In 2005, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger composed a beautiful set of meditations on the Way of the Cross for then-Pope John Paul II. In the meditation for the First Station, where Jesus is condemned to death, Cardinal Ratzinger writes:
"The Judge of the world, who will come again to judge us all, stands there, dishonored and defenseless before the earthly judge. Pilate is not utterly evil. He knows that the condemned man is innocent, and he looks for a way to free him. But his heart is divided. And in the end he lets his own position, his own self-interest, prevail over what is right. Nor are the men who are shouting and demanding the death of Jesus utterly evil. Many of them, on the day of Pentecost, will feel “cut to the heart” (Acts 2:37), when Peter will say to them: “Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God... you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law” (Acts 2:22ff.). But at that moment they are caught up in the crowd. They are shouting because everyone else is shouting, and they are shouting the same thing that everyone else is shouting. And in this way, justice is trampled underfoot by weakness, cowardice and fear of the diktat of the ruling mindset. The quiet voice of conscience is drowned out by the cries of the crowd. Evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think."
Over nineteen hundred years have past since Jesus' encounter with Pilate, and things have not changed very much. How often have the right decisions been neglected and avoided because of indecisiveness or for concern of what other people think? How often has self-interest been characteristic of human action and endeavor? In the meditation for third station of the Cross, Jesus falls for the first time, Cardinal Ratzinger illuminates what underlies this malady of human action:
"Man has fallen, and he continues to fall: often he becomes a caricature of himself, no longer the image of God, but a mockery of the Creator. Is not the man who, on the way from Jerusalem to Jericho, fell among robbers who stripped him and left him half-dead and bleeding beside the road, the image of humanity par excellence? Jesus’ fall beneath the Cross is not just the fall of the man Jesus, exhausted from his scourging. There is a more profound meaning in this fall, as Paul tells us in the Letter to the Philippians: “though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men... He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a Cross” (Phil 2:6-8). In Jesus’ fall beneath the weight of the Cross, the meaning of his whole life is seen: his voluntary abasement, which lifts us up from the depths of our pride. The nature of our pride is also revealed: it is that arrogance which makes us want to be liberated from God and left alone to ourselves, the arrogance which makes us think that we do not need his eternal love, but can be the masters of our own lives. In this rebellion against truth, in this attempt to be our own god, creator and judge, we fall headlong and plunge into self-destruction. The humility of Jesus is the surmounting of our pride; by his abasement he lifts us up. Let us allow him to lift us up. Let us strip away our sense of self-sufficiency, our false illusions of independence, and learn from him, the One who humbled himself, to discover our true greatness by bending low before God and before our downtrodden brothers and sisters."
Man, in his attempt to create meaning for himself, has robbed himself of any meaning possible. Through the wellsprings of pride, man debases himself from his status as an image of God and it is Jesus and the Cross - the sign of contradiction - that should call man back to his humble origin. We need to recognize in Jesus and the Cross the humility that we lack and the guidance that we need from the true source of ourselves, God himself. Do we stand ready to learn from the Master?
Our discipleship as Christians calls us to live out our lives as signs of contradictions. We need to live out this call radically in a day and age when we are up against all sorts of anti-Christian sentiments and arguments. We have to not only learn our faith and live it, but we must live our faith well. And to live our faith well demands that we not be sluggish or lazy Christians but rather ones who must take up the demands of the Cross and become signs of contradictions in which we stand up for what is True, Good, and Beautiful – all which reside in God himself. Without these things in which life has true and ultimate meaning from God, we plunge ourselves into self-destruction. Man cannot revolve around himself. Man must root his existence in God alone.
To live the Christian life to the fullest makes many demands. We must be mindful of all of our actions and thoughts. We have to protect ourselves from harmful and sinful situations. We have to find ourselves in the right company of fellow Christians because, face it, we need the help and encouragement. We have to make many sacrifices to live the life that God calls us to live. Do not be fooled. Living Christianity to the fullest is not easy but its’ rewards are beyond compare.
Think about it. Often we spend so much of our time seeking fruitless and banal pleasures and material objects and wealth. Compare that with how little we spend seeking to love and serve God and to find the reward of eternal life. Who or what do we really worship in this life? Do we really worship and love the Lord God with all our hearts? Or do we really worship and love our jobs or pleasures or food or material goods? On this Passion Sunday, think of what the Lord Jesus has done for you. Think of the patience and care and love God took to give us life and to live it to the fullest in Him. Is not our lives but for the Lord? If so, then everything we do and say should orient us always toward God.
Heavenly Father, as we contemplate the sacrifice of your Son, Jesus Christ on the Cross, on this Passion Sunday, may we learn from His example, as a sign of contradiction to this world, to be ready and willing to live the Truth in every aspect of our lives. Through Jesus’ example, may we learn to live in humility. And may we draw strength and courage from Jesus’ powerful testimony as a sign of patience and understanding in Love for the all the world to see. Amen.