WAY OF THE CROSS 2014 through Phoenix Park Dublin
Reflections of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin Archbishop of Dublin
Good Friday, 18th April 2014
Holy Week is a journey. Many in these days go on pilgrimage and pilgrim walks. The fundamental walk of the Christian this week, however, is the interior walk with Jesus as he moves step by step to fulfilling the will of his Father. Jesus faces this journey of rejection and condemnation without affording any resistance. He moves relentlessly toward his self-giving sacrifice and death.
Jesus is alone. Jesus prays, but his disciples sleep. Jesus prays and he feels that even his Father has abandoned him.
Judas was one of those who had followed Jesus on his long missionary journey preaching the message of the kingdom and healing those who were sick or possessed. Judas now arrives on the scene and betrays Jesus with a kiss.
Jesus is betrayed by a kiss: a gesture which should have been one of deep affection and loyalty. The Christian life should be one of absolute coherence and integrity, yet very often we too use words and gestures and distort their deeper meaning. We use the language of integrity to cover our lack of integrity. We live in a culture of spin in which we believe that we can spin our words in any direction and give the impression that what we say is really what we believe, when we know that it is only a camouflage to cover our own interests.
Others come with Judas and believe that the power of the sword will keep them safe. How often in our days do we encounter a culture of violence? We encounter violence in our families; we encounter violence on our streets; we encounter violence which only provokes reprisals and further violence. Violence is the close relative of betrayal and disregard. Even some of Jesus’ own disciples believe that they can revert to the sword. The answer of Jesus then and today to those who espouse violence is unequivocal: Jesus says “no more of this”.
Jesus is speaking also to us and not just about the crude violence of the gun. He is speaking of the violence which springs from falsehood, from hypocrisy, from dishonest intrigue, from the manipulation of truth whenever we try to make the unworthy things that go on in our lives and in our Church sound nice or at least less worthy.
Jesus stands alone: alone in his integrity; alone in witnessing uncompromisingly. He is alone in not defending himself. Integrity may often leave us also on our own, without allies, open to violence and aggressive behaviour.
Jesus even in the midst of such violence says “no more of this” and in the midst of all the confusion and with the fears that must have been raised up in his human heart he finds the time to heal the one who is injured.
Lord gives us the gift of integrity and of placing at the centre of our activity the healing of the brokenness of others through the integrity of our own lives.
Jesus chose just twelve men to be his closest disciples. Judas betrays him. Peter denies him. Poor Peter is full of good intentions. He wishes to see what is happening to Jesus; he is concerned; he is anxious and afraid. He keeps as close to Jesus as it is safe to do.
Then he is suddenly placed with the test. Someone seems to recognise Peter as a disciple of Jesus and Peter’s concern for Jesus is overwhelmed by self interest. He denies Jesus, not just once but three times.
We are all tempted to think that we can be a true disciple of Jesus and at the same time play it safe. We opt to be as good a disciple as it is safe to be, hoping we will never be trapped into what we do not want to do: to be fully honest, with ourselves with others.
When the test really comes, we then run for cover, try to deny, and try to play down what we would like to think we really believe. In our world we think that we can mix our values and that in the end any mix of values will somehow work out. It is unlikely – we feel – that our tune will be called.
Peter repents. He repents because despite his game playing and compromise he still has his eyes fixed on Jesus. His heart is in the right place and his heart breaks when in his denial he sees the face and the eyes of Jesus: not the eyes of the harsh judge, not the eyes of the one who thinks that anything goes, but eyes which challenge us all back to that term integrity. Peter realises that through he had turned from Jesus, Jesus had his eyes focussed in mercy on Peter and all that was needed was repentance.
This gesture of repentance and forgiveness take place an atmosphere of confusion and hatred and the crudeness of the soldiers. One group mocks Jesus; they hurl insults and seem to enjoy treating someone in ways which totally disregard his dignity.
