WAY OF THE CROSS 2016
Through Phoenix Park Dublin
THE WAY OF THE CROSS IN THE YEAR OF MERCY
Elements for reflections of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Good Friday, 25th March 2016
“Pray that you may not come into the time of trial”. Jesus stands alone. He wishes to spare his disciples from what he knows is to come about. Jesus himself experiences fear at what faces him. He turns in prayer to his Father. But he knows that the hour was coming when he must fulfil the will of his Father.
There is a phrase in the Gospel of St. John (Jn 13:1) which gives us a key to the understanding God’s mercy in its deepest meaning: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end”. God’s love knows no frontiers. God’s love for us knows no bounds; God’s mercy endures for ever.
Judas now appears to betray Jesus with a kiss: how often too we fall into the trap of hypocrisy of pretending to kiss when our intention is to destroy. All of us know the falsity that is in us. All of us know how we when faced with grief and trial we run away; we bury ourselves from the challenge of facing reality.
In a world filled with compromise and superficiality, the followers of Jesus Christ are called to be witnesses to integrity and authenticity in their lives. The demands of faith in Jesus Christ cannot be put away when we go out into the realities of the world.
Jesus knows that he will be betrayed by those who were his own, but he does not condemn them and diminish them because of their human weakness. He tells them “Get up and pray”. Jesus wishes that when we fall we can get up, we can stand up again and rediscover our integrity,
Other disciples feel that the answer is violence and that somehow attacking the servant of the high priest they will resolve the problem. Jesus rejects violence. Jesus response to this gesture of violence is categorical: “No more of this” and he heals the servant.
Violence is never the answer. A year ago on Good Friday we reflected here in this Phoenix Park on violence in our society. That violence continues. We have to stand up as a community and say to men of violence, whoever they are, “no more of this”.
And our world is seeing senseless violence on a scale we have not seen for decades, sadly in some cases perpetrated in the name of God. Violence is never the answer. How can we Christian do more to address the violence in our society, in homes, against innocent children, against women, against these we consider different and thus somehow less worthy of our respect and love, violence against people of different sexual orientation, violence against people of different ethnical background? There is the violence of a drug trade which destroys lives, very often fragile young lives, for sordid profit. Must we repeat our condemnation of violence year after year?
Jesus, the one who healed and cared, is given over the power of darkness. Violence is the work of the powers of darkness. Let us have the courage to call darkness what it is and to call the operators of darkness what they are.
Jesus is mocked. Everyone around him takes his or her turn to mock Jesus. They beat him and blindfold him; they hurl insults at him they play games trying to make him angry.
The religious officials think that their position of authority gives them the right to exploit or disregard Jesus. They interrogate him with the aura of those who feel that they have the power to act as they wish. They are in fact only looking for some phrase that will incriminate him.
Jesus does not enter into their game. The authorities can try, but Jesus does not get dragged into their argument. There is no way that these leaders, in that frame of mind, will ever be able to understand who this Son of God is.
Jesus was always careful about revealing who he was. He sends those he cured away restored but tells them not to tell who cured them. He rebukes the evil spirits who know his identity. He never forces or imposes belief in him.
We will never come to know the identity of Jesus from the thought patterns of conventional wisdom. We do not come magically to know who Jesus is; we have to grow into the Mystery of Jesus through allowing him to embrace us with his mercy. We live in a world where facile answers are often the order of the day. Reasoned argument is responded to with sound bites or one-liners. People are led to think that happiness can be found with empty formula or a good sales line.
Jesus’s authority comes from his integrity and it comes from his silence. Curiously, silence, which might appear as powerlessness, can often best show up empty abuse of authority.
We live in a world where power is abused; think of the many ways in which the most fundamental rights of men women and children are violated. We remember our brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ who suffer persecution and exile because of their belief. We live in a world where the name of God is used to foster attitudes and deeds which could not be farther away from the real identity of God. Christians are called never to give in to superficiality and always to act with integrity.
Integrity gives one more authority than lofty words. Integrity gives a moral strength to those who may be considered weak, because they lack what others would call sophistication but which is really superficiality or simply being false.
The integrity and the silence of Jesus is placed in contrast with the bumbling of Peter, the rock on which Jesus would build his Church, the one who said he would never betray Jesus. He loves Jesus. But he is very much like each one of us: our love can be strong, and yet our love can quickly waver. He tries painfully to find ways to wriggle out of the fact that he is a disciple.
