Now that it is Holy Week again, I cannot help but think back to those days. In many ways, the pain of those days is gone, and the fruit of those days is with me. For example, without that experience I doubt very much if I would have recognized my call to Carmel.
In another way of thinking about it, what God gave me during that time is so deeply etched into my heart that I don't think I would recognize myself without it, and everything still continues to flow in my life as of one piece with it.
My deacon friend who preached today's homily mentioned how we hear the Passion story so often that we can be dull to it; that it strikes as so much "ho hum." As he said this, I was wiping tears from my face because of the force with which I heard even the abbreviated version we had of the reading. Something about that experience five years ago has moved the Passion from something that happened to Jesus 2000 years ago to something that I have participated in. Even as a kid, I was one to cry while watching Jesus of Nazareth or other movies about the crucifixion. But there is something of Holy Week that strikes fear in me. Not in the sense that fails to understand God as Love, but in the sense that the end game for which all penultimate loves, all loves of creatures, is destined, is death. Loves of things are to be purged from us; loves of people will all go through the separation of death. We will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ alone, and we do not know when this will be. Those in Egypt who went to worship today and were killed probably did not expect to die during the liturgy. They would not have anticipated worship of God costing them their lives.
As I waved my palm branch this morning, and reflected on the words of St. Andrew of Crete from the Office of Readings ("Let our souls take the place of the welcoming branches"), and as I went forward to receive communion, I was deeply aware of the price those new martyrs of Egypt paid, and the price many around the world pay for simply going into a church to worship on a feast day. Here I am, here is my whole life, I hand it all over. I don't know what will come as I do this. I do it because you bid me to do it by your great and awesome love.
And so it was five years ago. God had a purifying trial that I could not have imagined, and from which I would have run. So, what exactly have I learned?
- God is always to be trusted.
- Understanding what is happening is not most important.
- The cross of suffering like this is like a royal scepter extended to the soul. It is favor.
- God desires far, far better for me than I desire for myself.
- God never belittles me in my woundedness, but meets my wretchedness with elevating grace.
- Trustworthy people exist.
- He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
- St. Teresa of Avila knows what she is talking about when she says courage is an essential component of a life of prayer.
- God loves me; He knows every pain I've ever felt, and He is concerned to heal my wounds.
- It is so powerfully tempting to throw away everything good for what offers pleasure.
- God's mercy reaches the full extent of all of my folly.
- God is real. His love is real. His desire for me is for good, but this does not mean I will not feel the pain of my folly burning off.
- Folly burning off is extremely painful, especially the tighter you hug it to yourself.
Ultimately, following the Lord Jesus Christ is worth the total surrender of oneself. God is immeasurably good.
And yet, I tremble when it is Holy Week. Because there is always the walking through it part.