As we progress through this Holy Week, turning our minds toward the great Paschal Mystery and the Passion of our Lord, I would like to share and reflect upon one of the moments that struck me deeply during the early part of Francis’s papacy. It was April 13, 2014, on Palm Sunday, when a subdued Francis decided (after the Passion narrative had been read) to abandon his prepared homily, and instead spoke from his heart.
This week begins with the festive procession with olive branches: the entire populace welcomes Jesus. The children and young people sing, praising Jesus.
But this week continues in the mystery of Jesus’ death and his resurrection. We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord. We might well ask ourselves just one question:
Who am I?
Who am I, before my Lord?
Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd?
Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back?
Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?
An important part of Ignatian Spirituality is to imagine oneself as an eyewitness to the events described in the Gospel. By asking these questions, Francis pulls our minds into the event of the Passion, but also asks us to reflect on our own strengths, weaknesses, sins, and betrayals. It is important that we regularly examine our consciences, and in doing so we identify who and what we are as we stand exposed before our Lord.
We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?
We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas?
We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep?
Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus?
Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword?
Am I like them?
Am I like Judas, who feigns love and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor?
Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?
Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?
Where have we come up short in our relationship with Christ? Have we neglected or ignored the face of Christ in another? Or worse, have we let a brother or sister down, and not kept a promise? Do we ignore the feelings and needs of others when we make a decision? Or do we try to hastily “fix” a problem without realizing that we are making a situation worse? Have I hidden my true self? Have I betrayed someone?
Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.
Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?
Am I like the Cyrenean, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?
Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….
Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?
When the weak are mocked, do I also mock? When cruel jokes are told at another’s expense, do I say nothing? Do we twist the words and advice of those who love us or want to help us, and accuse them instead? Still —
Have we persevered in a difficult, unappreciated task? Have we stood in solidarity with the suffering? Have we done good works or protected the rights of others, even when our efforts will be unnoticed? Have we trusted God during these times?
Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?
Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?
Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?
Where is my heart?
Which of these persons am I like?
May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.
Do I pitch in and help others with their problems, even when it is late, even when it is difficult? Do I truly mourn for those who have suffered and died, weeping but trusting the Lord? Or–
Do I close my heart to the truth, and refuse to allow the Lord to convert me, change me, and save me?
Or do I open my heart to Christ, and allow his love to work in me and through me?
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.