by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
We come again to Holy Week, those dramatic days for Jesus’ followers, when we remember how he finished his human life on earth. In the traditional thirty-day exercises of St. Ignatius, the second week is called “application of the senses”. One places him/herself within scenes from the Gospels and asks “what am seeing/hearing/feeling?” Those who have made the exercises know the power of this practice.
Perhaps the following moments in that momentous week in salvation history may help in a similar reflective process.
Six days before that historic Passover, Jesus came to Bethany two short miles from Jerusalem to the home of his friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Were those days a time when Jesus reached out for the comfort and consolation of these dear people before facing his cruel destiny in that city just across the way?
On one of those days, Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, in contrast to the imperial Roman centurions who traveled around the city and country in their splendid chariots.
A few days later, Jesus walks purposefully across the Kidron Valley to Jerusalem and celebrates the Jewish Passover meal. At the table, a short time before his agony begins, amazingly he offers his disciples words of advice and encouragement: “That my joy may be yours and your joy may be full.”
Judas Iscariot is there with the rest as he had been for three years, but now about to betray Jesus. A short time later, when soldiers and guards arrest Jesus, he watches as the eleven disciples run away from him.
The next day the supreme Roman authority in Palestine, Pontius Pilate, caves into the demands that Jesus be crucified, fearing that not to do so would make him be considered as “no friend of Caesar’s”?.
Only the youngest disciple, John, returns to accompany Jesus on the way to Calvary and during the horrible three hours that followed. Was it due to the safety of his young age? His relationship with Jesus’ mother? Sheer bravery?
As Jesus breathes his last, it is the Roman centurion who proclaims, “truly this was the Son of God”.
A secret disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea, bravely approaches Pilate and claims the dead body.
At our Assisi Community on Holy Saturday morning each year, our prayer takes the form of play-acting. We imagine a gathering of several people who had witnessed the events of the past two days. Each of us assumes a role and the attitude one such individual might have had that morning. This custom resembles the “application of the senses” practiced in the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. It serves to fill that empty day with further moments of reflection in “applying our senses”.
- One person inevitably assumes the role of Mary Magdalen, expressing outrage at the cowardice of the men who were Jesus’ chosen disciples but who denied and abandoned him in his darkest hour.
- Another speaks as the foreigner, Simon of Cyrene, who recounts his forced encounter with this “condemned criminal” and how he spoke of forgiving his tormentors.
- One declares that he is leaving right away for Emmaus, a safe seven miles away.
Always there is general discussion – disagreement – about what is to happen now that Jesus is dead. Some say: “It’s all over; he really wasn’t what he claimed to be; we all need to make ourselves as inconspicuous as possible, because now the authorities will be coming after us.”
On the other side there are those present who point to the power of Jesus’ life and words and his assurance that in three days he would rise from the dead.
And so the discussion goes back and forth until the community concludes this unique morning prayer with the antiphon from the Holy Saturday liturgy of the hours: “The World Is Mourning As For An Only Son.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.