Sunday, March 24, 2013

Quiet, Everyone

The entire Holy Week is a week of tenderness. All through the Gospel, from his birth right up to his death, the Lord exhibits much tenderness, especially in the way he treats the sinner. When the woman taken in adultery is brought to him, (John 8:3-11) Jesus shows great delicacy. It is very delicate to turn your back to a person like that, who is ashamed, write something in the sand, and wait until the last person has left; and then with infinite tenderness and gentleness say, “Has no man condemned you? Neither do I. Go, and sin no more”.

When Mary anoints Jesus’s feet with ointment (John 12:1-8) and Judas complains, Jesus says, “Leave her alone; she has kept this scent for the day of my burial. You will have your poor with you always; you will not always have me.” Tenderness—pity. Not the pity that hurts, the pity that makes the poor feel squeamish inside, not just the passing pity of the mind, but the pity of the heart. Jesus did not break the bruised reed nor quench this kind of flame.

Holy Week comes upon us. We have walked through Lent to come to this week in order to remember. It is painful. Painful because we love God and watch him suffer, yet joyous because we want to cry out our thanks to him. It is our week too in that now we must be crucified. We must go through the suffering he has gone through. That is his great gift to us, that we “make up what is wanting in the suffering of Christ” (Col 1:24). Nothing is really wanting in the suffering of Christ, but he allows us to partake of it if we wish.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty, Season of Mercy

Reflection – Well, it’s a call to go deeper, that’s for sure. So often in the hurly-burly of everyday life, there can be a sort of shallowing that happens. Stimuli comes at us—this person, that situation, that heaping pile of work, noise, words, images, pounding away at us from morning to night.

And all too often in our lives we can fall into a sort of reactive mode in all this, just flailing away to keep our heads above water, just trying to prevail each day in some fashion. Too easily that can devolve into power struggles or self-defensiveness or various forms of frenetic fight or flight activities.

And so we come to Holy Week. And here is this silent man standing before his accusers. Here is this still figure moving through crowds first yelling for his crowning as king, and then yelling for his blood as sacrificial victim. But he is still, he is intensely focussed on the Father’s will and the call to love and die for his people. And those people are us.

So Catherine calls us to contemplate the tenderness of God, his gentleness, his deep compassion which brought him to this pass. And as we contemplate it, to come to share it. Our world today is filled with anything but this kind of compassion. Our church culture, too, can be deeply deficient in compassion.

For example, Pope Francis’ election and the various different ways he is choosing to move in his first weeks as bishop of Rome have highlighted divisions and tensions in the Church. More traditionally minded Catholics have their hackles up; more ‘liberal’ Catholics are happily exalting Pope Francis and his celebrated humility to the denigration of Benedict, John Paul, and (I guess) every other Pope who ever lived in the past fifteen hundred years. The chattering classes of the media and the endless rattle of social media (not that I am in a position to cast the first stone here) churn out constant commentary and immediate reaction to every word and gesture of the man.

To all of which I want to say: shhhhhh. Quiet, everyone. The man is talking to us: listen to what he’s saying. This is the least, the most minimal duty that Catholics owe to the Roman Pontiff. Pope Francis is acting prophetically, and it is a grave mistake to either reflexively reject him because we don’t like the look of it, or to assume that he’s talking to other people: those horrible curia folk, or his predecessors, or ‘the rich.’ No, he’s talking to you and me and the whole world. He is our shepherd: listen to him.

Holy Week is a good time to quiet down and listen up. Above all, a good time to make tenderness and compassion the watchwords of our hearts and minds. And above all, a time to intensify our focus on Christ above all and in all and (in a certain sense) to the exclusion of all. Palm Sunday is here, and it is time to acclaim and worship Him as king and messiah. Let’s do just that, and enter into his kingship, which is all love and mercy and sacrifice for others.

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