Tenth Station: Jesus is stripped.
Our Lord told His Apostles that they were to regard themselves in the world as “lambs in the midst of wolves.” That phrase has a happy application to the divine Lamb of God Himself in the Sacred Passion. Here in this Tenth Station they surround Him, just like ravening wolves howling for their prey, ready to tear Him to pieces, their eyes glistening with an unholy eagerness as they look forward to this slaughter. And, all the more marked because of the contrast, there is the evident self-composure of the Lamb, His marvellous patience, His readiness to allow them to strip Him and offer Him up as Victim of their rage. The brutality of these wolves, and the self-possession of the Lamb who has fallen into their clutches — let us see how these two thoughts may help our understanding of the Tenth Station.
The wolves are but the instruments of sin, and sin always brutalises. Sometimes even the sinner’s very appearance changes sadly, and you can read in his face the beastliness of the life he is leading. The creature who, having deadened his own conscience, tricks innocence into the ways of vice, knows well he is a brute. The creature who is content to wallow in the gutter of a drunkard’s existence is lowering himself to the level of a brute. Even in such a degraded life, there will come moments when conscience will assert itself and the sinner be smitten with shame. Despite all his fine arguments for his sin, he is perfectly aware that in reality he is a fallen star, destined indeed to shine in God’s firmament, but, fallen now from that high eminence, he seems like to be besmirched and extinguished and finally buried forever in the depths of the cesspool of sin. Sin brutalises indeed, and we see it in this Station.
In sharp contrast with their brutality, there shines forth the beautiful self-possession of Our Lord. How a single gesture of anger or impatience on His part, however excusable it might be, would mar the loveliness of the events of the great drama! That wonderful patience of His is due, in the first place, to the fact that He is suffering all this voluntarily. For reasons we have seen, the Father wills the Son to suffer, and the Son’s Will is absolutely one with the Will of the Father. Let me look into the Sacred Heart and see there, stamped indelibly, the three words: Fiat Voluntas Tua! (Your Will be Done!) So His patience throughout is accounted for, first of all, by His love for the Father.
It is accounted for, too, by His love for us. It is common experience that when a man is immersed in some subject he is liable to become forgetful of many of the ordinary needs and conventions of life. A keen student will often forget to take his food; a soldier in the heat of fight will not advert to the wound he has received; an author will stare in amazement at his watch when he discovers that he has sat at his desk until long after midnight. Now, it is indeed true that Our Lord was vividly conscious of every pain and insult in the Passion, but it is also true that He is occupied throughout with an even more absorbing task. His task is to change these men about Him here, and those for whom they would stand in subsequent ages. Annas and Caiphas, Pilate, Herod — all those had been brutalised by sin. Satan had entered into them, and Christ’s Passion was to be a mighty exorcism. Annas and Caiphas, prototypes of the corruptors of innocence, had to be “Christified” — that corrupting influence destroyed and Christ’s love enthroned in its place. Judas, lover of money and the world, Christ longed to change, but Judas erected strong barriers against the tidal wave of Christ’s mercy. Pilate, slave of human respect, and Herod, creature of the gutter — let a realisation of the Passion seize hold of them — and the change Christ longs to effect must surely follow.
The divine Exorcist is still anxious about His task, for Annas and Caiphas, Judas Iscariot, Pilate and Herod, and the rest, still live and still thirst for His blood. If we might coin words, Our divine Lord’s task is to “de-Herodise” men — to exorcise them of the spirit of impurity. Or to “de-Pilatise” them — to drive far from men’s souls the base insincerity, the hypocrisy of the world. Or to “de-Judasise” them — to expel from their hearts the passion of avarice. Or to “de-Annasise” or Caiphasise” them — to destroy in them the contagion that corrupts others and leads them into sin.
Holy Church enjoins fasting and prayer on her priests before she permits them to exercise the office of exorcist. What pain, physical and mental, the divine Exorcist had to pay for the exercise of His office! And withal man, endowed with free will, can nullify the effect of the Passion in himself. He can prefer to remain a Judas or a Caiphas or a Pilate or a Herod.
He can sit down at the banquet-table of angels or he can crawl with the swine. Omnipotence taxes its powers to exorcise him, but he must give his free co-operation with grace. When he does, then Judas is driven forth, or Pilate or Herod or Annas or Caiphas. Then Christ enters into him. Then his soul becomes a temple. Then the den of thieves is a tabernacle. Then Christ’s task is done, the exorcism is effected.