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Our Lady of the Rosary - Marian Retreat

Sorrowful Mysteries

The Scourging of Christ at the Pillar

by Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J.

Our present conference is on the second of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary, namely the Scourging of Christ at the Pillar. Not unlike the first mystery, so here the Scourging of Our Lord at the Pillar is covered by all four Evangelists. It might be worth our while briefly going over the account in each Evangelist in sequence, see what each one says so we get what Pope John XXIII told us, to get a picture both physical and I would add, chronological, of what actually occurred.

Pilate Washed His Hands and Condemned Jesus to Death

First Matthew. He tells us that after condemning Jesus to death, Pilate washed his hands and said, I have no part in the death of this innocent Man. It concerns you only. And the whole people answered, His blood be upon us and upon our children. And with that he had Jesus scourged. You notice in Matthew's Gospel, Pilate washed his hands and condemned Jesus to death, but Pilate hoped to release Jesus. He had hoped, in Mark's Gospel, as the people cried out, "Crucify Him," Pilate determined to humor the multitude. So he released the criminal Barabbas as they asked; but Jesus he scourged and then gave him up to be crucified. In Luke's gospel, Pilate spoke to the chief priests and rulers of the people. Quote Pilate, "It is plain that He has done nothing which deserves death. I will scourge Him and then He shall go free." Then for the third time with the crowds insisting that Christ be crucified, Pilate we're told gave his consent to their request, releasing the man of their choice, who had been imprisoned for revolt and murder when he handed Jesus to their will.

Pilate is the One Responsible for Having Jesus Scourged

Finally in John – as we go through this – you will see that each of the Evangelists has a somewhat different approach, and you have to re-examine the four narratives, to put the chronological pieces together and find out what happened, when. In John's Gospel, Pilate was still hoping that Jesus would be released. That's why he proposed Barabbas. Then he took Jesus, John now talking, and scourged him. In each case Pilate is the one who is responsible for having Christ scourged, after which the following events took place. I count nine events, in sequence.

First, the scourging, then the crowning with thorns, then the Ecce Homo. Remember Pilate bringing Christ before the mob, had just been scourged and crowned with thorns, dripping blood. Pilate standing next to Jesus on the balcony, overlooking the crowd, "Behold the Man," Ecce Homo.

Fourth, another thunderous shout, "Crucify Him!" We should keep distinct what the Jews wanted, they wanted crucifixion. But Pilate as he thought, a concession – have him scourged.

Fifth, the conversation between Pilate and Jesus. This is in chronological sequence. Remember, at first Jesus would not speak to Pilate. Then Pilate said, "Don't you know that I've got power either to crucify or to release you." Then Jesus spoke to Pilate, "You'd have no power over Me unless it were given to you from above." Pilate was weak. Jesus was trying to strengthen him. Went back to the crowd, this is Pilate, and this time the Jews moved by their leaders, told Pilate, "This Man pretends to be a King. No one who pretends to be King is fit to remain alive." In other words, the Jews played on Pilate's desire to hold political power.

Seventh, Pilate once more to the crowd; eighth, the mob shouting (what hypocrites!) "We have no king except Caesar". The liars.

Ninth and finally this, by the way, is John; very methodical. Thereupon, at long last, Pilate gave Jesus up into the hands to be crucified. It is well to note therefore that Christ's scourging at the pillar is part, not only of the chronology but of the logic of His passion. Christ's being scourged was meant to be a sop to those who demanded His crucifixion. As it turned out, Christ was both scourged and crucified, and the reason was the cowardice of Pilate.

The Scourging Did Not Take Place Until After the Condemnation

Now some notable features. As we've been doing, first going through the sequence of events, what are some of the outstanding features? They deserve our prayerful reflection and as we'll conclude, application to ourselves. We've already said that all four Evangelists record the fact of Christ's being scourged. Not only including John, but as I've just tried to point out, especially John. Although the decision to scourge Jesus was made before Pilate condemned Him, this is crucial to a proper understanding of what transpired. The scourging did not actually take place until after the condemnation. What seems to have happened?

