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Following the way of the cross

Paul Campbell SJ is an Irish Jesuit who works as an associate pastor in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Georgetown, Washington DC.

He sees in today’s gospel for Palm Sunday the different ways people respond to Jesus’ call to follow him.

What does it mean to be a follower of Christ?

We read the Passion every year to remind ourselves of Jesus’ betrayal, of the Passover meal, his arrest, torture, trial, and death and we remember that it’s God who is our only hope for salvation.

Jesus came not as God pretending to be one of us, or as one of us with affectations of being God. Jesus Christ was as human as we are and as God is the Father and the Holy Spirit. Having come among us, Christ, as Paul writes in the Letter to the Philippians, “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

In Matthew’s passion, Jesus shows us how to embody God’s love as a human being: to live and die not for ourselves, but for others; to be faithful and true; to trust in God even when all seems futile; to never give up on love. Jesus Christ, obediently embracing all that is human, became flesh and blood and dwelt among us, eating with tax collectors and sinners, healing the sick and the blind, arguing with his opponents, and, at the end, experiencing the betrayal of his friends, being scourged and sentenced to death.

On the Cross, Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” From this, we must learn that nothing human is foreign to Christ. We all know the feeling of being forsaken. Who among us has never felt so low that we haven’t wondered if God has deserted us? But if we look at Christ, and ponder the Passion, we can find a way to accept the most profound struggles in our own lives, to accept our own pain and death, as well as the suffering and death of those we love most.

At the beginning of Holy Week, our pondering and our prayer over Christ’s passion and death can be a powerful way to learn more about Jesus and what it means to be a disciple. We can take the failed discipleship of Judas, who, unwilling or unable to see that the way of the Cross leads back to life in the triumph of the resurrection, gives in to despair and takes his own life. We see the unexpected discipleship of the centurion who testifies, “Truly, this was the Son of God.”

Closer to us, I imagine, we witness the weak but growing discipleship of Peter who, having denied Jesus three times, weeps in remorse and conversion. And finally, the faithful discipleship of the women who, having served Jesus during the years of public ministry, now stay close to make the way of the cross and stand in faithful support of him at the crucifixion.

In the Passion account, we hear how Jesus told his disciples to eat his body and drink his blood. As we proceed now with our memorial of that first Eucharist, let’s ask God to help us become stronger and more faithful disciples.