Pope Pius XII, when told what medical research on the Shroud of Turin revealed about Christ's awful suffering on the cross, said, "We did not know; nobody ever told us that."
As a result of injuries I suffered in an automobile accident last year, I am forced to do a series of painful daily exercises. Lying flat on my back, on my bed, I face a wall on which a crucifix is hung, and when I feel the pain and discomfort and exertions of the exercises and start to feel sorry for myself, I look at that image of Christ nailed to a cross.
Then I tell myself that what I am enduring for a few minutes pales in comparison to what he endured for three terrible hours on the cross.
Endured for my sake.
When we look at a crucifix few of us have any idea of what that image conveys. It's simply a familiar object that hangs in most Catholic homes, on the walls of classrooms in parochial schools, and above the altars of most Catholic churches.
Beyond identifying the location where it hangs as a Catholic site, its real significance escapes most of us.
That's too bad, because that image has much to tell us if we are willing to listen.
Even before we reflect on his unspeakable suffering, we must realize that the corpus on the cross enduring the horrors of crucifixion, is an innocent man. He has committed no crime. Understanding his innocence has to lead us to ask: If that is so, why is he hanging there?
The answer: so we won't have to hang there even though unlike him, we are anything but innocent. He takes our place on the cross, taking upon himself the deadly weight of our sinfulness, a weight we cannot ourselves bear.
It helps explain the terrible meaning of sin, which is a deliberate and thoughtful act of defiance against the Divine will which is, after all, solely directed at fully uniting us with our Heavenly Father. Sin separates us from him. The cross reunites us.
In my little book "Sindone" on the Shroud of Turin, I wrote about what medical researchers who had studied the image on that ancient piece of linen learned about the extent of Christ's suffering while he hung there, pinioned to the arms of the cross by nails driven though his wrists.
When I lie there in the morning looking at the crucifix, I recall what the researchers revealed and understand the nature of real suffering as compared to that small inconvenience which I undergo. It's an important lesson to be relearned daily.
It began the night before, when Jesus was dragged before the Sanhedrin. Temple guards punched him, leaving one eye socket badly bruised. He face is filled with contusions.
Hauled before Pilate, he was scourged by two men who lashed him with flagrums, three-pronged whips with dumbbell pieces of metal or bone embedded at the tip of each thong. They gave him about 60 lashes, gouging out chunks of flesh from his back and sides and legs.
He was then crowned with a cap of reeds, its thorns deeply penetrating his scalp. Sentenced to die, he was forced to carry the arm of the cross, the patibulum, to the site of his crucifixion. The hundred pound crosspiece dug painfully into his already torn shoulders; he fell three times, further bruising his forehead and his knees each time.
On Calvary he was forced to lie down, his torn back rubbing against the gravel-strewn surface while the nails were driven through his wrists striking the body's great median nerves and sending bolts of agony up his arms.
Fixed to the crosspiece, he was lifted up while it was affixed to the upright piece, the stipes, already driven into the earth. The executioners bent his knees and put one foot over the other and drove a nail through both feet and into the base of the stipes.
It is torture almost beyond human understanding. The nails in his wrists are scraping against those carpal nerves like violin strings playing a symphony of excruciating agony.
As he hung there, his arms, hands, and chest muscles began to cramp and the cramping ran all the way down to his toes. His breathing became shallow; he could still inhale but he was losing the ability to exhale.
Denied breath, he was forced to lift himself upright on the nail in his feet to relieve the cramp and exhale. Then he slumped again and the agony in his arms is renewed as his weight was suspended on the nails in his wrists. It happened over and over again, for three terrible hours.
The process repeats itself over and over again. Cramps, near asphyxiation, pushing himself upright, grasping for breath and then sagging and rubbing his wrists against the carpal nerves. The suffering is unimaginable.
The lesson here is not one meant to show us a historical fact, but to impress on us what is really meant when it is said that Jesus died for our sins, and how he proved that he loves all of us miserable sinners.
Keep that in mind the next time you see a crucifix.
Phil Brennan writes for Newsmax.Com. He is editor and publisher of Wednesday on the Web (http://www.pvbr.com) and was Washington columnist (Cato) for National Review magazine in the 1960s. He is a trustee of the Lincoln Heritage Institute and a member of the Association For Intelligence Officers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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