Fourth Sunday of Easter - Vocations Sunday

Vocations Sunday

I am a bit a movie buff and watch all sorts of movies (except horror). Since the late 1950s the emphasis in heroes in movies has changed from the reliable virtuous uncompromising character played by a John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Spencer Tracy where the hero could be relied upon to deliver the goods, and where concepts of good and evil were clearly defined, perhaps influenced by the very clear boundaries and principles fought over in World War II.

This all began to change in the late 1950s to the ‘Rebel without a Cause’ type of anti-hero with the tragic, flawed, angst-ridden character in a leading role. Gritty determination, foul language, womanising and the end-justifying-the-means to track down the villain became the characteristic ‘values’ of a new generation of ‘good guy’ actors in the moral free-fall of an America represented by a James Dean, Clint Eastwood or Gene Hackman. Good and evil became blurred.

Since the late 1970s the modern movie industry has discovered that there is a ton of money to be made by putting fantasy action heroes in the big screen. Superman, Spiderman, and Batman have each been on the screen in two different franchises each. Coolness, one-liners and special effects and computer graphics characterise the mostly family-friendly modern action hero movies. Good and evil are back, even if the heroes are now superhuman.

What is it with the world’s enduring fascination with these heroes and superheroes?

Part of the attraction is that these movies of course contain simple stereotypes that have universal appeal. We men want women to swoon and faint at the sight of the hero, we (men) want women to be needy, vulnerable, in distress and we want them to be saved – by us! Women want a muscular, handsome, rugged, scarred and proven, faithful hero. They want to be saved, and they will stand by their man! Women want to be cherished and feel safe and protected.

Men, on the other hand, want to be the ones to win over, and be favoured by, the beautiful damsel. Men want to be valued, looked up to, admired, and singled out, needed and valued for their heroism, integrity, principles, courage, risk-taking, perseverance. In all of the action though men - deep down - need a plan and a quest, an adventure and a meaning and overall plan and purpose in life in which they and their role seem to make sense, that there is a meaning to all of this.

Action hero movies, while a mostly innocent form of escapism, have appeal therefore to these basic needs and drives in all of us that there is a higher plan, a marvellous story, and secretly we all want to engage in one.

Do we realise however that we are all the heroes and heroines in our own stories, that God has an over-riding plan for you and me? That he wants us to be saints, possessing heroic virtue with His help. You and I may not be much to look at, but inside we are!

We all have a story, and I think that it is what is most fascinating to me about people and life generally. We all struggle to make sense of it, as we cannot see what lies ahead, and we cannot undo what has led us to this point. We are capable of, if not always open to, change in our path where it is necessary. We may not have as much drama or action, but we have turning points, fateful days and crunch decisions to make that will determine our fate.

The author, John Eldredge has written much on this topic. It is the departure from the quest and the plan of life that God has set out for each of us that is the source of so much unhappiness and cynicism. Why, if there is no game-plan, do we get out of bed in the morning? We are unique, none of us is replaceable, and there will never be anyone quite like you or me! We all have a unique vocation in life, from the day of our Baptism and Confirmation to be God’s witnesses in the world. As Pope Benedict XVI has put it: ‘each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.’

Reading the lives of the saints - the best stories of all – can be an inspiration to us in our morally confused world and the uncertainty of so many in their misdirected unending quest for lasting notoriety and the cult of celebrity. These ordinary men and women on the other hand stuck by their principles in the face of adversity, and won the (unsought) admiration of all.

Who could not be struck by the drama of the life of Blessed John Paul II? His biography is worth reading. Or Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, St Maria Goretti, St Francis of Assisi, and so many more. What we all yearn for is ultimately love, meaning, and a sense of direction.

All of these are summed up in one word –‘vocation’.

Yes, you and I have one. They are different, but they are complementary – in the married, single, priestly, or religious state of life. Christ calls us and chooses us to this. So it is our relative nearness to Him and willingness to be guided by Him in ongoing continuous daily habits of mental prayer that helps us to make sense of every day, of ourselves, of our world, and to expand our horizons to see our role in it.

That, to me, is what Vocations Sunday is all about.

