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When meditating on the Third Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary, the Crowning with Thorns in Christ’s Passion, I've often thought about two different kinds of salutes fallen humanity gives our Lord in His Kingship.
The first is one of love, that of the Mexican priest Blessed Miguel Pro and the Cristeros in Mexico in the 1920’s exclaiming “Viva Cristo Rey!”(“Long Live Christ the King!”) as they faced battles and death at the hands of an aggressively rabid, secular Mexican government persecuting our faith.
The second salue, riddled with contempt, comes in the Crowning with Thorns itself, as recorded in St. John’s Gospel (19:2-3). In Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion of the Christ we see one of the sadistic Roman soldiers making fun of Christ as the supposed King of the Jews. This happens right after the crown of thorns has been jammed into the top of His head. This bully pays our Lord mock homage by bowing to him saying “Ave” (“Hail” in Latin). (Actually it’s worse than that! In this scene he doesn’t say “Hail, King of the Jews” as in John’s Gospel, but rather “Hail Wormy King”!)
Remember that Jesus told us, as He told Pontius Pilate in John’s Gospel (18:36) that His Kingdom is not of this world. Nonetheless, His death at Calvary opened up the doors to His kingdom in heaven for us. That should inspire us here in our earthly pilgrimage to pay Him homage by keeping His commandments as citizens-in-training for heaven so that His death on the cross might bring about your salvation and mine, and not just humanity’s in general.
Our Lord faced every kind of pain imaginable in his Passion, from his head in the Crowning to his toes in his Crucifixion when the nails were savagely driven into his feet. But he also faced open contempt, and in the crowning, according to church approved private revelations, ridicule as well.
One can only imagine the state of emotional depravity in those men laughing at Jesus, a bruised, bleeding, innocent man in immense pain, offering them no resistance as they treated him like a human piñata!
Consider these excerpts of Church-approved private revelations from Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in the 19th century from the book of her visions known as The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
On the Monday after Mid-Lent Sunday, she was so exhausted that it was not without great difficulty, and after many intervals of rest, that she narrated all which our Lord suffered in this crowning with thorns. She was scarcely able to speak, because she herself felt every sensation which she described in the following account…
A gallery encircled the inner court of the guardhouse where our Lord was crowned with thorns, and the doors were open. The cowardly ruffians, who were eagerly waiting to gratify their cruelty by torturing and insulting our Lord, were about fifty in number, and the greatest part slaves or servants of the jailers and soldiers. The mob gathered round the building, but were soon displaced by a thousand Roman soldiers, who were drawn up in good order and stationed there.
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.
And how about this shorter corroboration of Sister Emmerich’s account from our Lord himself, as given to Sister Josefa Menendez, a Spanish nun in 1923 recorded in her biography entitled The Way of Divine Love.
“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 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 this painful crowning the pride of those who refused to accept anything that lowers them in the eyes of the world.
I allowed My shoulders to be covered by the 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 and humiliating and which to them might seem beneath their condition.”
(I should note here that many of our Lord's messages to Sister Menendez stressed the importance of humility for his religious, as we see here, and how much He expects from what He often referred to as his “chosen souls” in ministry.)
Would that the opprobrium Jesus experienced on Good Friday have been the end of it! Thankfully, even with our scandals, Catholicism still has millions of believers in Christ’s divinity and His message of salvation and love around the world. Yet time and time again over the centuries we’ve seen many people reject His church and heap scorn on Him.
At the start of the last century, tragically, several countries, such as Russia in the Bolshevik revolution in 1917, and Mexico, as mentioned earlier, sought to supplant Christianity as a driving force in their societies. Many rulers and elites fell dangerously prey to the notion that mankind could manage just fine without God, thank you.
Many sought to relegate our Creator to an insignificant role in public life or to no role at all, as in Soviet Russia. The journalist Lincoln Steffens once said of that atheistic society, a brutal dictatorship, “I have seen the future, and it works.”
Needless to say he was tragically mistaken. What we kick God out of our lives our world becomes more turbulent and dangerous, not less, as we wind up worshiping the false Gods of money, power, and fame instead. As St. James said in his New Testament letter "where there is envy and contentiousness there is instability and every wicked deed" (James 3:16).
When we forget God’s commandments, we also become more vulnerable to enslavement by such despots as Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and their minions, men who demand worship with an iron fist, leaving acres of killing fields in their wake. These tyrants, like all such men, seek to make themselves God, much like the Archangel Lucifer when he rebelled against our Creator saying “I will not serve.”
While Mexico in the 1920's wasn’t Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, the harassment and outright persecution from increasingly anticlerical forces then became strong enough to inspire an actual army of the faithful known as the Cristeros by 1927,to combat government oppression, as mentioned earlier.
Their battle cry “Viva Cristo Rey” was uttered most famously by the Mexican priest Blessed Miguel Pro as he faced execution by the authorities on a trumped up charge of attempting to assassinate a former Mexican President.
While the Cristero War, as it became known, ended in 1929, one can say that the scars from this anti-religious campaign remain in Mexico even to this day. The country is still weighed down with poverty, state corruption, and fiat rule by vicious drug cartels in many areas.
Pope Pius XI, aware of the growing trend towards militant secularism mentioned earlier from those who would worship man as God rather than God as Man in Jesus Christ, instituted the feast of Christ the King in 1925, with his encyclical Quas Primas to combat the disturbing growth of anticlerical thinking around the world.
He wrote in Quas Primas “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!
As St. Augustine wrote in the beginning of his Confessions “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” To which I say “Viva Christo Rey!”
Nowadays, however, Jesus is getting more of that derisive “Ave Rex” salute he received in his Crowning with Thorns, tragically, from many of our clergy in the various ongoing revelations of scandals, and from the laity as well. Clearly there has been a devastating loss of Supernatural faith.
Besides the outright savage ISIS-styled persecution of Christians in places like Iraq and Nigeria in this past decade, Christ has been mocked repeatedly in the entertainment and social media. Mentioning Jesus in valedictory speeches has become an issue in some schools.
And His teachings have been watered down and otherwise distorted in the name of political correctness. Even teachers of the faith have expressed doubts about his miracles! Too many people see Jesus nowadays as just some inspiring “golden rule” guy, but certainly not God!
Now is an especially good time for us to buck that tide of indifference and abuse. While the church is indeed going through a Passion, much that that of our Lord, they say where sin abounds grace abounds even more. We can add to that grace, and keep on a firm path towards heaven, in part through prayer, partaking of His Sacraments, especially those of the Eucharist (Communion) and Penance (Confession) and treating others as He would wish us to do so!
When we say that “I am the captain of my ship, the master of my soul,” and don’t seek God’s guidance, our boat is often in danger of capsizing in the choppy waters of life’s vicissitudes.
Now more than ever, this is the time to, as St. Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians, “put on the armor of God that you may be able to resist against the wiles of the devil” (Eph 6:12). Viva Christo Rey, indeed!