We have all just heard and participated in the very graphic and powerful account of the sufferings and death of Jesus through the Gospel of St Luke. It is not just a play or a drama. It is a real account of what happened to Jesus, the Son of God. And so, it is good for us to ask ourselves, “What were we feeling when the Gospel was proclaimed when we heard of how Jesus’ heart was torn apart when He knew that His beloved disciple Peter would deny Him, that Judas was to betray Him, that the crowd to whom He preached, healed and gave hope has now turned into blood thirsty men who were chanting and clamouring for His death, and furthermore, He would not only experience the most excruciating scourging and humiliating mockery of His life, but would eventually be crucified cruelly as a criminal?
Were we moved with deep gratitude to Jesus for suffering and dying for us? If we are not moved and not affected by the Gospel account of what we just heard, then perhaps we were merely following the Passion of Christ on a head level, and not with our hearts.
There is as story of James, a professional surgeon who daily performs many operations on his patients. James was so skillful that no operations were too difficult for him. One day, when James rushed into the operating theatre for an emergency accident case, he was shocked to find that the patient on the operating table that was in such a wrecked condition was actually his own son. He was frantic and was filled with fear. He tried to phone other surgeons to come to his rescue, but none were available. So, he had no choice, but to go ahead to perform the operation as any further delays may mean the death of his son.
In his desperation, James started praying to God for help and guidance. Throughout the operation, he was perspiring; his heart was palpitating and his hands were shaking in fear. What normally took 6 hours, took him 8 hours to complete. James was traumatized by the situation because the accident patient was not just anybody, but his own son.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as James was deeply moved by his son’s sufferings, likewise, we too should ask for the graces to be deeply moved by Our Lord’s suffering and death. The Passion story is not just another story. It is a true account of how much Our Lord loves you and me so intensely, so infinitely and unconditionally that He was willing to go through all His pain and sufferings out of love for you and for me, and for every human person in the world.
During this Holy Week we can be sure that God would want to give us the abundant graces to experience His redemptive love in our lives. God would also want us to experience how His Love for us is so infinitely unconditional. Our Lord went through all His pain and sufferings all because He loved you and me, and indeed everyone in the world, and wants everyone to gain eternal life when we die.
Pain and suffering is very much part of our human living experiences. Many of us tend to grapple and struggle with them physically and emotionally. Some of us who are stronger, are able to manage quite well, but many of us more often than not, feel as though the burdens are threatening to crush us. Ideally, we should be able to find the presence of God in our lives to give us the support and strength we need not only to manage our pains and struggles, but also to unite them with the sufferings of Jesus in the Passion.
This is not only possible, but it is surely the way forward. If we read the lives of the saints, all of them without exception find great strength to continue to persevere simply because they were able to connect with God in very real way. For such people, to suffer from say a serious and terminal illness, different temptations of life or to be torn by the agony of a failed marriage relationship is more than a physical or emotional pain. To them the pain they experience is also a spiritual experience and challenge. They are able to open their hearts to the divine power of God not only to keep them going, but also to unite their sufferings to Jesus’ Sufferings. Because they were able to integrate their sufferings with Jesus’ sufferings, with God’s graces, they were able to turn their pain and sufferings into redemptive acts. We too should try to do this and offer our pains for different good intentions and the good and salvation of others.
Yes, my sisters and brothers, we do have a tendency to treat the Passion account that we just heard proclaimed on head level and not allow our hearts to be affected by it. Unless, we get in touch with and appreciate the reality of how much God’s infinite Love is the core meaning of our whole life, Jesus’ sufferings and death will not affect us as much as God wants us to be affected and transformed by it. Should we not be beholden to Jesus for what He was willing to go through - the humiliation, mockery, condemnation and eventually crucifixion all because of His love for us? Should we not be grateful to Jesus who willingly suffered all these in order that we can gain eternal life?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, as I conclude let us remind ourselves that as a Christian, in many ways we tend to be like James. God is real in our lives, but we tend to treat Him in somewhat a distant and impersonal way. We believe in Jesus, as our Lord and Saviour, but we also have a tendency of not really connecting with Him in our daily living until sadly some tragedy strikes or until we face a crisis in life. If this is how we experience and relate to God daily, then it is not surprising that year in and year out, we may be listening to the proclamation of the Sufferings and Death of Jesus, during Holy Week, but are not really affected by them.
But, let us pray for the grace that this year’s Holy Week will be different from those of previous Holy Weeks. Let us pray that we will truly open our hearts to the abundant graces that God wants to give us during this Holy Week; to experience the power of His infinite Love through His Passion in our lives. And that in experiencing this we will become more Christ-like and will be able to continue to grow in holiness by uniting our pains and sufferings with the Passion and Death of Jesus.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
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