Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
The way of the cross: remember
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By Fr. Tom Bartolomeo
March 9, 2014

God doesn't have a memory but we do. God doesn't need a memory but we do. God doesn't forget but we do. We read in Sacred Scripture that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever." (Hebrews 13: 8). God know everything all at once and doesn't need to recall anything. When Jesus took on, however, the nature of a human being living in time he separated himself from the eternal bliss and glory of his Father in heaven. That for Christ was the worst of punishments he didn't deserve much worse than being "driven into the desert by the Holy Spirit to be tempted by the devil for forty days and forty nights" bad as that was. We should remember, too, that God is not the ruler of this world. Satan is. And some would unwittingly befriend Satan is this world. If we want to know who the cause of misery is in the world – there we have it. It is Satan who tempted Jesus in the desert. At his trial before his death Jesus told Pilate, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here." (John 18:36.) The evening before his trial, conviction and condemnation to death Jesus explained what he was about to do:
    Do not let your hearts be troubled . . . . You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father . . . . And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it does occur, you may believe. I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no power over me; but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us be on our way. (John 14: 27-31).
"Let us be on our way" became Jesus' "stations of the cross" that we too must travel 'taking up our crosses' to reach the kingdom of heaven as did Jesus. Buoyed by hope on his "way" Jesus said, "The hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each one to his home, and you will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone because the Father is with me. I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!' (John 16:32-33). Yes, Jesus had "conquered the world," but the Evil One and sin remain in the world alongside the good. What Jesus broken through were the locked gates to a "far, far better" world we all yearn for. Dickens in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, depicted the duality of our world, "for good or for evil." At the close of the novel the principle figure, Sydney Carton, chose the "good" taking the place of another man who was to be guillotined, a figure of Christ, who said, "It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known." Where there is sin, Saint Paul taught, [now] grace abounds and "exercises dominion in death . . . leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5: 19-21).

It is one thing to be born in this world and endure its fleeting moments of temptation and grace and another thing to share in the fullness of the life of God. The totality of who God is, he told us – "I am who am" – is where God wants us to be – free from evil and distress in this passing world. (Exodus 3:14). We will never achieve this, however, without our remembering. It was so critically important that Jesus told us at his last supper, "Do this in memory of me." Without the Eucharist – and I am not talking about Holy Communion – without the Eucharist, the re-enactment and memorial of his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven we will have no future with God forever.

Jesus' Passover with his disciples was, we should remember, was the memorial of the Jews' release from four hundred and thirty years of slavery and is in our time the memorial and thanksgiving of humanity's release from the shackles of sin and passage to heaven. We should remember, too, that in God's mind, we were a "passing shadow," "a breath" described in the Psalm: "What is man that you regard him, O Lord, or the son of man that you think of him? Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. (Psalm 144: 3-5). The rituals and signs of the season of Lent, ashes on the forehead, penance and prayer only find their meaning and vitality in our actions which for many in Jesus' day were hypocritical empty gestures, a prescribed set of "sacrifices," and possibly things "we give up" believing they alone atone for our misdeeds displeasing to God. Without our corresponding "good works" our sacrifices may be spurned by God as well which the Psalmist wrote about:

For you [God] will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51: 16-17).

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and uphold me with a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will return to you. (ibid. 10-13).

Recall, too, the incident when Jesus is questioned about the ritual of fasting by the disciples of John the Baptist who asked "Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?" And Jesus answered, "The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast." (Matthew 9: 14-15). Later when the Baptist , again, sent his disciples, to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah, Jesus answered, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them." (Matthew 11: 4-5).

We are called in charity to support many commendable charitable efforts, but how much more charitable and personally profitable are the sacrifices of ourselves caring for others offering them not only our money but ourselves. What graces await the embattled single mother and child and ourselves, for example, sharing a meal together which in the end is the more lasting gift. With the savings we set aside by "giving up" some personal indulgence we may make this sacrifice an offering to another bringing us joy through our penitential act. No matter how fortunate or unfortunate our personal circumstances may be when we lighten the burdens of others we lighten our own burdens in the process. The Apostle Paul so frequently and unabashedly spoke about his personal care for others, joining his good prayers and work with the work and prayers of others. "When we could have been a burden to you [Paul wrote] we were unassuming like a mother feeding and looking after her own children, we felt so devoted and protective toward you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Gospel but our whole lives as well." (1 Thessalonians 2:8). Paul understood how emotionally effective a generous spirit can be, "If we are being afflicted [he said] it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation." (2 Corinthians 1: 6-8).

We have entered the memorial of Lent, a time of penance and hope which the Apostle John so insightfully revealed in his gospel for our study and emulation, John 17–18. Keep in mind, Jesus' final words before his arrest and the beginning of his Stations of the Cross: "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they may always see the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17: 24-26).

© Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

 

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Fr. Tom Bartolomeo

I am the founder and director of the Families For Families Retreat House, a refuge for anyone who wants to rethink his or her life in a quiet non-demanding environment in an historic house c.1709 when life was less complicated. I am also and primarily a Catholic priest having been a college and university teacher, business-owner and executive among other things. I received my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in English literature from Saint John's University, Jamaica, New York and completed post-graduate studies at Kansas State University. Contact me at FatherTomSays@gmail.com.

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