It Ended Up Being an Added Source of Agony

And as you know, over the centuries now the Church's commentators have tried to harmonize the four gospels especially when they don't quite seem to say the same thing. This appears to be the most reasonable conclusion. That Pilate wanting to release Jesus kept saying, "This is an innocent Man," and in the final gesture symbolically washing his hands. But before condemning Jesus to be crucified, yet in his weakness, decided to have Christ instead scourged. Well, once Pilate gave in to the Jews and did allow Christ to be crucified as we're told by John, "Pilate gave Jesus up into their hands." What did that mean? Oh, they were going to crucify Him all right, but they were also going to hold Pilate to His first being scourged. In other words, the human factors that brought on the scourging of Jesus Christ were the cowardice of Pilate and the hatred of the Jews. The scourging was to have been a substitute in Pilate's mind for the Crucifixion. It ended up to be an added source of agony, insisted upon by the Jews who hated Christ. And we know why. Because he had the people following Him instead of them.

Pride Always Tries to Humiliate

Consequently the scourging became part of a four-fold humiliation of Christ. As we go through the mysteries of Christ's Passion and Death, the one aspect that the Fathers of the Church and the great Masters of the Spiritual Life keep bringing out, it is Christ's being humiliated. Why? In order to vindicate the pride of those who had Him condemned to death. Before we say anything else, pride always tries to humiliate. Always. And the deep-seated sinful urge in all of us to humiliate others is deeper than anyone, including the speaker, can ever realize.

Proud People Always Want to Humiliate Others

What was this historic four-fold humiliation? It was the scourging, it was the crowning with thorns, is the being forced to carry His own cross and finally His being crucified on Calvary to make absolutely sure that the consummation of humiliation would be perpetrated two criminals, crucified along with Him. I repeat, proud people always – that adverb is a verdict of history – proud people always want to humiliate others, and the adverb is always.

It was the Cowardice of Pilate That Brought on the Scourging

Now some implications for our spiritual life. I'll count ten as we go along.

First implication. Christ was unjustly condemned, we can hardly say, condemned to be scourged. Because remember in Pilate's mind, the scourging was to have been a substitute for the crucifixion. Nevertheless, what kind of logic was in Pilate's mind? Either Christ was innocent or He was guilty. If as he claimed, this is Pilate, if he thought that Jesus was innocent he should have neither allowed Him to be crucified or even scourged. It was therefore the cowardice of Pilate, the hope to placate the mob which brought on the scourging.

Beware of Cowardice in Doing God's Will

In my forty years in the priesthood, I've heard many things most of which I cannot even talk about. But one thing I can tell you the suffering caused to innocent people by the cowardice of those who can protect them only God knows! but let me add and God judges. Cowardice in high places and I wish I could say only cowardice in the state – you can finish the sentence… Applying all this to ourselves, we must beware, beware of cowardice in doing God's Will. Let's be honest the two strong desires we all have; one is the desire to please others and one is the desire to avoid mispleasing others.

We Better Know What it Means to Stand Up to One's Principles

There's a young man for the last twenty years has been calling me I would say, at least once a week from Iowa. No matter where I am in the United States, he tracks me down through the switchboard and calls me up. I had him in class at the State University where I was teaching. One of the brightest students I ever taught. Went on to get a doctorate in Mathematics at the State University of Iowa. Did brilliantly – finished his doctoral dissertation – had it approved by his director – two weeks till graduation and his doctorate. Then somebody on the faculty began to rib his director, put psychological pressure. He withdrew his approval of that dissertation. The young man did not graduate with his doctoral class. He called me up in panic. I called up his director said, "look this man is a genius. You'll approve his doctoral thesis." He told me to mind my own business. Well, he did not graduate. Instead, he had a mental breakdown. For the last twenty-two years, the State of Iowa must have spent, conservatively, a half a million dollars in providing for his medical and psychological care. I don't believe he will ever be released from the hospital. We better know what it means to stand up to one's principles and not allow ourselves to be swayed; swayed either by the desire to please or swayed by the fear of displeasing.

Christ was Expiating the Sins of Unchastity

We go on. By His Scourging at the Pillar Christ, all the great commentators of the Church tell us; Christ was especially expiating the sins of unchastity and the crimes that follow on unbridled lust. Jesus, we are told, was stripped naked. He was scourged not only to blood, but to the shredding of His flesh and the penetration of His bones. As one Saint after another in applying the mystery of Christ's Passion to our lives tells us: Christ was just teaching us how terrible are sins against chastity. Christ is further telling us not to be deceived by the world which revels in sexual pleasure and ridicules the practice of chastity. There is such a thing speaking shall I say to all of us, there is such a thing as living a life of reparation in union with Christ in His scourging by the practice of consecrated chastity. How we need, how desperately we need on the one hand the motivation that Christ gives us in His own practice of chastity. On the other hand, also the assurance of the help we need to be obtained, and this is the Church's teaching, while Christ's Passion, in general, expiates all our sins; there are certain particular mysteries within Christ' Passion that the Church identifies as expiating certain particular sins. It is the mystery of Christ's being scourged naked to the bone to expiate our own and the world's mountain of sins against chastity.

