Next Sunday we begin Holy Week when palms will be blessed and the Passion according to Mark will be proclaimed. Our readings today and in the liturgies of Holy Week allow us to walk along with Christ as we recall his Passion and death that we might better appreciate the extraordinary sacrifice of the Lord for us.
“I am troubled now.” Those moving words of Jesus as he contemplated the Passion to come as recorded in today’s Gospel remind us that he was fully human. His journey to the cross was one that would trouble any human, because it involves suffering. All of us seek to avoid suffering. But Jesus continues “Yet what should I say? Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this purpose that I came to this hour.” As we experience troubling times in our lives, Jesus teaches us not to run away from them which is not really possible but rather ask God for the grace and strength to persevere through them by trusting in God’s way.
As the reading from Hebrews states it: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered; and when he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” That means for us. God’s love and mercy for fallen mankind was so great that Jesus sacrificed himself to become the source of our eternal salvation. We celebrate this truth at every Mass. We have heard it so often that its magnitude can be lost in its familiarity. His self-sacrificing example however should move us to ponder our purpose, to accept our crosses, and to motivate us to have confidence in God’s plan for us. In a phrase, like Jesus ought to learn from what we suffer.
To do so, Jesus tells us requires dying to self. “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat, but if it dies, it produces much fruit.”” And, whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life.” If we die to pride and self-centeredness and focus on the higher things, we can discover our purpose and we can more fully become who God created us to be.
That is not easy to do. We can be discouraged by the evil we see that seems overwhelming. We can become set in our ways and routines and avoid change which is inevitable. We can be worn down by the burdens of our days and believe we do not matter. To die to self means to shake off such negative thinking and seek to do what we can to witness Gospel values. St. Theresa of Avila wrote: “We must offer the Lord whatever interior sacrifice we are able to give Him, and His majesty will unite it to that which he offered the Father upon the Cross . . . even though our actions may be in themselves trivial.” There is no sacrificial act that is truly trivial because any such act is a giving of oneself for a purpose greater than ourselves; it is a reflection that we are servants of Christ.
A place to begin is at home and our relationship to those we encounter every day. A wife said to her husband, “you never tell me you love me.” He responded, “When we got married in our vows I pledged my love for you. If anything changes, I’ll let you know.” That is not good enough, for spouse, for family, for friends, for God.
There was a country song some years ago about a troubled relationship and the question was asked how to make things right again. The simple response was to offer simple acts of caring: “buy me a rose, call me at work, open a door for me, what would it hurt. Show me you love me by the look in your eyes, these are the little things I need in my life.” Saying I love you or thank you or you mean a lot to me may seem trivial but to the one who receives those sincere words it is life giving. But we must choose to break from our routines and begin to notice again those who touch our lives.
In the eyes of God there is no one of no importance, the secular yardsticks of the world notwithstanding. Each of us is gifted by God with life and is deserving of the respect and dignity being children of God implies. While we may not always receive it from others, or live it ourselves, the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross for us reminds us of that truth and ought to motivate us to seek to live the high standard to which we as his disciples are called.
One of the great influences on my life as on many others was Pope Saint John Paul II. A vigorous 58 who hiked and skied when elected he died unable to move or speak at 85. Through those years he taught us so much in word and witness. He began his time as pope by reassuring us to not be afraid. He was a realist who always called us to become better than we are. He with great courage faced the evil in our world. He with great love challenged youth because he believed in them. He had an optimism that was contagious. In his later years he taught us how to bear suffering well. When asked once how he was he reportedly said, “I’m in good shape from the neck up; not so good from the neck down.” Some of us can relate to that. When asked if he ever cried, his response was, “not outside.” Some of us can relate to that. When it was suggested that for his own sake he retire from being pope he reportedly responded, “Jesus did not come down from the cross.” In a powerful example for us all Saint John Paul II lived vigorously and bore his suffering with the same humility, obedience and faith. He followed the example of Christ.
The story is told of some British officers who were riding along on horses when they were ambushed. An old sergeant was wounded and fell off his horse. The others rode of as quickly as they could and escaped safely, all but a young lieutenant of noble birth. He was handsome, well-educated, new to the army fresh from college. The lieutenant jumped from his horse, enveloped the wounded man in his arms and shielded him from the gunfire. Then he was hit himself. The old sergeant said, “How sad that you, just starting out on a long and brilliant life should die this way for me, an old man of no importance.” The young lieutenant replied, “Sad? What could be better?” Then fell back lifeless. Sad that the Son of God, fully human and fully divine, should suffer and die for me, a sinner of no importance, and for you. Yet, to him, what could be better? “It was for this purpose that he came.
That is what will be raised up during Holy Week. May we take notice.