Sunday, March 16, 2008

"In Agony Until the End of the World"

In Agony Until the End of the World

Gospel Commentary for Palm Sunday
By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, MARCH 14, 2008 ( In the course of the entire liturgical year, Palm Sunday is the only occasion, besides Good Friday, in which the Gospel of Christ's Passion is read. Not being able to comment on the whole long narrative, we will consider two episodes: Gethsemane and Calvary.

It is written of Jesus on the Mount of Olives that he began "to feel sorrow and distress. Then he said to them, ‘My soul is sorrowful even to death. Remain here and keep watch with me.'" This is an unrecognizable Jesus! He who commanded the winds and the seas and they obeyed him, who told everyone not to fear, is now prey to sadness and anxiety. What is the reason? It is all contained in one word, the chalice: "My Father, if it is possible, let this chalice pass from me!"

The chalice indicates the whole mass of suffering that is about to come crashing down upon him. But not only this. It indicates above all the measure of divine justice that corresponds to men's sins and transgressions. It is "the sin of the world" that he has taken upon himself and that weighs on his heart like a boulder.

The philosopher Pascal said that "Christ is in agony on the Mount of Olives until the end of the world. He should not be abandoned during this whole time."

He is in agony wherever there is a human being that struggles with sadness, fear, anxiety, in a situation where there is no way out, as he was that day. We can do nothing for the Jesus who was suffering then but we can do something for the Jesus who is in agony today. Every day we hear of tragedies that occur, sometimes in our own building, in the apartment across the hall, without anyone being aware of it.

How many Mount of Olives, how many Gethsemanes in the heart of our cities! Let us not abandon those who are there within.

Let us now take ourselves to Calvary. "Jesus cried out in a loud voice: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' And Jesus cried out again in a loud voice, and gave up his spirit."

I am now about to pronounce a blasphemy, but then I will explain. Jesus on the cross has become an atheist, one without God. There are two forms of atheism: the active or voluntary atheism of those who reject God, and the passive or suffered atheism of those who are rejected (or feel rejected) by God. In both forms there are those who are "without God." The former is an atheism of fault, and the latter is an atheism of suffering and expiation. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, about whom there was much discussion when her personal writings were published, belongs to this latter category.

On the cross Jesus expiated in anticipation all the atheism that exists in the world, not only that of declared atheists, but also that of practical atheists, the atheism of those who live "as if God did not exist," relegating him to the last place in their life. It is "our" atheism, because, in this sense, we are all atheists -- some more, some less -- those who do not care about God. God too is one of the "marginalized" today; he has been pushed to the margins of the lives of the majority of men.

Here too it is necessary to say: "Jesus is on the cross until the end of the world." He is in all the innocent who suffer. He is nailed to the cross of the gravely ill. The nails that hold him fast on the cross are the injustices that are committed against the poor. In a Nazi concentration camp a man was hung. Someone, pointing at the victim, angrily asked a believer who was standing next to him: "Where is your God now?" "Do you not see him?" he answered. "He is there hanging from the gallows."

In all of the depictions of the "deposition from the cross," the figure of Joseph of Arimathea always stands out. He represents all of those who, even today, challenge the regime or public opinion, to draw near to the condemned, the excluded, those sick with AIDS, and who are occupied with helping some of them to descend from the cross. For some those who are "crucified" today, the designated and awaited "Joseph of Arimathea" could very well be I or you.


At 12:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jesus’ suffering was redemptive suffering. We know the story; we understand that. In my own life, however, it’s often hard to see that in things that come that are harsh and scary.

In listening to the reading of Christ’s Passion, hearing that he was in distress relieves my guilt for being sad. My sadness changes nothing- I still need to deal with my things, but it’s okay to be sad. I’d this idea that I need to be “okay” in order for anything to be okay, but that’s not true. I’m going to cut myself some slack for not liking how everything happens all the time; it doesn’t make me ungrateful or even unfaithful (which I’d begun to think). Some things aren’t okay with me right now, but I can hold out hope that, in the end, things will be as they are meant.

