Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him. Rev 12: 17 – 18
This is day 8 of the Novena to St Michael. We are praying for our persecuted Christian brothers and sisters around the world.
For today’s meditation, let’s think about the onlookers at Calvary.
Every year on the Sunday before Easter, we re-enact the Gospel of Mark. In my parish, it’s the custom for the priest to take the role of Jesus and the parishioners to take the role of the condemning crowd that yelled “Crucify Him!”
But the actual crowd of that day when they crucified Our Lord was more mixed. The onlookers ranged from the holiness of Our Lady and the faithful women, to the taunting cruelty of the priests.
These priests were not satisfied with what they had wrought. They followed Jesus to Golgotha and stood at the foot of the cross to taunt Him.
“If He is the messiah,” they said, “let Him come down from the cross. He saved others. Let Him save Himself.”
This taunting mockery tells us two things. It demonstrates how completely these fallen priests were in the grip of satan, and it also shows how afraid they were of Jesus.
This Jesus they were murdering had raised three people that we know of from the dead, but the one that upset the priests the most was Lazarus. In fact, it was the resurrection of Lazarus that pushed them into moving forward with their murderous plot. Now, they stood at the cross where Jesus hung, helpless and in agony, and mocked Him. He saved others. Let Him save himself, they said, as if to reassure themselves.
But the priests were not the only ones who mocked Him. All along the way to the cross, the road had been full of gawkers, mockers and a smattering of genuine mourners. Most of these people probably left once the show of watching this desperately injured Man attempt to drag his cross up the hill was over. After he’d been nailed to the torturous device and, as He foretold, “lifted up,” there was nothing left to see but the slow dying of a totally humiliated human being.
Most of them probably left, because they got bored.
There were two groups to whom this whole affair was so deeply personal that they shared in His agony with Him. The first, oddly enough, was a group of people who were, by their own choosing, not there. The disciples who had followed Him, lived with Him, been taught and loved by Him, had run away from Him in His hour.
Anyone who doubts the veracity of the Gospels should consider the raw and unflattering way these men described themselves. John Mark was in such a panic that when one of the soldiers who arrested Jesus grabbed his garment, he jerked free of both it and the soldier and ran away into the night naked. Peter suffered the ignominy of denying and cursing Jesus while Jesus looked at Him. The others fled like bunny rabbits into the darkness.
They all went into hiding. They left Him to His fate.
The other group stayed with Him throughout the ordeal. They stood at the foot of the cross, they buried Him in the tomb, and they came back a few days later to anoint his body for burial.
This group was led by His Mother and included the women who followed Him, plus one disciple. John ran away with the others on the night He was taken.
But He came back.
And he stood there with the women all that day long.
Let’s consider what these faithful followers witnessed. The crucifixion of Our Lord did not resemble the prettied up presentations we see in the art that hangs on our church walls.
It was ugly.
It was meant to be ugly. This kind of death was not meted out to Roman citizens, because Roman citizens were exempt from being reduced to the level that crucifixion took people.
The cross was a protracted, humiliating death in which the person died alone, naked, in terror and in agony.
The cross was then, and it is now, the full and complete message of how much God loves us. It was also then and is now a scandal and an embarrassment to those who want to follow a good-times god of prosperity and social acceptance.
Those onlookers who gawked, mocked, ran away from and stood faithful before the cross can teach us a lot. It is not so much a question of which one of them would we have been back then as it is which one of them are we today.
Christians are dying for Christ all over the globe. They suffer persecution, discrimination and terror on a daily basis. They are carrying their cross.
But what of us?
There is a large group of people who deny the fact of Christian persecution. They mock and jeer if the topic comes up.
There is another group who shrugs and says, What can we do? “What can we do?” is a fair question, if it is a question. “What can we do?” can easily be re-phrased to mean “How can I help?”
Put like that, as a beginning of a search for what we can, in fact, do, the question is both honorable and positive.
But if it’s a dismissal, as in “What can we do,” said with a shrug and a turning away, then it is both dishonorable and deplorable.
We are the onlookers as Christ is being crucified in our persecuted brothers and sisters today.
Our first task is to pray. We need to pray for them, and for God’s guidance about what we can do for them. Our second task is to tell their story. Lift them up as the true martyrs for the faith that they are. Give them the respect they deserve by respecting their sacrifice for Our Lord.
Never shrug and turn away from Christ crucified right in front of you.
Pray and speak for them. Pray and witness to their witness. Pray and refuse to be silenced by the sneers and jeers of satan, speaking through the mouths of those who support this murder of innocence with their demands that we say nothing and do nothing for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ.
Christ is crucified in the world today. We are the onlookers.
Mocker, gawker, run-away or faithful: Which one are you?
Here is the Novena to St Michael for the Persecuted Church, Day 8. Please pray it and ask others to join you.
Glorious Saint Michael, guardian and defender of the Church of Jesus Christ, come to the assistance of His followers, against whom the powers of hell are unchained. Guard with special care our Holy Father, the Pope, and our bishops, priests, all our religious and lay people, and especially the children. Saint Michael, watch over us during life, defend us against the assaults of the demon, and assist us especially at the hour of death. Help us achieve the happiness of beholding God face to face for all eternity. Amen. Saint Michael, intercede for me with God in all my necessities, especially for the conversion of the world,that from pole to pole,dateline to dateline,all will call out Jesus' name. Obtain for me a favourable outcome in the matter I recommend to you. Mighty prince of the heavenly host, and victor over rebellious spirits, remember me for I am weak and sinful and so prone to pride and ambition. Be for me, I pray, my powerful aid in temptation and difficulty, and above all do not forsake me in my last struggle with the powers of evil. Amen.