Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Passion Sunday

April 1, 2012
Isaiah 50:4-7; Psalm 2; Philippians 2:8-9; Mark 14:1-15:47

                Mark's Passion is the oldest narration of the four Gospels. It contains the most graphic violence because it was the most proximate to the event. As time heals wounds, the other Gospels lose the intensity of the drama. The Jesus portrayed by Mark is the most human. He does not have conscious knowledge that he is God or that he will be redeemed. He goes to his death trusting in a God who remains silent to his cries. Jesus dies alone - even God abandons him. His last words are pleading cries to God: "Why have you forsaken me?" His mission is an apparent failure. He trusts in God, who does not show up for him.

          A major theme of Mark's Gospel is the failure of the closest disciples of Jesus to comprehend that he is the Messiah. The very first words of the Gospel disclose that "this is the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." When we encounter the disciples at the beginning, they are full of energy and commitment when they immediately leave their livelihoods to follow Jesus. Yet, as Jesus reveals his identity, the minds and hearts of the disciples get clouded. They are not alone in their hardening of hearts. Many stories reveal lack of faith as a failure to see and understand in contrast with those who come to see him as the Son of God. The Twelve, who should know better, abandon Jesus one by one at the arrest following the Last Supper, and run away. Even Mark, the Gospel author, writes himself into the narrative: he too runs away naked when the guards try to seize and arrest him. Jesus is left to face his tribulations utterly alone.

          However, as the disciples repeatedly fail, certain women remain faithful. A woman seeks out Jesus at the house of Simon the leper before the feast of the Passover and the feast of Unleavened Bread. She pours excessive quantities of costly perfumed oil onto the head of Jesus as a burial anointing. Jesus makes it clear that her act of faith will be remembered by future generations.

          Mary Magdalene, Salome, and Mary, the mother of James and Joses, watch the crucifixion events from a distance. They are joined by many other faithful women who come up with him to Jerusalem. Their eye-witness is key to show that Jesus really dies and is buried and that they know the place of the burial. They are present when the stone is rolled against the entrance of the tomb that Joseph of Arimathea, another believer, acquires for him. Our faith is based on the reality that Jesus dies and is buried.

          Not all the men are weak in their faith; not all the women abide by Jesus. We remember that the women run away from the empty tomb filled with fear - too afraid to tell anyone. Even their faith has been rocked. At this point, we come to the original ending of Mark's Gospel. Jesus dies; the mission fails; the disciples abandon him; even the women flee in fear. End of story - until we go back to the beginning of the Gospel and understand that much more has happened as we know the secret - this Jesus is the Son of God - just as the Roman centurion, a Gentile, testifies.

          Since Mark's Gospel is a mere 16 chapters, it is worth reading slowly during Holy Week to get a full view of the author's intentions. When one does this, he or she is able to see the important nuances in the Passion narratives. Too often, Christians surface skim the texts to find parallels between the others. To an ordinary reader, the Passion texts are nearly identical, but when you let the details emerge, the Gospels reveal profound insights that create new levels of meaning.

          I set aside half an hour before Mass to read the Passion narrative slowly. I fix my attention on the emotions of each character so I can experience what they may have felt. Mostly, I try to understand what Jesus is feeling. I ask him to tell me as I hold what he says in reverent silence. I simply want to be a friend to him and give him what he needs most in suffering - the experience of sharing his story with a friend. Each year, I am surprised with the deeper emotions he shares with me. I know I can never hold all his pain; I just try to be there with him. I don't know what else to do.

Themes for this Week’s Masses

Monday of Holy Week: We hear from Isaiah 42 in the First Oracle of the Servant of the Lord in which God’s servant will suffer silently, but will bring justice to the world. In the Gospel, Lazarus’ sister, Mary, anoints Jesus’ feet with costly oil in preparation for his funeral.

Tuesday of Holy Week: In the Second Oracle of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 49), he cries out that I will make you a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the ends of the earth. In deep hurt, distress and grief, Jesus tells his closest friends at supper that one of them will betray him and another will deny him three times before the cock crows.

(Spy) Wednesday of Holy Week: In the Third Oracle of the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 50), the suffering servant does not turn away from the ridicule and torture of his persecutors and tormentors. The time has come.
Matthew’s account shows Judas eating during the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread with Jesus and their good friends after he had already arranged to hand him over to the chief priests for thirty pieces of silver. The Son of Man will be handed over by Judas, one of the Twelve, who sets the terms of Jesus’ arrest.

Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday: Only an evening Mass can be said today and we let our bells ring freely during the Gloria that has been absent all Lent. In Exodus, we hear the laws and customs about eating the Passover meal prior to God’s deliverance of the people through Moses from the Egyptians. Paul tells us of the custom by early Christians that as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup, we proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes. In John’s Gospel, Jesus loves us to the end giving us a mandate to wash one another’s feet.

Good Friday: No Mass is celebrated today though there may be a service of veneration of the cross and a Stations of the Cross service. In Isaiah, we hear the Fourth Oracle of the Servant of the Lord who was wounded for our sins. In Hebrews, we are told that Jesus learned obedience through his faith and thus became the source of salvation for all. The Passion of our Lord is proclaimed from John’s Gospel.

Holy Saturday and the Easter Vigil: No Mass, baptisms, or confirmations can be celebrated before the Vigil to honor the Lord who has been buried in the tomb. The Old Testament readings point to God’s vision of the world and the deliverance of the people from sin and death. All of Scripture points to the coming of the Righteous One who will bring about salvation for all. The Old Testament is relished during the Vigil of the Word as God’s story of salvation is told to us again. The New Testament epistle from Romans tells us that Christ, who was raised from the dead, dies no more. Matthew's Gospel finds Mary Magdalene and the other Mary at dawn arriving at the tomb only to find it empty. After a great earthquake that made the guards tremble, and angel appears telling the women, "Do not be afraid." The angel instructs them to go to the Twelve to tell them, "Jesus has been raised from the dead, and is going before you to Galilee."

Saints of the Week

No saints are remembered on the calendar during this solemn week of our Lord's Passion.

This Week in Jesuit History

·         Apr 1, 1941. The death of Hippolyte Delehaye in Brussels. He was an eminent hagiographer and in charge of the Bollandists from 1912 to 1941.
·         Apr 2, 1767. Charles III ordered the arrest of all the Jesuits in Spain and the confiscation of all their property.
·         Apr 3, 1583. The death of Jeronimo Nadal, one of the original companions of Ignatius who later entrusted him with publishing and distributing the Jesuit Constitutions to the various regions of the early Society.
·         Apr 4, 1534. Peter Faber (Pierre Favre) ordained a deacon in Paris.
·         Apr 5, 1635. The death of Louis Lallemant, writer and spiritual teacher.
·         Apr 6, 1850. The first edition of La Civilta Cattolica appeared. It was the first journal of the restored Society.
·         Apr 7, 1541. Ignatius was unanimously elected general, but he declined to accept the results.