We may look upon the seizure of our Blessed Saviour as the formal opening and inauguration of His Sacred Passion. Saint John describes it in these words: "Then the band and the tribune, and the servants of the Jews took Jesus and bound Him. And they led Him away to Annas first." In the supper chamber a few hours ago the Apostles had boasted that no matter what the danger they would share it with Him and be steadfast in their purpose of clinging to Him. Yet, notwithstanding our Lord's very positive warning and their own protestations, they fell.
How can human nature ever presume after such a fall! They had been granted a vocation next to the Divine Maternity of His own Blessed Mother. Inexhaustible benedictions, and a bewildering amount of love had been bestowed upon them. For three years they had lived in the closest intimacy with their Master. That very night they had been warned in most formal terms, of their defection; but they had protested their own loyalty, and their souls had been stirred by words of melting tenderness from the lips of our Blessed Saviour. For the first time they had been fed upon the Bread of the strong, His own Body and Blood; and, wonderful honor, they had been ordained priests of the New Law; yet in spite of such signal and incomprehensible favors at the very first approach of danger, not to themselves, at least directly, but to Him, they had turned their backs upon their kind and condescending Master and fled away. While He was in the hands of His enemies they were hiding in the darkness of the caverns and tombs of the Hinnom valley.
How true it ever is and must be that no length of service, no opportunity for close and intimate friendship with Christ, no miracles of grace even, nor any warnings from on High can make us safe unless we fulfill the injunction neglected by the Apostles: "Watch ye, and pray that ye enter not into temptation," for "he that loveth danger shall perish in it!"
More painful to our Lord's tender and compassionate Heart must have been the desertion of His loved ones than any savage roughness and ruthless cruelty of the armed multitude that came out to apprehend Him. When our Blessed Saviour said: "It is your hour and the power of darkness," the leader who commanded the detachment of soldiers and the mob gave the order, and they bound Jesus and led Him away. To this indignity the meek Lamb of God utters no word of remonstrance, makes no resistance for "He shall be led as a sheep to the slaughter and shall be dumb as a lamb before his shearer, and He shall not open His mouth."
The bright Paschal moon in the sky, and the light from the flaming torches helped the enemies of our Blessed Saviour in their wicked work. His arms which a short while ago were lifted in prayer to the Father in the Garden, and which on the morrow will be outstretched on the cross, are pinioned behind His back, and His wrists bound so tightly by cords that His Blood flows from the wounds. Round His Body ropes are drawn by which He will be pulled through the streets to the house of the High-Priest. Many are the cruel blows and buffets which are rained upon Him. No doubt the Priests spat upon Him as we know they did later, and with hatred born of Satan encouraged the mob to multiply their cruelties and indignities.
"They bound Him." What availed these chains and ropes and cords unless He, Himself, wished to be bound! As the cords cut into His Flesh, and the blows were multiplied upon His Sacred Person His Soul was whispering to the Father "Yet more, My Father, yet more." When Saint Francis Xavier was shown in a vision the dark future, filled with the deep humiliations and most painful sufferings that were in store for him, and from which human nature drew back in terror and quailed with fear, he gained strength to cry out in a rapture of loving courage: "Yet more, O Lord, yet more," because he had before his mind the sight of the Master bound and buffeted at midnight at the foot of Mount Olivet.
When that other loyal knight, Ignatius, lay hungry and weak, languishing in prison under the weight of his humiliating chains cutting into his limbs, his enemies and accusers taunted him with the severity of his suffering. At once that pale, emaciated face was flushed with almost royal blood from his noble heart, his dark eye flashed fire, his whole countenance beamed with enthusiasm and love, and he cried out pointing to his chains: "You cannot forge in all Salamanca chains enough to satisfy the desire which burns within my soul to suffer for my Master who was bound for me." Whence this courage, whence this bravery, whence this endurance, whence this loyalty, if not from the sight of his Lord and Master bound for him on Holy Thursday night and led before an unjust tribunal by a wicked Jewish rabble, urged on by cruel and still more wicked Priests?
Mary, His own sweet Mother, bound Him as a Child, when she swathed Him in His little garments and put lovingly upon Him His seamless robe, fashioned by her own deft fingers. Did He think that night as the cords cut into His Sacred Flesh of His Mother s tenderness and reverence at Bethlehem, at Egypt and at Nazareth? How different the binding now of His limbs with the rough cords and ropes from Mary's loving attentions thirty-three years ago! As they bound Him that night no doubt His mind moves forward through the centuries, and He was consoled by the thought of the myriads who would wish to be bound to Him by His Law. He can count the unnumbered multitudes of all tribes and peoples and tongues who will walk faithfully in the way of His Commandments, and will be glad to be bound by His precepts be cause He chose out of love for us to be tied with cords and ropes by His cruel enemies.