Ask the Lord for the Gift of Purity

Pope John XXIII recommended, let me just quote this sentence. It's in his explanation of the Second Sorrowful Mystery. Said Pope John, "The Hail Mary's of this Mystery, we'll ask the Lord for the gift of purity for the family, for society and especially for young people who are the most exposed to the seduction of the senses," unquote Pope John. Remember this is the Vicar of Christ telling us, in plain simple language that as we meditate on Christ's Scourging at the Pillar, we should beg, beg for the grace, first for ourselves and then for others. And I would add, especially for priests and religious that we who, under divine guidance, had undertaken lives of consecrated chastity might be faithful to the commitment we've made. The main reason, twenty-one years in working for the Congregation for Religious has taught me a lot. My conclusion; the main reason for the tragic breakdown of once flourishing religious institutes of both men and women, the heaviest loss in the history of the Catholic Church (one Vatican figure is one hundred thousand priests since the Second Vatican Council); and the United Stated, almost one hundred thousand loss of religious women in our country since the close of Vatican II. Why? Twenty-one years experience, I know I'm being taped. I believe the main reason is failure on the part of those who had vowed themselves to celibacy and consecrated chastity not remaining faithful to their vows. Oh how, how traumatically important is the second mystery, Sorrowful Mystery of the Rosary. We go on.

Her Grief Was Overwhelming

The Church's tradition tells us that Our Lady saw her Son shortly after He was scourged and her grief, we are told, was overwhelming. We are told she grieved because of His physical pain. She grieved because of His deep humiliation. She grieved because she knew why He allowed Himself to be scourged; to obtain grace for His followers, to practice chastity and to appease the Divine justice because of the crimes against chastity. Up to then and as we now know ever since (no wonder) – I'd like to quote this statement from St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the universal Church and the heavenly patron of spiritual directors. Says Alphonsus, "Most of the people in Hell are and will be there because of sins against the sixth and ninth commandments."

Chaste People are Loving People

Just a glance at the Church's early history can teach us a lot about the absolute necessity for chastity. Historians, by now over the centuries, have been researching, analyzing, trying to figure out and many not Catholic in fact not even sympathetic to the Catholic Church. How can you possibly explain how that a small non-descript sect, as the Christians were considered in no place in Palestine. By the end of the first century, Catholic Diocese's surrounded the whole Mediterranean Sea. Why? It was chastity. Christians practiced chastity; and combined their chastity with charity. So much so that for me it's a mathematical formula: Chaste people are loving people; uncharitably people are unchaste people. The Catholic Church in our age, need I repeat it, is going through its gravest crisis ever and the crisis covers many aspects. But the foundation of that crisis is, of course, a crisis of Faith. Faith in what, faith in whom? Faith in the fact that God became Man and as Man lived a live of unsullied, total, absolute, complete chastity. And in the Church's tradition tells us and to obtain for us the grace that we might follow His example. He allowed Himself to be stripped naked and scourged until His Body was one stream of blood. I have one more implication.

We Must Pay the Price of Chastity

The mystery of Christ's being scourged at the pillar teaches us many things, some of which we've identified. But one thing it better teach us; if we want to be chaste, we must pay the price of chastity. Unlike us, Christ in His human nature had no sin, had no inclinations to sin. Christ, in spite of the blasphemous and dirty movie as you know, The Last Temptation; Christ had no sexual passions but we do. And Christ knew that we do and He merited the grace we need to control those passions: and that means controlling down deep inside our emotions, our feelings, our fantasies, our imagination, our thoughts, our wanton desires. We have the grace won for us by Christ's Passion and most specifically by His scourging. But we must use that grace and pay the price of being and remaining and indeed growing in chastity. The future, I don't hesitate saying, the future of the Catholic Church depends in large measure on the chastity, especially of her priests and religious.


Please God, we will have learned what Christ's scourging really means and live the life that the innocent Lamb of God wants us to live, if need be, to pay the price of scourging ourselves after His Divine Example. Amen. In the name if the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Copyright © 1998 by Inter Mirifica

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