Let us therefore be open to Christ, or in the words of Blessed Pope John Paul II: – ‘Open wide the doors to Christ’. If we could just let Him in, and then watch what happens....

Third Sunday of Easter

The road to Emmaus is referred to only briefly at the beginning of today's Gospel, but I cannot resist reflecting on it in more detail.

The Emmaus journey can serve as a template and guide to prayer: The road is an encounter with the Lord Jesus, and provides the basis for each prayer encounter....there are 4 steps

'What are these things you talk about on the way?'

False expectations

Did you ever feel let down by someone or feel an anti-climax after a much anticipated event that did not, after all, live up to expectations?

 We live in an era as well of media hype around certain events as diverse as a royal wedding and a soccer tournament. The amount of hype on the airwaves and excitement generated is met by the reality that only one team can win.
A priest I know goes to the Cheltenham Racing Festival every March. He says the first night before the first race is the best for atmosphere– everyone’s a winner that night!

This time of year family events such as Communions and Confirmation each have their own excitement – but as we have seen the focus has been taken off the sacrament received – which is priceless - and more on the material aspects of the day, such as the communion dress or outfit, the function, and worst of all how much money the child receives.

It is a different kind of excitement and expectation or even trepidation when we are about to meet someone for the first time.

Or the disappointment when someone we have get to know has let us down – they did not measure up in our estimation of what we expected of them. It must be very painful in marriage when one spouse expresses disappointment in the other in word exchanges like: ‘You’re not the man I married’ - ‘well, actually I am.’ ‘You’ve changed’ - ‘you haven’t changed with me’. Marriage counsellors have their work cut out for them as couples wound each other deeply where it hurts. We all fail to live up to others’ expectations through miscommunication, misunderstandings, forgetfulness, insensitivity, and inevitable lurking character faults that surface at some stage. When the honeymoon is over, the real work of marriage begins. Much of the work that spouses need to do on themselves is to become more realistic about what is realisable and what can be accomplished in marriage. But also in working relationships among colleagues there can be spats and disputes. A fabulous job interview and hiring of a new employee cannot prevent inevitable tensions between an employee and employer, and between employees. In most relationships, family, community, workplace, voluntary organisation or parish, there are inevitable tensions and disagreements over policy and the allocation of work assignments.
Worst of all is the sense that the overarching vision and sense of joint or communal purpose is lost sight of, and tedium and tensions are the order of the day. Cynicism has been described as 'disappointed idealism.’

Such is the feeling of the two disciples in the Gospel passage today – a feeling that Jesus and His message was one big let-down. Having invested their time and energy into Jesus and His teaching and having perhaps witnessed some of His miracles and being moved by the strength of His personality, all ended in seeming disaster. He was not what they had made Him out to be (‘our own hope had been...’), a political liberator. Furthermore the notion that He had risen from the dead has astonished them. They don’t believe it – their body language gives it away – they are leaving Jerusalem –walking away from where it all happened. They are going home. It is all over for them. ‘Their faces are downcast'.

‘He explained the Scriptures to them’

The disciples are about to embark on the journey of their lives, a journey that no doubt will ultimately lead them to Jerusalem and to their true home –the early Christian community, the Church and their heavenly home. They must unlearn their mistakes. They were ‘foolish and slow to believe’ – they lacked true wisdom – were thinking in truly solely political terms ‘as men think’, according to the prevailing opinion even among Christ’s followers. They were hesitant and not convinced, and not prepared to make an act of faith. The journey now becomes an intellectual and spiritual journey – challenging and clarifying their woolly understanding as God’s plan as revealed in the Scriptures which is now made clear to them. The journey begins with Moses 1200 years before and goes through all the prophecies about Jesus Himself. It is a gradual realisation of who Jesus is – as it a gradual deepening for us over a lifetime to unearth ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’ . They reach a point where they say: ‘stay with us’ .


'He explained to them everything ...'

We are now ready to hear Jesus -his 'take' on what we are concerned about - which in the great order of things are only trifles, slight. He corrects our mis-perceptions of reality, of a given situation and brings us fresh perspective. He helps us to see things in a new way, and shows up our blindnesses, that Jesus is everything and in everything, and wants to be part of every aspect of our lives.