Nature will at times rebel; inclination for a false freedom foreign to the Church of God will urge men to break the ties that bind them to His will; the world will attract, its pleasures allure, its visions dance attractively before dazzled eyes, but the thought that the Master was bound will make them strong and true, firm and faithful. They will look upon the observance of God's Commandments and the laws of His Holy Church not as a restriction or a limitation of their liberty, but as a privilege and as a freedom of the sons of God. Fidelity to God's mandates is hard and difficult because of the false viewpoint which is often taken. If it is looked upon as a hard task, a distasteful duty, a disagreeable labor, a service that must be given in a miserly and begrudging manner, then assuredly the way of God's Commandments is difficult, unpleasant and repugnant. If we regard the practice of our religion like the taking of some bitter medicine that must be accepted unwillingly and in the smallest possible doses, then our Lord's yoke will never be sweet, nor His burden light. But if the practice of our religion is looked upon not as a duty but as a privilege, a grace, a favor, an honor which our Lord does us in permitting us to serve Him, then there will be no thought of the difficulty, nor the slightest stinginess in its practice, but on the contrary an alacrity and a generosity in its least requirement far beyond anything we could otherwise have hoped for. We shall not want to do as little as we can, but all that we can. We shall not regret that it is a duty to serve Him, but shall be glad to be bound to that service by our own free will for love of Him who was bound for us and for our healing.
As our Lord stands shackled under the walls of the Holy City in the moonlight among the olive trees, with the flaming torches waving round about Him, His thoughts will turn for comfort toward that long line of brave and holy men and women who have been inspired by this scene to bind their lives more closely to His. There will perhaps pass before His mental vision those countless numbers of generous souls who like Abraham have heard God's call: "Go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father's house, and come into the land that I shall show thee."
He saw that vast throng, which no one can number, which because of His captivity that night will sever every human tie that the heart holds dear, will snap the cords of earthly affection, and not content with being bound by His Commandments will unite themselves to Him by the priceless and most precious ties of the holy vows of voluntary poverty, chastity and obedience. This noble choice will be made by myriads of pure souls, not out of a spirit of fear and cowardice, not from any selfish and inordinate love for spiritual security, as is often said and said falsely, for sacrifices of this kind are not made by selfish cowards; but they will snap the shackles of the world with its hopes, its promises, its prospects however alluring, because they have seen in their hours of prayer the meek Lamb of God bound and shackled for them on the eve of His most awful death on Mount Calvary.
It is this vision which has shone in upon their spirit and enkindled in their hearts a love and a courage enabling them to turn a deaf ear to the clamors of flesh and blood, strengthening them at the same time to break earth's dearest ties and to rise above their own feeble strength and rush in spirit to that shackled Master and kiss the cords that bound Him, which urges them, indeed, to plead that they, too, may be united to Him by a life of total surrender and complete self-sacrifice.
Our Lord bound that night by ropes and cords will be reminded of what He had done a few hours ago in the supper chamber when He gave to the Apostles and their successors the power to make Him a prisoner on God's altar that the fetters of sin might be stricken from men's lives. How many souls have been the slaves of passion, in a deeper servitude than the Jews of Egypt, and our imprisoned Saviour like a true Moses has by strength from the Tabernacle and the graces of the Sacraments struck from their souls the manacles of sin, and clothed them with the garment of His grace and His love. He has come to us and tabernacled with us not only by assuming our human nature and mingling with sinners as one of themselves, but He dwells with us for all time on the altar, bound within the Sacred Species that we may be free with the liberty which He has purchased for us by His Precious Blood.
It is but natural to feel a loyal love for one who comes to us and stands by us in times of stress and strain, in the serious emergencies and dangers of life, when those who ought to have been loyal and true abandon and desert us. What love then ought to be ours, what loyalty for the Prisoner of the Tabernacle, who by His own free will is kept there in bonds for us! He is there as silent as regards external sounds as He was when bound on Holy Thursday night by the hands of His enemies; but His voice teaching, guiding, consoling, encouraging can be felt deep down in our souls, if we will only turn away from the noises and trifles of time, from the worldly distractions and the passing interests which absorb and engage us, and listen to the Master's loving whisper.
- from The Mountains of Myrrh, by Father John O'Rourke