On the day of the crucifixion, Mary looked up and saw her Son abandoned. One Apostle had betrayed him for 30 pieces of silver, another denied him three times, almost all the rest ran for fear of their lives.
It was a dark and shaky time for the Church. But Mary remained standing, though she did not fully understand this mysterious plan. We look to her witness today as once again Christ is betrayed by those entrusted to be his shepherds. The news concerning former-cardinal McCarrick and other leaders in our Church who failed to address the scourge of sexual abuse and harassment has left the Church devastated. Some in the Church have failed to be the beacon of light, hope, and love that is our mission and call.
Perhaps today we look around and see nothing but the sorrow of the cross. We feel confusion, disillusionment, resentment, bitterness, and betrayal. Christ knew when he instituted the Church that it would face dark days. Even so, he assures us, “The gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Throughout his ministry, Christ speaks of abundant life. On the eve of his crucifixion, he shares parting words and instructions with his disciples: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”
Christ speaks of joy in the midst of darkness on the eve of His suffering. He tells this to His disciples right before all will seem lost. Joy – is that not audacious at this time? Is it not disrespectful, naïve, impossible? How can Christ invite us to experience his joy in the midst of the cross?
Keep moving forward
In his visit to the United States, Pope Francis discussed the call to joy using the words of St. Paul: “Rejoice in the Lord always!”
The word “always” strikes me. Rejoice even in the midst of sin and darkness? This seems impossible, almost disrespectful. But Paul does not call us to a superficial joy. He calls us to a profound confidence in the goodness and mercy of Christ.
Perhaps many of us feel like Simon of Cyrene right now rather than Mary. Simon initially rejected the cross. He wanted no part of it and was forced by the Roman soldiers to carry it with Christ. Christ does not force us to carry the cross, but invites us to do so — promising a greater good.
Do we stand with Simon in bewilderment, rejecting the cross and distancing ourselves from it? This is perfectly human. It is in the carrying of the cross, however, that Simon is converted. By the time he and our Lord reach Calvary, Simon is a new man.
Whether or not we “feel” like carrying the cross, let us at least lift it and ask the Lord to help us carry it. With each step we walk with Christ, we begin to see how he can make all things new.
And we do not walk alone. We are members of a body comprised of many parts. By moving forward with our fellow Christians, our load is lightened. If we are to rejoice in the Lord always, we need to keep moving forward.
Look to Him in prayer and in the sacraments
The Christian life cannot be sustained without daily prayer. This is made all the more apparent in times of darkness. By turning to the Good Shepherd himself, we do not walk in the valley of darkness alone. Christ has walked before us, and he walks alongside us now.
During this time in our Church, our prayer should be even more frequent and fervent. Let us call upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit and pray for the Church and her leaders. Let us pray for the victims of this scandal and all who will turn away from the Church on account of it. Let us pray for the conversion of the perpetrators and all who remained silent.
Let us pray for holy men and women to respond courageously to a call to religious life and for lay men and women to take up their vital role as members of the Body of Christ. Let us encounter Christ once again in Scripture and in the sacraments, especially in the reception of the Eucharist and in the sacrament of reconciliation.
If we cultivate our relationship with Christ, we can live in the freedom of his words, “Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
Serve and offer sacrifice
Rather than turning inward, let us go out during this time to our hurting brothers and sisters. As Pope Francis said, we need to open up the doors of our parishes so that we can step outside them and encounter our broken world so desperate for the healing balm of Christ. What better way to dispel our sadness and confusion than by channeling our emotions into something concrete that helps others?
Let us not be paralyzed by the ugliness of sin and the cross but go outward in love to our brothers and sisters. Our actions and emotions can be offered as a prayer. By uniting our daily lives to the cross, they gain new significance.
Instead of cowering in a locked room as the apostles did after Christ’s death, let us imitate the disciples filled with the Holy Spirit who went out to all the nations proclaiming the good news.
When in a place of sorrow, we often forget to give thanks. It is easy to focus on all the things that are going wrong rather than what’s going well. Giving gratitude radically changes our perspective. It renews a sense of hope and calls us to action. Let us give thanks for what we can.
Christ models this for us at the Last Supper. On the eve of his passion, he gives thanks to the Father and breaks bread with his disciples.
Practicing gratitude reminds us of the abundance of God’s generosity and mercy. This gratitude leads us to praise our Maker, and to take heart. Christ offers us his peace, saying, “In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.”
Let us give thanks especially for all the priests and religious who are truly living the Gospel. While the number of perpetrators accused of abuse is unacceptable, there are an even greater number of holy men and women who have been shepherds, leaders, and mentors for countless people in the Church. We thank their heroic witness and continued commitment to renewing our Church.
Call for reinforcements
Let us not forget to ask our brothers and sisters, the saints — especially the martyrs and reformers — for their prayers and intercession for us and for the Church during this time. I think of Perpetua, who sang psalms on her way to her martyrdom; Francis, who rebuilt the Church; Catherine of Siena, whose boldness helped restore the papacy; Thomas More, who spoke truth in time of political upheaval; Teresa of Avila, who reformed monasteries; Mary, who stood at the cross. There are countless others.
The saints are our allies during this time, and many of them have also witnessed infidelity and corruption in the Church. Not only can the saints be models of bravery, boldness, holiness, and strength that inspire us in the darkest of times, they can also intercede on our behalf.
Behold your mother
Let us also specifically look to Mary, who did not ignore or downplay the horror of her Son’s crucifixion. She, like us and like the Church, was pierced. We stand with her in sorrow, facing the ugliness of the cross. Let us not abandon Christ or his Church in this dark hour. Let us stand with him as Mary did and look to the Resurrection.
As Jesus told his beloved disciple at the foot of the cross, so too does he say to each one of us today, “Behold your mother.” May we turn to our loving Mother and ask for her maternal wisdom, quiet strength, and unshaking faith. May we join Mary in the joyful words of her Magnificat, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.”
Find joy in suffering
Joy does not always look like elation. In fact, we can experience joy while also having profound sorrow. I am not suggesting a superficial happiness or naivete. This would be immature and ultimately disrespectful of the current situation and the victims of this crisis in the Church.
We are called to a sober joy. One that is not daunted by sin and ugliness, but that looks to the triumphant and resurrected Christ for its assurance. It is a joy rooted in faith, hope, and love — one that sees through the eyes of God and not of humanity. One that acknowledges the ugliness of sin and this crisis while also accompanying its victims.
We are called to live a joy that proposes an alternate ending: one of compassion, healing, wholeness, and solidarity. Let us respond to sin with renewed holiness, to darkness with the light of Christ, to abuse with healing, to paralysis with action, to hatred with love.
Without Christ, joy is impossible in the midst of suffering. So “look to him that you might be radiant with joy” (Psalms 34:5).