I was thinking the other day about an 8 day Ignatian retreat I went on a number of years ago. My retreat director asked me to reflect one of those days on some Scripture passages that had to do with Jesus as the innocent Lamb of God who takes away my sins. Not just the abstraction “who takes away the sins of the world,” he said, but all the dark passages of my own life journey. He counseled me to beg God for a deep sense of gratitude that, as he put it, “Jesus took the hit for you,” and asked me to read the Passion according to St. John, and also included these three passages:
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes we are healed. — Isaiah 53:4-5
I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. — Galatians 2:20
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. — 2 Corinthians 5:21
The five hours I spent in prayer that day drew out many profound insights, with tears of joy and sorrow. As I noted in my retreat journal, what I experienced was an intense awareness of the purity and child-like innocence of Christ in His love for us, which stood in stark contrast to the overwhelming violence He underwent in the Passion. The Good Friday reproaches kept sounding in my heart: “My people, what have I done to you? How have I offended you? Answer me!” I also kept seeing in my mind’s eye a scene from The Passion of the Christ. If you’ve seen it, you’ll recall that climactic moment during Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas when He reveals with a surge of joy that He is “the Son of the Blessed One.” The High Priest responds by spitting in Jesus’ face as the bystanders mock Him, and you can see the tears stream down His face. When I first saw the movie in the theater, that was for me the most devastating moment. That was the moment I feel I first understood the deep meaning of the phrase, “rejected by men…” (1 Peter 2:4). Anyone who has extended his heart to another — so vulnerable! — and then had it rejected has privileged access to this facet of the Lord’s Passion. “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not” (John 1:11).
I wrote in my journal late that night, after having allowed those insights to connect to my own rejection of Him: “This exceedingly personal, intimate, act of redemptive love in the Passion was for me. It suddenly ceased being an abstraction. My God. Because of my sins, my burdens, pains, my lies, my betrayals, my failures He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. For me He endured the cross and the grave. Every injustice done to me in life also fell on Him, each He endured by name and in exquisite detail, like the hairs on my head they were all numbered. Love attends to detail. This can seem so cliché, I fear, but it’s really awfully, fearfully, wonderfully true. It’s also tender and beautiful. How can I do such mysteries justice in words? I received this truth today not as a mere idea, but as Truth whispered into my heart of hearts. I was overwhelmed. But what’s funny is that at the end of this day I was not left exhausted, filled with shame, guilt or burdened by emotion. I was filled with joy, light, peace, overwhelming gratitude … I think as I lie here near sleep: asking God to show us His love, and then waiting for His reply, seems a request God cannot resist. Exodus 33:18ff comes to mind.”
This memory surfaced recently as my daughter shared with me the graces of her High School retreat last week. She was deeply moved during the retreat, especially by a skit some of the students had put on. The skit was a dramatic narration of God’s creation of humanity, of the Tempter’s seductions and of God’s ceaseless labor to draw the human race back to Himself. There’s a well known video rendition of this skit that, if you have a free five minutes, I’d encourage you to watch. After listening to her retelling of the story and then watching this video, those graces of my Ignatian retreat were reawakened in me. God is great.