14/4/06 Way of the Cross Reflections

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WAY OF THE CROSS
through Phoenix Park Dublin

Elements for reflections of
Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin

Archbishop of Dublin and Primate of Ireland

Good Friday, 14th April 2006
Words of Welcome
          We come at this special hour on Good Friday afternoon to commemorate the Passion and Death of Jesus.   We come to walk the path that Jesus walked.  It is the path of rejection by his own, of unjust condemnation, of humiliation and cruel death.

        We walk pondering on the mystery of why Jesus, who is “truth and the life”, should take on such a cruel death for our sakes.    Jesus loves us so much; he is so determined to free us from the power of sin and death, that he faces this challenge even unto his own death, even unto the ignominious death on the cross.

        We join with Jesus on his path, knowing that this path is the only path to true life.

 

First Reflection
          “The Way of the Cross in the heart of the city” is the description you will find in your booklet.  We gather once again this year to walk with the Cross of Jesus along the paths of this park which is such a significant part of the city of Dublin.

        We hold the Cross high.  The Cross was the symbol of shame and ignominy.  Jesus was deliberately condemned to this particularly cruel and humiliating form of death.   Yet we hold the Cross high along the streets of this park.  We offer it to those who join with us on our journey and in our meditation.  We offer it to those who pass by.  We offer it to those who care to notice.  We offer it to our world and our society.  To all we offer it as a symbol, as a beacon, but above all as a sign of contradiction.

        Perhaps it might seem curious to want to offer to individuals or to a society which in many ways is looking for identity, a sign of contradiction.  Our world is more used to messages that are unequivocal, often set out with a specific spin, with a single focussed message.
          We offer a sign of contradiction.  The message of the cross is the message and the sign that Jesus offers to us.  We can react in different ways.  Jesus offers us a sign of contradiction because he wants a response through which we become engaged.  The scandal of the cross can only be addressed when we become engaged with ourselves and with the fundamental inspiration of how we live as individuals and society. God enters into communion with us, he allows us to cooperate, he creates us as persons and his word grows and develops in us a persons.   God does not impose.  Our human cooperation is essential.
The cross is sign of contradiction, a sign of challenge, a call to conversion.

        In the midst of the noise and activity of the city, we take this moment to step outside our daily routine.  Yet, we still have to deicide.  Along the way of the cross there were many:  the curious, the disinterested, the mockers and those who accompanied Jesus on his path and who remained faithful to him, because they recognised in him the presence of our God who has remained faithful always, even in the face of our sinfulness and rejection.  The Cross challenges us today to decide where we wish to stand.

Second Meditation
They Gospel reading we have just heard is like a dialogue of answer and response marked by two concepts:  betrayal and fidelity.  The disciples are gathered for their Paschal Meal, a most solemn moment both of religious memory and of the fellowship which emerges at such a symbolic sharing of faith and devotion.  The betrayal of Jesus is set in that context.  The betrayal takes place at a high point of commemoration of the events of salvation, at a moment when the unity of the family of believers was symbolised.  Judas not only betrays Jesus, but he betrays him in the context of the great celebration of the faithfulness of God to his people.

Judas not just betrays, his very presence is hypocritical.  He feels that he can somehow be with the company of Jesus and still lead a double life.

Poor, Judas: he is the easiest one in the world to condemn.  But in so many ways we are so like him.  How many times has Jesus been betrayed in our days by those who appeared as those closest to him?   How many of those who have shared in the most intimate ministry of the Church have yet gone on betraying Jesus and those in their charge.  How many have sat with in the company of Jesus, who belong to his company, have never really accepted his challenge to be real disciples, real disciples ready to accept his chalice?

To the betrayal of Judas, Jesus responds with that great symbol of his fidelity, the giving of himself, his body and blood, for the remission of sins.  He responds with the institution of the Eucharist which will guarantee his continued presence in his Church, his continued presence with his people, despite their infidelity. He responds with the great testament of his love.

