Message: By his humility - his suffering of love - the Father exalted Jesus making him the source of mercy to all look to him.
Yesterday at the Mass of the Last Supper I spoke about the Sacrament of Mercy and the Martyrs of Mercy: The Eucharist - Sacrament of Mercy; the Sisters killed in Yemen - Martyrs of Mercy.
Today we remember the Source of Mercy - Jesus' suffering and death for us. To enter this mystery I begin with an eyewitness account of how the Sisters died. It has graphic parts that some parents may not want small children to hear.
On Friday, March 4, the Sisters rose at their usual hour - 4:30 am. They had morning meditation followed by Mass and chores. The Sisters each own only two blue and white saris so one they wear and one they wash. Finishing their tasks they had breakfast and said the apostolic prayers including the Prayer for Generosity. At 8 am two sisters went to the care home for men and two to the home for ladies.
At 8:30 ISIS gunmen entered the compound killing the guard. Volunteers (Christian men from Ethiopia) ran to warn the sisters. The cleaning ladies screamed, "Don't kill the Sisters! Don't kill the Sisters!" The gunmen caught Sisters Judith and Reginette, tied them to trees, shot them in the head and then smashed their skulls. Then they caught Marguerite and Anselm - the two terrified Sisters they likewise tied to trees, brutally killing them. According to the Sister who interviewed eyewitness, the smashing of the heads "has some evil connection with 'she will crush the head of the serpent' some kind of mockery or evil meaning."
The gunmen left at about 10:15 after almost two hours of terrorizing the defenseless and killing 16 innocent people. The gunmen took with them the chaplain Fr. Tom who may be under torture and facing death.
Pope Francis denounced these attacks as "diabolical" and referred to the Sisters as "martyrs."
What can we learn from them? Especially on Good Friday what can we learn from them?
First and foremost, Jesus' suffering continues in the world. We can try to flee it or we can embrace it like the Sisters did. Every morning they offered their lives to Jesus in the Mass and the Prayer for Generosity.
As disciples of Jesus we cannot remain passive in the face of suffering. Pope Francis referred to the "globalization of indifference" that allows these atrocities to happen.* Every day Christians are treated brutally and killed. Our government finally acknowledged the genocide against Christians. It took groups like the Knights of Columbus to bring pressure, but a week ago Secretary of State John Kerry at last denounced the persecution of Christians as genocide.
Yet indifference continues and many ask, what can I do? For sure, we are little people but we do have the power of prayer and solidarity. And we can follow the example of those Sisters by putting mercy into action.
Retired Pope Benedict recently gave an interview. They asked him about the Year of Mercy. "Mercy," he said, "means God's participation in man's suffering." Pope Benedict clarified that Jesus' death is "not a matter of cruel justice" or "the Father's fanaticism." No, the mercy brought by Jesus shows that ultimately we can only overcome evil by "the suffering of love."
The pope spoke about how the Father also suffers.** In my 44 years as a spiritual father I have some times experienced that. People bring me their heartbreaks and wounds - especially in Confession. I can do little except listen, pray and suffer with them.
The Virgin Mary epitomizes that "suffering with" which is the meaning of "compassion."
Speaking of Mary, I cannot ignore the coincidence that this Good Friday falls on March 25. Why is that date significant? Well, it's exactly nine months before Christmas. The Church knew biology. March 25 is the Annunciation - when Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in Mary's womb. Jesus began his existence as you and I do: a fertilized egg, an embryo, a fetus - like the ones we see in the marvelous ultra sound pictures.
St. Paul tells us that Jesus humbled himself to become a man like us - humbler still to death, death on a cross. By his humility - his suffering of love - the Father exalted Jesus making him the source of mercy to all look to him. I speak more about that on Easter Sunday. This evening we lift up Jesus crucified. We lift up the cross. Before we venerate the cross I ask you to join with me as I say that final prayer of the Sisters before they gave their lives.
Lord, teach me to be generous. Teach me to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will. Amen.
*Decades ago, Studdard Kennedy wrote a poem, which was later referred to by the Servant of God Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen in one of his many conferences, that compared how Christ was treated on Golgotha with how He may be regarded if He came today to Birmingham, England. We can substitute our hometown--or any town--for Birmingham.
When Jesus came to Golgotha, they nailed Him to a tree. They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds--and deep. For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap. When Jesus came to Birmingham, they only passed Him by. They would not hurt a hair of His, they only let Him die. For men had grown more tender, they would not wish Him pain. They only passed down the street, and left Him in the rain--the winter rains that drenched Him through and through. And when all the crowds had left the street. Jesus crouched against a wall, and sighed for Calvary.
Here is a fuller quote from the interview:
God simply cannot leave “as is” the mass of evil that comes from the freedom that he himself has granted. Only He, coming to share in the world's suffering, can redeem the world.
c) On this basis, the relationship between the Father and the Son becomes more comprehensible. I will reproduce here on this subject a passage from the book by Henri de Lubac on Origen which I feel is very clear: “The Redeemer came into the world out of compassion for mankind. He took upon himself our passions even before being crucified, indeed even before descending to assume our flesh: if he had not experienced them beforehand, he would not have come to partake of our human life. But what was this suffering that he endured in advance for us? It was the passion of love. But the Father himself, the God of the universe, he who is overflowing with long-suffering, patience, mercy and compassion, does he also not suffer in a certain sense? 'The Lord your God, in fact, has taken upon himself your ways as the one who takes upon himself his son' (Deuteronomy 1, 31). God thus takes upon himself our customs as the Son of God took upon himself our sufferings. The Father himself is not without passion! If He is invoked, then He knows mercy and compassion. He perceives a suffering of love (Homilies on Ezekiel 6:6).”
In some parts of Germany there was a very moving devotion that contemplated the Not Gottes (“poverty of God”). For my part, that makes pass before my eyes an impressive image representing the suffering Father, who, as Father, shares inwardly the sufferings of the Son. And also the image of the “throne of grace” is part of this devotion: the Father supports the cross and the crucified, bends lovingly over him and the two are, as it were, together on the cross. So in a grand and pure way, one perceives there what God's mercy means, what the participation of God in man's suffering means. It is not a matter of a cruel justice, not a matter of the Father's fanaticism, but rather of the truth and the reality of creation: the true intimate overcoming of evil that ultimately can be realized only in the suffering of love.
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