The other part of the reading from the Mount of Olives that didn’t escape my attention is that Jesus asked the others to remain with him in his distress. I’ve been someone who prefers to be solitary in my distress, but lately that’s changed, and that fact has preoccupied me. I’ve thought I’m becoming some awful, needy person. I once preferred to be alone, but now I find I actually fear it. I think I understand though. There’s a comfort I’ve found when I know someone is praying for me. It gives me courage- like their prayers for me have power to help divide my fears.

Sometimes after I receive Communion, I feel- not sadness, but this connectedness to all that isn’t right in my life. I well up. I have this sense of something hard to express. It’s strange b/c it makes me want to bolt but at the same time draws me back. Some days I just think I’m plain nuts!

I can’t say I understand the beauty in suffering people talk about- I see that beauty on the cross, but in the lives of those around me (and my own), it’s harder. I do know suffering brings me back to my knees over and over again, and there’s a strange appeal (probably not the best word) that all that holds for me in my life right now. And there’s pure relief in the fact that I can’t go it all alone.

At 9:02 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This passage speaks volumes and supports something that I have always believed but that I can never convince anyone of, including my fellow bloggers. "Passive atheists" do not choose to be so. There is more going on than a person's refusal to be open. God chooses some people to reveal Himself to. Faith is blinder for some people. That's how it is. We, all of us, have to accept it.

At 8:19 PM, Blogger fran said...

I am trying to understand,( make sense,) of the thought that, "God chooses some people to reveal Himself to." Can this really be? Is it God who does this seemingly "selective" choosing of this one or that one?

I keep going back to the many gospel stories we have heard, over the past almost-forty days of Lent. Time and time again, Jesus reveals himself to scores of people through his teachings and miracles. It doesn't seem that he is doing this in a variety of ways, so that he is revealed to some, but not others. Aren't they all hearing and seeing the exact same things? I think they are, but the end result is different because of what each person to whom he revealed himself chose to believe. Some chose to stick around and become his followers, while others turned away. Some went so far as to have him crucified.

So, again, I ask: Is it God who chooses to whom he will reveal Himself, or is it us who choose, or do not choose to reveal ourselves to Him?

At 10:59 PM, Anonymous Maryann said...

9:02 am anon:

Maybe I’m missing something and I live in the land of “Dorkville,” but how can one not choose to be a passive atheist? An atheist, by definition, rejects all religious belief and denies the existence of God. I interpret this to mean they have consciously made the decision to believe there is no God or concept of religion. Passive, by definition, is to not participate actively, to submit or obey without arguing or resisting, to be influenced by something external, to let others make the decision(s). In my mind, there can’t be an adjective that involves no choice or say in a decision before the word atheist; which demands a stance or decision. A person either is or is not an atheist.

I can understand a person being unsure, undecided about what they do and do not believe in terms of God as He is infinite and His definition is subjective. I personally find these concepts very difficult to grasp; however, I’m not sure this is what you mean. With total respect for your thoughts, help me to understand what you mean by a “passive atheist.”

"God chooses some people to reveal Himself to." I thought we were made with the gift of free will and the ability to make choices. What follows then is that we choose God, he does not choose us. Please help me to understand your thoughts on this.

Lastly, I question the comment, “Faith is a blinder for some people. That’s how it is. We, all of us, have to accept it.” I view faith as another subjective, infinite concept, one that lacks definitive boundaries, lacks a concrete, universal definition. It will vary from person to person. So, with this being said, is faith really a blinder for some people or is it that these people have a set image by which they see faith and only when that exact image is available and seen does faith exist? Again, with respect for your thoughts, please help me to understand this statement as well.

At 7:36 AM, Anonymous mindy said...

Fran, I agree with you. I think God reveals Himself to all. Maybe they a predetermined idea of what He and His works should be and don’t recognize Him. Maybe some don’t want to see what is before them. Look just to our church during the Mass. When the host is being consecrated- how many acknowledge what is before them then?

I’ve often thought about this-
I think most that have been in the room when their child first came into this world likely had a connection to something miraculous having happened- something well outside of the realm of the division of genes and blending of DNA. We can see- we can clearly see, when a mother locks eyes with their baby for the first time, the connecting of two souls, and yet- some of those very women will still refuse to respect the value of life. How many people leave the hospital, baby in tow, and still support abortion? God reveals His wonder to them in an amazing way, and they refuse to change- refuse to even acknowledge Who was at work there.

