IN EUROPE PRIOR TO THE PROTESTANT REFORMATION, all flowers had Marian connotations. A few holdovers remain: Marigold, Madonna Lily, Lady's Slipper.... In the 16th or 17th century, Jesuit priests in South American missions seemed to continue the practice and named this lovely flower-discovery, the Passion Flower. Like young boys who observe natural things closely, they likened the flower's tendrils to the whips that scourged Christ. In the central flower column they saw the pillar of His scourging. They discerned Christ's Crown of Thorns in the seventy-two filaments that circled the inside of the flower, and the three stigma; the nails of the crucifix. They saw the five wounds of Christ in the flower's five anthers, and the top of the centurion's spear that pierced Christ's side, in the plant's pointed leaves. The red stains of the petals reminded them of Christ's Blood, and the round fruit which the plant produces - the world that Jesus came to save. What a different world - to detect Christ at every turn.
Passion of Christ means that God has gone to a lot of trouble and placed Himself at great risk, coming into our world to love us, to retrieve what was lost to God, to show us the way to the happiness we long for. Love takes risks. Love goes to great lengths. Love can be a bother. Love endures inconvenience and suffering. Love does seemingly unreasonable things. Love survives the advice of others which says: "It isn't necessary." "Don't go too far." "Enough is enough." "Let someone else..." "The cost will be too great." Parents will understand.
There are many other Arma Christi as well: the rooster, the lantern, the skull reminding us of the name of the mount of crucifixion, the crown of thorns, the chalice of the Last Supper, the bag of thirty silver coins, the hand that slapped Jesus at his trial, the ropes, the dice and the Lord's robe, the sun and the moon, Peter's sword with which he cut off the ear of the high priest's servant. These symbols help us to contemplate the Passion of Christ, which surely means the story of Jesus' physical suffering and death, but perhaps all the more, Jesus' inner passion for us, for which he suffered to death.
And the Anima Christi prayer asks that His Passion would strengthen us. This elderly woman lives in a leper colony along the Amazon River in Brazil. She's reduced and utterly helpless, having lost just about everything. Her family doesn't' want her; her limbs are gone. She knows that she will stay in this place until she dies. When the documentary photographer came into her room he found her smiling and seemingly filled with light. He asked her, "How are you today," and she answered, "Very well, thanks be to God."
The issue is not that any of us seeing her would say, "Oh I should just buck up and be grateful; she's got it worse than I do," but rather that I would reflect upon what it is that I have to do and for which I need new strength:
- the breakdown of my own or a loved-one's health,
- the dissolution of family relationships,
- the struggles with addiction wherever it invades my life or the life of my family,
- the worries I face for the safety and well-being of the children I love,
- the challenges made to faith in a world of often disbelief and ridicule of sacred things,
- the temptations to give in and surrender to cynicism.