We are gathered together here in solemn preparation for the Easter Passover of Our Lord Jesus Christ and, having heard St. Luke’s account of our Lord’s Passion and Death, we have been struck by the horror of His most bitter sufferings and by wonderment at His patient endurance: embracing the Cross on the left hand by His steadfast, all-enduring, love for us, and, on the right hand, by His absolute trust in, and total commitment to, the Father Who had sent Him; before He ultimately found Himself -- Suffering Servant and most beloved Son -- at rest in the peace and power of His Personal fulfilment:
Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.
The Gospel is a light of revelation for us: revealing the transcendent beauty and goodness, majesty and power of God, in Himself and in His relations with us; and also the truth about ourselves in our present state before God and in our future prospects with Him. Having just greatly admired Jesus’ revelation of God in His Passion and death, let us now -- as His aspiring disciples -- search for truth about ourselves, by confronting our Christian self-awareness and personal conscience as honestly and dispassionately as we can.
Did we, perhaps, find that Gospel reading rather long and -- at times -- a little wearisome? If so, that can be a humbling and somewhat depressing acknowledgement, in so far as we tend to think that if we were proper Catholics, true disciples, we would not just hear of His holy Passion and Death, but would experience, go through, it with hearts filled with deep sorrow and ardent longing; and we vaguely suspect and fear that such lack of emotional involvement might betray some hidden fault or serious failing in us.
Let us, therefore, take a closer look at that unwanted weariness which can obtrude itself upon us at times when we would much prefer to experience fervent devotion.
First of all, we should be clear in our minds that we are here at Mass, above all, not to get emotions for ourselves but to give ourselves, through devotion, to God. Those words, ‘I don't seem to be getting anything out of it’ should never be part our thinking. We also need to be clear in our minds about the difference between emotions and devotion; for they are not the same, nor are they necessarily found together. Emotions express and affect our natural feelings, whereas devotion is the sign and measure of our supernatural commitment; moreover, our emotions are largely instinctive and self-centred whereas devotion is subject to our will and centred on God. Devotion benefits greatly when it is backed-up by the power of appropriate emotions; however, devotion is not necessarily diminished by the absence of such emotions; indeed devotion can be at its greatest when deprived of them. Emotion, alone, is of no worth, its function is to assist what is more worthy than itself, whereas devotion is, in itself, always supremely commendable before God.
Dear People of God, it is essential for us to recognize that we are sinners and that God alone is good; and, because He is so sublimely good we also call Him the all-holy One. All the blessings we have received in our life, all the ‘goods’ that we have or can have, are His gifts to us: ‘goods’ created for us, befitting and adorning us. Likewise, all the Christian holiness we might admire, that we might aspire to or long for, is again His gift; but far, far more, it is a gift of Himself, a share in His very own, unique, holiness; it never is, nor ever can be, our own holiness: something we can put on, something owing to us, or something that we can get for ourselves, achieve by ourselves, design for ourselves. Therefore, we must never be surprised at our own weariness, dryness, or lack of emotional feelings on occasions like today, for that is a true, indeed it is the truest picture of us; for we are -- of ourselves -- naturally barren and fruitless as far as holiness is concerned.
As Christians, however, our attention and expectation is centred on God, and He is good, so good indeed that He has given His own Son to save us from our sinfulness. What we have to try to do is what the Suffering Servant, in the first reading, showed us, for:
Morning by morning He wakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord God has opened my ear and I was not rebellious, I turned not backward.
Jesus was always lovingly in His Father’s presence, attentively watching for, listening to, and ever ready to do, His will; and we can best imitate that by repeatedly putting ourselves in the presence of God, putting ourselves in the way -- so to speak -- of Jesus. And that, indeed, is what we are doing here, today: we have learned where Jesus is to be found and have come to put ourselves in His way, waiting and listening in case He should turn His gaze, see us, and choose to speak to us as He did to blind Bartimaeus. If He does not, we should have no complaint, it is His will and we have no claims on Him: whatever He does, we know that He does it for our good and that He is right. If, on the other hand, He does turn His attention our way, then we should gratefully accept the ardent emotions His glance stirs within us and use them as a spur to our devotion, endeavouring thereby to give ourselves back, in the Spirit, to Jesus and to God our Father more completely and more wholeheartedly than ever before. In that way, our emotions can, at times, renew our spirit and spur us on to greater devotion; for ultimately, it is only the enduring power and commitment of devotion that faithfully and perseveringly follows Jesus along His heavenward path.
Our emotions can also be like flowers along the way that afford our spirit refreshment as we pass, gratefully, on. At other times, however, and perhaps more frequently, emotions can disturb and hinder us like stones (little ‘upsetters’ or big ‘blockers’) that clutter our path; or, indeed, they can even -- and most deceitfully -- serve as honey-traps that would attach us to themselves and lead us to forget the way we have hitherto been pursuing and ignore the promise Jesus has made to us and the place He has been preparing for us in the home to which the Father calls us.