Then Peter and his disciples begin their chorus of promises of fidelity, but it is easy to see that these are hollow and half hearted. No even more, they are the protests of fidelity of those who feel that they can do so on their own, who have no need of the healing strength that comes from abandoning ourselves to Jesus.
Judas is the model of the person who is attracted by power and success and recognition by the powers that be, by the culture of the day.   He feels that perhaps money can provide an answer, but then he becomes trapped into becoming one who lives a lie and loses all sense of truth and love.
We only become ourselves when overcome the temptation to think that we as individuals and humanity can go it alone.  We need the humility to allow ourselves to be embraced by the God who loves us, and who showed that love until the end.
Third Meditation
Jesus remains faithful even as he faces the cruel death he knows he is going to endure.  He goes to pray.  His prayer is the prayer of anguish.  It is the prayer of the one whose hour has come and who understands what it means to do the will of the one who sent him.  Love and fidelity always come at a great price.

It is the prayer of anguish, and yet it is also the prayer of serenity, the serenity that comes when we abandon ourselves fully to God’s will.  Jesus knows what is facing him.  He realises the suffering he is to endure, yet he accepts this in order to witness to the faithfulness and the compassion of God.
The Jesus who knew the authority on which his truth was based chose to reveal that truth through a life of service.  He attains Lordship not through clinging to the outward trappings of sovereignty, authority or power, but through total self giving.  He attains “the name that is above every other name, so that every tongue can confess him as Lord” through self-giving love unto the end.  By that love he becomes “Lord of the universe” and shows also that there is only one universal law, that of Love.

