image source

The Week 29 guide for the Online Retreat in Everyday Life is here.

This week, during Holy Week, we contemplate Jesus in death during our online retreat.

In our everyday life, we let this fact — this astonishing reality — touch us: as we do the dishes, as we put on our shoes, as we go about the routines of our life.

This is the sort of thing that’s easier said than done for me. It’s the sort of thing I like in theory, but not so much in practice.

And I don’t think I’m alone in that.

In every Catholic church, there’s a crucifix. That’s not because we’re obsessed; it’s because it’s that important. It’s not because we can’t let Jesus be alive; it’s because we can’t forget that he died for us.

This week, I’m going to hold close the words from this week’s letter to Jesus (for some reason, it’s often the “In These or Similar Words” letters that grab me the strongest):

What happened? Dearest Jesus, how did it all come to this? How is it that I am looking up at you hanging there in such incredible agony? We are huddled here in fear and disbelief. Your mother, the other women. John. A few others.

I look at you writhing in pain, unable to breathe, pulling yourself up by your nailed wrists, just to gasp for air. I see you look down at me with your warm, familiar eyes veiled in pain but it is still you. I see my dear friend, the one who has been with me through so many terrible moments in my life. Now I stand here with you, unable to do anything.

Oh, Jesus, why? Why did this happen? I know intellectually that it was to enter so fully into my life and my pain, and the pain of everyone else. But so much pain? How can one person bear it all?

I realize that as I stand here, I have been holding onto your mother’s arm. Mary, who is so grieved that she is having a hard time standing. Mary, who has sat with me for so many hours as I’ve talked with you about my life. Now I see her almost doubled over in grief. Oh, Jesus, I don’t want you to even see her pain because it will only add to yours.

She understands so well that your life is slipping away. We watch and pray and hold onto each other, this small knot of silent people who love you so much. Then I realize that as much as you mean to me, as much as I don’t want you to die, I can’t stand to watch you suffer either. Please God, let him be at peace. Let him pass out or die. Don’t let him suffer so much.

But still, you continue to gasp and pull yourself up to breathe, in spite of the torturous pain as the nails rip down into the nerves in your arms. We listen as you pray, continue to ask the father for help and then, finally, surrender to him. Your pale body, covered with dirt and blood trembles a final time and then is still.

Mary turns to her sister and falls into her arms, but she has no tears left. The rest of us hold each other in silence and numbness. The soldiers come and take down the body and as it drops to the ground, Mary lifts you into her arms.

Oh, the pain in her face as she sees you! I want to help her. I want to be there for her because I know you would want me to be there. She holds your lifeless body gently and with such love, just as she did for so many years. She looks at me silently, tragically. I find a jar of water and I use my cloak to get it wet. If only I can wash the blood off your face. If only I can stop the blood from running down from the thorns. I want to do this so Mary won’t have to keep seeing you in such pain. Mary Magdalene and I remove the thorns from your head and wipe your face as your mother kisses it.

Dear God, help us! Be with us in this pain and confusion. Jesus, help us to make some sense out of your suffering. Help me to see how you are a part of my suffering each day and how this act joined you to the deepest sufferings of all of us.

Thank you God for the gift of Jesus. Thank you Jesus for your life in mine. I feel it somehow, even in the midst of this.

May your Holy Week be blessed and filled with the joy that comes after sorrow, with the hope that comes despite darkness, with the love that comes from God.