Friday, April 18, 2014

Our Role

Every year, the season of Lent draws to a close with a reading of the Passion narrative, first from one of the synoptic gospels on Palm Sunday, then from the Gospel of John on Good Friday. The readings on Palm Sunday and Good Friday are long, and unlike every other gospel that the Church reads during the year, the Passion narratives are read in parts, with the celebrant taking the lines spoken by Jesus, a narrator reading out the bulk of the text, a third participant reading the lines of certain individuals (e.g., Pilate or Peter), and the congregation speaking for the chorus.

There are parts that get uncomfortable to read from the pews, such as when we are called to say, “We have no king but Caesar,” or “His blood be upon us and upon our offspring,” and especially “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Even as we read those lines, our mind screams, “No! I don't mean it!”

There are some people who refuse to participate. The will not speak those words. Their intention is commendable, but I think that there is a reason the Church has us read those parts during the liturgy.

Mel Gibson understood this when he filmed The Passion of the Christ. Whatever weaknesses and character flaws the man might have revealed in years after the great success of the project, I do not doubt the sincerity of the pious conviction that motivated him to undertake The Passion's production. Although an actor of great talent, he allowed himself to play only one role in The Passion of the
Christ, and even then, nobody would know that it was him without being told. During the crucifixion scene, it was Gibson's hands that nailed our Lord to the cross. It was his way of holding himself accountable for what Christ suffered.

It was this same sensibility that lead Fr. Richard John Neuhaus to write, in Death on a Friday Afternoon, “John Donne was right: 'No man is an Island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.' It was not only for our sins, but surely for our sins too. What a complex web of complicity is woven by our lives. Send not to know by whom the nails were driven; they were driven by you, by me.”

We are fools if we do not admit that the original sin of Adam is our sin as well. Jesus died for our sins as much as for anybody else's. We put him on the cross and hammered the nails as much as anybody, and that is why it is necessary for us to say the words. If we do not admit the sin, how can we claim the forgiveness?

Were you there when we crucified our Lord?

Saturday, March 8, 2014

A Martial Lent

Lent kicked off this year, as it does every year, with Ash Wednesday. Some years, I enter into the spirit of Lent more fully than other years, and the character of the season seems to take on a slightly different flavor each year. What struck me this year, based on the Collect Prayer of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, was the martial nature of the season.

I was reminded that, in Confirmation, we are called to become soldiers of Christ. It is a reality that isn't often emphasized in many catechetical programs these days, but it is a reality nonetheless. I usually only consider this a few times during the year, notably on the Feast of Christ the King, and on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, when I have reason to reflect upon the union of the Church Triumphant (the saints in heaven), the Church Suffering (the souls in Purgatory), and the Church Militant (those of us here on earth).

The General Catechetical Directory of 1971 stated, "Since the life of Christians, which on earth is warfare, is liable to temptations and sins, the way of the Sacrament of Penance is open for them, so that they may obtain pardon from the merciful God and reconcile themselves with the Church." Pope John Paul II confirmed the militant nature of our mission in 1992, saying, "The grace conferred by the Sacrament of Confirmation is more specifically a gift of strength. this gift corresponds to the need for greater zeal in facing the 'spiritual battle' of faith and charity in order to resist temptation and give the witness of Christian word and deed to the world with courage, fervor and perseverance. This zeal is conferred by the Holy Spirit."

The Ash Wednesday Collect explicitly evokes the image of going to war during the season of Lent, calling us to take up spiritual arms in a campaign against evil. That is the flavor that my Lent is taking on this year.

Grant, O Lord, that we may begin with holy fasting
this campaign of Christian service,
so that, aw we take up battle against spiritual evils,
we may be armed with weapons of self-restraint.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.