by Linda Wihl
On Palm Sunday, Fr. Bob Thesing, SJ asked us to listen to the Passion Story with a new perspective, listen for some word or idea that might stand out. They read a narrative gospel, “not word for word from the missal so listen don’t read along”. The word that struck me like a lead weight was “friend”. Jesus used it when he told Judas to go “do what you are about to do”. I thought they might have added the word in the translation being used so I picked up the missal to check and yes, according to eye witnesses, Jesus had called Judas friend even though he knew his “friend” was about to betray him.
My mind wandered to the first time I read the Bible cover to cover back in my high school days. As I read the Old Testament I remember thinking Jesus really didn’t say much that was new. A great deal of what he said was in the Hebrew Scriptures. But then, as I started into the New Testament Jesus’ emphasis on forgiveness seemed very new. Over, and over again, the mercy of God and our call to forgive rang out loud and clear.
Dick Sparks, a Paulist priest and friend of Mike Whitney, sends out copies of his sermon most Sundays. One a few weeks ago included: Catholics who grew up in the 1950s, before Vatican Council II, as well as some of the young adult Catholics I meet today (teens, 20s & 30s) seem to me to be prisoners of this “gotta strive,” gotta achieve,” merit or earn my way to heaven and into God’s love. Sometimes I will say to someone who is like this: “Let go. Lighten up. I know you’re a serious believer, but I’m just not sure you’re a Christian yet. Have you ever really met the one true God, Jesus’ Father?” …Faith or grace are not merit badges to be earned. If you tend to judge yourself too harshly – things like “I don’t say my morning prayers with enough devotion” (who does?) or “my mind wanders when I’m trying to meditate” (whose doesn’t?) – this trying to be perfect is the wrong goal. And these same folks, who judge themselves by impossible standards often turn around, somewhat like the Pharisee in the front of the temple, and judge others even more harshly. “Well at least I don’t do that!” Or, “who does she think she is? The first, foremost, and ultimate Christian experience ought to be something like: “Well of course I’m not perfect. I know I don’t deserve God’s love or forgiveness. That’s what makes it all the more “awesome.” God loves me, holds me in the palm of his/her hand gently – NOT because I deserve it, but regardless of whether I measure up or fall short. God’s love, the worth of each of you sitting out there, is inherent, abiding, you didn’t earn it in the first place and you can’t lose it! …if you’re worried about damnation for yourself, then you haven’t embraced Jesus’ Father or you haven’t let God embrace you fully. It’s really all about love, mercy, acceptance, not climbing the ladder, earning points, or making it so God owes us something. The core virtue is humility or gratitude, not pride or a sense of achievement, and certainly not arrogance or self-righteousness, toward ourselves or toward anyone else.
The Good, Good News of Easter is that God’s love is bolder than any cross. Forgiveness toward ourselves and others empowers us to befriend God and one another. “There is no Calvary for which there isn’t an equal or greater measure of resurrection! Rita Foley
Have a very Blessed Easter!
Linda Wihl is the Greater Cincinnati IVC Regional Director (or as some of the volunteers call her, “the matchmaker”). As the Executive Director of Making Sense of Language Arts, she is also a service site partner and sponsor. Her favorite title is “grandma!”