“Abba, Father, all things are possible to you. Take this cup away from me, but not what I will but what you will.” – Mk 14:36
I struggle to celebrate Palm Sunday and enter Holy Week. My head wants to declare that love and justice conquer all sufferings and evils, that humility underlies radical trust in God. My heart resists the humiliation that precedes humility and the pain that breaks open my soul to a greater self-giving love. It is very tempting for me to approach the Passion of Jesus like a bystander watching a dramatic play on a stage, or see it as a story that happened somewhere in history. Yet, two kinds of experiences invite me to enter this week differently: the persecution of Christians and remembering deaths of loved ones.
Last month, 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians were killed by Islamic State militants in Libya, simply because they were Christians. On their lips were only the words, “Jesus, help me!” Like Jesus at Gethsemane, they cried out to Someone greater. Someone they trusted, despite fear of death and horrific humiliations. In the way they faced death, they echoed Jesus’ faith that “all things are possible” to God.
Both my cousin and maternal grandmother suffered greatly at the end of their lives. Although they died two decades apart, they taught me a similar lesson. In their own ways, they struggled yet embraced their crosses. Despite my ability to accept her impending passing, my grandmother had come to peaceful acceptance of her death. Before she passed, she shared with me that Jesus was with her, that she was sharing his suffering. That he was sharing hers. Throughout much of her life, this was her experience, her crucible of faith – Jesus’ way of drawing her close to him. My young cousin Thy witnessed a similar intimacy. When suggested by her pastor to unite her suffering to Jesus’ and offer them to help children in a nearby hospital nearby, she understood fully and said “yes”. She allowed so many of us, including myself, to be with her in her last moments. We sang the Prayer of St Francis in tears as she gave up her spirit. Like our grandmother, she embodied Jesus’ stance before his passion; she taught us how to die with grace. While the doctors and our earnest prayer could not save her, I believe our presence may have eased her suffering and accompanied her home to God. Remembering the way she and our grandmother lived and died beckons me to enter the passion of Jesus.
When we enter the suffering of anyone around us, including ourselves, Jesus' Passion becomes more real. So would the radical love God has for us. This week, let us allow ourselves to be drawn close to the poor, needy, marginalized, or afflicted. Consider becoming more aware of the rising persecution of Christians in the world. Watch the films Of God and Men or Romero as contemporary portrayals of Jesus’ radical love. Get in touch with the death of someone who inspires you.
"Jesus, help me!" Help me be united with you in my suffering and in solidarity with those who suffer.