How Is That possible?
St. Ignatius of Loyola is well-known for praying the Anima Christi prayer. Although he did not author it, Ignatius included and referenced the prayer within his Spiritual Exercises. While its authorship is uncertain, some scholars speculate that Pope John XXII wrote it.
One of the lines of the prayer is: “Passion of Christ, strengthen me.”
The “Passion of Christ” line in Latin is Passio Christi conforta me.” The verb “conforta,” which literally means “together strong,” is translated as “strengthen greatly” or simply “strengthen.”
Aside from the redemptive effects for each person who has ever lived and will ever live, how could Jesus’s suffering and death strengthen anyone? There are many things that could be asked of Jesus as the basis of strength for us – His almighty power, His infinite love, His divine wisdom, His ability to heal, to name a few. How can His Passion strengthen us?
Not Big Biceps & Defined Abs
The strength prayed for is not human physical strength. Yes, Jesus exhibited physical strength in suffering, in carrying His cross, and in trying to raise Himself up for each breath as He hung on the Cross. Ultimately, His human strength gave out. Jesus died an excruciating, shameful, and painful death. The Anima Christi prayer does not ask Jesus for physical strength alone.
The Keys to the Strength of the Passion
What did Jesus show us in His Passion, even though it led to His death that could strengthen us in our daily lives today and in our hope for heaven? The answer exists in two places in Holy Scripture.
Thy Will, Not Mine
Jesus, truly God and truly man, asked His Father if He really had to go through with what He knew was waiting for Him the next day: “He went a little farther, fell on his face, and prayed. He said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Mt 26:39).
One “strength” of Jesus’s passion is the strength of His freely choosing to be obedient to the Father’s will. We are each made so wondrously by God that we can freely choose each of our human actions, and often choose to do not what we will, but what He wills.
The Love of the Passion
Another factor in the strength of the Passion is summed up in John 15:13: “Greater love than this has no man that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
If we pay attention to the Passion of Christ and contemplate His excruciating pain, we realize He did not do this for Himself. He did this for all of us. More amazingly, He suffered for each of us individually. He showed us how to live and how to die for someone else.
Think about all the things we do that take moral strength, moral courage, spiritual strength, a strength that is supernatural. This is the strength that empowers us to love our neighbors as Jesus fully loved God the Father. This is the strength of Christ’s Passion.
Saint Paul Preaches the Passion
Of all the stories, events and wondrous things that St. Paul learned about Christ’s one stood out. He told his hearers that he would not impress them with Jesus’s miracles. For St. Paul, former Jew hunter, former Jew hater, the essence of the message that put him on the ground on the way to Damascus and ultimately raised him up was a message of the Passion:
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the Cross of Christ should be made of no effect. For the preaching of the Cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. . . .For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, and to the Greeks foolishness; but to them who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Cor 1: 17-18, 22-25).
There is a lesson for us from what Christ did during His suffering on Holy Thursday night and on Good Friday. A lesson about how it makes sense to pray “Passion of Christ strengthen me.” He taught us to pray to His Father—Our Father. Pray to His Father, Our Father.
During His passion and death, Jesus turns to His Father, His “Abba,” His Dad, three times as recounted in Holy Scripture. Jesus is already suffering when He goes to pray on the Mount of Olives after the Last Supper with the apostles. He pleads with His Abba that the cup is taken from Him. What is more, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” On the Cross, dying, He pleads with His Abba again, not to end His own suffering, but to forgive those tormenting Him—“for they know not what they do.” This plea for mercy from the Cross is for all of us. In our daily passions and sufferings, we too can talk with Our Father and ask Him for the strength of His Son.
The moment after Jesus’s death is depicted in Salvador Dali’s painting, Christ of St. John of the Cross (above). No longer in pain, no longer bloodied, Jesus rose from the dead. He is alive just as we will be when we pray for the strength of the Passion.
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Suffer me not to be separated from thee.
From the malignant enemy defend me.
In the hour of my death call me.
And bid me come to thee
That with thy saints I may praise thee,
Forever and ever.