Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Passion Sunday

Passion Sunday
March 24, 2013
Isaiah 43:16-21; Psalm 126; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11

From the start of Lent, we knew this day would come. As a matter of fact, we anticipate it and look forward to the penitential season of Lent. We place ourselves in the scene as a bystander and we are often horrified by the highs and lows and twists and turns of the story. With so many details in the swirling escalation of events in the Passion narratives, one always finds a particular word or phrase upon which to settle. For me, the perspective of the Roman centurion captures my attention.

The centurion remarks at the conclusion of Luke’s Gospel passage, “This man was innocent beyond doubt,” and he witnesses what had happened as events that glorify God. Presumably, the centurion was a Roman soldier who came from a differing belief system, but the events within the Passion and death of Jesus left an enduring mark. From a merely human perspective, no heart could be left untouched by the sheer brutality and the question of his innocence remains.

During my time in Middle East, I often find myself in a position like the centurion. I am not Jordanian, but I live and work in a culture where I am always an outsider. I observe behavioral patterns that make me compare and contrast my experience to those in my own culture and it makes me reflective about the human condition. I feel my powerlessness in being able to affect the larger culture, which makes me more of a passive commentator than anything else. Like the centurion, the forces that operate in this world point to a much larger mystery that I struggle to comprehend.

Being an outside observer provides a unique perspective. If one looks at the culture as foreign and sees them only as the “other,” he or she will only see the curiosity in people’s behaviors and thoughts, but if one searches for the common humanity, only the truth will emerge. The centurion is able see the radical truth that Jesus of Nazareth was an innocent man who did not deserve the sentence he received. The fidelity of Jesus to God revealed that he did not waver in his motivation. Throughout his life, Jesus came to know that nothing could separate him from the love of God – not even death. His trust in the daily presence of God allowed him to move through a horrendously unfair trial and Passion.

The centurion was affected by the last words of Jesus, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.” He saw how Jesus comported himself when Barabbas, a criminal, was released instead of him. Though Jesus was treated as a common criminal, he would not let his spirit be broken down into acting as “less than” the man he was. The centurion also heard the exchange between the two criminals hanging with him. Though he knew his fate was unfair, he did not protest fiercely that justice be served. To the last breath, Jesus offered words of goodness and promise by forgiving sinners and welcoming them into paradise. The human spirit is relentless in finding a home in God’s heart. The way Jesus entered into his death revealed the integrity of having lived well.

One can speculate that the centurion told his account of the death of Jesus to his friends and colleagues because he sensed its innate wrongness. It may be that he came to faith because of what he saw because the manner in which Jesus died pointed to a larger reality: Jesus trusted in his Father’s care for him. The centurion speaks of the inexplicable truth that he experienced – the Jesus of Nazareth is truly a Son of God.

Tragedy brings people together to process their shock and horror and we have to tell others about our accounts. In the midst of all of it, we still see a tiny ray of light and goodness that catches our attention. We hope onto these images because we want to believe that sin and death will not dominate us. We can latch onto the tiniest detail that tells us God is here with us and that goodness and kindness will sprout. It is our job to give these accounts of hope to each other for those times when we may lose hope. Some good will always capture our hearts tenaciously that always point to the mystery of God’s care for us even in our darkest moments. God will never stop giving us these tiny moments that allow us to move forward in trust the same way Jesus did.

Let’s observe the moments of the Passion this week knowing that God will give us glimpses of his steadfastness all along the way. Trust that those details are from God and share with others what you see and experience. I’m sure others will tell you theirs and together your faith will be bolstered.

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

March 17: Patrick, bishop (389-461), is the revered Apostle of Ireland and patron saint of many U.S. dioceses. He is credited for bringing the faith to all of Ireland. He was abducted and enslaved at age 16 by pirates and taken to Ireland where he worked as a cattle herded and shepherd in the mountains. He escaped after six years and eventually returned to his native Britain where he became a priest. Pope Celestine sent Patrick as a missionary to Ireland to evangelize them. Though he was under constant risk from hostile pagans, he converted many of them and developed a native clergy by the time of his death.

March 19: Joseph, husband of Mary is honored today for his support of Mary in their marriage. He is portrayed as a righteous man who obeys the will of God. Therefore, his ancestry is upheld as a virtuous stock through which God’s promises come true. We seldom contemplate his marital relationship to Mary and his responsibility to love and raise Jesus as his son. He was a descendent of King David and a carpenter or builder by trade. In Matthew's dream sequence, Joseph was embarrassed by Mary's pregnancy before their marriage, but went through with the wedding because he was a righteous man. He considered dissolving their marriage because of Mosaic Law, but is told in a dream to take Mary as his wife and to raise Jesus as his own. He is honored as the earthly father of Jesus.

March 23: Toribio of Mogrovejo, bishop (1538-1606) was a Spanish law professor in Salamanca who became the president of the Inquisition in Granada. As a layman, he was made the Archbishop of Lima, Peru and became quickly disturbed at the treatment of the native populations by the European conquerors. He condemned abuses and founded schools to educate the oppressed natives. He built hospitals and churches and opened the first seminary in Latin America.

This Week in Jesuit History

·      March 24, 1578: At Lisbon Rodolf Acquaviva and 13 companions embarked for India. Among the companions was Matthew Ricci and Michael Ruggieri.
·      March 25, 1563: The first Sodality of Our Lady, Prima Primaria, was begun in the Roman College by a young Belgian Jesuit named John Leunis (Leonius).
·      March 26, 1553: Ignatius of Loyola's letter on obedience was sent to the Jesuits of Portugal.
·      March 27, 1587: At Messina died Fr. Thomas Evans, an Englishman at 29. He had suffered imprisonment for his defense of the Catholic faith in England.
·      March 28, 1606: At the Guildhall, London, the trial of Fr. Henry Garnet, falsely accused of complicity in the Gunpowder Plot.
·      March 29, 1523: Ignatius' first visit to Rome on his way from Manresa to Palestine.
March 30, 1545: At Meliapore, Francis Xavier came on pilgrimage to the tomb of St. Thomas the Apostle.