplate Me condemned to death, given over to the the insults and profanations of the mob, scourged at the pillar, and as though all this were not sufficient to reduce Me to the most humiliating condition, now crowned with thorns, clothed in a purple rag, and derisively hailed as mock king...and treated as a fool...I the Son of God, who hold the universe in the palm of My hand, willed that in men’s eyes I should appear as the last and most contemptible of all. Far from flying from such humiliations, I willingly endured them to expiate man’s pride and draw souls to follow in My footsteps.
I expiated by the painful crowning the pride of those who refuse to accept anything that lowers them in the eyes of the world. I allowed My shoulders to be covered by that cloak of mockery and Myself to be treated as a fool, so that many souls would not scorn to follow Me in a way that the world holds as vile as humiliating and which to them might seem beneath their condition.
No path is contemptible or humbling when it is once marked out by the will of God. You who feel interiorly drawn to this way...do not resist, do not try by the arguments of pride to do God’s will while you follow your own. You will not find peace and joy in a position more or less brilliant in the eyes of men, but only in the accomplishment of God’s will and in entire submission to all He may require of you.
As I mentioned earlier, when I think of the derision and pain Jesus suffered with these “hard and cruel men” mocking Him as a “Mock-King” as He said here, it makes me think of all the tyrants playing God throughout the ages who have also mocked His Kingship in a different sort of way.
There is a brief scene from Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, that shows a soldier during the crowning bowing to a bleeding and badly wounded Jesus calling Him "King of the Worms"!
The spirit of that soldier showing contempt for our Lord has been manifest throughout the centuries and has given us many Christian martyrs who forfeited their lives rather than apostatize to some power mad ruler, some counterfeit deity.
For a good example of a symbolic crowning with thorns flourishing in such regimes, Hitler started out on an accommodating note regarding Christianity, but as Pastor Nielmoller, who survived being interned in concentration camps, once noted, that soured in a short period of time. According to an article once found in the old weekly magazine Liberty Nielmoller supposedly recounted that:
“At the time of the last conversation I had with him [Hitler] before I was arrested, persecution of the Church was at its peak. Crosses on the church towers had been replaced by golden swastikas: the Hitler Youth was educated in the spirit that not Jesus but Adolf Hitler was the true son of God.
In the schools the Old Testament was decried as Jewish. Pogroms against the Jews were sweeping the country and our clergymen were being thrown into concentration camps. Gestapo officials were writing down our every speech and priests were arrested even in their pulpits.”
When the Pastor sought to remind Hitler that he had promised freedom of the Church instead of its suppression the dictator cried out “like a madman” according to Nielmoller “I alone determine what is and what is not Christian. I determine what the Church has to do. I and I alone am the Führer of this nation…If the Christian Church wants to fight me, I shall annihilate it as I have crushed and will crush all my other enemies. I don't mind walking over corpses as long as I reach my goal. I need no Christianity. Whoever won't obey will be destroyed.”
Whether or not someone took artistic license in describing this response, it certainly rings true as to the Third Reich’s ultimate intentions. As William L, Shirer wrote in his monumental work the Rise and Fall of the Third Riech “under the leadership of Rosenberg, Bormann and Himmler—backed by Hitler—the Nazi regime intended to destroy Christianity in Germany, if it could, and substitute the old paganism of the early tribal Germanic gods and the new paganism of the Nazi extremists." And Hitler himself was talking at one point of hanging the pope in full pontificals, that is to say ecclesiastical attire, once he’d won the war.
The Soviet Dictator Joseph Stalin, who ruled the militantly Atheistic Communist regime in Russia for almost 30 years expressed a similarly contemptuous attitude towards our faith. When it looked like Hitler’s defeat at the end of World War Two was secured Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill was talking with Stalin about the importance of respecting Poland’s autonomy and freedom after the war, as well as its relations with the Vatican. “How many divisions does the Pope of Rome have?” Stalin asked, suddenly interrupting Churchill’s line of reasoning.
Churchill stopped short. He had not expected such a question. After all, he was speaking about the moral influence of the Pope, not only in Poland, but, also, throughout the world. Once again, Stalin reaffirmed that he only respected force.
And as with so many other such tyrants he sought to make himself God and demanded that level of worship from the people over whom he ruled with an iron fist! An example of this can be found in an old Soviet propaganda poster that proclaimed “Stalin is the people’s happiness!”
This referring to a brutal thug under whose rule millions of people were incarcerated and many perished in forced labor camps known as gulags, as so-called “enemies of the state”. That God is meant to be our true source of happiness was of no concern to him.
Consider also this stellar quote from the Communist Party newspaper Pravda from 1950 “If you meet with difficulties in your work, or suddenly doubt your abilities, think of him-of Stalin-and you will find the confidence you need…if you are seeking a correct decision, think of him, of Stalin, and you will find that decision.” This is not exactly like asking yourself “What would Jesus do”, now is it?
In these, as in so many similar stories we see Jesus symbolically struck and brutalized derisively. And today, with all the chaos and uncertainty these days and plans being made for a Great Reset with God not really in the picture, some of our elites are trying to jam those thorns into our Lord’s sacred head, figuratively speaking, yet again!
But He is still stronger than a thousand sawdust Caesars, and, as the Angel Gabriel told our Blessed Mother in the Annunciation, “He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High...and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
Now more than ever stay close to our Lord in prayer and ask Him constantly for His help and grace in the turbulent times ahead, that you may do Him homage not some dangerous cheap knock-off posing as a Savior. And if one day we face persecution for our faith, pray for the courage to say, as Blessed Miguel Pro did before he was executed for our faith in Mexico in 1927 “Viva Cristo Rey!” ("Long live Christ the King!").
Let me conclude with this prayer to Christ the King which is also available as a Podcast and a webpage, to which I will link in the description page for this Podcast. This prayer, normally associated with the Feast day of Christ the King in autumn, seems appropriate for Easter as well with its pledge that we all take then to renew our Baptismal vows: The prayer itself follows:
O Jesus Christ, I acknowledge you as universal King. All that has been made has been created for You. Exercise all Your rights over me. I renew my Baptismal Vows. I renounce Satan, his pomps and his works; I promise to live as a good Christian. And, in particular do I pledge myself to labor, to the best of my ability, for the triumph of the rights of God and of Your Church. Divine Heart of Jesus, to You do I offer my poor services, laboring that all hearts may acknowledge Your sacred kingship, and that thus the reign of Your peace be established throughout the whole universe. Amen.
Viva Cristo Rey indeed!