We do not have to dig down too deeply within our own hearts to see how cowardly we can be. How many times do we betray ourselves? How many times do we betray those we love? How many ways do we betray what our Christian calling involves? How many times to we take short-cuts with the truth and with honesty? Courage costs.
It is when we reject arrogance and superficiality and recognise honestly that we are weak and are sinners that we allow God’s mercy to change us. If we simply deceive ourselves into thinking we are better than we are, then we will end up miserable in our own compromise.
Jesus knows what is going on in Peter’s heart. He looks at him. He glances at him, not with the angry glance of revenge or condemnation, not with the condescending glance of pity, but with a look which brings Peter to become once again the person he really would like to be. He weeps for his betrayal, but Jesus’ glance allows him to begin again. God’s mercy heals and restores.
The ideas of honesty and integrity find little place in those who plot against Jesus. His accusers have plans ready in case any one of their accusations fails: “We found this man perverting our nation”; “he forbids us to pay tax to the emperor”; “he stirs up the people by his preaching”.
Their first efforts fail, not because Pilate is demanding in analysing the truthfulness of their accusation. No Pilate finds the golden solution: send him elsewhere and let someone else deal with the problem.
Jesus is sent from one authority to the other and each fails to make a decision and recognise his honesty. An innocent man is condemned, never really technically found guilty, but simply too inconvenient to have around, too challenging to all. How often today – even in the Church – people who ask the challenging questions are put out of circulation and indeed maligned.
Jesus comes before Herod. Herod is an interesting figure. “When Herod saw Jesus, he was glad, for he had wanted se see Jesus for a long time”. But before long, Herod and his men began treating Jesus with contempt and mocking him. Superficial interest in Jesus just for personal curiosity does not last long. Jesus is not an object to be learned about; faith in Jesus grows through friendship with Jesus.
But in his encounter with Herod, Jesus does not give Herod the sense of respectability he seeks. In the midst of this mockery of justice, Jesus retains his dignity through silence. We have to give a new definition today to respectability. The respectable are not those who have power or influence or celebrity status. The murdering criminals think that wealth and cars and luxury villas will give them respectability. But remember that they find that model of respectability precisely in the pseudo values that we ourselves often espouse.
Jesus stands there alone. His friends have vanished. He has nothing but the worn clothes that he wears. Yet that austerity is his strength. This is a different kind of austerity to the political one. It is that mark of simplicity, of rejection of extravagance, of harmony with the natural world, of fixing on the values which endure and which free us form the pressures to conformity, to fashion, to what is empty, and above all free us to service and to feel compassion for others and to transform that compassion into a way of life and into a society which really cares.
Jesus’ silence is definitive. Jesus makes no attempt at compromise with the corrupt. He does not attempt to give any solace and respectability to people who bear all the outward signs of authority, but have no real principle except self-interest and survival.
They continue in their trickery and trading and hope for a compromise way out. They offer a trade-off with a dangerous criminal, but it is too late as the crowd is now beyond their control. They cry ever louder “crucify him”, with ever growing insistence.
Authority and power are not identical. Authority is based on truth and on service. An authority which fails those it is called to serve may have power and may even be popular, but truth in the end prevails and silence can unnerve even the most self-secure.
“Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded”, writes Pope Francis. Many would find that comment nice but of no real consequence. We live in a society which produces so many props which seem to keep us going but may well keep us trapped in a life style which in the end only offers frustration.
The scene of the lurid procession towards the Cross changes. We are away from the palaces and courtyards of power. Jesus is led away along the dusty streets. Jesus, we are told, is surrounded by a great number of people, many of them women. They are no longer mocking but weeping.
Who are these women? They are not just Jesus’ followers. These women represent the men and women of our time and anytime who even if they do not fully understand the goings-on of the world around them have a deep personal sense of what is injustice and cruelty or what is simply wrong and evil.
Jesus does not give them much consolation. He deepens their conviction that when goodness and truth are rejected, then the future will not be a happy one, the future will not be one of security.
Humanity is wounded, deeply wounded. In so many of our lives there is a great uncertainty and insecurity. It is not just economic insecurity, even though in our prosperous Ireland economic insecurity tragically is still so widespread. There is insecurity about our future. There is an insecurity about our security: we see new kinds of terrorism emerging which seem to be beyond the control of our sophisticated security and intelligence systems.
The soldiers must have been worried about Jesus that he might not be able to make the journey to the end and spoil their party by dying before they could bring their mockery to its fulfilment.
They grab a man who was coming in from the country – probably a robust country man – and they get him to carry part of the weight of the Cross.
