Saturday, March 30, 2013

What Wondrous Love is This? A Franciscan Perspective on Holy Week and Easter.

   Ever since this past Sunday (Palm Sunday) as I have been reflecting on the great mysteries of Holy Week the words to the folk hymn, What Wondrous Love is this?, now often sung in Catholic parishes during Lent, kept coming to mind.  The question raised by the title became the overarching theme of my own personal meditation and guided the homily that I preached for the friars here in St. Petersburg on Holy Thursday.

   Ever since the middle ages there has been a Christian obsession with the bloody details of Jesus' Passion and Death and with that came the evoking of guilt due to our sin being the cause of that.  Now I'm not suggesting that the sin of humanity did not cause the suffering of Jesus, but rather refocusing on what the mystery of the Cross ought to evoke in us. 

   In our Franciscan theological tradition Jesus did not come to get punished.  He came to love us. We hold that it was the plan of God from the beginning to be united with God's creation even if we had not sinned.  The sources for this in Scripture are to be found especially in chapter one of John's Gospel and in the canticle in the Letter to the Collosians.  The friars did not "invent" this approach but rather made it popular. It has its roots in the early Church fathers as well.

   Now there's no denying that Jesus was punished, that He bore the weight of human sin, but His mission from the Father was to come in love and proclaim the Reign of God. He was rejected in His attempt to carry out this mission and instead of withdrawing from us or lashing out in anger He continued to love us.  Real love always brings about suffering and Jesus' was no exception.  St. John in Chapter 13 of his Gospel tells that "He loved his own in the world and He loved them to the end."

   What then is to be our reaction?  Yes, we ought acknowledge our sin, but not by way of some big guilt trip, rather by opening our hearts in humble faith and trusting that in His great love our merciful and loving Lord wants to enter even the darkest recesses of our souls to heal us and make us new. In me this evokes deep, heartfelt gratitude.  When Peter, again in John 13, resists Jesus attempt to wash his feet he is told, "unless I wash you you will have no inheritance with me."  What Jesus means by this is "Unless I pour all of my love into you you cannot be my follower or disciple."  As Pope Benedict XVI tells us in his commentary on this gospel text in Volume II of his Jesus of Nazareth, the foot washing is a "Sacrament" of the entire mystery of Jesus Passion and Death.  From the Cross Jesus' love is poured into all of us who open our hearts to Him.  Have we all surrendered totally to that love? I know that I have not, but that is the challenge. I am,like most if not all of us, on the way.

   So, my friends, on this Holy Saturday as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection let us open our hearts to such a Wondrous love and allow ourselves to be transformed by it.  That is the real goal of the Christian life.

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