Who am I? Who am I, before my Lord? Who am I, before Jesus who enters Jerusalem amid the enthusiasm of the crowd? Am I ready to express my joy, to praise him? Or do I stand back? Who am I, before the suffering Jesus?
These were the questions Pope Francis implores Christians to ask ourselves this Holy Week — listening to, praying about, entering deeper into the Passion of Jesus Christ.
During his Palm Sunday homily in Rome, the first Jesuit pope leads the world’s Catholics on a spiritual exercise:
We have just heard many, many names. The group of leaders, some priests, the Pharisees, the teachers of the law, who had decided to kill Jesus. They were waiting for the chance to arrest him. Am I like one of them?
We have also heard another name: Judas. Thirty pieces of silver. Am I like Judas? We have heard other names too: the disciples who understand nothing, who fell asleep while the Lord was suffering. Has my life fallen asleep? Or am I like the disciples, who did not realize what it was to betray Jesus? Or like that other disciple, who wanted to settle everything with a sword? Am I like them? Am I like Judas, who feigns loved and then kisses the Master in order to hand him over, to betray him? Am I a traitor? Am I like those people in power who hastily summon a tribunal and seek false witnesses: am I like them? And when I do these things, if I do them, do I think that in this way I am saving the people?
Am I like Pilate? When I see that the situation is difficult, do I wash my hands and dodge my responsibility, allowing people to be condemned – or condemning them myself?
Am I like that crowd which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas?
For them it was all the same: it was more entertaining to humiliate Jesus.
Am I like the soldiers who strike the Lord, spit on him, insult him, who find entertainment in humiliating him?
Am I like the Cyrenean, who was returning from work, weary, yet was good enough to help the Lord carry his cross?
Am I like those who walked by the cross and mocked Jesus: “He was so courageous! Let him come down from the cross and then we will believe in him!”. Mocking Jesus….
Am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, and who suffered in silence?
Am I like Joseph, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?
Am I like the two Marys, who remained at the Tomb, weeping and praying?
Am I like those leaders who went the next day to Pilate and said, “Look, this man said that he was going to rise again. We cannot let another fraud take place!”, and who block life, who block the tomb, in order to maintain doctrine, lest life come forth?
Where is my heart? Which of these persons am I like? May this question remain with us throughout the entire week.
the Cross of Christ invites us also to allow ourselves to be smitten by his love, teaching us always to look upon others with mercy and tenderness, especially those who suffer, who are in need of help, who need a word or a concrete action; the Cross invites us to step outside ourselves to meet them and to extend a hand to them. How many times have we seen them in the Way of the Cross, how many times have they accompanied Jesus on the way to Calvary: Pilate, Simon of Cyrene, Mary, the women… Today I ask you: which of them do you want to be? Do you want to be like Pilate, who did not have the courage to go against the tide to save Jesus’ life, and instead washed his hands? Tell me: are you one of those who wash their hands, who feign ignorance and look the other way? Or are you like Simon of Cyrene, who helped Jesus to carry that heavy wood, or like Mary and the other women, who were not afraid to accompany Jesus all the way to the end, with love and tenderness? And you, who do you want to be? Like Pilate? Like Simon? Like Mary? Jesus is looking at you now and is asking you: do you want to help me carry the Cross? Brothers and sisters, with all the strength of your youth, how will you respond to him?
He also said:
What has the Cross given to those who have gazed upon it and to those who have touched it? What has the Cross left in each one of us? You see, it gives us a treasure that no one else can give: the certainty of the faithful love which God has for us. A love so great that it enters into our sin and forgives it, enters into our suffering and gives us the strength to bear it. It is a love which enters into death to conquer it and to save us. The Cross of Christ contains all the love of God; there we find his immeasurable mercy. This is a love in which we can place all our trust, in which we can believe. Dear young people, let us entrust ourselves to Jesus, let us give ourselves over to him (cf. Lumen Fidei, 16), because he never disappoints anyone! Only in Christ crucified and risen can we find salvation and redemption. With him, evil, suffering, and death do not have the last word, because he gives us hope and life: he has transformed the Cross from being an instrument of hate, defeat and death to being a sign of love, victory, triumph and life.
We gaze on that cross this week. Enter into that love, be immersed in it, be overcome by God’s mercy — this is the life Christians are called to. So that we might be beacons of his merciful love, transformed by it. So that this is who we are — configured to Him.
And give thanks, too, for our common spiritual director, Pope Francis, and this walk to Christ — to live lives of real Christianity, in all its radically redemptive ways — he is urging.