We know that Simon of Cyrene and his family became followers of Jesus. His sons are mentioned in the Gospel of Mark. Simon was a complete stranger to Jesus. He was grabbed on his way back into Jerusalem and made to carry the cross of someone he did not know, accompanied now by two criminals.
Jesus can surprise us in our lives. Indeed like Simon perhaps some strange circumstance can suddenly place us in the presence of Jesus for the first time or in an unexpected way. Jesus surprises us. Jesus can surprise us in places where we would least expect him to do so.
The sordid procession becomes more pathetic. But there is another question. Where are his apostles? Where were those who were to be the pillars of his Church, the leaders of what were to be the new tribes of Israel?
Let us be honest, Church leaders so often have not been pillars of loyalty and integrity. Church leaders can often become trapped in their own entanglements, upholding their own prestige and interests and the “good name” of an institution, living in and defending their own small world. They fail to see that in the parable of the Good Samaritan, a parable about what is needed to enter eternal life, the villains are insiders – a priest and Levite – and the hero is a Samaritan a stranger a foreigner and outsider.
Throughout history the great reformers of the Church were outsiders, outsiders to the establishment, but men and women who were focused on what is truly essential in the community of believers who follow the God of mercy.
The true reformers are outsiders, outside the closed culture which is a particular danger for us clerics and our culture. But they are not outsiders who sit on the side-lines and like to take pot-shots at the wounds of the Church or become pundits ready to criticise from a safe distance from the call to change their own hearts.
The true outsider is the one who can shake off all the things which do not belong to the essence of the Church; they are the ones who can shake off things which may seem an important part of an organizational complex but which are really outside what really matters.
Simon of Cyrene is called surprisingly into being of service to a Jesus he did not know. True belief comes through service to Jesus and to his brothers and sisters who are in distress. Our Church will not flourish if it follows a pattern of its own security. The Church will be reformed if its leaders allow themselves to be surprised by the unorthodox way that Jesus may break into their lives.
Having the title of authority in the Church does not mean fidelity or integrity or decency or courage. The courage and the human love and decency of those who stand by Jesus weeping, teaches more than those who had the authority to teach.
Jesus the son of God is crucified. He endures the ignominious and horrible death reserved to the worst criminals. And yet there is something almost ordinary and every-day in the scene as people pass by immune to what is going on.
The course soldiers, numbed of any sensitivity by the cruel life that they have to live, get on with the business of their sad profession. Jesus clothes are disposed of. There is the inscription to be placed on the Cross: “This is the King of the Jews”, an act of mockery but one which did not please all.
Jesus death cannot be sanitised. There was a terrible brutality about it. His suffering was excruciating. He felt the sadness of having been abandoned by his own. Jesus remains serene in this suffering: his love for us is greater than any suffering and humiliation that humankind can invent. H remains serene and even has words of forgiveness for those who are the authors of this torture.
In this scenario of the crucifixion we only see those who are its executors. But those really responsible have vanished; they are no longer to be seen. They would not wish to be associated in the open with such squalor. They prefer comfort. They return to their palaces and places of worship. The religious leaders return to the security of their narrow rules about the Sabbath and about burial. Yet we know that they are fundamentally ill at ease. Getting rid of Jesus was to have gotten rid of their anxieties about his teaching and witness. The integrity of Jesus however still haunts them.
Jesus remains with his dignity. In the midst of the humiliating mockery he forgives those who are its artisans. He commends his spirit finally to the Father.
One authentic witness to Jesus in this sordid process of a mockery of justice is a criminal. In his own agony he sees that Jesus is not just innocent, but that he is truly the one who is entering the kingdom of his Father. And the first one who follows Jesus into that kingdom is a convicted criminal. Jesus’ kingdom is populated by sinners who repent and not by those who prefer to stand by indifferently and mock or those who take refuge in the seats of power.
Jesus’ salvation reaches out to all, even when we fail and fail gravely. Christian morality according to Pope Francis is not “a never falling down”, but “an always getting up again”, thanks to the hand of Jesus which catches us”. Jesus never abandons us.
Mary the mother of Jesus stands there, pondering on the life of her son. She has learned fidelity, because her whole life was inspired by the fidelity of God to his people. In the midst of what seems a disaster, she stands as our Mother of hope.
We celebrate Holy Week in the Year of Mercy. Lord keeps us faithful. Keep us caring. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus crucified, the one who endured suffering and death so that we could have life and in following Jesus know what life is really about. ENDS