Others feel that their authority gives them a right to disregard. They feel that it is enough for them to speak and Jesus will respond to them within their own corrupt framework of so-called justice. They twist their own formulae to suit their case. They know the language of the scriptures and they use it for their own purposes and then in a frenzy of unity they rise up as a body in indignation.
This is the psychology of the crowd which can lead people into a delirium of disregard; the psychology of the crowd can drain any of us of all human sensitivity and lead us blindly along the path of hypocrisy.
A faith which compromises and tries to find its home in compromise and self-made comfort zones is not faith in Jesus who demands a faith that is coherent and courageous.
Faith is not an intellectual exercise. Christian faith is a faith in a God who loves and seeks from us a response in love, not the love of self fulfilment, but a love which reaches out even in our moments of trial.
In Italian there is a lovely phrase povero Cristo, a poor unfortunate Jesus Christ, which refers to someone who appears to have lost all semblance of their dignity and ends up broken in their own lives. The Christian should not think that he or she can judge the faith of others and judge whose faith is better than the other. Jesus looks with compassion on the failings of Peter and restores him. We too must look on every person we meet, especially those who are broken or indeed have fallen, as a povero Cristo, one who despite how he or she appears according to our categories is still a person created in God’s image and loved by Jesus.
Before we decide to judge others according to our categories, stop for a moment and remember the words of Pope Francis: “Who am I to judge?
Did you ever notice how some people in authority who act brutally and insensitively in their dealing with their subordinates, suddenly change when they meet someone who is more powerful than themselves and become immediately almost self-effacing and grovelling?
The chief priests move from being absolute judges, leading the crowd to rise up in chorus to condemn Jesus, to now putting on a different face as the come before the authority of Pilate.
Pilate is not much better. Pilate finds this man Jesus an uncomfortable figure. He very quickly realises that he can find no fault with Jesus. Jesus does not grovel in front of Pilate’s authority; he does not even really answer, but turns the questions back at Pilate. Jesus makes Pilate feel uncomfortable and Pilate tries to find a way out which will rid him of this man of integrity who makes him feel so uneasy.
Then he finds his excuse. Jesus is a Galilean and so can be sent off to Herod, leaving Pilate free from his false scruples and he can wash his hands of his conscience.
Herod is interested in seeing Jesus, as he had been interested in seeing John the Baptist. He hopes that he will see some sign or some miracle. Those who delight in being in authority often feel that they have some special right or prerogative to be in the front row as others do good. They know where to find reflected glory. Herod and Pilate are both images of men who lack real integrity and in their scheming and insincerity they even become friends.
Still today those who lack integrity form their partnerships and their own clubs. They are drawn to each other and become blind to nothing but their own interests. Lack of integrity quickly becomes infectious. Pilate’s lack of integrity is passed on to Herod and before we know where we are the entire crowd is caught in their frenzy, crying to release Barabbas. They have not the least regard for Barabbas, but that does not matter when their own interests are at stake.
Jesus the man of integrity must be gotten rid of. He is too uncomfortable for those who live by compromise and betrayal. Jesus is handed over to the wishes of the crowd by those whose responsibility it was to curb arrogance and protect the weak.
Lord give your Church the strength to resist all temptation to be on the side of a power which corrupts or is corrupt. May we as believers find our place on the margins of society, with those who are poor and defenceless, with those who suffer anxiety and abandonment.
Jesus journeys towards the Cross. There are many around him and many onlookers. Who were these people? What was their interest?
One can only imagine that among them were those with a morbid interest in the mechanism of execution. They were those who had become perhaps brutalised and had no real sensitivity to this innocent man who was being humiliated. There were obviously those who had plotted his death or even more likely those who acted as their agents. Too often those who are the organisers of evil deeds never appear, but remain hidden in apparent respectability, without the courage even to show their faces.
Their poor compromised agents do the dirty work. We see this daily, in the way that those whose business is to ruin the lives of others through drug abuse or criminal violence, never make their faces known, but assign the dirty work to others, not that these can evade the responsibility for what they do.
