By Orlando Hernandez
Wow! Advent and Christmas are coming up so fast! The Feast of Christ the King is upon us. In Year C, the Gospel for this feast (LK 23: 35-46) presents us with the powerful story of Jesus and “the Good Thief” upon their crosses, side by side. Years ago my Pastor once preached that this Gospel displays the kingly power of Jesus, that of pardoning wrongdoers. This is no small thing. It is the very nature of our all-powerful, all-loving God.
Upon reading this Gospel I cannot help but remember a Passionist prayer that I “fell into” two years ago. My patron saint, Paul of the Cross, recommends that we remember and meditate upon different scenes in the Passion of our Lord. In an Ignatian sort of way we are to plunge into, to get lost in a particular scene. It will not be pleasant at all, but Our Father in Heaven will reward us with the magnificent grace of experiencing the Divine Love of the Trinity.
So I tried to pray as Paul of the Cross suggests. I tried to relax and quiet my mind and asked, “Father, what moment of His Passion means the most to me?” A flood of images came. I was ready to give up, when suddenly I imagined myself on a cross squirming in pain, suffocating, and begged my God to deliver me from this suffering. I felt a gentle force moving my head to the right. There I saw my Lord Jesus on His own Cross. Beneath Him people were mocking Him, laughing at Him, “dissing” Him (“King of the Jews, Hah!, King of Losers!”). Even my crucified accomplice on the other side of Jesus was putting Him down. I tried to defend Him, admit our sinfulness, His innocence, but it did no good. I asked Jesus for His mercy. His eyes turned to me and He promised me Eternal Life. I got lost in those eyes. He was beautiful; He was beauty itself.
I rested in that Beauty until a terrible storm and the unbearable pain in my body brought me back to the awful scene. They were breaking the legs of my screaming accomplice. I looked to Jesus for help, but He was gone, His head down. It seemed He could do nothing to console me. I was all alone. The executioner’s club struck my knees mercilessly. I screamed in pain as my body collapsed. I could not breathe!
Suddenly I found myself attached to a respirator in an ICU unit. It wasn’t working. I was suffocating, alone, along with every other victim of COVID in the planet. I could not even scream.
My eyes opened, and they were full of tears. I was sitting comfortably in my “prayer armchair” wondering, “Was this just a daydream? It was so real. Why did you give me this vision? (If it was a vision), Lord? What are you telling me?” There was only silence. My mind, body and soul rested in this silence. What I perhaps felt the most was gratitude and awe before the love of this all-powerful God.
“He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2: 8-11)