I will be leading my Jesuit community's "Celebration of the Lord's Passion" this afternoon. I can't help approaching this time of prayer from the perspective that St. Ignatius gives in his Spiritual Exercises. He invites us to not simply read the Gospel stories, to not just observe the scenes from the outside, but to enter into the story, to put ourselves in the Gospel scenes. We do that during the reading of the Passion when we prayerfully take on the roles of various characters and the crowd. But St. Ignatius would have us go even deeper. He would have us enter into the interior of Jesus and to experience what he thought and felt. We find this in the "Third Prelude" to the various Exercises in what is known as the "Third Week":
This is to ask for what I desire. In the Passion it is proper to ask for sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, tears and deep grief because of the great affliction Christ endures for me.
With these words, St. Ignatius invites us to enter into the Heart of Jesus. We are to share his "sorrow" and his "anguish." We cannot experience his physical sufferings, but we can share his interior sufferings. We may even try to imagine what Jesus thought and felt as he looked out at the world from the cross. Imagine yourself there, one of the curious bystanders looking on to see this spectacle of blood and death. You are there in the crowd, but in a flash Jesus looks right at you. He catches your eye. You want to look away, but you are drawn to stay with the eyes that have caught your eyes. What do you see in those eyes?
Looking into the eyes of Jesus on the cross we see not condemnation but love, a deep personal love. Notice how the "Third Prelude" invites us to not only enter into the interior sufferings of Jesus but also to realize that he endured all this "for me." His suffering and death are very personal. If I were the only human person who ever lived, he would have done this "for me." He loves me with an infinite love. Our own experience of love is limited, for we humans cannot love with an infinite love. A deep and intimate love for one person naturally tends to be exclusive. Such love means there is less love for another, though parents will say that they love each of their children with an equal and total love.
St. Francis de Sales uses a striking image of God's infinite love. He says that the sun's light and warmth come to one flower and this doesn't mean that there is less light and warmth for the other flowers. If this is true for the sun, how much more true is it for the Creator of the sun and his love? Yet even this physical analogy of the sun pales in comparison to God's love. Clouds block the sun which sets at night, leaving the flowers in darkness. Not so God's love which is always there. Even sin, which separates us from God, doesn't extinguish the love of the Son on the cross. Remember, as St. Paul pointed out so clearly, "God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5: 8).
The love of Jesus is personal but it is also universal. The Catechsim of the Catholic Church, quoting the Council of Quiercy in the year 853, states: "There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer" (#605). It is this universal love that leads us, in the "Celebration of the Lord's Passion," to offer a long set of "General Intercessions." In them we pray for the entire Church, for the pope, for the clergy and laity of the Church, for those preparing for baptism, for the unity of Christians, for the Jewish people, for those who do not believe in Christ, for those who do not believe in God, for all those in public office, and for all those in special need.
Perhaps, as we offer these long prayers, we could do so with the love of Jesus. Looking into his eyes on the cross, we see his love for us--a personal and individual love. We also see that this deep love is for everyone. As we pray for the various groups, let us look upon them with the eyes of Jesus. Let us see them as Jesus saw them from the cross. Let us pray for them with the love of Jesus in our hearts: a love that desires everyone to know his love, accept it, and be saved; a love that proves itself by dying even for those who have rejected it.