It seems we chose to acknowledge and embrace what is most convenient to us. Maybe we don’t acknowledge God’s revelation because we fear persecution. Maybe we don’t want to change our hearts because it would mean changing our lives too. Maybe we can’t get off our own self importance long enough to understand that there will be things in our lives that we aren’t ever meant to understand. For some, I’d imagine that would require quite a bit of humbling!

But I think you are right- I believe He must reveal Himself to us all the time in many ways even the faithful don’t see. I can’t believe He chooses some and not others.

At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

"Judas, not the Iscariot, said to [Jesus], 'Master, then what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?'
"Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.'" -- John 14:22-23

My advice to someone who feels they're enduring an "atheism of suffering and expiation" -- actually, my advice to anyone -- would be to worry as little as possible about what mysterious plans God might be working in and through them, and still less about what others think He's doing with you.

Instead, keep Jesus' word. Love your neighbor, in imitation of and in the name of Jesus. Such acts of love are also acts of faith in Jesus as Lord, and become acts of hope in His promises.

At 7:21 PM, Blogger fran said...

To persevere, through acts of faith, hope and love, is to also exemplify Mother Teresa as she journeyed her "dark night of the soul."

At 1:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon from 9:02,

I do understand what you are saying. Many times people do not chose to be or feel a certain way. I have experienced that myself. What I did was pray, pray and then pray some more. I truly understood the saying "prayer without ceasing". It took many years, but in the end I felt God's presence, and He revealed Himself to me. Please don't give up.

At 11:23 AM, Blogger fran said...

To our friend, "9:02 Anon" -

I am going to pose a bold question, one that was posed to me many years ago, when I was going through a difficult time in my life, desperately wanting something: "Do you want it badly enough?"

When I heard those words, at first I was rather shocked (how dare they!) that they were being said. Of course I wanted it badly enough! I was, afterall, praying, I had family, friends, and religious praying for me, I was attending healing services, and receiving the sacraments. What else could I do?

In hindsight it is now easy to see that something very important was lacking. Yes, I was "doing" many things, things that I thought were good, but I was not really living them. In my personal life I was, well, let's just say not a very pleasant person. And it was in this unpleasantness that I was, in fact, keeping God at arm's length, away from me. Passive atheism. Not actively choosing, but yes, passively keeping Him from getting close and fully revealing Himself to me. It is quite clear to see, that in keeping God at arm's length, that I did not want what I was praying for badly enough.

My prayers, and the prayers of others were answered eight years later, and while I have made changes, there is still much I need to learn and improve upon in my relationship with God. I have learned that I will do everything I can each and every day, so that I never keep Him at arm's length ever again.

And now for some song lyrics...

"Little is much when God's in it, and no one can fathom the plan He holds."

"We will never know the awesome power of the grace of God until we let ourselves get swept away..."

Anon, I hope and pray that today you will know the awesome power of the grace of God, allowing Him to reveal Himself to you.

At 11:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Do you want it badly enough?"

That is a hard question to be asked; it can bring up a lot of issues.

Sometimes maybe we don’t know where to begin. I think that’s the worst place- to want something and have no idea how to even begin to go about starting on any path. That’s where I am right now, and it scares me. So, I find myself doing the very things that keep me from getting anywhere close to that end goal. I create problems and conflict for myself, I alienate anyone who would even care to help- and what’s worse…I can’t seem to help myself from doing it. It’s easy to put myself on a path to self destruction when I can’t figure out how to put myself on another (like going with what you know versus some unknown).

I’d imagine for some it could be pretty scary to want anything badly enough. For some, a leap of faith could look like a giant step into the abyss!

At 5:43 PM, Blogger fran said...

Yes, it is a hard question to ask oneself and even harder to answer, because our pride gets in the way. I know because I've been there, and I revisit from time to time. :)

As far as not knowing where to start, well, you are here so it is obvious that your search has begun. A blog site will only take you so far, however, so I would suggest giving some serious thought and prayer to cultivating partnerships or friendships with those who have reached out to you already. There seem to be plenty of people willing to support you, but you are letting fear hold you back.

It certainly is a leap of faith, but instead of looking into the abyss, look up and let go. God, and those who are ready and willing are waiting there to hold you up when you take that first step.

I don't mean to sound presumptuous but I do hope you will be attending Good Friday services tonight. Being there would certainly be another step in the right direction!

