Stations of Suffering, Stations of Consolation
By custom, the one Holy Week homily at the Vatican which isn't preached by the Pope is the Good Friday reflection at the Commemoration of the Lord's Passion.
Yesterday, in keeping with that custom -- which gives the Pope a bit of a breather, as he does have to deliver seven other major talks over eight days -- the preacher of the Papal Household, Capuchin Fr Raniero Cantalamessa, was called upon yet again to handle the task.
Judging by the inbox, I wasn't the only person whose eyebrows shot up when Cantalamessa said the magic words, "Raymond Brown...."
Link to the translation, and a relevant snip:
This word of Scripture -- and in a special way the reference to the itching for anything new -- is being realized in a new and impressive way in our days. While we celebrate here the memory of the passion and death of the Savior, millions of people are seduced by the clever rewriting of ancient legends to believe that Jesus of Nazareth was never crucified. In the United States a best-seller at present is an edition of The Gospel of Thomas, presented as the Gospel that "spares us the crucifixion, makes the resurrection unnecessary, and does not present us with a God named Jesus."And then all your beloved Gnostic blather gets taken to the woodshed.
Some years ago, Raymond Brown, the greatest biblical scholar of the Passion, wrote: "It is an embarrassing insight into human nature that the more fantastic the scenario, the more sensational is the promotion it receives and the more intense the faddish interest it attracts. People who would never bother reading a responsible analysis of the traditions about how Jesus was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead are fascinated by the report of some 'new insight' to the effect that he was not crucified or did not die, especially if the subsequent career involved running off with Mary Magdalene to India … These theories demonstrate that in relation to the passion of Jesus, despite the popular maxim, fiction is stranger than fact, and often, intentionally or not, more profitable."
There is much talk about Judas' betrayal, without realizing that it is being repeated. Christ is being sold again, no longer to the leaders of the Sanhedrin for thirty denarii, but to editors and booksellers for billions of denarii. No one will succeed in halting this speculative wave, which instead will flare up with the imminent release of a certain film, but being concerned for years with the history of Ancient Christianity, I feel the duty to call attention to a huge misunderstanding which is at the bottom of all this pseudo-historical literature....
Following the St Peter's liturgy, the evening continued with the Wojtyla-instituted custom of the Way of the Cross at the Colisseum.
After carrying the cross for the last station, Benedict offered an extemporaneous meditation at the end. Here's the Whispers translation of the remarks:
Dear brothers and sisters,
We've just accompanied Jesus along the Way of the Cross. We have accompanied him here, along the path of the martyrs, in the Colisseum, where many suffered for Christ, gave their lives for the Lord, and where the Lord himself suffered anew in them.
And so we've understood that the Way of the Cross is not a thing of the past, one of a determined point of the earth. The Cross of the Lord embraces the world; his Via Crucis crosses continents and ages. In the Via Crucis we cannot be solely spectators. We, too, are involved, and therefore we must seek our place in them: who are we?
In the Via Crucis there is no place, no possibility of being neutral. Pilate, the intellectual skeptic, sought to be neutral, to remain apart; but, in doing so, he took his place against that of justice, for the sake of his career.
We must find our place.
In the mirror of the Cross we've seen all the sufferings of today's humanity. In the Cross of Christ we have seen the suffering of children abandoned, abused; threats against the family; the division of the world in the pride of the rich who do not see Lazarus in front of their door and the sorrow of all those who suffer hunger and thirst.
But we've also seen "stations" of consolation. We've seen the Mother, she whose goodness stayed faithful until death, and beyond death. We've seen the courageous woman, who came before the Lord and had no fear of showing her solidarity with this Suffering One. We've seen Simon the Cyrenian, an African, who with Jesus carries the Cross.
We've seen, finally, across these "stations" of consolation that, as the suffering is not finished, so neither is the consolation finished. Along the Way of the Cross, we've seen it as Paul found the zeal of his faith and touched the light of love. We've seen as St Augustine found his way: so, too, St Francis of Assisi, St Vincent dePaul, St Maximillian Kolbe, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. And so also, we are called to find our place, our position, to find with these great, corageous saints the way with Jesus and for Jesus: the way of goodness, of truth; the courage of love.
We've learned that the Via Crucis is not simply a collection of the dark and sad things of the world. Nor is it a moralism to an insufficient end. It's not a shout of protest that doesn't change anything. The Via Crucis is the way of mercy, and of mercy which goes even to the limits of evil: so we were taught by Pope John Paul II. It's the way of mercy and so the way of salvation. And so we've come to be called to take the way of mercy and to place with Jesus the boundary of evil.
Let us pray that the Lord may help us, so that we may be "infected" (contagiati) with his mercy. Let us pray to the Holy Mother of Jesus, the Mother of Mercy, that we may be men and women of mercy and so contribute to the salvation of the world; the salavation of creation; that we may be men and women of God.
PHOTO 1: Reuters/Giampiero Sposito
PHOTOS 2-3: POOL/Pier Paolo Cito