How do the disciples react?  In the first instance, they sleep.  Was it that they were just tired, or is sleep not also the final flight from reality?  The one who really cares faces nights without sleep.  The one who sleeps either does not care or cannot face reality.
Later the disciples move to the other reaction of hyper-action, even of violence.  One is the reaction of flight; the other is the reaction of self justification, of trying to find our own answers to the challenges that face us.
The Christian faith is a faith which challenges us to address realities in that dialogue with God which is prayer.  In prayer we place ourselves serenely in the presence of the total otherness of God, but in the knowledge that that God is the God of love, who will remain faithful to us even in the darkest moment. The fidelity of God gives us the strength to remain faithful.
The pressure on Christians to day is to conform, to lie low, not to rock the boat, the keep one’s innermost religious sentiments to oneself, not to stand out.  But the Christian is called to be the sign not of conformism but of contradiction.
Young people if they want a Church at all, they want a Church which has no fear of challenging superficiality and sham, a Church which will offer them the instruments to discern the meaning of their lives. People must encounter the Church as a rejection of the superficiality of relations which marks much of our consumer society.  The encounter with Jesus in the Church must be one in which we encounter both communion with others and the depth of our own freedom.
Only following the sign of contradiction that is the cross will lead us on the path to such freedom.
Fourth Reflection
Jesus stands there before his accusers.  His reaction is again that of serenity.  He is wrongly accused.  He knows the details of the lies that are concocted against him.  He knows the sad weakness of those whose integrity has been bought for almost nothing.  He remains totally serene, mostly in silence, never a word out of place, never the notion of anger or revenge.  The Just one stands there silent and serene in the face of the frenzied hectic of those who unjustly accuse him.
But it is precisely that ability to stand there, the solitary and lone symbol of integrity, that makes Jesus the one who stands out.  In the sordid court of lies, the bowed head of the accused is the only head that can truly be held high.   His inner tranquillity, without more than a few words, shows the court for what it is.
The follower of Jesus must live in a complex world, a world where there is so much good yet where the is so much shallowness in human relations, so much self interest, so much disregard for others, so much opportunism and exploitation.
Words can denounce and must denounce, but the example of Jesus reminds us of the power of the witness of people who maintain their integrity and who do not compromise.
Be not afraid.  Let the stance of Jesus be our strength.  Let his silence remind us that there are times when the hurly-burly of words that surround us, in politics, in the media, in entertainment, in dot.coms, dot. orgs, dot.edus, in gossip and innuendo, when the silence of integrity can be the best response.
The Church must propose the message and the truth of Jesus. It must propose it in the world in which we live, but uncontaminated by the superficiality which is characteristic of so many aspects of our culture.
The word of God challenges hearts. It can resist the insults, the ridicule and the violence to which it is exposed.   It is interior freedom which can overcome the corruption and seeking for power and wealth that destroys our world and undermine human trust.  We can only achieve that interior freedom if we recognize God as our true wealth, through a daily renunciation, allowing ourselves to be guided by Jesus who though rich, made himself poor for us.  It is when we loose ourselves in him that we find the way in our life.
Fifth reflection
Jesus said not a word.   And the crowd cried Barabbas.  The Church must always place its trust and confidence in the message of Jesus.  The more the Church falls into the temptation of siding with the fashions of the times, the more people will cry Barabbas, because without firm roots in God society will inevitably go astray.
Pope Benedict has recently spoken about “the great defection from Christianity which has occurred in the West in the past 100 years”    He continued:  “It was said – I am thinking of Nietzsche but also of so many others – that Christianity is an option opposed to life. With the Cross, with all the Commandments, with all the “nos” that it proposes to us, some have said that it closes the door to life”.
The Cross again appears as the sign of contradiction.  Yet the Cross is the sign which alone leads to “life in abundance”.  It is the cross which frees us:  “Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it” (Lk 9: 24).
In a world where strength and power are often prized above all other values we are confronted with a God who allows his Son to be a victim of violence, injustice and political machinations. He shows us that being “Lord and Master” is not about power or money or possession; it is not about the ability to exploit people, much less about trying to control other through violence or extortion.
It is not by arrogating life to ourselves but only by giving life, not by having life and holding on to it but by giving it, that we can find it. This is the ultimate meaning of the Cross:  not to seek life for oneself, but to give one’s own life.
Sixth Reflection
Even until the end people taunted Jesus and tried to get him to respond in their own terms.  They would believe him if he were to make a gesture of sheer power, a “show miracle” which would be irrefutable.  But Jesus never uses his power in that way.  Jesus does not constrain belief in him.  Our response must be one of personal commitment.
We live in a changing Ireland, an Ireland which has many successes but which is also looking for its identity.  In these days we are engaged in a conversation about the significance of the events that took place ninety years ago. Where is the real soul of Ireland?  What is the contribution of believers to that identity?
Perhaps in the past believers and Church leaders attempted to think that decisions could be made for others.  As believers and as Church our contribution to building the soul of modern Ireland must be one simple one:  we offer a sign of contradiction.  We propose and witness to a person, Jesus Christ, who challenges our society with his vision.  That challenge is the more effective when we are authentic witnesses to Jesus.
In an ever changing world, in a world of fleeting success and fleeting popularity, the true witness of the Christian is that of fidelity and fearlessness in opening our heart to Jesus.
Fidelity, remaining faithful, is a real challenge in a world filled with compromises and short cuts.  Still today, the witness of those who remain faithful is often a sign of contradiction to the fashions of the times.  Think of the faithfulness of those who for years care for sick or elderly or handicapped relatives.  Think of the fidelity of parents to children who have drifted into the apparently endless despair of addiction. Think of the fidelity of those who stand up for justice in the face of oppression.  Fidelity and not empty promises and shallow sound-bytes are the building blocks of a society that is strong and truly human.Fidelity draws its strength from love.  Jesus remained faithful until the end because he witnessed to the gracious and superabundant love of God.  Still today we can say with Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est: “Love is the light – and in the end the only light – that can always illuminate a world grown dim and give us the courage to keep living and working”.
Conclusion
Jesus had died.  We enter that evening of great sorrow.  Jesus body is taken down from the Cross.  The starkness of the empty cross remains to challenge us and to question us.
Yet we know that no human evil is greater than the mercy of God.  Jesus, offering himself for our sins has won pardon for us.  This is the vision that the Mystery of the Cross leaves us with this afternoon, as we return now in silence to our daily challenges and responsibilities.
We remember here particularly Pope John Paul II, indefatigable witness to the mercy of God.   We remember how he lived and we remember how he died.    He challenged us to open our hearts to Jesus.  May we accept the challenge to ponder the mystery of the Cross, that sign of contradiction, knowing that Jesus’ love for us is so great that he transformed the meaning of the Cross.  The cross, symbol of death and evil, becomes the sign of salvation.  The wood of the cross, symbol of death, becomes the tree of life.
Lord, in your goodness, watch over us always; Help us to follow in our lives the logic of the Cross,the logic of your unending love
and your unbounded mercy.
We thank you Lord that by your Cross you have saved usand saved the world,that you have set us free.
Amen.
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