Saturday, April 23, 2011

Look, Listen, Learn: A Reflection of the Passion of Our Lord

What do we become aware of when we hear of Our Lord's Passion? We witness His agony in the Garden; a moment of solitude and isolation from the world, a moment of deep communal prayer between Him and His Father. We witness His pain - no, I would say 'pain' does not truly convey what is happening. Rather, we witness His anguish - that total, all encompassing moment of soul-wrenching awareness of what awaits Him. We hear His plea, and then His acceptance of what must come...and we see the blood that trickles from His pores - a mere drop of precious blood compared to the amount that will be shed soon. Our Lord is afraid - because we have made Him afraid.

How strange was that feeling, to be afraid of His children? How frightening was that moment when as He prepared Himself for what came next? When we listen to the suffering of Christ in the garden, we should be afraid too - we have made our God afraid.

Then we witness something new, something He knows must come. This moment should shock us, it should frighten us to our souls - and we should never lose that terror at any moment during what happens next. A man approaches - a man so well known, so intimate to Him as much as we are so intimately known to Him. And this man comes forth and kisses Him, and it is done.

It so quick, so brief. God was betrayed by man. The Man was handed over by a man. We handed over Our Lord to death to be dealt by us. We are the ones who are guilty of this. So quick and brief, but the results so great they will be felt forever.

God betrayed by man.

Now we are in the whirlwind - things happen so fast yet every detail is clear as crystal. He is beaten and mocked - given a crown of thorns to wear which is in truth a crown of all the foul thoughts and guilty consciences we cannot bear to face ourselves - a great cloak thrown over His shoulders, a cloak of responsibility we don't want to bear. Shackles of sin that should be ours are bound to His wrists. All the things we cannot - no, will not - carry are passed off to another.

Our Lord's "trial" is decided before He is even brought into the room. Back and forth He sent, before hands are washed and He is given over - for the final time - to us. He has been placed in our hands - but He has willed it to be so. So Our Lord is forced to carry the method of His punishment to His place of death. We are so cruel a people that the injustice is laid even here. He must be forced to carry His own method of death to that horrible place - and He must be forced to display Himself to all - as if it will be a lesson to those who follow Him. Indeed it is, but not the one we sought to deliver.

Now Our Lord - so brutalized by our hands that when we look at Him, it is almost impossible to believe that this is the Man from the garden - trudges the great path to Calvary where awaits His death. Does He find any comfort or solace along the way? Little, perhaps, in the face of His sorrowful Mother and the Magdalene, in the weeping faces of the women who meet Him. Perhaps, just maybe, in the aid of the Cyrenian, conscripted to help.

But this is over in an instant, and soon the jeers and beatings are relieved only to be replaced by the removal of His garments - denied even the dignity of clothing in His final moments. Soon Our Lord is lain upon that terrible piece of wood, and His hands and feet are pierced. Metal is the material used to pierce, but it is our own sins that are driven into His flesh. Sin is what keeps Him on that terrible construction of torture and death.

He is raised up and presented for us to see, and we stand their to witness what we have spent the last day working for. His agony is displayed for us to see, and then that horrible cry is sent forth to the heavens: "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?" Oh how terrible that cry is - how it rends the heart and strikes so deep in our soul. We cannot understand death well, but suffering we understand so much. Can we now see what our work has wrought? All we have done has culminated in this moment, and we cannot say we did not want it. If we hadn't, would we have done the works we have done?

We look around and see He finds no comfort on that cross. He is alone, in a way we can never fully comprehend. He looks for His friends, but what does He find? Nothing, but the dust kicked up by their flight. But He does find His Mother, her heart rent by her grief; He sees the Magdalene, that poor, broken figure curled at the foot of the cross; and John, there with the Blessed Mother, unsure what to do but care for His Lord's mother, and share in the soul-shattering grief. There, we stand and witness a marvel - we see that Our Lord does not cry out to His mother for help; He does not demand John to take Him down. We witness the giving nature of Our Lord, and He speaks words that are both to us and not to us. In His final moments, He makes sure His mother is taken care of, giving her over to John and - yes, amazingly so - to us. The woman who has no other child save Him is now given a multitude of children in which to nurture.

He cares for His own, even in such utter agony. And finally, with a final word, it is finished. He gives up the Spirit, and dies.

And there is moment of silence - the kind of silence that comes only from God - where we are alone, all others removed. We stand there on the mount of Calvary, and stare at the sight of Our Lord dead on the cross. We stare at the pierced limbs, the marks of scourging, the bruises and welts that cover His body, the torn flesh of His brow. We take in and see what has just happened, and the enormity of what has been done. The silence is...immense and soul-crushing. The sounds and noise of the Passion had filled our ears the entire time, and for the first time we hear nothing.

And maybe, just maybe, in that silence we choose to listen and allow ourselves to hear, to see, to understand - if just for a moment, and in that moment we weep.

We weep true sorrow.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Maundy Thursday

Fr. Richard is old.

He's just an old man who's whole life has been dedicated to the Church and to God, to doing what he needs to do to nourish and nurture the flock that has been entrusted to him. He is stubborn and rude, but never ambivalent to his calling. Sometimes he smells like sweet pickles (my mom say he's pickling his body for canonization, but I always thought the smell of sanctity was roses).

Fr. Richard never gives a bad homily, is hawk-eyed when it comes to Holy Communion, witty and eloquent when he needs to be, sharp and to the point when he has to be. Sometimes he is very hard to like, but never hard to love. Which is why when Holy Thursday comes around and I see this old priest on his knees washing the feet of 12 men from the parish, I am in awe.

There is a humility when he scoots down the line and pours the water over your feet that overtakes you, an awe that fills your soul when he takes the towel and dries you. He's old, as I said, and being on the hard floor hurts him - you can see it in his face. He gets frustrated when his alb gets caught around his feet, but he never mutters or says a thing. He refuses any help offer to him by others, moving and washing all by himself. He is intent and focused on what he is doing.

I see Christ when I see Fr. Richard wash the feet of men, and I am humbled.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Don't Hold onto the Old Man, the World

"The man who enters [this church] is bound to see drunkards, misers, tricksters, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, people wearing amulets, assiduous clients of sorcerers, astrologers. He must be warned that the same crowd that press into the churches on Christian festivals also fill the theaters on pagan holidays...

"Wherever the towering mass of the theater is erected, there the foundations of Christian virtue is undermined, and while this insane expenditure gives to the sponsors a glorious result, men mock at the works of mercy....

"It is only charity that distinguishes the children of God from the children of the Devil. They all make the sign of the cross, answer 'Amen' and sing Alleluia, they all go to church and build up the walls of the basilicas....

"Take away the barriers afforded by the laws! Men's brazen capacity to do harm, their urge to self-indulgence would rage to the full. No king in his kingdom, no general with his troops...no husband with his wife, no father with his son, could hope to stop, by any threat or punishment, the license that would follow the sheer sweet taste of sinning....

"Give me a man in love, he knows what I mean. Give me one who yearns; give me on who is hungry; give me one who is far away in this desert, who is thirsty and sighs for the spring of the Eternal Country. Give me that sort of man; he knows what I mean. But if I speak to a cold man, he just doesn't know what I am talking about....

"You are surprised the world is losing its grip? That the world is grown old? Don't hold onto the old man, the world; don't refuse to regain your youth in Christ, Who says to you: 'The world is passing away; the world is losing its grip, the world is short of breath. Don't fear, they youth shall be renewed as an eagle.'" ~ St. Augustine of Hippo