Human suffering cascades into our homes with the consistency of spilled oil. We can never seem to clean it up and the frustration leaves us sad and, most the time, feeling helpless. Beyond writing congressional representatives, contributing to charitable outreach and praying, we can’t escape the menacing cloud of knowing that half our brothers and sisters in the world are struggling with starvation, war, disease, or homelessness. I pray that we do not become immune to it all, but realize that those big starving eyes affect all of us and the entire world.
There is an incredible loneliness attached to suffering. In my last year of undergraduate work at a small Midwest Catholic women’s college, the Franciscan leadership reached out to Dr. Sterling Stuckey, now a professor of history at the University of California–Riverside, to teach a class in Black History. It was in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and we were enthusiastic to find out more about the surge of justice that called us forth. Dr. Stuckey, facing an audience of well-mannered young white women, held back nothing. He taught black history with a passion and a fury that brought the reality of the slaves right to our study niches where we poured over the material.
The more I read, the more I wept in my room at night. And the more embarrassed I was to show up in class as a white woman standing before a black man whose people had suffered at the hands of my own people. So to hear Dr. Ben Carson, our newly appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, say that when the slaves came to America they came as immigrants with dreams for themselves, their children, and their grandchildren, I wondered what history books he had read. And though he clarified later that slaves did not come as voluntary immigrants; the damage was already done. The statement gravely contributed to the kind of betrayal and misunderstanding that historians today are attempting to upend.
As the curtain rises on the drama of Christ’s passion, Christians will be invited to ponder the loneliness and the betrayal that Christ underwent in his final days. The journey into Jerusalem is the high point of Christ’s popular acceptance, which will make Good Friday all the harder. The eagerness of the crowd around him shouting, “Hosanna,” and calling Jesus the Son of David will quickly turn as Jesus becomes the focus of an all-out investigation into the allegations against him. Jesus questions the arrest: “Day after day I sat teaching in the temple area, yet you did not arrest me” (Mt 26:55)!
The statement sadly points to the infidelity he will experience when his own twelve abandon him, the high priest and scribes accuse him of blasphemy, and the Roman leadership condemn him to death. The fickle crowds call forth the insurrectionist, Barabbas, to be released over the goodhearted Jesus. It is all an enigma! Mob tyranny will prevail.
We have looked upon far too many images of his suffering that followed, being placed in the hands of the soldiers who scourge and mock him. But it is the haunting loneliness that grips me each year. Nobody stepped forward to defend him or speak on his behalf. Where were the recipients of his healings? His exorcisms? His mercy and love? In the heart of the story, it is a black and frightening hole no one wants to walk into. But we must! And Passion Sunday invites us there. During the Gospel we will be relegated to the role of the audience that shouts: “Crucify him!”
It is stinging to feel that collective hate toward the innocent and it ought to place within our very souls a disgust for the outcry. Meant to raise the level of consciousness toward those who are alone and suffering today, “Crucify him,” is the outcry of any culture charged with viciousness toward the scapegoat. And history has given us many.
In an interview with the Jesuit magazine, America (March 20, 2017), Bishop McElroy from San Diego, California, faces the suffering of his own people where two hundred thousand persons from his diocese are undocumented and live in fear of deportation. He spoke at the US Regional World Meeting of Popular Movements in Modesto on February 19 and challenged the attendees to face this “pivotal moment as a people and as a nation.” Looking at the value of Catholic Social Teaching he reminded those gathered that strong government and societal protections for the powerless, the worker, the homeless, the hungry, those without decent medical insurance, and the unemployed must be in place. Bishop McElroy urged Catholics to stand “in solidarity with individual people we know who are undocumented and terrified right now… The church needs to be with them, and we as individuals, as people of faith, need to be with them and help them through this.” His call to walk with the betrayed and the lonely is the call of Christ to “remain here and keep watch with me” as he faced his darkest hour.
The cross of Jesus Christ, lifted high and honored this week, is Christianity’s sacred icon. But Christ will rise again and the alleluia choruses sung on Easter will climax the good news. Even though the darkest days of the Triduum cast a shadow upon what good news is about, the reality is that Jesus was the messenger of joy who came to give sight to the blind, mobility to the lame, hope to the prisoners, and mercy to the sinners. From the cross, Jesus embraced all those scapegoated into the weary margins of betrayal and loneliness. He asks us to find them, house them, feed them, hold them, love them.
May the journey toward Jerusalem find us all faithful to the One faithful to us! Blessed Holy Week!
Mary K. Matestic, MTS
as I enter into Passion week
facing with you the sufferings and trials
marked by abandonment and loneliness,
bless my efforts to draw near to you.
Keep me faithful to this Lenten journey
and help me to reflect upon your passion
with holy resolve,
to live the Gospel of love and compassion,
to set aside petty arguments and habits.
Draw me close to you in prayer and blessed meditation.
Give to me ways to reach out to those who suffer poverty and loneliness.
Thank you for your life upon the earth,
and your eternal love for me and all of humanity.