2/4/10 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, 2nd April 2010
 

Words of Welcome

          We come 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 be betrayed to 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.   We walk with Jesus, yet we ask who is this Jesus and where do we stand regarding his life and his mystery.

First Reflection


        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 and those who do not.   We offer the Cross to our world and our society.

At the conclusion of the passion story in the Gospel of Saint Luke there is a striking passage just after the death of Jesus which challenges us.  Saint Luke speaks of two groups who were present.  He talks of “the people who had gathered for this spectacle” and he speaks of “Jesus’ acquaintances who stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee”.

Crowds stood by the Cross of Jesus to watch a spectacle, a show, a piece of entertainment, the gruesome spectacle of criminals being crucified.  The crowd had no interest or knowledge or feeling about who Jesus was, what his identity was.  Did they look on Jesus and the two thieves in the same light?  Had they horribly got their own favourite, one whose death they would have been happier about?  That crowd was vindictive; they had come to enjoy watching the death of an offender.  Jesus is surrounded by such people, ordinary respectable good citizens, looking for and enjoying vengeance.
 
Yet Jesus the innocent one is the first to forgive, he forgivers everyone, his forgiveness is not selective, he has no favourites. Indeed the first person to reach his kingdom after Jesus’ liberating death was not a respectable citizen, but an outsider, a common criminal condemned alongside Jesus.

Lord keep us from drifting away from you, becoming just spectators, watching your final moment without any sense of being acquainted with you, without any affection for you.

Keep away from us all sense of vindictiveness, of rejoicing in the humiliation of others who may even be much better people than we are.  Let us learn even when we are suffering and feel oppressed and under pressure, to think also of others.

The cross is sign of contradiction, a sign of challenge, a call to conversion.   When we encounter the Cross then we have to make a decision.   The Cross challenges us today to decide where we wish to stand regarding the place of Jesus in our lives.



Second Meditation

The Gospel reading we have just heard is like a dialogue of answer and response marked by two concepts:  betrayal and fidelity.  The betrayal had begun at the Last Supper, 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 does not just betray; his very presence is hypocritical.  He feels that he can somehow be with the company of Jesus and still lead a double life.   Judas, the sad figure, hears the words of Jesus:  You are clean, but not all of you. 

What is it that makes one unclean?    In the deepest sense it is not a list of sins and improper behaviour.  These are symptoms of uncleanliness.  In its deepest sense what makes us unclean, what defiles us is the rejection of love. Sin from the beginning of creation is seen as an expression of pride.  When we are proud, we feel enhanced and contented.   But instead of enhancing us, pride really isolates us, it prevents us from loving.  Pride makes us believe that we have no need of any purification or renewal and thus we close ourselves to love.   When genuine pride turns to arrogance, then as individual and indeed a Church community can become so focused on ourselves, that we witness just to ourselves and our own finiteness.
 
The unfortunate Judas shows us where this closed pride can lead us.  He followed Jesus in the hope of achieving power and success. For him, personal power and success alone were real; love did not count. With his pride came greed: money for himself became more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love.

The self-satisfied feel no need for redemption.  The self obsessed will never understand freedom.  The self-centred will never understand the beauty of generosity.
Poor, Judas: he is the easiest one in the world to condemn. The other disciples are no great examples either.  In so many ways we are so like Judas.  “The disciples deserted him and ran away”.   The spectacle, the show had become too much for them.  They no longer wanted to be part of it, not even just having the minimum of courage to stand silently near the Cross of Jesus, as Mary did.


Third Meditation


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.

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, so much compromise and lack of integrity.

Words can denounce and must denounce, but the example of Jesus reminds us of the power of the witness of people who silently maintain their integrity and who do not compromise.

We could all quote cases where loud voices of support and political correctness turn out to be just as short-lived as the promise by Peter never to deny Jesus.   Peter feels that by denying again and again somehow his untruth would go way, would be turned into truth.  Falsehood leads only to deeper falsehood. 

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 and uncompromised integrity which can overcome the corruption and seeking for power and wealth that destroys our world and undermine human trust.  Lack of integrity and authenticity has damaged our Irish society; lack of integrity and authenticity has damaged the body of Christ.

Jesus though rich, made himself poor for us.  It is when we loose ourselves in him that we find the way in our life.   

