This Holy Week reflection was requested at the invitation of CASC.
Today we have Palm Sunday: Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem. But then we have (in the Latin Church) the reading of Christ’s betrayal, his suffering, and his death. What a strange juxtaposition. Reflecting upon this last evening I realized what we, the people of the earth, do with the Christ. So long as he rides into our lives in the glory we envision, we greet him as our king. At this point, nothing in our lives has changed: life is good, Jesus the King is here, nothing is (yet) asked. Here are the cloaks before him; here are the palms of victory; here are the pledges of loyalty and praise.
How suddenly the scene changes in several days: Jesus is betrayed, by an intimate kiss no less. He is arrested, thrown into a deep pit, and then put on trial. When asked to tell his story, he becomes convicted of blasphemy — for telling the chief priests and the religious council the truth they asked for. He is the Messiah, he confessed who he was, and is condemned as a blasphemer for telling the truth. He is condemned to die by the very people that should have received the Messiah and proclaimed him to the people.
In the scandals we have all experienced from Christendom College, we rightly ask “where is God in all this?” I do not presume to answer this question for everyone — only to offer the reflection that has grown in my own broken heart for many, many years, and become even sharper in these past few months. I see God present in Jesus Christ: I see his face in the survivors and victims. They bear the image of Love Incarnate betrayed by the close ones they trusted. They bear the image of he who was condemned for telling the truth, handed over by the authorities for renewed violations instead of being protected from malice. They bear the wounds of the Crucified One as the righteous crowd demands they give “proof” by coming down from the Cross. What more proof do they have than the wounds they bear in their bodies? Even Christ himself, asks the question from the depths of his spirit: “My God, why have you forsaken me?” If I look on this Passion for the beauty of Christ, I find him first in the face of the victim and survivor of this horrifying evil and betrayal of Love itself.
Reflecting on these passages and our own suffering, I see that Jesus the King is betrayed and condemned to death — and hardly any of the people that shouted his praises came to his aid. They kept their heads down and went about their business. Perhaps they thought it was really too bad about Jesus, or just offered some thoughts and prayers, and kept away from the scenes of evil taking place, or rationalized that he must not be the real Messiah anyway. Who knows? But Christ is crucified again in the victims and survivors of sexual violence, and it is telling that most people behave the same way. They do not have the guilt of the active persecutors, but they do not get any medals either for doing nothing, and each of them will one day have to account to Jesus for what they did or did not do, when they heard he was being crucified.
Those who bravely sought to help Christ on the road to Calvary were women. Veronica bears the image of Jesus in her own veil. The brave men who pledged their swords and lives to Jesus had fled. The great crowds of people that pledged their lives and loyalty to Jesus are missing. Most of the men around Jesus are carrying out his execution, mocking him, and rejoicing at what they do. We have only a few men, who are there with Jesus, supporting him — and each of them under very different circumstances. Simon, who ends up carrying Jesus’s cross with him; John, at the foot of the Cross; and Dismas, who is crucified with him. Most of the Church is absent of Jesus: the representatives of the Church remaining at the Cross are his mother, these women, and John. I reflect on this, because we all feel the scandal of a Church that is missing. But perhaps, the Church is still here and present — through those of us that remain with the victim who bears the image of Jesus crucified.
Still: Where is God? Why did he not save Jesus? I have no easy answer. This is a mystery. But I see God in all those people that I mentioned: I see God with those who see Love crucified, and realize they must be with Jesus and act now. I see God suffering in the anguish of his betrayed children: if parents suffer agony to see the suffering of children they could not save, I see God saying to Creation, what you have suffered, I shall suffer too. What a chasm would exist between God and man if we have suffered seeing loved ones, whom we would have wished to save from agony, and he carved out an exception for Jesus. He doesn’t spare even himself from our common suffering, even when Evil mocked God and invited him repeatedly to manifest his power and escape that Cross. I imagine at the foot of the Cross, this is where I wish God would manifest his power. Who doesn’t, when confronted with so much suffering?
But I see God manifest his power in a different way I could not have imagined. I see him depriving Evil and Death of its finality. Jesus’s suffering restores life to a murderous thief whose only good deed may have been to offer words of affirmation to Jesus, and be a witness to hope in Love, and the redemption of Love. A soldier who executed Jesus, realizes what he has done: he realizes the Messiah he helped kill — and turns away. A member of the council who was silent, or not heroic, takes the step of outing himself as a follower of Jesus by receiving his body for burial. And yet, this is the foretaste.
The true God is revealed: God is Love, and Love gives Life, and Love has trampled upon Evil and Death. Jesus Christ restores those good souls in Hell, and brings them into Paradise; and then rises triumphant from the Dead. The Church celebrates when it says, “Christ has trampled death by death, and on those in the tombs, bestowing life!” Jesus then begins the healing of the Church that fled from him, and reconciled Peter who betrayed him, and learned that to love Jesus, he must feed his lambs and sheep. But here, we have God, bringing healing beauty out of horror, and it is only a shadow of what is to come. Love is God’s Life, and triumphs over Evil and Death. I don’t believe everyone can say this, but in my heart, I believe this to be true.
I see God, the risen Jesus, in the survivors who now bring healing with their wounds, and then in us all working in CASC: lives are being restored, healing is beginning, people who felt dead are coming back to life, and something has been recovered that cannot be taken away. Those who felt alone and desolate in darkness, have found friends who share the light of their lanterns, and we together are on the way. We have been with Jesus through his passion and death, and at some point, we have entered the story. But we are all part of his resurrected body, and bringing the life of Love to those who have not received it is the Messiah’s glory. It shall not be finished until he comes again, but Jesus will complete his work of Love in all of us, and renew the world. For now, he relies upon us to help him carry out that work as best we can.
I have hope amid our sorrows, and I see the miracle of healing beauty rising forth, like a dawn that came unexpected after a long darkness. Whatever happens, I am privileged to be on this journey with you. We have become friends and family. I had a dream last night, where I was having a long conversation with one of you, and felt deeply happy. If we don’t have those conversations in this life, I look forward to sharing them with you in the next. You all have meant more to me than I could ever possibly tell you — and whether you have faith or not, I know you are close to the heart of Jesus, and he will recognize his beautiful image in us beneath our brokenness. Heaven is the place of Love, for us all to meet in joy. For now, let us rise with hope and confidence, and together, with Jesus the King of Love more clearly present among us, be on our way.