WAY OF THE CROSS 2019
Through Phoenix Park Dublin
Elements for reflections of Most Rev. Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin
Good Friday, 19 April 2019
“We set out to recall and accompany Jesus on this final journey, as he prepares to give his life so that we can have life.Jesus is troubled. He prays and even sweats blood at the thought of the ordeal that awaits him. His own however sleep. Sleep can be a comfort zone to block anxiety. It is a way of opting out. Others react with violence. They feel like some of his disciples that violence will somehow fix injustice.
Jesus is troubled but he is also the one who remains serene. He finds the time to heal the wounded slave of the high priest. Today we need witnesses who can convince people even in our own land that violence is always a blind alley that only leads to further violence. We see that in last night’s tragedy in Derry that cost the life of Lyra Mc Kee.
Jesus the man of goodness and integrity encounters the power of darkness
What has happened? Jesus who went about doing good finds himself being treated like a bandit. They come to take him into their custody with swords and clubs as if he were a criminal.
Why have people in all centuries come at times to reject and resent men and women of goodness and integrity? Why do people and indeed entire societies at times persecute people of goodwill in order to protect themselves and what they have to hide? Today Christian believers suffer persecution. And to be honest the Church in her own history persecuted. People of integrity and goodness inspire us but they can also unsettle us in our false security.
The power of darkness is present in human history. Christians who are worthy of that name should be in the vanguard of rejecting darkness. There is negative polarisation within the Christian community. Sone of those who perpetrate it may even feel that they are holier than others.
Ireland needs a society where different groups come to respect difference and to understand the richness of diversity. People of faith are called to respect those who have no faith. People of no faith should not look on believers as somehow a threat to their values. Catholic schools should not demonise schools with another philosophy; other school should not denigrate the role of faith.
Jesus is rejected. In the way Jesus accepts rejection, Jesus reveals who he is. He is the God who gives himself, not a distant judgmental God. He is the God of integrity and personal integrity always leads one beyond self-interest.
Pope Francis constantly warns of the danger of a Church that 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 see where hypocrisy and prejudice lie in the hidden depth even of our own hearts.
Look at how the situation changes. The mechanism of darkness begins almost without being noted to determine events.
Peter betrays Jesus. 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.
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. Crucifying is just a job to be done.
Then there is the reaction of officialdom and distorted public opinion that 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 negative public opinion that can be easily manipulated and distorted and people fall for its superficiality or victims to its insensitivity and the vulnerable then fall victim to the power of the crowd.
The motions have to be gone through and now the crowd moves on to the next stage and bring Jesus to Pilate.
They all ask, “Are you the Son of God”, but they only want one answer, an answer that they can term blasphemy. In our complicated world, we too often want quick answers to questions and situations that require not answers but understanding and thoughtfulness and kindness. Understanding and thoughtfulness require time and sensitivity, but perhaps that is the only way in which we can find answers that help us to see that there is more than just one way – our way – to look at situations.
Jesus is silent. His silence sets him apart. His silence challenges his accusers more strongly than entering into their game plan. Jesus stands alone. He continues his journey of sorrows out of love for us.
Love is the real foundation for human interaction and indeed the real foundation of being authentically human ourselves.
Jesus is king. But the crowd fail to recognise him. Herod and Pilate are curious. Herod had even wanted to see Jesus for some time. But their judgement is influenced by factors far from the truth.
Herod’s curiosity turns out to be just the desire to see some miracle, a show miracle. Jesus does not do show miracles. His miraculous power is of another kind. He works miracles of healing, of restoring dignity, or lifting burdens that 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.
The crowd however insists. They are determined to get their way by fair means or foul. They can quote things that Jesus said, 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 discover the identity of 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.
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 who 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. You never give up on us. Jesus had a special love for sinners, for those who fail.
Lord Jesus, 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.
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 that allows negative public opinion to form and to dominate and to block attempts to see who this good man Jesus really is.
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.
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. The good thief asks to receive from Jesus 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 have been so judgmental and treated broken people who were entrusted to its care with such harshness?
Was there something off beam deeply embedded in the way Irish Catholicism developed? There was a harshness in the confessional dealing with sinners. It was a harshness carried out in the name of a Jesus whose characteristic was being merciful and welcoming to sinners.
Think of so many groupings who were misjudged and suffered in institutions which were founded to provide the vulnerable with care. Let me recall the words written and spoken by Pope Francis at the beginning of his Mass in this Phoenix Park:
“We ask forgiveness for the cases of abuse in Ireland, the abuse of power, the abuse of conscience and sexual abuse on the part of representatives of the Church. In a special way, we ask forgiveness for all those abuses that took place in different kinds of institutions directed by men and women religious and other members of the Church. We also ask forgiveness for cases in which many minors were exploited for their labour.
We ask forgiveness for some members of the hierarchy who took no responsibility for these painful situations and kept silent.
We ask forgiveness for those children who were taken away from their mothers and for all those times when so many single mothers who tried to find their children that had been taken away, or those children who tried to find their mothers, were told that this was a mortal sin. It is not a mortal sin; it is the fourth commandment!”
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. Lord Jesus us and cleanse cleanse your Church of judgementalism. Help us to realise the power of mercy.
Jesus breathed his last. We have journeyed along the path of the cynical business of killing Jesus. 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?
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 becomes 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 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. You gave your own life in sacrifice that we might have eternal life. Humble Jesus, make us and make your Church more like you.
Lord by your cross and resurrection you have saved the world. ENDS