|Monday, April 5, 2021|
Pontifical Urban University, Vatican City (Rome)
he great spiritual writer, C.S. Lewis tells us that, "God whispers to us in our pleasures, he speaks to us in our conscience, and shouts to us in our pain." Pain, as Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen puts it, 'is God's megaphone. It is heaven's loud speaker.' In the words of the great French medieval mathematician and Church apologist, Pascal Blaise, "Christ is on the cross until the end of the world. Today, he still speaks to us in our pains and suffering from his cross!"
Church Fathers and great theologians down the ages, affirm that Christ is on the cross until the end of time. He is on the cross today, with those who are suffering in different ways. He is on the cross today with the forgotten of the society, the needy and the marginalized, those who are discriminated against because of race, religion, ethnicity, or differences in ideological and philosophical persuasions.
Christ is on the cross today with the sick and the aged, street beggars, those who sleep under the bridge, and those without job or not gainfully employed. He is on the cross today with the victims of authoritarian and tyrannical regimes, of state-sponsored violence, religious bigotry, ethnic-hate, and violence of different kinds of man's inhumanity to his fellow humans.
More significantly, the Risen Christ is suffering today with all persecuted Christians, Churches and all those, who, because they stand on the side of God, truth, justice and honesty are persecuted by their fellow human beings, dictatorial authorities, powerful institutions and individuals - those who control power and lord it over others. Christ suffers with the suffering humanity, all those 'crucified' on the cross today by the indifference of the world.
This is the precariousness of the bearers of cross today, which we wish to reflect briefly, this Easter, 2021. It is about the precariousness of the bearers of the Cross of Christ midst the world's indifference to the one on the cross. It is about the challenge of the message of love, justice, hope and of enduring patience, which every cross that comes our way in form of suffering of different kinds, in our individual lives and society, confronts us with!
It is about cultivating an enduring patience in our lives as children of God and disciples of the Risen Son of God, Jesus Christ. To know that after Good Friday comes the Easter Sunday of the Resurrection. That the cross is not the end of the story, because there is always the Resurrection of the just. But at the same time, the cross is the condition for following Christ and for achieving our liberation and salvation in His Name: "No one who does not carry his cross and come after me can be my disciple" (Luke 14:27).
Jesus tells us that 'unless the seed of corn falls on the ground and dies, it will never bear any fruit.' At the same time, the Risen Christ teaches us that, we are not created for suffering but for the eternal glory - to share eternally, in the communion of divine life of love of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (cf. John chapter 17).
Three Groups of Spectators at the Cross of Jesus Christ!
As Jesus was been led to the Calvary to die on the cross, there were many spectators along the way and streets of Jerusalem. They all remained indifferent, except, however one group, the holy women, disciples of Jesus (John 19:25-27). The rest, however, were unperturbed, doing nothing, as Christ was constrained by the powers that be, to carry the cross along the streets of Jerusalem, beaten by soldiers and passersby, and finally crucified and died on the cross.
Among these spectators, were those who executed him, they all sat and watched as Jesus carried his cross. These are soldiers, who kept watch over him and divided his garments among themselves (cf. John 19:23-24).
In fact, the soldiers and other executioners were the first group of spectators of indifference. They sit and watch over him even after he had died, and buried in the tomb, because they never thought of another life after this earthly existence. Because for them the world ends here and now. However, since Jesus has said he would rise again on the third day after his crucifixion, they had to wait and watch over the tomb to see how he would make good his prophecy of rising from the dead.
Other spectators, in the category of passersby, however, also share equally in the same blame. That is, the type of watch of spectators of indifference who had chance to meet the Crucified and Risen Christ and have their lives changed and transformed, but were blinded by the shores and spirit of this mortal world.
The second group of spectators were those crucified on the cross with him. The so called, 'good thief' and 'bad thief.' These are spectators on the cross with him, the two rebels, one crucified on the cross at the right hand side of Jesus, and the other, on his left hand side. The two thieves (rebels), all shared in the pain of anxiety, suffering, and all that disturb the soul of somebody condemned and crucified to die on the cross in the provinces of the Old Roman Empire. Therefore, it is only fitting, that the good Lord, redeemer of humankind and the world, shared in that pain of anxiety and suffering on the cross with humanity.
Those crucified with Christ, the two thieves, they all suffered equally, but have different orientation and comprehension of the significance of their suffering on the cross. Here it suffices to mention in passing, that no Roman citizen was ever crucified. St. Paul was a Roman citizen. He was only stoned to death, not crucified on the cross like Christ. The two crucified thieves, just like Christ himself, were all Jews and that was why they condemned them to die by crucifixion on the cross as the 'Roman law' stipulated.
