Love and love alone — Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.


Silvio José Báez, O.C.D.
Auxiliary Bishop of Managua

Saint Agatha Catholic Church
Archdiocese of Miami
5 April 2020

With the celebration of Palm Sunday, we begin Holy Week, the time when we celebrate with faith the death and resurrection of Jesus. Due to the worldwide outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, this year we have to spend these holy days in a peculiar way.

We are gathered in our homes, like small churches; with fewer words and more silent adoration; not in big crowds, but with hearts full of faces and names; without so many external rites, but with more depth and emotion. Let’s live this Holy Week in the presence of Jesus, the Savior Messiah, who wanted to share the human condition with us until death, so as to elevate us to the unimaginable, to glorification and eternity.

Saint Matthew’s Passion

As we do every year, we’ve heard the solemn reading of the story of the Lord’s passion and death, this year according to St. Matthew’s version. It’s a story full of meanness, hatred and violence. There are proud and hypocritical priests; cruel soldiers trained to torture and kill; mobs of people who have been manipulated, driven by irrationality; with bloodthirsty, ambitious, and corrupt political authorities.

The whole story ends with the death of a righteous man, as Pilate’s wife recognized when she told her husband: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man” (Mt 27:19). During his life Jesus was besieged, persecuted, and threatened; in the end, he was arrested and accused by false witnesses in a trial full of irregularities, tortured in an inhuman and cruel way in filthy Roman dungeons, and condemned to the most horrendous death—nailed to a cross.

Diptych of the Virgin and Child Enthroned and the Crucifixion, c. 1275-85 (Eastern Mediterranean or Italian), tempera on panel, left wing: 38 x 29.5 cm, right wing: 38 x 29.5 cm (Art Institute of Chicago)
Photo credit: Dr. Steven Zucker / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
A hindrance to religious authorities

For the religion, Jesus of Nazareth became a hindrance because he didn’t tire of repeating that the human being was superior to the Temple, the religious titles, the cultic rites, and even above the very law of Moses.

He washed his disciples’ feet to show in a simple prophetic gesture that only the one who bows down to serve others is with God. He healed the sick who were excluded from the temple and society because he wanted them to feel that God was with them in their solitude; he forgave prostitutes, public sinners, and corrupt tax collectors as an expression of the infinite love of a Father who wants everyone to be saved without asking anything in return.

For Jesus, the important thing was to heal, forgive, and serve, not to bring offerings to the altar, offer sacrifices in the Temple, or to proudly fulfill the religious commandments. This was unforgivable, according to the hypocritical, ambitious religious leaders who had deformed the face of God; who made the Temple a den of thieves and the law of the Lord a heavy burden to carry; and, who made religion an easy way to acquire money, prestige, and a career. They themselves didn’t forgive and so they decided to kill him.

For Jesus, the important thing was to heal, forgive, and serve. #HolyWeek

Unbearable for government authorities

For those who were politically powerful, Jesus also became unbearable. He denounced rulers who oppress their people and call themselves benefactors, and he proposed a life of service and love for others as an ideal for his followers. He mocked Herod, calling him a “fox,” because Jesus knew about Herod’s clever machinations to oppress the poor folk of Galilee.

Jesus didn’t hesitate to denounce the god of money, which drives political ambitions, enslaves the heart and chills love, and so it’s easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus proclaimed that the poor are blessed because God is always on their side. He was giving back dignity and hope to those whom the world ignores: to the miserable, to women, to the lost and forgotten. That is why Pilate and Herod condemned him to death.

The story of Jesus is the story of God among us. In his death on the cross, God reveals himself to us as love and love alone. #HolyWeek

The story of Jesus is the story of God among us. In his death on the cross, God reveals himself without power or beauty, silent so as not to condemn anyone, with his arms open to embrace everyone without exception, forgiving us and loving us to the end. There God reveals himself to us in the purest and most unfathomable aspect of his mystery, as love and love alone. On the cross, Jesus wanted to take the lowest place in history, the place reserved for blasphemers, criminals, and sinners, in order to meet us all so that no human being would ever be left out of God’s merciful embrace. Believers in other religions look to God and call on him when they suffer; Christians worship and turn to God when He suffers. It isn’t our pain that leads us to Him, but His pain, not the moment of our suffering but the mystery of His suffering.

Rogier van der Weyden (and studio), The Lamentation of Christ, c. 1460-64, oil on panel, 80.6 x 130.1 cm (Mauritshuis, The Hague)
Photo credit: Dr. Steven Zucker / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Love without limits

For Jesus, the cross was the opportunity to empty himself completely and to love without limits. These days it’s as if we’re all crucified because of the coronavirus pandemic, which has caused so much suffering and death, making us fearful and powerless.

For Jesus, the cross was the opportunity to empty himself completely and to love without limits. #HolyWeek

Like Jesus, we human beings also have the opportunity to experience the cross that plagues humanity today, transforming it into a path of resurrection, loving and being in solidarity, not allowing ourselves to be paralyzed by confusion and, above all, beginning to intuit the new forms of life and coexistence that we must adopt once the pandemic is over.

The cross that humanity is experiencing today will become a new and better life for all. After the pandemic, we should become not only more humanos but also more hermanos—both humane and fraternal.

Holy Trinity ca. 1410
Maestro C.Z. (Michele dai Carri ? 1407-1440 Ferrara)
Ferrara Pinacoteca Nazionale
Photo credit: mazanto / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Growing in trust, in faith and love

For Jesus, the cross also was the opportunity to exercise limitless trust in the Heavenly Father. In the midst of the suffering and uncertainty that we experience, united to Jesus, let’s not hesitate to cry out like him: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken us?” (Cf. Mt 27:46).

God is waiting for our complaint and is pleased with our questions in the face of his silence. The apparent absence of God is necessary and fruitful for faith. It helps us to purify our ideas about God and to have new eyes that always seek Him and hope in Him.

The crosses of life aren’t the end of existence. Crucified humanity will be resurrected. After the pandemic, we have to be greater believers, stronger and more mature.

On the cross, Jesus undergoes death—loving and forgiving. The cross is the way of love, through which Jesus saves us from emptiness and death. For those of us who believe in him and follow him, the cross is the strength that sustains us in building a more humane and healthier world; it is the inexhaustible wellspring that nourishes hope of being part of humanity that is evermore fraternal and just.

The cross is the way of love, through which Jesus saves us from emptiness and death. #HolyWeek

Rogier van der Weyden, Crucifixion Triptych, c. 1445, oil on oak, center panel: 101 x 70 cm, each wing: 101 x 35 cm (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna)
Photo credit: Dr. Steven Zucker / Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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