As the Family Goes

JP II Quote

"As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." John Paul II

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Who are you in the Crucifixion narrative?

Yesterday evening, Good Friday, we watched The Passion of the Christ with some friends.  In keeping with the solemnity of the day, we concluded our evening in silence.  Silence is wonderful for what it does to the soul.  It gets us past those creature comforts and instant gratification, and turns us inward, to ourselves.  As hard as it was to deny the urge to talk to everyone about their thoughts on the movie, it was good because it forced me to consider what I really thought for myself.

I've seen this movie many times, and so while it's always difficult to watch, it didn't hit me quite as hard as the first time I saw it.  I knew what was coming, and when to brace myself.  I forced myself to watch the parts I was inclined to turn away from.  And all the while I thought, "who would I be in this story?"  We have the benefit of 2000+ years of tradition and faith.  We are not like the Jews who saw Jesus for the first time and had to ask themselves, "is this really the One we've been waiting for?"

And yet, because we have those years behind us, it's so easy to become complacent in our faith.  In reading St. John of the Cross, I was convicted of the complete boldness with which I approach Mass and the Eucharist.  So often even in line on my way to receive Communion, my thoughts are not on the sacrifice that has just taken place.  They are not on the King of the universe coming to dwell in me.  And if they are, they are out of habit.  My heart rarely makes that connection, because if it did I would be a puddle of tears and reverence, not a nit-picky mother just hoping her kids don't run away long enough to make it to the Priest.  Inspired as I have constantly been since the moment I began reading St. John of the Cross, I've been praying not to be so bold in approaching the altar. 

And then a few weeks ago, during a Lenten series I've been attending that was developped by Fr. James Mallon called "Catholicism 201" (which is a follow-up to the "Alpha" series), we studied the Eucharist.  And he said that the Crucifixion is not just a moment in time that we recall as part of our faith, but that it is a present even that takes place at every Mass.  He said that the consecration is Calvary rising up before us, and we are all taken to that very moment each and every time we take part in the Eucharist.  It's completely changed the way I see Mass.  And so, I don't need to wonder who I would have been.  Instead I can ask, who am I?

Of course, I don't want to be the pharisees and high priests.  The movie does such a good job of depicting them as real human beings I think, concerned for their spiritual welfare and not simply blood-thirsty murderers.  There is a pivotal moment in the movie for me when the crowd is calling for Jesus to be crucified where everything changes though.  Confronted with the truth by Pilate following the scourging (surely he has been punished enough?  The charges you bring are not serious enough to merit what you are asking - only days ago you hailed him as a King) the tone changes.  The crowd is now focused on only one thing - death, and no amount of reason can persuade them.  "My Kingdom is not of this world," Jesus said, and indeed this is the case in our present world.  How often are people led down the wrong path with good intentions, and then confronted with truth find themselves hardened, and unable to listen to reason?  Immediately I think of abortion, but I'm sure we could make an exhaustive list of items that would illustrate this, because the point is that we are no different as a society now than we were when Jesus walked the earth.  And so I hear His same response today,  "My kingdom is not of this world."

Then there's Judas and Pilate, different only in the degree of sin they committed.  It really struck me when Jesus said to Pilate, "he who handed me over to you has committed the greater sin."  Judas has traditionally been portrayed in any movie I've seen of the crucifixion with a great deal of humanity, as I think many people see themselves in him.  He and Pilate both were just trying to do what was right, but struggled with how to accomplish that.  I think I am most like these characters when I don't speak up in the face of evil.  We are all faced with choices like these.  We may not be the ones who handed Jesus over, and we may not be able to do anything about the fact that there is evil in the world and that Jesus sometimes allows Himself to be delivered right into it.  But even in the face of that, we are called to speak up, to give testimony to what we know in our hearts is right, even when the rest of the world is screaming for death. 

I want to be like Mary and John, or the other Mary, or like Veronica.  I think everyone does.  We want to be people of unwaivering faith, as indeed we are called to be.  But there is no way to really know that until we have been tested as they are.

On further reflection, I realized I am most like a different character - Peter.  Particularly in thinking of the words of a Steve Bell song, "This is Love":

They'll argue who will sit next to the throne
And I cringe to hear them say, 'thy kingdom come'
They think they know what they're getting into
When we both know that they haven't got a clue
'Cause this is not the same
It's a different thing altogether
This is love.

I only really came into my faith in my late teens, and it's been a great thing.  But for all of my head knowledge, I think the heart is often lacking.  We think we know so much.  We approach Calvary at Mass with complete boldness, saying "Yeah, I get it Lord," when we really don't.  This is real.  This is love, the greatest covenant I will ever know.  The greatest sacrifice, promise and hope.  I know this in my head, I teach this to my children.  And yet, just like St. Peter, sometimes the heart is slow to catch up.  This is why Peter, who was so firm in his resolve and dedication to Our Lord, found himself three times denying him.  How often do I too, deny my Lord?  And yet, our church was built on this rock.  Jesus never gives up on us.

Some will trust in the things they think they know
Think again and let them go
Put away the sword and get behind
And let me die

Here too, I am like Peter.  Jesus is not blind to the ways of the world, the many ways in which He is crucified anew.  He walks into it willingly, for us.  We want to defend Him, to change hearts, to have everyone love Him - and yet, I can't help but think if we always see Him "victorious" (as we would interpret it), we would not have the same love for him.  Peter's love would never have been tested as it was if he had managed to fight off the guards, and Jesus had not been taken.  It never would have been tested if he had not denied him, but remained firm in his faith.  He would have remained in his place of honor, prestige, and comfort. 

But God does not allow us to be there.  He wants us not only to see Jesus dying, but to journey there with Him.  There is something profound in the cry of, "My God, why have you abandoned me?"  It's not loss of faith, but a completely emptying of self.  There is something in being completely stripped of all our security and consolation that allows us, only in that moment, to be fully reliant on God.  It is mercy that allowed the Passion of Jesus to be such a public event - and this same mercy allows it to not just be a profound moment of our history, but the very essence of our present.  We are surrounded everywhere with pain and suffering, the Passion of our Lord.  It is not a past event - it is life.  So many opportunities to put away the sword, get behind, and let Him die.  And in so doing, we will see Him rise again, the ultimate victor.

Dear Jesus, as we celebrate your Passion and Ressurection, may we approach the altar of your sacrifice not with boldness, but with complete abandon.  May the present reality of Calvary be now and forever before us, and may it change everything in our hearts.  May we always see in the laying down of your life the ultimate victory.

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