The thief on the right side of Jesus showed himself as someone with a repented heart and so asked for mercy from Christ, to be in paradise with him in the life-here-after. This is why Jesus said to him, 'this day thou shall be with me in Paradise.' Thus, the 'good' thief became one of the first companions of the Risen Christ in heaven (cf. Luke 23:39-43).
The other thief, the bad one on his left, however, was busy thinking of who would liberate him so that he could go back to the city, to continue with the dirty business of stealing, armed-robbery and burglary! He was asking Jesus on the cross to prove himself a 'wonder-worker' if truly he was the Son of God, to liberate himself and the two of them, thieves! This is the reason the bad thief asked Jesus to liberate him, to 'take him down', to go back to his dirty business of armed-robbery and stealing.
These days, it is not uncommon to see some of our Christians and pastors who feel that healing or performing of miracles is the essence of Christianity. Healing and miracles do have their place in the pastoral ministry of the Church, but they do not constitute the essence of our Christian faith. Otherwise, Christ could not have allowed John the Baptist to languish in prison or die the way he did. Similarly, he could not have allowed his good friend Lazarus to die.
Because Christ knows that pain and suffering won't be wiped out totally as of now, from our lives in this mortal world, until the whole cosmos is renewed at the Second Coming of the Risen Christ himself. This is why God allowed suffering of all sorts to continue to exist in the world, waiting for the total and final renewal of the whole cosmos at the Second Coming of Christ (cf. Romans 8:18-27).
Finally, we have the third spectators at the cross of Jesus. They are the Blessed Virgin Mary Mother of Christ, the other holy women and disciples of Jesus kneeling on the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ on the Calvary. These are spectators of true love for the crucified Son of God, Jesus Christ. They showed special concern and true love for the crucified Jesus and so were there with him, till the end.
Here we reach the central moment of the Passion of Jesus Christ, where the Blessed Virgin Mary, in a special way, is inserted into the 'Paschal drama.' This is reciprocal love, in which all those who truly loved him and followed him all through in his earthly existence, ministry and the Calvary, were included in the Passion. They witnessed the Consummation of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ from beginning to the end. This is the central moment of the Paschal Mystery.
It is the moment in which Christ don't feel any longer like the Son as such, or the Father, the Father of Jesus, so to say, etc. Because Christ has now submitted to the Father's plan. 'It is Consummated!' In this case, Blessed Virgin Mary is involved in this mystery, and so she does not feel, as such, the Mother of Jesus, so to say, but the Mother of God - 'Theotokos.' It was a moment of 'divine' nuptial kind of love, the 'beatific vision' of God the Father through her divine Son, the Crucified Jesus on the cross on that Good Friday. New mission was been given to Blessed Virgin Mary by Jesus Christ from the cross that day:
"Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother and his mother's sister, Mary wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. Seeing his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing near her, Jesus said to his mother, 'Woman, this is your son.' Then to the disciple he said, 'This is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his home" (John 19:25-27).
New mission given to Mary by Jesus Christ from the cross that day is that of generating children for God through His Holy Name of the Son of God, and in the power of His glorious Resurrection. Mary generated God' in Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of humankind and the world. Now, she is been given a new mission, of becoming not just the Mother of Jesus Christ but also the Mother of all the disciples of Jesus Christ.
The apostle John stood for all the disciples of the Risen Christ at the foot of the cross that Good Friday. In this case, Christians are those invited to generate God in others and in the world, just like Blessed Virgin Mary. In doing this, Christians are invited to draw strength from the spiritual source of the power of the cross of the Risen Christ, in solidarity with the maternal spiritual fecundity and prayerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Here it is important to distinguish the gestures of, 1) governance, 2) management - administration, and 3) generating people for God through the power and efficacy of the Paschal Mystery of the Risen Christ. In the Gospel of St. Luke, we read:
"Speaking to all, he said: 'If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me. Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it" (Luke 9:23-24).
What is important, therefore, is that which saves us, otherwise, we fall into pursuit of ideologies. What is important is that which generates life, life of Christ in oneself and through him, in others. That is, living the type of life Christ lived, as followers of Him. It is participating in the Paschal Mystery of Christ by witness of life through which one becomes 'sacrament' - prolongation of the presence of Jesus before the world and people. A type of Christian discipleship and presence in the world, in which one participates by generating life of Christ in others.
In other words, through our participation in the suffering and crucifixion of Christ, as individuals and members of the believing community, we experience the Risen Christ as one who is truly alive today, but yet been crucified each day in his poor and marginalized of the world. He is crucified every day, through our indifference and bad conduct, and especially, by the wicked world - all those engaged in the persecutions of Christians and the Church, and are of making things difficult for other good people and society, which have continued to experience man's inhumanity to fellow men.