At 6:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can't seem to remember- is the church open the entire evening for Adoration or only for a time directly after services?

At 6:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Fran,

“I would suggest giving some serious thought and prayer to cultivating partnerships or friendships with those who have reached out to you already. There seem to be plenty of people willing to support you, but you are letting fear hold you back.”

I read what you wrote, and that thought stuck with me through showering, getting dressed and starting dinner. I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t know how to do what you suggested. Each time I get close to allowing someone to support me, and the fewer times that I’ve actually asked for it, everything gets strange for me. Sometimes it’s about pride, but most of the time it’s about- as you stated, fear. I can’t tell you of what exactly- maybe that they’ll get close enough to see all the awful things about me and walk away, maybe they’ll expect something from me that I can’t live up to or maybe it’s something else. I honestly don’t know, and I don’t know how to stop.

I made the decision that some changes in my life needed to start with faith. I needed to have that relationship first, and I’ve been working on that- but other people? Well, I haven’t done so well with them, and I’ll leave it at that.

What's harder to relationships with others impact my faith. Sometimes I have to fight with myself to put my people stuff aside to continue to cultivate the relationship I know must be most important to me.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger fran said...


I think you are doing the right thing in developing/strengthening your faith first. Perhaps it is there that you need to be at this moment, and maybe need to stay, for a bit, before taking the next step. Maybe continued improvement and growth in this area of faith, will enable you to cultivate the friendships you desire, down the road.
That being said, you must surely have a friend or a family member with whom you can share your doubts and fears. Maybe this one individual, is the only person you need for the time being. Maybe an extensive circle of friends isn't necessary, or what you need just yet.

You say you are afraid of exposing who you are to others, and getting close to people, for fear that they will walk away.

First of all, you are not obligated to tell everyone you meet, every little detail about yourself. Second, we all have imperfections and "not so nice" stuff that we carry around with us. If you think about it, it's a wonder any of us have any friends, if we're going to nitpick one anothers flaws. A true friend is one who respects and accepts you as you are, one who sees the good, and overlooks the not so good. I would venture to say that you have far more appealing qualities about you than the negative ones you are dwelling on.

I listen to a Christian radio station which airs these 60 second self-help type clips. Recently, the topic of "loving and losing," rather than "never having loved at all," came up. I think some of what was said, may apply to you and your situation.

It stated that you can take one of two routes in life. You can choose to protect yourself from pain by not connecting with others, and thereby not suffering any loss. In doing this though, you have essentially built a wall around yourself, making yourself invulnerable to others. (and not experiencing much of life either, I might add) Or, you can connect with others, make yourself vulnerable (hard, I know) and learn to handle and grow from the loss when it comes your way. It was stated that it is much better to choose the latter of the two.

I hope this unprofessional advice will help in some way. You will be in my prayers this evening.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger fran said...

Anon, if you are reading here today "Happy Easter!" I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share with you. Maybe you have had these very same thoughts.

The first one is not my own, but from something I read in and op-ed piece in Friday's paper. The phrase "begin by doubting their doubts," caught my eye. You came to mind. Not believing, not trusting in whatever it is that is causing you to doubt and fear, has to be cast aside in order for you to continue growing both in your faith, and in your personal life.

Along those lines, I think you should consider lowering your expectations of yourself and your expectations of others. You should also try and move away from whatever it is you think people might expect of you. There is certainly nothing wrong with having expectations, but setting them too high might lead to disappointment in yourself and those around you, setting up a pattern of expectation and disappointment.

If you are saying, "I don't know how to do this!" I wish I could tell you exactly how, but I cannot. I hope this does not come across as juvenile or goofy, but do you remember that scene from "The Wizard of Oz," just before Dorothy awakens from her dream? She learns that she has had the ability ( the word 'power' may have even been used ) to return to Kansas all along, on her own. She asks why she wasn't told. The answer she receives is that she could not have been told, as she would not have believed. She had to find out on her own, for herself. ( Sounds somewhat similar to today's Gospel reading, doesn't it? )

From some of the things you have written, it is evident that you have a strong desire to attain what it is you are seeking. Remain confident. Pray. Hope. Trust. Through your own abilities, I, too, am confident you will find your answer.


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