If we celebrate this Easter Triduum with the gravity it deserves, we may find ourselves suspended in time. We discover ourselves in real time alongside Jesus in the Agony at the Garden, or witnessing His brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers, or perhaps next to the women of Jerusalem who mourn loudly with wails and tears for their Lord. Ultimately, we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross of Jesus alongside the Virgin Mary the Blessed Mother of God and the Beloved Apostle John.
Blessed John Paul II kissing the feet of the Crucified Christ
RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - We Catholics now find ourselves in the midst of the holiest part of Holy Week, the Easter Triduum, that three-day period of preparation for Easter Sunday in which we walk intimately with Jesus through His bitter Passion and Death, so that we might share in His Easter Resurrection. For us truly to experience the fullness of Easter in all of its splendor, we must be willing to enter as deeply as possible into the Paschal Mystery - that is, the passion, death, and resurrection - of our Lord Jesus.
Good Friday -- the moment when Jesus has been betrayed, tried, tortured, and now led to Calvary to be crucified by the angry mob - was a perfect day on which to meditate upon these mysteries, through the solemn liturgical celebration of the Lord's Passion, or perhaps through serious meditation upon the Stations of the Cross (the Via Crucis) or by reciting the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary. Whatever sacrifices we made on this day, we know in our heart that they pale in comparison to what Jesus has done for each one of us for our salvation.
We may take great comfort, though, that Jesus is so deeply pleased even with the littlest things we do to show Him love. The Stations of the Cross speak this truth, as Veronica simply but with depth of loving compassion wipes the face of Jesus, and Jesus returns her gift by leaving the image of His Holy Face on her handkerchief. We see here that when we express our even meager, little acts of love for Jesus, He is comforted and responds with a most generous, superabundant Love.
If we celebrate this Easter Triduum with the gravity it deserves, we may find ourselves suspended in time. We discover ourselves in real time alongside Jesus in the Agony at the Garden, or witnessing His brutal scourging by the Roman soldiers, or perhaps next to the women of Jerusalem who mourn loudly with wails and tears for their Lord. Ultimately, we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross of Jesus alongside the Virgin Mary the Blessed Mother of God and the Beloved Apostle John. We have much to learn from these two most faithful disciples of the Lord.
Certainly they spent much of Jesus' three hours - if not virtually every moment - gazing upon the One Who was pierced for our salvation. Just what would they have seen? They look with loving eyes, gazing into the Love of Jesus Christ shed for them personally in His numerous wounds. Every thorn of His kingly Crown, every laceration from the scourging, and every bruise speak of the depths to which our Lord humbles Himself to show perfect Love for you and for me. What tremendous lengths God goes through to show us the depths of His Love!
What is the response we give? Do we return the gaze of love back to Him, or do we ignore Him? Our parish churches and oratories should be packed to the gills on these holiest of days, if only the world were to pay close enough attention to the Lord of Love. Are we ourselves awake to encounter our Lord in His Love for us, and are we awakening others to His Love? Or rather, have we fallen asleep like the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, with spirits willing but flesh so weak, and God's Love remains unnoticed?
As our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI said so poignantly in his Wednesday catechesis of this Holy Week, speaking to the moment of the disciples' slumber in the Garden:
"The somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but it is the problem of the whole of history. The question is of what this somnolence consists, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples' somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them. We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget.
"And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead, we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God - this is our real somnolence: This insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God - it would bother us - and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort".
Our condition is wretched indeed, as the words of the famous Christian hymn Amazing Grace speak so truthfully. In light of some of these recent words of our Holy Father, why would we be surprised to witness many hymnals change the words of the initial lines Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me into words more convenient and comfortable, not mentioning the painful reminder of our wretchedly sinful state! It is only in admitting the wretchedness of a life lived in sin without God that we are able to espouse the humility required to notice our own profound need for God to fill us with His Grace!
Indeed, such would be the perfect response we could give to Jesus' complete emptying of His Life for us on the Cross as He pours forth His Love: We are to empty our lives of sin to make space in our heart to receive His Love, so that He might reign supreme as the only King of our Heart. May we allow God to make us uncomfortable? Good Friday is a reality check on our current human condition - both personally and societally. All we need to do to discover the reality of our condition is simply to conduct a thorough examination of conscience. If we take this process seriously, we should notice quite soon our need to run to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, in an ever deeper search to make amends with the Lord Who loves us and has given totally of Himself, for our salvation.
