Our Divine Lord, hanging on the Cross in the sight of the assembled multitudes, insulted, scorned, and blasphemed by His enemies, turns to His Eternal Father, and beseeches Him to forgive them, for they know not what they do. Consider —
1. The charity with which Jesus prays.
After a prolonged period of silence, our dying Saviour at length opens His lips, to teach us the most sublime lesson of love from the pulpit of the Cross. It is the first time that Jesus has spoken from His Cross, and the first words He utters are to implore pardon for His enemies, whilst they are in the very act of most barbarously depriving Him of life. He forgets all His own sufferings in His solicitude to apply a remedy to the spiritual wounds of His executioners. Not all the bitter torments He is enduring cause Him such exquisite pain as the thought of their damnation. He remembers not by whose hands His sufferings are inflicted; He remembers only for whom He is dying, and He procures the eternal salvation of His very crucifiers! Sin is hateful to Jesus; He is dying to destroy it; but the sinner is most dear to Him; He is dying for his salvation, and in death is only desirous of affording proofs to His persecutors of the inscrutable depths of His love for them. Then, turning to His Divine Father, “Most beloved Father,” He exclaims with His dying accents, “to Thee I offer this Blood, these wounds, this Cross, to move Thee to pardon My enemies, who have inflicted upon Me so cruel a death.” Oh, surprising charity! The thought of the eternal perdition of the souls of His crucifiers is a greater source of suffering to Jesus than His own most bitter Passion! He is expiring in the most excruciating torments, and in death implores grace and pardon for His murderers! Can we conceive more burning love than this, which is neither extinguished nor damped by even the overflowing waters of boundless sorrow? Truly this is a sublime lesson of what your conduct towards those who injure or offend you should be. How can you have the heart to desire to revenge yourselves upon your enemies, when Jesus, with such tender charity, is solely occupied with obtaining the pardon of those who have crucified Him? Very possibly your enemy may not deserve that you should pardon him, but the Blood and Wounds of Jesus Crucified have merited that you should grant that pardon for His sake. The slightest feeling of hatred entertained against your neighbour wounds the loving Heart of Jesus, and is an obstacle to the remission of your own sins.
2. For whom Jesus prays.
Not only does Jesus pray for those who are crucifying and blaspheming Him, but He likewise prays for all sinners, for all who have contributed to His sufferings and death. May not the most wretched sinners take courage at the thought of this prayer of Jesus? For in it He includes not merely His executioners, accusers, and judges; that is to say, not only the Jews who so clamorously demanded His death, but all sinners without exception, since all who have committed sin have thereby been the cause of His death. Yes, my soul, every time that thou hast sinned thou hast renewed the cause of the death of the Son of God, thou hast crucified Him anew; and by every fresh sin thou committest thou renderest thyself guilty of His death. And shall not sin, which has crucified Jesus, be henceforth most hateful to me? But oh, how sweet and how deserving of love must be my Divine Jesus, who prays for me, even whilst I am desiring His death! Ah, sweet Jesus! in the very height of Thy sufferings, in Thy mortal agony, Thou art mindful of sinners, Thou art mindful of me! Are not even my innumerable sins and base ingratitude sufficient to banish me from Thy loving Heart? Are not all my sins present to Thy mind, being as they are’ the very cause of Thy death? And still Thou dost implore Thy Eternal Father to forgive me! But through the blessed effects of that prayer, Thy death, which is caused by my sins, has become my hope and my salvation. Art thou a sinner? What canst thou fear, when Jesus Christ Himself is the Great Advocate who prays for thee, and from His Cross beseeches His Father to pardon thee? Come, come, O sinner, cast thyself with entire confidence at the feet of Jesus, bathe them with thy tears, and then, if sincerely penitent, thou wilt be secure of forgiveness and Heaven. But if thou persistest in sin, His Blood will be thy condemnation.
3. The excuse alleged by Jesus in His prayer for His enemies.
Jesus might have taken awful vengeance upon His enemies from the Cross, and exterminated them in one moment from the face of the earth; but He prefers exhibiting Himself in the character of a God of peace and mercy, and giving proof of the most tender solicitous charity. To move His Father to have compassion on those I who are insulting and deriding Him by the most impious expressions of scorn, He seeks to excuse and palliate their guilt by saying that they know not what they do. They have given free vent to their hatred of His sacred Person by the most atrocious calumnies; they have consummated the most fearful injustice by crucifying Him; they are even now seeking to load Him with contumely by their insulting gestures and derisive words; and yet Jesus in His infinite charity pities and excuses their sin, and fulfils the loving office of an Advocate by having recourse to Divine clemency in their behalf. He hides their wickedness beneath the torrents of His own Blood, and implores His Father to accept the excuse of their ignorance, wilful though it is, in attenuation of their guilt and malice. Oh, how great is the clemency and goodness of God our Redeemer! Such, my soul, is the lesson taught thee by the example of thy dying Saviour. Not only shouldst thou forgive thy enemy, or whoever has done thee an injury, but thou shouldst also do him all the good in thy power, pity and excuse him, and desire that he may one day attain the possession of eternal happiness. Ah, what would become of me, had Jesus treated me as I treat my neighbour, when, for a slight injury or affront, I resolve to be avenged, and indulge in thoughts of hatred and anger? My most sweet Jesus, I beseech Thee to enkindle in my heart the flames of a charity like unto Thine, which may teach me how to love and pity every one who does me an injury. I love my neighbour for Thy sake. I forgive all who may have offended me from the bottom of my heart; and I beseech Thee, O Father of mercies, to cancel their debts, and shower forth Thy graces upon them.
Imitate Jesus praying from His Cross for His enemies, if you wish to have any part in the pardon He then sought to obtain for you. Be reconciled with your brother if you wish to make your peace with God. Delay not, for if you are obstinate in sin, you will die impenitent. Excuse those who persecute you; suffer in silence; forget and forgive. Hate sin, but not the sinner, because for him did Christ die, and for Him did He sacrifice His life.
A glance at the Crucifix is a powerful incentive to the pardon of injuries. St. Philip Neri, finding the most tender and urgent solicitations of no avail in persuading a certain young man to pardon an injury which had been done him, took a Crucifix, and said with great earnestness, “Look upon this image, and remember how our Divine Lord shed the last drop of His Blood for love of thee, and how on His Cross He prayed to His Eternal Father for the very men who had crucified Him!” The young man was struck by these words, and far more by the sight of Jesus on the Cross. He trembled all over, and answered with many tears, “Behold, Father, I : am now most willing to pardon every injury, and to make all the reparation that lies in my power.” If you feel any difficulty in pardoning an injury, imagine that Jesus implores you from His Cross to forgive it for love of Him. (See Life of St P. Neri.)
Fr. Ignatius (Carsidoni) of the Side of Jesus (1801-1844) was one of the Passionists who were instrumental in the restoration of Catholic England in the 19th century. He taught theology in Rome. There he became enflamed with the zeal of his fellow Passionist, Bl. Dominic Barberi (1792-1849), for the conversion of England. Bl. Dominic had inherited this supernatural passion from St. Paul of the Cross (1694-1775), the founder of the Passionists. They made contact with the English Catholic lady Mrs. Louisa Canning in 1831, and eventually succeeded in planting the Passionist order in England in 1842. Bl. Dominic later received St. John Henry Newman into the Catholic Church in 1845.