WAY OF THE CROSS 2017
Through Phoenix Park Dublin
Elements for reflections of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Good Friday, 14th April 2017
“At the time he was betrayed and entered willingly into his passion”, we hear in the Second Eucharistic Prayer, which we regularly pray at Mass. Jesus entered into his passion willingly. How does this correspond to what we have just heard in that reading from the Gospel of Saint Luke? Jesus’ prayer is intense. He even asks his Father “to remove this cup from me”. He knows what his betrayal and passion will involve. His anguish is such that his sweat appeared as large drops of blood.
Yet Jesus also knows that he has come not to do his own will but that of his Father. Despite his anguish, Jesus does not shrink from doing the will of his Father and his Father does not abandon him: he sends an angel to give him strength. Jesus knows what his passion involves and he enters willingly into doing his Father’s will. Jesus knows that he will endure his passion on his own, indeed he prays that those whom he loved would “not come into the time of trial”. He notes in the final words of the reading we have just heard that this is the moment of “the powers of darkness”.
Then Jesus sets out on that journey of destiny. He goes back to his disciples and he finds them asleep. The Gospel uses the curious phrase: “they were sleeping because of grief”.
The powers of darkness are still active in our times. There are moments in which we justly feel that the powers of darkness are stronger than ever before in our world of progress. We see examples all around us. Terrorism kills innocent people walking along sea fronts, simply going along streets about their everyday business. We are stunned by the horrific images of tiny children undergoing immense and irredeemable suffering as a result of nerve gas attacks. We have in our minds the image of tiny children washed ashore dead on European braches lost as their parents attempt to bring them to safety to our shores. We have seen brutal and cold murders on the streets of our own city, victims of evil attempts to maintain control of that super-lucrative traffic of death which is the drug trade. There is the natural temptation for all of us to say what can we do? We feel powerless. We are afraid and our powerlessness leaves us anxious. Yet the powers of darkness are active and near us.
How do we react? Today most of us can be found sleeping because of grief. The daily transmission by media of the grief of innocent children can anaesthetise us. We go about our daily business thinking that this is something we can leave to others. Lord guide us and guide the leaders in our world to recognise that the power of darkness thrives when we react to anguish by sleeping and hoping that it will go away. Light of Christ enlighten us to the darkness that is within us.
We call ourselves Christian, but do we really recognise who Jesus is. Our Gospel reading shows us the many ways in which people do not only not recognise Jesus but refuse to recognise him and actively reject him.
Peter’s betrayal is the simplest way of not recognising Jesus. His intentions are good but his courage is weak. At the first sight of public disapproval he denies Jesus. It is not denial of the heart but fear of what others might think. In today’s society where the force of secularisation can be strong, many Christian simply hide their faith in the privacy of their hearts. They do not want to show their faith and their Christian allegiance in a clear way. Much less do they try to envisage how their faith might in fact bring something vital to the day-to-day widespread search about the meaning of life and above all about how the power of love can change attitudes.
Then we encounter the cynical reaction of those who hold Jesus in custody. Perhaps the callousness of their profession has robbed them of human sensitivity. To overcome the harshness of their mandate they take refuge in mockery and heaping insults on him. Today there are many who think that mocking Jesus is just fun. This can prevent even believers from seeking what Jesus really requests of us, namely to love. Love is the real foundation for human interaction and indeed the real foundation of being authentically human ourselves.
Then there is the reaction of officialdom and distorted public opinion which goes through the motions of a legal process thinking that it is enough to get false witnesses and get the paperwork done. There are those today who do not have the courage to take on public opinion which can be easily manipulated and distorted and people fall for its superficiality or victims to its insensitivity.
Jesus is rejected. But this is the Jesus who has done nothing in his life but good, who brought healing and lifted the burdens which weighed people down. How can people not just not recognise this Jesus but actually distort the very goodness of Jesus to accuse him and humiliate him.
Today the reaction of many in our world and in our Ireland can be to reject Jesus without taking the effort to remember who Jesus really is. Why do people reject the real Jesus to just make up their own idea of who Jesus is, a caricature of the truth or a sweet yet hollow Jesus who has nothing of the challenge that he brings.
People reject Jesus because of us his believers. Scandals within the Church, bitterness and division, empty ritual, a false clerical culture of superiority, judgementalism of people who Jesus would have welcomed, have all contributed to darkening the possibility of many to recognise the true Jesus. Pope Francis constantly warns of the danger of a Church which is just inward looking, protective of its institution, arrogant rather than merciful. Lord be with your Church and with your followers. Open our eyes and our hearts to your call to love.
Jesus is king. But the crowd fail to recognise him. Herod and Pilate are curious and perhaps uncertain. Herod had even wanted to see Jesus for some time. But their judgement is influenced by other factors than the truth.
Herod’s curiosity turns out to be just the desire to see some miracle, a show miracle. Jesus does not work show miracles. His miraculous power is of another kind. He works miracles of healing, of restoring dignity, or lifting burdens which prevent people from being the people that God created them to be. Jesus’ power is not shown in miracles that amuse or satisfy onlookers. He is not a performer. He heals and then he even tells those healed not to tell anyone.
Even when a miracle is done in public, such as the raising up of Lazarus, some of those who witnessed his gesture fail to believe and begin the process which would lead to is condemnation.
They know about Jesus, but they fail utterly to understand him. Seeing Jesus does not mean understanding him and understanding the God that he has come to reveal. We cannot place Jesus simply in the thought boxes within which we categorize people. Jesus demands that we move beyond human categories and come to realise that his kingdom is not of this world, but that his kingdom is what will bring redemption and salvation for our world.
