We are beginning the greatest week in the life of the church which presents a snapshot of the last days and hours of our Lord Jesus Christ on earth. This week marks the culmination of the reason for Christ’s coming to earth in the first place. Fulton Sheen made this observation in his book The Life of Christ where he noted, “The story of every human life begins with birth and ends with death. In the person of Christ, however, it was his death that was first and his life that was last.” The Scripture describes him as “the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world.” And so we begin this holiest of weeks. I would like to ask you, what is your plan?
If you ever saw the poem, The Road Not Taken, the American poet Robert Frost writes,
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
This is typical of the experiences of the followers of Jesus in the passion narrative. They seem conflicted between two divergent roads: contradicting interests unfold ahead of them, opposing choices that either pitch them with the master and risk their lives or take sides with the Roman authorities and betray their Lord. In the last stanza of that poem, Frost writes,
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
What road are you choosing during this holy week? What road have you traveled on throughout the 6 weeks of Lent? The life of the Christian isn’t easy but it’s never boring and when lived well, it’s glorious.
I heard this little joke about two baseball players. They were good Catholics and both in their 90s. These friends were asking whether or not there was baseball in heaven. So, they made a deal that whoever died first would come back and tell the surviving player if there was baseball in heaven. The oldest guy who was 98 died first. A few days later, he appeared to his friend who was praying in his room and said, “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there is baseball in heaven. The bad news is that you are pitching tonight!” This is where we all (please God) are going. To heaven. But the thing is, we must participate in the journey. How have you done with your Lenten obligations of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving? What did you give up, gossiping, road rage? Lent is finishing. Are you picking those up again?
The real Christian fights with Christ. Are we going to run away and leave Him alone in his suffering this week? Your struggles can make you a great saint and this is why Jesus came to earth. This is why He suffered. You can’t become a saint without being tried. Either you are on his side, or you are on the side of the world.
At the beginning of the Palm Sunday’s liturgy, the crowd who gather raise their voices to shout, “Hosanna to the Son of David, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord; hosanna in the highest.” This glorious chant lasts only for a short period. The mystery of the life of Christ resides in his suffering, death, and passion. The people quickly flip; they believe that Jesus deserves to die, and they shout, “Crucify him.” This calls for deeper reflection on who we are and what our lives mean as followers of Jesus.
What we see in the passion narrative is humanity’s instability. Jesus ends up alone. One of the most painful experiences of the human condition is feelings of abandonment and rejection. Worse if one is abandoned by friends, family, or one who is believed to be a part of the individual’s life. Jesus is abandoned by his friends, his disciples, his followers, and those who benefitted from his ministry.
Who’s left with Jesus? Only the weak! Simple women like Veronica! Reluctant persons like Simon of Cyrene! Helpless individuals like the women of Jerusalem! Good-for-nothing individuals like the thief on his right! And minority leaders like Joseph of Arimathea who offer the tomb at his death! Jesus does not thrive by popular opinion.
The question can be asked in our time, “Who is left with Jesus?” The Holy Week brings that to our attention, to reflect deeper on where we stand. Again, I ask, what is your plan for this holy week? Are you ready for Easter? Have you gone for confession and put yourself in the best spiritual position to side with Jesus? Where would you say you fall in the narrative of the passion? Betraying? Failing? Compromising? Shying away? Shrinking?
Would you describe yourself as ready to step up to defend Christ? That little girl, that bystander, and that maid who confronted Peter can, in our circumstances, be the opportunities we have before our family, our kids, and grandkids, to bear witness to Christ. It could be the moments we speak up or fail to speak up before our colleagues about our faith. It could be the times we choose to stay quiet in order not to face the stereotypes of being Catholics before politicians.
Like Robert Frost says, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Our faith and society can be the “two roads” diverging in the wood of the cross of our lives. Society can be attractive, but the one less traveled road can be our faith. Someday we shall be telling the story of the road that we chose, and like those old baseball players, which made all the differences in our lives.
In this Holy Week, Christ opens the gates of heaven for you personally. He goes to prepare a place for you so that you may be where He is also. He fights for you on Good Friday. Your life is a gift to you from God. Fight the good fight for God. Jesus gave every drop of his blood for you personally. You’re not a number in the crowd. He didn’t’ say, “You know this is really hard. Nobody likes my message. They’re going to make fun of me, beat me, and kill me. Maybe I’ll go home and take it easy. Eat a piece of chocolate and deal with this later.” No. He fought all the way through for you. And then said “It is finished. Father into your hands, I commend my spirit.” And He opened the gates of heaven. Picture in your mind the glory of Him passing through the eternal gates with all the saints and prophets behind Him. He’s the face of mercy. Don’t abandon the Lord. Stay with Him by fighting the good fight. Get up and follow Him through the eternal gates.
Happy Holy Week!