Let it Happen

The British author Graham Greene once waited two and a half years for a 15-minute appointment with the Roman Catholic mystic Padre Pio, who resided in an Italian monastery. Padre Pio was reputed to be a “living saint” and bore on his body the “stigmata”, the wounds of Christ.

On the day Greene was due to meet with this revered mystic, Greene first attended a Mass where Padre Pio officiated. Their appointment was to begin immediately after the Mass. However, when the Mass was over, instead of keeping this much-awaited appointment, Greene left the church, headed for the airport and flew directly back to London.

When asked why he broke the appointment he had waited on for two and a half years, Greene said, “I was not ready for the manner in which that man could change my life.”

We declare that this week, out of all the weeks of this year, is Holy Week. And if we were pressed to explain why that is, we could come up with the correct answer – it is all about what we will recall this week on Friday. To prove the depth of God’s love for us, even though he was entirely innocent of ever having offended God in any way, Jesus embraced the horrifying death on the Cross, and offered himself in our place, so that we could never doubt that we are completely loved, and that we are completely forgiven. We can do nothing to deserve such love, or to earn such pardon for our sins – it is a complete gift. If we truly were serious about believing that we are so personally loved by God himself, it could change our life. We would have to be different.

But, we easily turn the crucifix into being only a decoration. We wear it as a piece of jewelry. We hang it on a wall in our home to provide some religious flavor to our décor. The crucifix near the altar is a sure sign that we are in a Catholic church, for Protestant churches prefer an unadorned cross. We see the image of Christ hanging on the Cross so often that it seldom has the power to have an impact on our life. But, if we take some time to truly ponder the crucifix, it could change our life.

The gentle patience with which such unfair treatment was accepted by Jesus challenges us to consider how often we insist on having our way, or walk away angry. As Jesus is helped along the way to Calvary by a stranger forced to assist him, we remember how difficult it is for us to give someone else the pleasure of helping us or giving us a small token of esteem, because we are too independent and do not want to be beholden to another. The quiet prayer that his persecutors be forgiven because they did not realize the magnitude of their offense is not so easily placed on our lips as we relive in our mind what was said or done that last offended us, and we choose to keep the anger smoldering, instead of letting it go.

This week is holy, because we recall the most important moment in human history – we declare that God loved the world so much, he gave us his Son. And his Son, in turn, loved each of us so deeply that he gave himself away completely on the Cross. He was God, so he was capable of thinking of us as an individual at that moment, and offering himself at that moment in our place, personally. Such a great love has the power to change our life. In these last days of Lent, we should let it happen!

–Fr. Stephen W Bierschenk