Christ is risen and he is alive today and forever. Yes, he is alive in his Church and in his disciples, the Christians! Christ is alive in our lives and society. He shares in our human sufferings, in one way or the other. He is alive today in the life struggle of all those good people who suffer one form of infirmity or the other, as well as all those who suffer as result of wickedness of fellow men and injustices in the society they live.
The Experience of Paul on the Road to Damascus
That the Risen Christ is alive today in his Church and lives of his followers - Christians and other good people, can be gleaned from the experience of Paul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. This is the essence of the account of Paul's conversion recorded by Luke in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts, chapter 9):
"It happened that while Saul (Paul) was travelling to Damascus and approaching the city, suddenly a light from heaven shone on him. He fell to the ground, and then heard a voice saying, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' Who are you, Lord? He asked, and the answer came, 'I am Jesus Christ whom you are persecuting. Get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9:3-9).
The Acts of the Apostles' passage continues:
"There was a disciple in Damascus called Ananias, and he had a vision in which the Lord said to him, 'Ananias' … 'Get up and go straight Street and ask at the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. … Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and laid his hands on Saul … It was as though scales fell away from his (Saul's) eyes and immediately he was able to see again. So he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food he regained his strength" (Acts 9:10-19).
St. Paul learnt two principal things in this his conversion experience when the Risen Christ appeared to him on the road to Damascus. Firstly, he learnt about Christology, and secondly, about ecclesiology. Paul learnt that Christ, although was crucified and died, but he is still alive. That Christ is still alive in his disciples and in his Church.
Another thing about Paul's conversion experience on the road to Damascus, is that it tells us how precarious the lives of Christians and all others who stand on the side of God and truth could be in a society controlled by the corrupt and insensitive 'mighty' and the 'powerful'! It also tells us that the crowd, could easily, be misled to hate bearers of truth and those who are unjustly condemned by combined political, religious, judiciary and cultural rulers of the society. To side and love evil doers, dictators and tyrants of this world. As Malcom X puts it, "If you are not careful, the media may make you love the oppressor and hate the oppressed."
All this tells us how precarious we are as human beings. It also tells us that, although, as humans, we are weak and fragile, but at the same time, the cross of Christ triumphs over our human weakness, precariousness and wickedness of the evil ones in and around us. The cross of Jesus Christ transcends human wickedness and our precariousness. This is the core of the message of Easter, which I am sharing with you this year 2021!
Concrete Experience of World's Indifference to Crucified of Today!
The inspiration to choose this theme for our Easter reflection this year came from the shocking news, few weeks ago about Leah Sharibu. This 16 year old, was the only Christian girl, among over one hundred other girls - students of Government Girls' Science and Technical Secondary school, Dapchi, Yobe State in North East Nigeria, abducted on February 19, 2018, three years ago, by members of the dread Muslim terrorist group Boko Haram.
Because Leah Sharibu refused to renounce her Christian faith and convert to Islam, her abductors have refused to release her till today. The rest of her fellow students abducted with her gained their freedom few days after their abduction, because they were Muslims or because Christians among them, forced to renounce their Christian faith and convert to Islam, did so without hesitation. However, Leah Sharibu, who refused to renounce her Christian faith for Islam, is still been held in captivity by her Boko Haram Muslim terrorist abductors.
The continued experience and stay of Leah Sharibu, an example of a 'dry-martyr' Christian girl of our time, in the captivity of her abductors, for three years now, has put into question, 'the conscience of the world', this Easter, 2021! The continued captivity of Leah Sharibu at the hands of her Boko Haram terrorist Muslim abductors, challenges our collective existence as human community and believers in Christ. It puts into question our claim and pretense of 'standing for, and with the poor' marginalized and persecuted of the society!
Because Leah Sharibu refused to renounce her Christian faith to convert to Islam, the Nigerian government of the day has left this poor girl to continue to languish in the captivity of her bloodsucking, devilish abductors, Boko Haram Muslim terrorists operating in the North East Nigeria. The news since few days ago is that she has given birth to her second child in the captivity of her abductors. The parents of this girl had been appealing to Nigerian government and President Buhari, to be precise, all this while to help them secure the release of their daughter from her captors, but all to no avail. Not even for once has the Nigerian government and Presidency invited the parents to State House, to empathize with them and discuss how to help free their daughter from the captivity of Boko haram terrorists?
