Saints of Passiontide

Lent can be a beautiful season, a time of new growth. Each year I gain something different; this year, I am growing in love for the saints who are remembered at least in part for their actions on the day of Our Lord’s Passion and death. The saints who particularly stand out to me are Saint Veronica, Saint John, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Dismas, Saint Longinus, and Saint Joseph of Arimathea. It is my hope that as we approach Holy Week, we can grow in love for these saints and imitate the virtues they displayed.

Saint Veronica’s most notable act is not written in the Gospels, but she is traditionally believed to have wiped the face of Jesus with her veil while He was carrying His Cross. Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich recounts having received visions of Saint Veronica wiping the face of Christ, which caused Veronica’s story to be more widespread. She is also thought to have been the hemorrhaging woman mentioned in the Bible for her extraordinary faith in Christ’s healing powers. She is notable for seizing the opportunity to perform a charitable act, sacrificing her own clothing and even safety to wipe the bloody and sweaty face of a hated man who was on His way to be crucified for His “crimes.” In this regard, it is revealing to compare and contrast Veronica to Saint Peter. Earlier on that same day, he had refused three times to associate himself with Jesus, even though he was aware that Jesus was indeed the Son of God. He loved Christ so deeply that he gave up his career to be His disciple. It is through Veronica’s great act of faith and fortitude that we learn to become courageous and strong in our faith.

Among the twelve apostles, one stood out in particular on the day of Christ’s Passion: Saint John. When Jesus died on the Cross, John was the only one of the twelve present. Although Saint John’s fidelity is beautiful in itself, it is important to remember that when Jesus was apprehended in the Garden of Gethsemane, as Saint Matthew says, “Then the disciples all leaving Him, fled” (Matthew 26:56). While the other apostles were too ashamed to see Christ after they ran from Him in the garden, John realized that Christ asks for our earliest repentance and wants us to turn to Him even after we have sinned. It is speculated that John followed Christ, as he wrote, “And Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. And that disciple was known to the high priest, and went in with Jesus into the court of the high priest” (John 18:15). John, when writing about himself, never referred to himself by name, leading readers to think that he was this disciple mentioned. In The Passion of the Christ, John is shown running to inform Our Lady and Mary Magdalene that Jesus had been arrested and leading them to the house of the high priest where Jesus had been brought. This of course is not biblical, but it does not seem unlikely.

Each of these traditions regarding John gives us something new to ponder. His actions throughout the Passion manifest great strength. It is important to note that it was only the night before that John had received Jesus in the Holy Eucharist for the first time and “was leaning on Jesus’ bosom” (John 13:23). It is likely that John heard and felt the beating of Our Lord’s Sacred Heart. Pope Leo XIII spoke on the Sacred Heart in his encyclical, Annum Sacrum, saying “there is in the Sacred Heart a symbol and a sensible image of the infinite love of Jesus Christ which moves us to love one another.” John received this “infinite love of Jesus Christ” and it moved him to love Our Lord and Our Lady in a deeper way, causing him to be the only apostle at the foot of the Cross. If John truly did retrieve Mary when he ran from the garden, he displays his love for her as if she were his own mother, proving that he was indeed the perfect candidate for her sonship at the foot of the Cross.

Saint Mary Magdalene is one of the few followers of Christ mentioned in the Bible that witnessed the crucifixion and death of Jesus. She had been possessed, and Jesus drove out the demons within her. She does not appear in the Bible very often, but she is considered by many to have been the penitent sinner in Luke 7 who selflessly washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, tears, and precious ointment. In this passage, Jesus says of her, “Many sins are forgiven her, because she hath loved much” (Luke 7:47). We see this great love again on Calvary during the crucifixion, where she stood beneath the Cross able to see the feet of Jesus she had previously washed and anointed, now bloody and nailed to the Cross on which He would die. The presence of Mary Magdalene at the foot of the Cross shows us how to persevere in our faith and how vital it is not only to perform one valiant act for Christ, as she did in washing His feet, but also to be prepared to undergo His Passion with Him.

In the Passion of the Christ, Saint Mary Magdalene is often depicted at the side of Our Lady, both supporting each other as they watch Jesus undergo His Passion. Together, they are shown mopping up His precious blood after He was scourged. Though it is not related in Scripture, in this portrayal, we can contemplate the comfort Our Lady gives to those who love her, as well as the respect due to the Precious Blood of Jesus.

Christ was crucified between two criminals, one who was repentant and earned the title “Good Thief.” What we know of this man, called in the Greek and Latin traditions Saint Dismas, is chiefly related in the Gospels; here is Saint Luke narrating his repentance in Chapter 23 of the third Gospel:

And one of those robbers who were hanged, blasphemed Him, saying: If thou be Christ, save Thyself and us. But the other answering, rebuked him, saying: Neither dost thou fear God, seeing thou art condemned under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done no evil. And he said to Jesus: Lord, remember me when Thou shalt come into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said to him: Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise (Luke 23: 39-43).

Saint Dismas teaches us repentance, and shows us that God forgives whether we went to confession last week or twenty years ago, provided we are truly sorry for our sins. Saint Dismas on the Cross also exemplifies fortitude, as he spent some of his last breaths praising and defending the dignity of Our Lord.

Saint Longinus was the Roman soldier who pierced the side of Jesus after He had died on the Cross. He is said to have had an eye problem that was cured when some the blood and water from the Sacred Heart of Jesus landed in his eyes. It was after this that he said, “Indeed this man was the son of God” (Mark 15:39). At this moment he converted. He was commanded by Pontius Pilate to keep watch over the tomb of Our Lord, as the Jews were afraid that some disciples of Jesus would steal the body. After Christ’s Resurrection, he was bribed to lie about what happened at the Holy Sepulchre, but he refused. He later became a monk and was martyred by a blind governor whose sight was restored when the blood of Longinus came into contact with his eyes.

It is from Saint Longinus that we learn to be strong in faith despite what may be offered to us. Saint Longinus was explicitly offered a bribe, but there are more subtle temptations of this sort that we may encounter in our day-to-day lives. When tempted, we are often offered some perceived good which pulls us away from God and asks that we give up our trust in Him. Longinus was the epitome of a Christian whose full trust is in our Lord, and we should strive to imitate him in this regard.

Saint Joseph of Arimathea, also known to Byzantine Catholics as “Noble Joseph,” is another saint who appears in the Passion story. He was a rich man, well known in the Jewish courts, and was a secret disciple of Jesus. He asked Pilate if he could tend to the deceased body of Jesus before the start of the Sabbath, a request which was granted. Being a wealthy man, he had bought a tomb for himself and willingly sacrificed it so that Jesus could have a proper resting place. He also helped the women tend to the deceased body of ChriSaint

Joseph of Arimathea teaches us selflessness. Jesus wants us to give everything to Him willingly, including our material possessions. It is through Saint Joseph of Arimathea that we learn the value of corporal and spiritual works of mercy. After the Passion, he “clothed the naked,” as he wrapped Jesus’ body in clean linen cloth before burying Him, performing two corporal works of mercy. It is likely that he comforted the women who assisted him in burying Jesus, thus performing the spiritual work of comforting the afflicted.

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Although each saint teaches us an important virtue, the saints present in the hours of Our Lord’s Passion teach us how to comfort Christ as He undergoes His Passion this Good Friday. For Jesus said, “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40). Each of us is called to stand by our forsaken Savior like Saint Veronica, comfort Our Lady like Saint John and Saint Mary Magdalene, repent like Saint Dismas, remain strong in faith despite bribery like Saint Longinus, and perform acts of charity like Saint Joseph of Arimathea.