By Tony Capobianco
Artistic Attribution: El Greco. Christ Carrying the Cross. Produced 1577-1587. [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons.
Part 4 of the Sin and the Soul series, The Carrying of the Cross, consists of the depiction of this part of Our Savior’s Passion as described through the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich in her magnificent, mystical work called The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Mel Gibson used these visions as part of his inspiration for his graphic and moving portrayal of Christ’s Passion in his blockbuster film, The Passion of the Christ. The second portion of this article contains my meditation upon the richly detailed and most sorrowful illustration of Christ’s carrying of the Cross according to the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.
Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich saw the following:
“It was about a quarter to twelve when Jesus, loaded with his cross, sank down at the precise spot where he was to be crucified. The barbarous executioners dragged him up by the cords which they had fastened round his waist, and then untied the arms of the cross, and threw them on the ground. The sight of our Blessed Lord at this moment was, indeed, calculated to move the hardest heart to compassion; he stood or rather bent over the cross, being scarcely able to support himself; his heavenly countenance was pale and was as that of a person on the verge of death, although wounds and blood disfigured it to a frightful degree; but the hearts of these cruel men were, alas! harder than iron itself, and far from showing the slightest commiseration, they threw him brutally down, exclaiming in a jeering tone, ‘Most powerful king, we are about to prepare thy throne.’ Jesus immediately placed himself upon the cross, and they measured him and marked the places for his feet and hands, whilst the Pharisees continued to insult their unresisting Victim. When the measurement was finished, they led him to a cave cut in the rock, which had been used formerly as a cellar, opened the door, and pushed him in so roughly that had it not been for the support of angels, his legs must have been broken by so hard a fall on the rough stone floor. I most distinctly heard his groans of pain, but they closed the door quickly, and placed guards before it, and the archers continued their preparations for the crucifixion. The centre of the platform mentioned above was the most elevated part of Calvary,—it was a round eminence, about two feet high, and persons were obliged to ascend two or three steps to reach its top. The executioners dug the holes for the three crosses at the top of this eminence, and placed those intended for the thieves one on the right and the other on the left of our Lord’s; both were lower and more roughly made than his. They then carried the cross of our Saviour to the spot where they intended to crucify him, and placed it in such a position that it would easily fall into the hole prepared for it. They fastened the two arms strongly on to the body of the cross, nailed the board at the bottom which was to support the feet, bored the holes for the nails, and cut different hollows in the wood in the parts which would receive the head and back of our Lord, in order that his body might rest against the cross, instead of being suspended from it. Their aim in this was the prolongation of his tortures, for if the whole weight of his body was allowed to fall upon the hands the holes might be quite torn open, and death ensue more speedily than they desired. The executioners then drove into the ground the pieces of wood which were intended to keep the cross upright, and made a few other similar preparations.”
— (Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich)
This part of Our Savior’s sorrowful Passion, His Carrying of the Cross, according to the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich as it appears in her book The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ can be read in its entirety by clicking the following button:
The graphic details of Our Lord’s Passion as provided by the visions of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich generate a visceral reaction. This reaction ought to result in the breaking of a heart of stone or the thawing out of a frozen heart. It compels the reader of this vision to engage the Lord in meditation and or contemplation. Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich was a master of mental prayer and the above passage from the Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ unquestionably illustrates that she soared to astounding heights in and through her prayer. While most of us, myself included, will never even approach the proximity of her level of prayer and holiness, it nevertheless behooves us to practice mental prayer. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ inspires us to aspire to grow in holiness in order to become more pleasing to Our Beloved Lord and God. Mental prayer gives the soul wings by which she may soar to the heavens to draw closer to her Creator and in so doing she becomes enkindled by the fire of His inexhaustible love. The Divine love of God burns infinitely brighter and hotter than a thousand suns and yet it consumes not and destroys not. In Sacred Scripture, Moses encountered such a mystifying flame:
Meditating upon Jesus Christ, The Second Person of The Most Blessed Trinity, as He carried His cross for our redemption, evokes countless reflections and feelings. One particular reflection may note the relationship between sin and the soul. Looking upon Our Savior as He carries His cross, the disfiguring and deadly affects of our sins are apparent. What is less apparent to fallen man is the reality that the appearance of Christ as His Sacred Flesh is bloodied and disfigured during His sorrowful Passion is also a mystical mirror of the disfigured state of man’s soul on account of original sin and actual sin. Christ, Our Savior and Redeemer willingly chose to undergo the unfathomable suffering of the cross for love of His Father and for the love of souls. Only He could save us from original and actual sin. Only He could deliver us from being in bondage to sin and the Devil.
Looking attentively at Jesus as He carries His cross, one can see the state of a soul that is weighed down by mortal sin which truly has a similar affect and appearance as the physical cross carried by Christ. In choosing to serve one’s own will rather than serving the will of God, the person thereby condemns their soul to carry its cross on its way to be crucified. A soul in a state of mortal sin discovers that the spiritual cross that she carries is impossible to carry or remove through its own power. As a soul in this most sorrowful state attempts to march forward, she repeatedly falls down due to the crushing weight of her sins. Tragically, this spiritual cross has been personally customized by the very soul which now carries this instrument of death. This spiritual cross is fashioned by each mortal sin committed by the particular soul and is indeed the just penalty for the person’s transgressions against God. This calls to mind a scene from A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens in which Ebenezer Scrooge was told by his deceased former partner Jacob Marley that his long chain was fashioned link by terrible link by means of his every evil, uncharitable deed. As the soul carries its cross, she suffers greatly and if unrepentant this suffering shall become eternal. Along the road to Golgotha the soul is cynically greeted with the jeers of various demons as well as the wicked men which serve them. Mockery of this caliber is a lesser degree to the mockery which is routinely experienced in Hell. The demons in Hell accuse, belittle, and scorn the demons and condemned human souls which are subject to them. In Hell, all hope and charity are abandoned as these virtues are replaced by despair and supreme cruelty. Carrying this form of a spiritual cross, created by its mortal sins, the soul loses its peace, joy, and hope as it both looks like death and in a peculiar way senses the potentially eternal crucifixion to come. Depression along with violent and or suicidal thoughts are not uncommon to a soul in such a miserable condition. This miserable condition is not without hope for as long as the person has not yet drawn their last breath in this life, they have the opportunity to repent and seek the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ. Only He can save them from their sins. Only He can redeem them. Only He can deliver them from their bondage to sin and the Devil.
In contrast to this, however, the cross of Our Savior was not fashioned by Him because He was and is the Spotless Lamb of God. The Holy Cross which Christ carried was fashioned by all of the sins ever committed from the Original Sin in the Garden of Eden up to the very last sin committed at the end of this present world. O what an inconceivably heavy cross!!! Such infinite love and unfathomable mercy Our Sweet Savior has for us! Such a profound mystery as this is why St. Augustine said, “O felix culpa”, which means “O happy fault”. Similarly St. Ambrose, who was the teacher of St. Augustine, taught, “O Lord Jesus, I am more a debtor to your outrages for my redemption than to your power in my creation. It would have been useless for us to have been born if we had gone without the benefit of being redeemed.” (In Lucam II, 41). And again from a verse of the Gospel proclamation during the Easter Vigil Service called the Exultet: “Nihil enim nobis nasci profuit nisi redimi profuisset” (For it availed us nothing to be born, unless it had availed us to be redeemed). This is why the Church rightly prays: “We adore thee, O Christ, and we praise thee … because by thy holy cross thou hast redeemed the world.”
The first 3 parts of the Sin and the Soul series can be read by clicking the following buttons:
Click on the button to read the Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich: