"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week

Palm Sunday is one of my favorite days for prayer and meditation. If I had been able to do more than eat and sleep after Mass yesterday, it would have been prayer. Yeah, right. Even so, my sorry fleshliness was strangely apt for a day which reminds us of who we are before God. Both encourage that humility which is the sine qua non of spiritual growth.

In the aggregate, the people who cheered Jesus as he entered Jerusalem on a donkey were no better than the people who, several days later, shouted Crucify him! They might as well be the same people, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of them actually were. They represent what lies within each of us "believers" all the time. With our lips and sometimes even in our hearts, we praise Jesus, acknowledge him as the Christ, our King, and put our hope in him; with every sin we commit, with every opportunity for growth that we spurn, with every blessing we withhold in our selfishness and every curse we bestow in our anger, we crucify him. It's amazing how quickly we can oscillate between love and hate for him. That's because most of us would rather coast than stay engaged in the spiritual warfare. Insensate, we are cast about by the ebb and flow of the (usually) unseen battle between very personal forces far bigger and stronger than ourselves. As soldiers of the crucified Christ, our only hope of winning depends on recognizing how hopeless, how ridiculous we are without habitual effort to take up the standard of the Cross and follow him.

This Easter, somewhere between one hundred and two hundred thousand Americans will be formally received, by their own choice, into the Catholic Church. When I was an RCIA director, this week was a time of great excitement and frenetic work for me; once I no longer had that role, I became detached enough to be realistic. In some cases, being received into the Church actually represents conversion to Christ: a decisive step on the convert's journey of discipleship. That's definitely worth celebrating. In others, it is mostly expediency: pleasing a spouse, perhaps, or fleeing a church one dislikes for a church one dislikes somewhat less. Sometimes even that is to be approved; but in any case I noticed that, before very long, the converts as a whole looked pretty much like "the cradles" as a whole. Some were pious and continued caring, some were not and didn't; among the pious, some knew what the spiritual life was, some did not; even among those who knew, not all cared nearly enough. In due course, the proportion of wheat to tares settles around what seems to be an historical constant.

I also learned, by bitter experience, that I was no better. Sure, I knew more than most of them and cared more than some; but that only made my responsibility all the greater. Eventually I failed: if not so much them, then others who had been entrusted to me. Life has been the RCIA I needed to awaken me to who I am before Christ. And I'm sure the same is true of many others. Let us pray, and offer this Holy Week, for the intention that we make our ordinary lives ever more of an initiation into the Paschal Mystery.
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