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Easter Triduum

April 21, 2011

The Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane by El Greco

I’m always learning new things about my faith. For example,  Easter Triduum, which starts today, marks the beginning of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and ends Easter Sunday.

I want to share Pope Benedict XVI’s catechesis on the Easter Triduum, specifically the call for all of us to address evil and to subdue it. But most importantly to draw to attention, as Pope Benedict XVI points out, that we cover our eyes from evil because of our will to ignore God and to “yes”. I intersperse my own reflections to the words of Pope Benedict XVI [emphasis are mine]:

“On the afternoon of Maundy Thursday [that’s today!] the Easter Triduum effectively begins, with the remembrance of the Last Supper, in which Jesus instituted the Memorial of his Pasch, fulfilling the Jewish paschal rite. According to tradition, every Jewish family, gathered at table on the feast of Passover eats the roasted lamb, recalling the Israelites’ deliverance from the slavery of Egypt; thus in the Cenacle, conscious of his imminent death, Jesus, the true paschal Lamb, offered himself for our salvation (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7). Pronouncing the blessing over the bread and wine, he anticipated the sacrifice of the cross and manifested the intention of perpetuating his presence amid the disciples: Under the species of bread and wine he makes himself present in a real way with his body given and his blood shed. During the Last Supper, the apostles were constituted ministers of this sacrament of salvation. Jesus washed their feet (cf. John 13:1-25), inviting them to love one another as he loved them, giving his life for them. Repeating this gesture in the liturgy, we are also called to give witness with the deeds of our Redeemer.

“Maundy Thursday, finally, is closed with Eucharistic Adoration, in memory of the Lord’s agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Leaving the Cenacle, he withdrew to pray, alone, in the presence of his Father. At that moment of profound communion, the Gospels recount that Jesus experienced great anguish, such suffering that he sweat blood (cf. Matthew 26:38). Conscious of his imminent death on the cross, he felt great anguish and the closeness of death. In this situation an element is seen that is of great importance also for the whole Church. Jesus said to his own: Stay here and watch; and this call to vigilance refers in a precise way to this moment of anguish, of menace, in which the betrayer arrives, but it concerns the whole history of the Church. It is a permanent message for all times, because the somnolence of the disciples was not only the problem of that moment, but is the problem of the whole of history.

“The question is what this somnolence consists of, and what is the vigilance to which the Lord invites us. I would say that the disciples’ somnolence in the course of history is a certain insensitivity of soul to the power of evil, an insensitivity to all the evil of the world. We do not want to let ourselves be too disturbed by these things, we want to forget them: We think that perhaps it is not so grave, and we forget. And it is not only insensitivity to evil; instead, we should be watching to do good, to struggle for the force of good. It is insensitivity to God — this is our real somnolence: this insensitivity to the presence of God that makes us insensitive also to evil. We do not listen to God — it would bother us — and so we do not listen, of course, to the force of evil either, and we stay on the path of our comfort.”

Pope Benedict XVI offers great insight. How many times in the past have I stayed silent because I did not want to offend anyone by speaking the truth? When I was floating adrift in the ocean of relativism (my undergrad days), I remained silent when discussing same sex marriage. I nodded in approval as my friends remarked that same sex marriage is about equality. But deep in my heart, I knew it was wrong (I’ll explain why in a future post).

Pope Benedict XVI continues, “The nocturnal adoration on Maundy Thursday, our being vigilant with the Lord, should be precisely the moment to make us reflect on the somnolence of the disciples, of Jesus’ defenders, of the apostles, of ourselves, who do not see, we do not want to see all the force of evil, and we do not want to enter into his passion for the good, for the presence of God in the world, for the love of neighbor and of God.

Entering the passion of Jesus is difficult because it demands each one of us to be near the razor’s edge, in the sense that we open ourselves to the world and perhaps face persecution for our beliefs. In this instance I recall the recent martyrdom of Shahbaz Bhatti, who was the minister of religious minorities in Pakistan.

“Then the Lord began to pray. The three apostles — Peter, James and John — slept, but then they woke up and heard the phrase of this prayer of the Lord: “Not my will but thine be done.” What is this will of mine, what is this will of yours, of which the Lord speaks? My will is that I “should not die,” that he be spared this chalice of suffering: It is the human will, of human nature, and Christ feels, with all the consciousness of his being, life, the abyss of death, the terror of nothingness, this menace of suffering.

There were occasions when I thought I was doing the will of God when I was really following my own will!

And he more than us, who have this natural aversion to death, this natural fear of death, even more than us, he felt the abyss of evil. He also felt, with death, all the suffering of humanity. He felt that all this was the chalice he must drink, that he must make himself drink, accept the evil of the world, everything that is terrible, the aversion to God, the whole of sin. And we can understand that Jesus, with his human soul, was terrified before this reality, which he perceived in all its cruelty: My will would be not to drink the chalice, but my will is subordinated to your will, to the will of God, to the will of the Father, which is also the real will of the Son. And thus Jesus transformed, in this prayer, the natural aversion, the aversion to the chalice, to his mission to die for us. He transformed this natural will of his into the will of God, in a “yes” to the will of God.”

At times I find it hard to bend my will to God and say “yes”.  I fall into periods of loneliness and depression when I follow my own will by closing myself from God. And that’s when evil clouds the mind’s eye making it easier to fall into sin. However, by saying “yes” to God we have a chance to make ourselves worthy to enter Heaven because of Christ’ sacrifice. The amazing and wondrous reality when I am in kneeling in front of the Blessed Sacrament is that Jesus, as Pope Benedict describes, “bears in himself our suffering, our poverty and transforms them according to the will of God. And thus opens the doors of heaven, he opens heaven: This curtain of the Most Holy, which up to now man closed against God, is opened by his suffering and obedience. ”

Please read the whole catechesis of Pope Benedict XVI here: . It’s packed with awesomeness!

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