Today we enter into Holy Week, the heart of the Church’s liturgical year. All of our prayer and sacrifice throughout Lent have prepared us for this time. In this week we make a special effort to put aside any distractions and follow the Lord as he leads us through his word and the liturgical celebrations. As Pope Benedict XVI says in this week’s reflection: “Being Christian is a path or, better, a pilgrimage; it is to travel with Jesus Christ, to journey in the direction he has pointed out and is pointing out to us.”
What is this “way” that Jesus travels, especially in this week? It is the way of the Cross, the way of dying for rising, the way of giving oneself completely in love to bring life to others. It is, as Pope Benedict points out, the way to union with God.
God created us from the beginning to be united with him eternally. He wants to bring us into total communion with himself. That means we will be “like God,” because we will be one with him. But the way that this comes about is that we receive God’s own likeness as a total gift of love from him. The second reading today, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, shows us how Jesus himself walked this way ahead of 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 … becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him.” He emptied himself, dying for love of others, and God raised him up and exalted him.
In the beginning, the deceiver proposed to Eve a different “way” of achieving God-likeness. He claimed that she could be like God by opposing God, by setting her will against God’s will. The serpent told her that she did not have to submit to God or his ways; she could be free to decide for herself what was right and wrong. She could take her place as a god by claiming for herself God’s attributes: knowledge, power and authority. Rather than receiving God-likeness as a gift, she believed that she could take it for herself. As Paul would say, she “grasped” at equality with God.
This same lie continues to be whispered in the heart of every man and woman throughout time, and we can see that many in the world have believed it and attempt to follow this “way.” Modern people all too often see themselves as the sole source of truth, able to decide for themselves what is good and evil. They are enamored of their technological and scientific knowledge and power, believing that this will ultimately allow them to solve any problem and achieve any goal. They think of freedom as having no authority outside of their own will which can set limits on their behavior.
While it is easy enough to see how the lie of the enemy has been accepted and believed by many in the world, it is harder and more painful for us to see how we ourselves have also allowed this lie to take root in our hearts. If we truly stay awake and ponder deeply throughout the events of this week, we will see that we face resistance from our own nature. Part of us does not want to go with Jesus on his way. We would rather find some other way, some way which does not involve dying.
We can see this resistance in the Apostles in the account of the Passion. Even at the Last Supper, they are arguing about which of them is the greatest. Clearly, they are still trying to achieve greatness by their own striving and are not listening to what Jesus is saying about true greatness. Later some of them attempt to fight off those who come to arrest Jesus, even striking one of them with a sword and cutting off his ear. Most of the Apostles flee when Jesus is arrested. Although Peter does follow Jesus at a distance, he soon denies knowing Jesus when it seems that he might be in danger himself.
The way of the Cross, the way of following Jesus, is hard, and our nature is weak. We should not be scandalized or discouraged when we find that we ourselves, like the Apostles, shy away from following Jesus to the Cross. Pope Benedict gives us this solution: “Since the way to true life, to being people in conformity with the model of the Son of God Jesus Christ, surpasses our own strength, this journey always means being carried. We find ourselves, so to speak, roped to Jesus Christ, together with him on the ascent towards God’s heights. He pulls and supports us. It is part of following Christ that we allow ourselves to be roped together; that we acknowledge we cannot do it alone.”
We see in the reading from Isaiah that the Lord opens the prophet’s ear “morning after morning,” and he does not rebel or turn back. This is how we can proceed: morning by morning taking up the word again and again, allowing the Lord to open our ears and lead us in his way. We will fall often, but we must not rebel or turn back. As long as we humbly acknowledge our own weakness and depend on him for strength, we need not fear. We can say with the prophet, “The Lord GOD is my help, therefore I am not disgraced.”
Above all, we must keep in mind that the way of Jesus is the way to life, the way to love, the way to reach the heights of union with God. It is not a matter of suffering and death for no reason, as if this were the story of some senseless tragedy. This is the story of the triumph of life over death, of redemption over sin, of love over hatred and self-centeredness! We follow Jesus in his dying so that we may rise with him to a new and far greater life, and so that we may share in his work of bringing life to our brothers and sisters!
Let us stay very close to Mary this week, she who more than anyone else perfectly followed the way of her Son. Let us ask her to take us by the hand, strengthening us to walk with Jesus through all the events of this Holy Week.
Have I thought about what is happening with my life today? Do I believe Jesus is present in my heart right now? Will I ask Jesus and Mary to walk with me on this journey through life and my everyday experiences and responses?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 15, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.