Passion Sunday and Holy Week will be different this year given that most of us are home and will be watching the liturgy or reading the scriptures with family or by ourselves. But we shouldn’t let that hinder the reality of the Lord’s Passion affecting us – of letting it set the stage as we begin Holy Week when we recount what Christ did for us so that we might be saved. As we read or listen to the Passion consider the different voices of those who were there and the shameful circumstances which led to Christ’s Crucifixion and death.
Consider the way that Jesus closest friends treated him. Try to imagine the hurt, almost the unbelief in Christ’s gentle words, “Friend, why are you here?” Judas would you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?’ We could almost tolerate the betrayal of Judas had the other eleven remained faithful. But one short line tells their story “And they all forsook him and fled.” Then there’s Peter! Think of all those miracles Christ worked while Peter was by his side. He raised the dead child to life, cured his mother in law, allowed him walking on water, and was transfigured before him. Only a few short hours before, Peter had boasted, “Even though all abandon you, I will follow you to prison and to death.” But at a safe distance when he was cornered, Peter, the Rock, crumbled. “He began to curse and to swear that he didn’t know Jesus.” And these were Jesus’s closest companions. And not one of them lifted a finger.
It’s difficult hearing what happened to Jesus, but it’s important to remember that our Lord’s Passion leads to our salvation. It’s also the story of our lives. There isn’t a part of the Passion that hasn’t played out in our own lives. Peter in his pride and fear, Peter in his fall but Peter, in his repentance too! Both as a Church and individually, we mirror the disciples who ran away when the reality of what was happening to Jesus became too much for them. Our lives mirror the arrogance and scornful spirit of Caiaphas and the high priests, eager to reform others while ignoring ourselves. And Judas? Let’s face it, we’ve all been like Judas when Jesus could as easily have said to us “Friend, why are you here?”
But none of that stopped Jesus from offering Himself on the Cross for us. Because He loves us, wants us to be reconciled – to have eternal life!
One of my favorite books is a historical novel published in 1966 by the Japanese Catholic author Shūsaku Endō. The title of the book is SILENCE, and it explores what we sometimes perceive as God’s silence and distance in the midst of suffering and the trials of this life.
The story describes the activities of two Jesuit missionaries sent to Seventeenth century Japan to encourage and promote the faith during a time of great persecution that drove many Christians underground. They were also sent to investigate reports that a Jesuit missionary (who happens to be a friend and mentor to the main character) had denied the faith in the face of torture and death.
In the book, the authorities confront those suspected of being Catholic with a terrible choice: an excruciating and slow death by torture for themselves and their families or they can step on a crudely carved image of the Christ on the cross as evidence they renounced the faith. For those who step on the cross, called the fumie, there is a terrible sense of shame and loss, reminiscent of the way St. Peter must have felt after denying our Lord three times.
Like Christ, the main Jesuit character in the story is betrayed by someone close to him, and he is confronted with the same terrible choice his Jesuit mentor endured – either step on the image of Christ or die and be responsible for the death of others. For me, what is most memorable about the story is at the moment of truth when the Jesuit is looking down on that crudely carved image of Christ. Faced with the terrible dilemma, he sees Jesus in a new way and hears Jesus in the silence:
Jesus’ face is described in this way: “Jesus’ face was different from that on which the priest had gazed so often in Portugal, in Rome, in Goa and in Macau. It was not Christ whose face was filled with majesty and glory; neither was it a face made beautiful by endurance to pain; nor was it a face with strength of a will that has repelled temptation. The face of the man who then lay at his feet was sunken and utterly exhausted…The sorrow it had gazed up at him [Rodrigues] as the eyes spoke appealingly: ‘Trample! Trample! It is to be trampled on by you that I am here.’”
As we begin Holy Week, unlike the people and priest in the story, we approach the Cross freely but keenly aware of our own sinfulness and unworthiness when we have sinned and betrayed our Lord. We approach the Cross with our own crosses, but never alone if we are united with Christ in obedience – an obedience which also demands that we help others carry their crosses. Finally, we approach the Cross with a deep sense of gratitude for the great love that God has for each one of us, understanding that our Lord was willing to suffer, die and be trampled underfoot for you and me so that our sins may be forgiven and that we might have new life in Him.
I pray that we all have a blessed and grace filled Holy Week – keenly aware that amidst the struggles and crosses we bear our Lord Jesus understands and is with us each step of the way!
May God Bless and protect you and your families.
Fr. Brendan Murphy, O.P. | Chaplain at Aquinas House