Fourth reflection

Jesus said not a word.   And the crowd cried Barabbas.  The Cross again appears as the sign of contradiction.  The Church must always place its trust and confidence alone in the message of Jesus.  The Church is constantly in danger of falling into the temptation of siding with the fashions of the times.  We can even be tempted to think that that is what progress is about.  
When we face of an onslaught of attack or ridicule about the message of Jesus we can become fearful; we can try to produce a more palatable message, one that people will like, one that will not shake their comfort too much.  And when that happens instead of attracting people to Jesus, they cry Barabbas.  Our interpretation of the message of Jesus can move rapidly from being authoritarian and uncompromising and bound within the past, to being all too accommodating and “modern”.
The Cross of Jesus is not one designed in film studios.  We do not make the Cross of Jesus.  The Cross of Jesus though subject of so many classics of the world of art, was no work of art.  It was a crude and brutal instrument of punishment; nothing polished or finished or stylish about it.
We do not have designer crosses, nor do we design the cross, nor do we choose our cross.  We follow the Way of The Cross. When we journey along the way of the Cross we do not know what that way will entail and how long our journey will take.  The challenge is not to follow the short-cuts of the disciples who found that fleeing was the quick and easy answer; the challenge is not to follow the hypocrisy of Pilate and the Chief Priests who compromise and corrupt themselves through false judgement and wash their hands of what they had done. Our challenge is to be like Jesus who, with all the anguish and fear it entails, does not flinch or waver in remaining faithful to the will of his Father, even at the price of enduring the ignominious death on a criminal’s cross. 
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.

Fifth 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.  They want Jesus to prove himself on their terms, on their understanding of what power is about.  If he does that, then he will save himself from ignominious death.  But Jesus did not come to save himself; he came to give his life for us.  Jesus lives and dies on his terms; he does not compromise to the terms of others.

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.  Fidelity and not empty promises and shallow sound-bytes are the building blocks of a society that is strong and truly human.

Think of the harm done by infidelity.  Fidelity should be a pillar of economic relations; when that pillar of trust is betrayed it affects not just those who are unfaithful, but the ordinary life of ordinary people.  Think of the many promises made to the poor of the world: international commitments, goals, packages and agreements, which remain unfulfilled and are replaced only by more of the same.  Think of the harm done by infidelity by those who acted in the name of Jesus, by those who abused and by those who failed to protect.    Think of the harm done to the fabric of society, when a climate of mistrust is created by a culture where quick profit may be more important than building a sustainable future for all.

Fidelity draws its strength from love.  Infidelity is placing self as more important than love, than reaching out to others.  Nothing could be farther away from living the Christian life.

Through Jesus, the crude Cross of punishment becomes a symbol of mercy.  But true mercy is never cheap mercy.    Mercy heals, but it is not a magic potion which painlessly removes the ugliness of our sinfulness.  True mercy is not a duster which simply obliterates our past, as individuals or as Church.  True mercy elicits true repentance and conversion, changing direction in life, becoming ourselves truly loving people

Lord by your Cross and Resurrection, set us free.  Set us free from all that binds us within compromise and half centeredness.  Set us free from self centeredness and allow us to feel the freedom and joy of generosity, or being merciful as well as receiving your mercy. 


Conclusion

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 the Church in Ireland as we pray from the Payer which Pope Benedict wrote for the Church in Ireland at the conclusion of his recent Pastoral Letter:

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and our salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts,
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters

Lord Jesus Christ
May the Church in Ireland renew her age old commitment to the education of young people in the way of truth and goodness,
holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit comforter, advocate and guide
Inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland
 

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.

What is it that makes one unclean?    In the deepest sense it is not a list of sins and improper behaviour.  These are of uncleanliness.  In its deepest sense what makes us unclean, what defiles us is the rejection of love. Sin from the beginning of creation is seen as an expression of pride.  When we are proud, we feel enhanced and contented.   But instead of enhancing us, pride really isolates us, it prevents us from loving.  Pride makes us believe that we have no need of any purification or renewal and thus we close ourselves to love.   When genuine pride turns to arrogance, then as individual and indeed a Church community can become so focused on ourselves, that we witness just to ourselves and our own finiteness. The unfortunate Judas shows us where this closed pride can lead us.  He followed Jesus in the hope of achieving power and success. For him, personal power and success alone were real; love did not count. With his pride came greed: money for himself became more important than communion with Jesus, more important than God and his love.

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