Salvation and redemption do not come from within us, but from a power from on high which enables us to go beyond ourselves. Jesus saves through his power which is the power of God, the God of love.
Where we fail to understand that not only do we fail to understand Jesus but we fall into the trap of preferring something else, someone else. The crowd prefer Barabbas the murderer than Jesus the healer and in their superficiality they open space in history for a culture of murder and corruption rather than a culture of love and healing.
Most of us would be ashamed to admit it, but within each of our hearts there lies the temptation to opt out of accepting the demands of Jesus and his call to love and mercy and forgiveness and almost unknown to ourselves we opt for various forms of Barabbas, of what is destructive and damaging and harmful to us and to society.
Jesus alone is our king. He is a king of love and mercy, but not king of compromise and half- heartedness. We must opt fully for Jesus. But we also know that Jesus is one the one knows our weakness and whose hand is always stretched out to help us stand up again when we fail. Jesus is far from the vindictiveness and harsh judgment of much of the way our society treats its outcasts.
Lord enable us to accept your healing hand when we fail, even when we fail and fail again and again. You never give up on us. Jesus had a special love for sinners, for those who fail. Teach your Church to understand human failure not as eternal exclusion, but as the place where weakness and sinfulness are recognised and the weak and sinful are healed.
The company around Jesus. Let us look at the scenario of those around Jesus as he is led to die. We have already encountered the world of officialdom, those who take the decision to condemn Jesus even though they know that he is not guilty.
There is the crowd, the anonymous crowd which allows negative public opinion to form and to dominate and to block attempts to see who this good man Jesus really is. And I am talking here just about goodness that can be recognised by an impartial observer, not his claims to be the Messiah.
Then we encounter the real companions of Jesus. We have already encountered Peter the believer but with a courage which does not stand the test. We encounter the women of Jerusalem, women who intuitively see the goodness of Jesus and the injustice that he endures and have the further insight to see that what is happening is not simply unjust but that it will bring sorrow and grief even further. The women sense what the power of darkness can eventually bring not just for Jesus but for them and for their children.
We encounter Simon the Cyrene, a complete stranger dragged by the guards to help Jesus in order to ensure that he does not die on them before they can humiliate him by killing him of a Cross. Simon says nothing, but we know that he and his family become familiar figures in the early Church.
Jesus continues on his last short journey and he finds himself now assigned with new companions: two criminals. Jesus is not embarrassed; Jesus is not disgusted; Jesus is not angry. He walks under guard, publicly humiliated, and his closest companions are two criminals. We see later on that Jesus has compassion for his criminal companions, especially the one who sees that Jesus is a good man and even though he cannot formulate in theological language what he asks to receive from Jesus is the one thing that even the most resolute criminal really wishes in the depths of his heart: redemption. The first person to enter the gates of heaven, newly opened through the death of Jesus, is a common criminal.
We can be so judgemental and hurtful towards those whom we decide have failed and those who drift outside our self-made ideas of respectability.
How is it that the Church and its institutions could at various times in history – and not only in a distant past – have been so judgmental and treated broken people who were entrusted to its care with such harshness. How could we have tried to use the teaching and the merciful way of dealing with sinners to justify or accept harsh exclusion. Think of so many groupings who were misjudged: single mothers who wanted to keep a baby they loved, gay and lesbian people, orphans.
Jesus was demanding in what he expected of his followers, but he was never a narrow moralist quick to get others think he was better than them. Let us think today on this Good Friday of that icon of a Jesus walking between two convicted criminals without a trace of false superiority. Think of what the encounter with the mercy of Jesus means to the repentant thief: a gesture which perhaps just for the first time in his life made him feel goodness in his heart just as he too died. Lord cleanse your Church of judgementalism to realise the power of mercy.
Jesus breathed his last. We have listened to a description of the cynical business of killing. They divide Jesus clothes. The crowd try to provoke him as he is in his agony. The soldiers mock him. The only sense of truth in the whole scene is the inscription; “This is the King of the Jews”, but we know from the other Gospels that even this was to be contested and the leaders ask that it be rephrased: “This man said he was king of the Jews”. How often can we get ourselves to think that the change of a few words can leave our conscience at ease. Pilate hoverer for once is decisive and decries that what is written is written and it will not be changed.
Apart from the presence of his Mother Mary and a few disciples, the formalities and the grim practices of execution are carried out unceremoniously and almost without emotion around Jesus, the Just one, and he is left alone, except for the comfort of a common criminal, to die.
Jesus cries our loudly: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. His mission is consumed. He has given himself up even unto death so that we might live. This brutal scene of inhumanity become the moment when humanity is redeemed.
Jesus abandoned becomes for us the source of life. We Christians have to live as those who defend and witness to what life means. We are called to be beside those whose lives have lost meaning and who see no hope. We are called to be beside those who talents cannot flourish because of poverty and exclusion. We are called to be close to those whose lives do not find acceptance because of our narrow judgementalism. We are called not to stand by just observing without emotion those who lives are being destroyed by war and hatred, by violence, in the home, on the streets, on our roads, and through terrorism. We are called to be heralds of life for those whose lives are weakest and unprotected, the unborn, the elderly, those who our modern society consider less worthy of life than others.
Lord Jesus you entered willingly into your passion and you revealed the God of love in ways that are astonishing for us: you did not play God, you accepted humility, you brought healing and hope to many who were on the margins, you spoke with prostitutes, you touched lepers. Wonderful Jesus, make us and make your Church more like you.ENDS