St. Catherine of Siena is a well known and very holy saint. During her life on earth she put Jesus before all else and practiced many severe penances. During one of her visions, Jesus offered her two crowns. One was beautiful... a queen's crown, maybe with precious gems and flowers. The second was ugly and covered in very sharp thorns. It did not take dear St. Catherine long to choose the one her beloved Savior had worn, for to share in His suffering would bring her greater joy than to share in His royalty. Her choice also signifies that the things of the world did not matter to her, and that what was really important was the love she had for Jesus and her faith in His love.
It is fitting that I should bring up the crowns of St. Catherine now that Lent is on the horizon. There is no better time than Lent for us to don the crown of thorns and suffer with our beloved Savior! To show Him that we love Him, and that all other pleasures besides are futile. It is also the best expression of faith and hope that we have to offer this season... a chance to share in His sorrows so that we may more fully share in His joy!
What does it mean to wear the crown of thorns? It is simple... if you choose the crown of thorns rather than the crown of royalty... you are choosing Jesus and the values of the spirit over all human things. Lenten promises are one way to do this, but there are many more ways as well! If we are wearing the crown of thorns, then we are doing little things every day to show that we choose to suffer for Christ. Perhaps we decide to abstain from a piece of cake, or turn down an offer to attend a party. Maybe we kneel down suddenly one night and beat our breasts in quiet prayer. Maybe we stop for a moment at noon one day and meditate on the Passion. These are not promises, or practices... these are signs that we are wearing the crown of thorns each day. To do these things on a whim shows us Who is foremost on our minds!
Christ's crown of thorns is also, in a small way, a sign of His poverty. When He died, perhaps the crown of thorns was he only thing He wore, as His robes were stripped from Him. When we don the crown of thorns as Christ did, we choose to abstain, to do without, to share in His poverty. It is a sign of the spirit that we own nothing but this crown of love Christ has given us. If we deny all possessions in spirit, it is reflected by our actions. Maybe we decide not to eat between meals, do without television or internet, put aside a possession we like for the whole duration of Lent or give it away entirely... these are merely signs of the inner poverty we choose when we choose the crown of thorns.
By wearing the crown of thorns, we show that we are sharing in the Mockery of Christ. We are humble and submissive, admitting our faults freely to ourselves, the priest in Confession, and others when necessary. We persevere in our work without complaint, just as Christ walked and walked on the Way of the Cross even though He could have died in a moment. We do for others and make an attempt to respect, and show respect, for all people in memory of Christ who sat silent as the ignorant and cruel men mocked Him. We think less of ourselves and meditate, rather, on He who sat, skin torn and clothed in purple, on a mock throne.
Because Christ blessed the crown of thorns by wearing it Himself, He gave it a kingly significance. When we are crowned with thorns as Christ is, we make a statement of faith and hope. We glorify Him through our acceptance of His rule, and comfort Him through our trust in His promise. Lent is a time to remember the God-Man's sufferings... to remember how much He cares for those whom He rules... to remember how He left the kingly halls and ecstasies of heaven to die such a painful and dirty death on earth. When Lent is over, we see in the skies the future image of Him removing our crown of thorns and replacing it with a crown of roses and lilies. When Easter arrives, we catch a glimpse of the forever promise, the promise of the Resurrection.