Juxtapositions worth Contemplating: The Mystery
by Father Peter Iorio
For those of you who have lovers, what did you do on Valentines’ Day this year? This year, there was a strange juxtaposition with Ash Wednesday falling on Valentine’s Day. So sumptuous dining and flowers and candy went together with fasting and abstinence as well as the statement: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. This was Ash Wednesday, February 14, 2018. The celebration of human love was combined with the realization that life comes to an end. In 2018, February 14 was also the day of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. I was in the Holy Land when I heard that news and I saw a picture of one of the mothers with an ash cross on her forehead.
Today is another strange juxtaposition. It is Palm Sunday and also March 25, the day when the church celebrates the Annunciation that Mary received the Good News from the angel Gabriel that she would be the Mother of God. It is nine months before the solemnity of Christmas, the birth of the Lord Jesus. As we recall Mary’s Yes to Life and the joyful expectation of the birth of Jesus, we remember when Jesus entered joyfully into the city of Jerusalem with shouts of hosanna and we read the Passion which concludes with his death on the cross.
We contemplate the mystery of new life and the promise of a beautiful future received in love and also the tragedy of human cruelty inflicted against the Son of God. When will we ever learn? Turn away from sin and believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ. This is another statement used when we impose ashes.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ is God’s presence in our world—not an event of the past. The incarnation is still going on in our lives. And our vocation is to join God’s dynamic, incarnate energy in the world and to be that presence of divine love wherever we find ourselves.
When I was in the Holy Land last month, our group walked the Via Dolorosa, recalling what we heard the Gospel today. It was a very powerful part of our pilgrimage. An image that sticks in my mind is that as we wound our way through the alleys early in the morning to get ahead of the shop owners and shoppers, I noticed a girl of about 7 or 8 watching us. I smiled at her. She probably got scared and responded by sticking out her tongue at me. I remembered the worse mockery that Jesus endured as he walked the Via Dolorosa. The first pilgrims walked the Via Dolorosa to identify themselves with the original moment, not to reduce it to a pious legend; nor even to worship the story of one man and his agony, but to stand witness to the story of each man’s[person’s] agony. Comments of the American Jewish painter Barnett Newman whose ‘Stations of the Cross’ are in the National Gallery [Washington, DC].
We can ask ourselves why we call this week “holy” when it has so much sadness, torture, cruelty and death. It is not because we think that suffering by itself is good. Our God is not a God of suffering so much as a God of love. Neither God nor Christ love suffering, however they love those who suffer. They do not love tears; however, they love those who cry. They do not love death so much as life. The father of Jesus is not a God who allows the death of humans as much as a God who resurrects the dead. The cross is a symbol of love and not a glorification of suffering. It is a symbol of love carried to the extreme in a world full of hatred. The passion is a revelation of love, of the love that God has for each of us.
We can try live His Holy Week as our Holy week, offering up our prayers as an entreaty to our God whose love embraces every suffering, and every darkness. His love is real because He has already lived the ‘why’ without the answer for ‘you’ and for ‘me.’