I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Contemplate Christ’s Passion and let Him enter into our suffering

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Holy Week begins the greatest week of the liturgical year. As we enter more deeply into His passion and death, we discover Jesus entering our passion, our struggle with sin, weaknesses and inconsistencies. There's no doubt that Christ suffers much in our lives, gradually conquering our rebellious nature with the same love that led Him through His passion.

When I think of God's love for sinful humanity, I recall the image of the Holy Trinity in the central dome of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. This image is called the Vertical Trinity. It depicts the Father seated with His arms outstretched and His hands holding Jesus' hands to the cross. Below is the dove of the Holy Spirit. This image illustrates so clearly that our redemption is the result of a conspiracy of love on the part of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

It also illustrates that God's love for us is a suffering love. It's almost as if the Three Persons of the Most Holy Trinity are looking for an outlet into which they can pour out their love, and it happens to be sinful humanity.

As we look at the passion of Christ from this viewpoint, we realize that for the Most Holy Trinity, suffering is love, and love is suffering. God's ongoing love is suffering as it helps us negotiate a way into the love that brings us into freedom from sin. His love in us is suffering from our sins, and His suffering within us is God loving us.

The first reading from Isaiah sets the tone for Palm Sunday. This brief reading serves an overture to Christ's passion.

Listen to its beauty: "The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning He opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting."

This is a very succinct depiction of our Lord's public ministry. Morning after morning He presented Himself before the Father to listen, and then spent the rest of the day in obedience to the Father. From morning to night, the Father's love poured out upon mankind through the daily ministry of Jesus. In the Gospel of John He tells us: "I have called you friends because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father." (John 15:15)

In the second reading, St. Paul finds simple words to express the profundity of Christ's redeeming love for us. "Christ Jesus, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."

Christ spent every day simply being obedient to the love He shared with the Father and the Holy Spirit. The power of that love enabled Him to move through the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, the scourging and the crucifixion.

Let us observe how that love unfolds in these four scenes. At the Last Supper, Jesus was fully aware that Judas was about to betray Him. Because Jesus wanted Judas' salvation so intensely, He was in profound anguish that His three years of friendship with Judas seems to be a failure. His love of Judas wasn't a failure, but Judas was a failure because he rejected this love. Yet, Jesus ever so gently gives Judas an opportunity to repent before it's too late. Judas left his Savior and gave himself over to Satan.

After singing a hymn with His apostles, Jesus took them to the Mount of Olives, and then to Gethsemane. There He entered into His agony and prayed twice to His Father, pleading that this cup would pass Him by, yet not as Christ willed but as the Father willed. Judas came and handed over Jesus to the soldiers who came to arrest Jesus. Love prompted Jesus not to resist, but to suffer.

Next, Jesus was led to Pilate, who released the notorious criminal Barabbas but turned Jesus over to be crucified. "They spat upon Him and took the reed and kept striking Him on the head. And when they had mocked Him, they stripped Him of the cloak and dressed Him in his own clothes, and led Him off to crucify Him." Throughout the false accusations and scourging, Jesus embraced the mental and physical torture with love.

In the crucifixion scene, as depicted by Matthew, even though the mob was taunting Jesus and mocking Him, He remained silent. Only before He breathed His last did He cry out in a loud voice, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" When He gave up His spirit, "the veil of the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth quaked, rocks were split." His peaceful acceptance of suffering prompted the centurion and the men with him to say, "Truly, this was the son of God!"

As we enter into His loving embrace of His crucifixion this week, may we allow Him to enter into our passion and our suffering from our sins, and allow Him to love us into freedom. Christ is thirsting to enter into our lives more deeply. Will we allow His passion to transform us by His love that purifies? 

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