First, I would like to wish each and every one of you a blessed Easter Season!
I know that Easter brought a lot of needed reliefs and joys for this uncertain time. We begin to hear encouraging news that the pandemic that has been torturing us is easing down in different parts of the world. Even though there are still hard cases to deal with, we begin to hear of recoveries as well as the removal of strict limitations around the world. Those are all good news; nevertheless, throughout this past Lenten Season, especially as we were going through Holy Week, we were taught and invited to live something that is hard for us to accept. The Collect, or opening prayer, for Palm/Passion Sunday began with: “Almighty ever-living God, who as an example of humility for the human race to follow caused our Savior to take flesh and submit to the Cross, graciously grant that we may heed His lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in His Resurrection.”
As you can see, the Church wants to invite us to have a singular focus on Christ‘s own example of humility, self-giving and sacrificial gift. She wants to teach us that to believe is more than a lip-based service, for we are called to truly walk the Way of the Cross as to imitate His unshaken courage and emulate His agape — self-donating love — for the world. Hence, if you follow the prayer to the end, there is an important invitation that we often ignored, and I believe this is what the Church really wants us to learn. It is hard, but we are called to “heed His lesson of patient suffering and so merit a share in His resurrection.” Within a short sentence, we are called to confront the two lessons and realities that we do not like: patience and suffering.
We were literally forced to remove and isolate ourselves in order to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our daily busy schedule got ruptured and disrupted. We did not like to lose our freedom nor easily given up our desire to control our daily interactions and schedules! Yet, we were given a golden opportunity to discover what we were missing in the midst of our usual busyness and distractions. We were removed from our usual response of “I’m too busy!” We were given the opportunity to reflect on what and who are important for us. As we were removed and taken away from our usual routines, vanities, comforts, and things to fill our empty voids, we were forced to reflect, pray, see, and discover what is really important. We began to see that the things we thought we need to be doing were not that important, and all the matters that were time-consuming were not as needed. We began to realize people are important as we faced the important choices to work on relationships, cared for our family members, noticed and embraced the people who are close to us. In our patience, we learned to let go of things and schedules in order to hold on to people and relationships.
The second and hardest lesson was to face and embrace suffering. In all these things that have happened, we are realistically reminded of our finitude and mortality. That reality really scares us! As Americans, we dislike having to talk or think about having to suffer, much more if we are forced to endure any type of suffering. We tend to equate suffering as a punishment from God and as something to avoid at all costs. Praise be to God of our first-world environment that we do not have to endure many real-life sufferings like other people around the world; unfortunately, this reality has somewhat made us less resilient and courageous to face the reality of this life. Since we have worked so hard to achieve a more comfortable life, not having one that we have worked so hard for seems like a severe punishment that is so unbearable. Yet, reality shows us that sufferings are all around us, manifesting themselves on so many different levels and ways, and they are always creative tensions that we, as human beings, can never avoid. For too many people, suffering and pain are treated as something to be rejected or ignored at all costs. Sadly, because of this mentality, we have chosen to brush over the essential reality of who we are as human beings and believers in Christ Jesus! In a sad way, too, many of us have denied the foundational invitation to take up our crosses, our trials and sufferings, to follow Christ as His disciples.
Instead of giving into despair and hopelessness because of reality, we are reminded that the Gospels were written as a response and answer to the question of suffering, rejection, and persecution. Just as early disciples and Christians questioned whether it was worth it to be expelled from synagogues, suffered, and died for the Lord Jesus Christ, we are also being challenged to reflect, contemplate, and meditate on how we can walk the Way of the Cross in our very own lives. We are reminded, just like the early believers, that Jesus never rejected or denied His mission and purpose by avoiding the Cross. All of His teachings and life examples of love and care, obedience to the will of God and the truth, lead to the undeniable reality of self-giving love on the Cross as to experience the powerful message of the Resurrection.
Patience and suffering challenge and scare us because we realize that we are not in control over nature, biology, or technology as we have liked. As human beings, we do not like to see and experience so many things that could wrong so fast in such a short time! We disliked this reality because we do not want our lives to be interrupted and challenged. Yet, even in the midst of many challenges and reasons to give into despair, there were also moments of valuable lessons. When we stripped away from our usual conveniences and comforts, we began to see what is important and necessary. When we were able to rise above our self-created pities and blaming of others, we were able to see that we need each other. We began to realize that this is what the Lord is asking of us to be His disciples, and even though it is hard, we are never alone for He has shown us what it means to love as He did.
That was why on Holy Thursday, the Church, began the Mass by praying: “O God, who have called us to participate in this Most Sacred Supper, in which your Only Begotten Son, when about to hand Himself over to death, entrusted to the Church a sacrifice new for all eternity, the banquet of His love, grant, we pray, that we may draw from so great a mystery, the fullness of charity and of life.”
What Christ has taught us through His own teachings and life examples are given in a real and intimate way when He instituted the Eucharist as to perpetuate His love for us, the Church, through each and every sacrifice of the Mass. What the Lord has done at the Last Supper when He broke the bread and gave the wine to His disciples did not stop there, it was continued with the same love and devotion on the Cross. That was why on Good Friday, when we offered the sacred liturgical Service in commemoration of His Passion and Death, we prayed together: “O God, who by the Passion of Christ your Son, our Lord, abolished the death inherited from ancient sin by every succeeding generation, grant that just as, being conformed to Him, we have borne by the law of nature the image of the man of earth, so by the sanctification of grace we may bear the image of the Man of Heaven.”
Therefore, we are reminded at each and every Mass offered that we are reliving in a very real way, ontologically transported back to the Last Supper and Golgotha, to experience what the Lord had and continues to do by the giving of Himself to the ones He loves. We get to experience in a very real, personal, and intimate way the same sacrifice — but in an unbloodied way — of what Christ as both God and man had done on behalf of us and of the whole world. The same love that outpoured at the Last Supper when He gave us His Body and Blood continued at the Cross and completed according to the promise given to us by the Savior at His Resurrection. Hence, that was why on Easter Day, we all prayed together as the Church: “O God, who on this day, through your Only Begotten Son, have conquered death and unlocked for us the path to eternity, grant, we pray, that we who keep the Solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection may, through the renewal brought by your Spirit, rise up in the light of life.”
It was hard to be patient in suffering with Christ, but there cannot be the Resurrection without the Cross. If the Lord did not stay true to His mission with courage and devotion, we would not know the sweetness of God‘s own love for humanity. The Almighty could have abandoned us or left us to ourselves in perdition, or He could have chosen an easier way as any royalty would have done, but He chose to personally go through all sufferings so we can truly know that our redemption and salvation was paid by the blood of the Son of God who chose to bear all things for the love of us. The Lord did not take any shortcuts, He chose to endure all sufferings, physically, emotionally, and spiritually for the sake of us. He experienced on the human level of what it meant to be abandoned and rejected by His own disciples and loved ones. We have all experienced the intensity of the pains of being abandoned and rejected and we know how painful they can be! Yet, He embraced and endured all of that for the love of us, to remind and let us know that even in our darkest moment, we are never alone, for the Savior understood and embraced what is so humanly intimate, eternally good, and humbly personal for each and every one of us.