Then there are others on this road to Calvary who identify with Jesus. There are the women of Jerusalem who realise that injustice is being done. Jesus with strong words tells them what happens when people acquiesce in injustice and violence and disregard for the principles of justice and charity. Our individual acts of corruption and lack on honesty and integrity cause direct damage, but they have even more disastrous effects on the fabric of society, on the lives of individuals and on the environment. They have effect on our children and our children’s children. They bring only anguish and grief and fear for those who have to come after us.
Then there is the lone figure of Simon of Cyrene. He is about his daily work returning from the country and he is dragged into an event that he knows nothing about. He is dragged into the evil plan of others and through his personal honesty he becomes part of the saving work of Jesus, something that he had never imagined. We know that Simon and his family became part of the early Christian community. Even in the midst of the complications and complicity of evil it is possible that the good person can find a place for the good.
Finally there are the criminals. We know nothing of their crimes. Like Simon they are accidental participants in this drama of Jesus as he is led to an unjust death. Again we know later that one of these criminals was able in the midst of the tragic scheme, where he faces judgment for wrongdoings, to revise his entire life through this encounter with the Jesus who is to a good man.
The Church is called to continue this work of enlightening and restoring. The Church is not the place for those who consider themselves good just by their own standards. The Church has to find ways in which it is present for saints and sinners, to those who lead a simple, honest life but are open to greater things, and to those whose lives have been distorted and destroyed but who are still never beyond redemption.
The Church must also be there with those who mourn and who weep for what is happening to them and their children in a world which is beyond their control. Jesus walks his final moment on this earth, humiliated and physically battered, but still attentive to those around him who humbly seek what is good.
It is statement of fact. It is not untrue. “They crucified Jesus with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left”. Facts can tell stories differently. Facts can leave one indifferent to reality. What is happening is an epochal event for humankind: the Son of God, who took human flesh, is being crucified as a criminal along side criminals.
What is faith? How does one move from that cold statement of a fact to realising that this event is the moment in which humankind overcomes even death.
The crude mechanism of an execution goes on without cease. They get rid of Jesus clothing. The soldiers have to entertain themselves as the wait until their grim duty is finished. The leaders are still there on the sidelines to see that the mockery continues.
Then there is the sign on the cross which is a cynical ploy of the authorities, but annoys the religious leaders: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews”.
In the midst of this sordid show Jesus suffers alone. His first thought is to forgive those who are in an orgy of vengeance and inhumanity around him. He prepares finally to commend his Spirit entirely to his Father in fulfilment of what he came to do and he breathes his last.
Jesus speaks only with his Father, except for his words to the one criminal who hangs on a Cross alongside of him. Jesus in the midst of such cruel aggression speaks words of forgiveness. He speaks words of forgiveness to the repentant thief. His words to the repentant thief are not the response to any specific expression of repentance on the part of the criminal. Jesus responds to the humanity of this criminal, who sees the injustice done to Jesus and only asks to be remembered.
When we turn in honesty towards Jesus, he will hear us and he will respond with a generosity which goes beyond what we might expect.
Jesus dies and what seems to be his defeat becomes his triumph. In dying Jesus has destroyed death. Without faith, death is meaningless. It is just an end. With faith death opens out to a future. Jesus death, which even for some of his disciples seemed the end of hope, opens the door to hope and meaning in our lives. The hope of living beyond death changes the way I should live.
Jesus breathes his last. A new beginning explodes in human history. Death is overcome. A new beginning for humanity, but with an unusual start! Who is the first to experience what that new beginning of hope is to be like. A criminal! A weak sinful man who was sentenced to capital punishment! The doors of eternal life are opened and the first to walk in is a weak, fragile human being and a criminal.
Jesus, we trust in you and in your mercy. We know that if we are sincere in our lives, if we try our best even if we keep on failing, then the door is open for us, thanks to the journey of passion that you endured without resistance so that we can have life.