As the Beatification of Servant of God Pope John Paul II fast approaches, I am reminded of a dramatically beautiful photograph printed back in March 2005 in the Vatican semi-official newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, taken on the Good Friday prior to his passing into eternal life. The beloved pope was too sickly to participate in person at the Via Crucis being held that evening at Rome's Coliseum, as he had during every year for his entire Pontificate up until that moment. Instead, we encounter the Holy Father sitting and participating in the Stations of the Cross via live television feed, and the moment is one of the most tender of his entire Pontificate.
We witness John Paul II embracing the crucifix, and the Lord looks to be speaking from the Cross into the ear of the Holy Father. Ever since first viewing that image, the question has nagged in my mind, "What is Jesus saying to John Paul II from the Cross?" Perhaps they are words of comfort in that beloved Pope's time of great personal agony, during the illness that ultimately would take his life only days later. Maybe Jesus speaks words of understanding, comprehending fully the suffering of man and calling the Holy Father to persevere in the hope of the resurrection, and not to give into despair. Jesus' words even could be those of challenging exhortation: Come, abide with Me where I am. Embrace the wood of the Cross with me and participate in My great saving work.
One thing we know John Paul II must have heard in Jesus' voice is what our Lord says to the Father at every moment of His life on earth and voiced in the Garden of Gethsemane: Not my will, but Thine be done. This past Holy Wednesday, Pope Benedict elaborated on the dynamics of such human surrender to God's Will:
"On his own man is tempted to oppose the will of God, to have the intention to follow his own will, to feel free only if he is autonomous . This is the whole drama of humanity. But in truth this autonomy is erroneous, and this entering into God's will is not an opposition to oneself. It is not a slavery that violates my will, but it is to enter into truth and love, into the good. And Jesus attracts our will, which is opposed to the will of God and seeks its autonomy. He attracts this will of ours on high, to the will of God.
"This is the drama of our redemption, that Jesus attracts our will on high, all our aversion to the will of God and our aversion to death and sin, and unites it to the will of the Father: "Not my will but thine be done." In this transformation of the "no" into "yes", in this insertion of the will of the creature into the will of the Father, he transforms humanity and redeems us. And he invites us to enter into this movement of his: To come out of our "no" and enter into the "yes" of the Son. My will exists, but the decisive will is the will of the Father, because the will of the Father is truth and love."
On Good Friday, Jesus looks down from the Cross in total love upon each one of us and speaks His words of Love, the words that call us to deny ourselves, embrace our personal cross, and follow Him as authentic disciples who seek to live perfectly the will of the Father in our lives. Such a love demands genuine sacrifice, being willing to lay down everything we have and all who we are as a complete gift of self in love for God and neighbor. To do so is the least we can do in responding to the tremendous love He shows us in this Paschal Mystery of our salvation.
If we answer our Lord's vocation for us to love, we will be transfigured more deeply into His the true image and likeness wherever He leads. By the strength of the Holy Spirit poured forth from His Sacred Heart on this day, our hearts will be fulfilled in Jesus' Love, and we will be strengthened in our vocation to live fully as Christians who are to bear the Love of Jesus Christ to a world so longing in thirst for Him.
Fr. Gregory Gresko is the Prior of Mary Mother of the Church Abbey in Richmond, Virginia. He earned his S.T.B. from the Pontificial Athenaeum of Sant'Anselmo in Rome and his S.T.L. magna cum laude in Moral Theology (Marriage and Family Studies) in 2008 from the Pontifical Lateran University, John Paul II Institute (Vatican City). His S.T.L. dissertation was entitled, "Educating to Love: Foundational Pedagogy in Light of Karol Wojtyla's Love and Responsibility". Fr. Gregory is working on his doctoral dissertation for the same Vatican institute, on "The Consecration of the Family to the Heart of Jesus in Light of the Pastoral Ministry of Pčre Mateo Crawley-Boevey"
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