In fact, leaders of the Christian world - church leaders, Christians, churches of various Christian denominations in Nigeria and across the globe, are yet to convince the world that they are really, serious with the efforts towards the liberation of Leah Sharibu from her Muslim terrorist abductors! Church leaders, Christians and Christian organizations, indeed, all people of good will and conscience within and outside Nigeria are yet to show any serious commitment to help secure the release of this poor girl from her sadistic abductors, Boko Haram Muslim terrorists!
In Nigeria, today, under the present dispensation, the case of Leah Sharibu is just one among many of such incidences of helplessness and hopelessness of the poor, the marginalized, and especially, of the persecuted members of the Christian communities and indigenous ethnic-groups, from which most Christians in the country come from. It is as if the lives of ordinary people - mostly Christians and indigenous ethnic-communities have no meaning again in Nigeria; that they been sacrificed on the altar of 'bloodshed' by the powers that be, for reasons I know not what?
Today, Nigeria as a nation-state is boiling with anger and distrust of many of its traumatized citizens. It is a nation-state soaked with the blood of the innocent - all those killed through the hidden agenda and complicity of sponsored terrorism, state violence and negligence by those in the corridors of power. Most of those in the corridors of power, whom people look up to, have continued with business as usual, as if all is well with Nigerian state. Perhaps, they are waiting until we all are killed and they would have nobody again to govern!
This is the traumatized situation many members of the Christian communities and indigenous populations as well as other ordinary citizens in Nigeria, are celebrating their Easter this year. As this is happening in Nigeria (and other countries with similar history of state-sponsored violence and terrorism), the world looks elsewhere and pretends not to care at all?
All this implies that the same indifference with which the world stands accused, as it watched without doing anything when Jesus was wrongly condemned to die on the cross, has continued to be the experience of the disciples of Jesus and of all the persecuted, down the ages. Today, the indifference of the world to the crucified on the cross is very much with us and is not about to go away.
This is the background for our choice of theme for this Easter reflection. It is about cultivating the spirit of an enduring patience, love of God and neighbor, and of hope in the Risen Christ amidst the cross and suffering in our lives and society today. Because it is through such faith, patience, steadfastness and enduring spirit and love, amidst the sufferings in the world, in the power of the Risen Christ, that Disciples of Christ and the believing community could truly, begin to know that Christ is alive today amongst them, sharing in their sufferings as Christians, the Church, and children of God.
This, however, does not mean giving in, or accepting one's sorry situation of injustice, violence and inequality in the society. As if is the will of God that we continue to suffer at the hands of those who hold the spirit captive. No! Neither does it mean succumbing to intimidation of 'bullies' of the children of God - the wickedness of man and deceit of the devil responsible for inflicting one with the injuries and sufferings. Not at all!
It is facing suffering and man's inhumanity to fellow man, confronting it with strong faith and determination to triumph over the evil forces of this world. Seeing is as one of the most demanding challenges of Christian witness today, in our individual lives and as a believing community. We need to develop spirit of determination, steadfastness, firmness and strong faith through the power of the Risen Christ. With the hope that the power of God, who raised Jesus from death and from the scourges of the cross and man's inhumanity to fellow human, will also see us through in our sufferings and humiliations in life, no matter how daunting and discouraging the situation may seem.
The message of Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from Death, tells us in simple terms, that, 'whoever is not precarious' does not exist. The cross of Christ is precariousness itself. It is in our fragility and human weakness as Disciples of Christ, children of God and Truth, that our triumph and victory over wickedness, humiliation and suffering, are made manifest.
Unfortunately, just as at the time of Jesus, when they condemned him to die on the cross and the world was indifferent, so is it today with all those condemned to all kinds of suffering in the society. While many are still playing the role of spectators, watching the sufferings of those around them and the society in which they live, without doing anything to stop the evil trend and suffering of the weak and persecuted.
All this tells us how Jesus is still on the cross today with his persecuted Church, Christians, the weak, poor, sick, aged, etc. In fact, with all those afflicted in one way or the other with different kinds of human suffering and the cross, present in the world. All those who suffer unjustly in the society today and feel abandoned by the world and those around them. God, on his part, does not abandon his own. He is always there to lift us up and restore us to a renewed life in the power of the Risen Christ!
Our weapon is strong faith in the Risen Christ. Standing firm and steadfast in our faith in the Risen Christ, amidst our precariousness and fragility! Believing, firmly, that no matter what, truth will always prevail. Truth will always triumph over any kind of human suffering, deceit of the devil - lies and denials of agents of the devil.
There is always abiding presence of the living God amidst our human sufferings, fragility and humiliations in the world. God is there always, to lift us up, to liberate and save us, and to restore our wounded humanity and dignity, through the power of the Risen Christ!
TO BE CONTINUED!