'...that was in the Scriptures about Himself'

We learn something new about the identiy and relevance of Jesus in the darkness of our situation. Praying with the SCRIPTURES, whether Old Testament - the Book of the Promise, or the New Testamnet, the Book of Fulfilment, we find answers to our questions. 'Ignorance of Scriptures is ignorance of Christ' (St Jerome).


The Lord made as if to go on...' Stay with us Lord, the day is almost over'

We enjoy His Company, we bask in His loving presence, and we feel moved, changed, transformed, and loved. This is a true encounter with Him. We do not want Him to leave.

How often have we felt we did not want a particular day, event, an encounter with someone, and all the feelings associated with it, to come to an end? We want the moment to linger, this inner peace, a feeling of blissful harmony – we think to ourselves - ‘oh if it could always be like this.’ But in our heart of hearts we know it can’t. At least not yet. At such rare moments there is no lingering in past, any longing for the future, just now – joy-filled, thrilled, exuberant, and happy. We realise that we have tasted a bit of heaven, moved to the depths of our being. We are truly living in the moment. There are no words, because no words are necessary to explain such ecstasy.

These rarities in life, which are so elusive, which people search for - often fruitlessly - and vanish all too quickly, do happen also in prayer. These are the rare glimpses of heaven that the Lord wants us to savour, and they make all the darker moments worthwhile. These consolations do not last very long and are the effects of persevering prayer, and most importantly they are not sought for their own sake. All holy men and women experience them, but they come from God as a pure gift. Moses and Elijah experienced them, Peter at the Transfiguration ‘did not know what he was saying’ he was in such joy, we think of Mary at the birth of Jesus, Elizabeth when the child, John, leapt in her womb, Simeon at the sight of Jesus. Such moments lead us to praise of God. This was the experience of the disciples at Emmaus – and like them we want to say ‘stay with us’.


'While at supper Jesus took bread, blessed it and broke it..’

At the breaking of the bread at Emmaus the Lord is now at last recognised. He had been there all along, in their midst though they did not know it! Now He disappears from sight and they must spread the word. They reflect to each other: ‘were not our hearts burning within us at as He spoke to us on the way?’ He came to them in their misery, and changed their hearts slowly into joy and love.


‘They made their way back’

So therefore they MUST share their experience together with the other disciples – they journey back from where they came, no doubt with the physical landmarks of the journey back, recalling to mind words, phrases, impressions. So that, by the time they got to Jerusalem they had a refined - though undoubtedly excited and exciting - narrative account of all that took place.

What a wonderful narrative account. Are we not all on a similar journey at present? Where are you and I now? Which of the stages have we experienced? And what have we yet to experience? Is the Lord with us though we do not see Him, though we do not ‘know’ it, i.e. without any physical evidence? Like Thomas last week, ‘happy are those who have not seen and yet believe!

For a second time the Lord rebukes the disciples for not believing the authoritative factual testimony of the other disciples, perhaps because the latter were women and they were prejudiced towards them, but above all because they lacked faith in the message. Now all together they must admit; ‘Yes , it is true’. May we now believe likewise!

It is all true. The Lord has risen!

Divine Mercy Sunday

It’s about Divine Mercy today - and mercy with one another – it’s about forgiving one another as we are called to live with one another in love - as a faith community, and as a church community.

As Jesus said: ‘Peace be with you’ - and among you – peace is not about the absence of conflict, it’s the forgiveness - it’s about being able to forgive the small things in a relationship that annoy – that can make or break a relationship – and to not mention them again – the things that drive you or me nuts – the minor grievances that we allow to accumulate, we are tempted to hold on to them – withholding forgiveness and bearing grudges.

In a family or marriage we constantly need to go beyond the little things: - the love you have and are shown, the reason for the relationship - be it a marriage, a vocation, family, a friendship, the 'why' of why we are together must be invoked again and reflected upon to pick up the pieces and see the bigger picture and start over.

The all-encompassing mercy of God is what we are celebrating today, and the extent to which we 'get it' ie understand it, is the extent to which we allow it to spill over into our relationships with one another.

We must choose to accept forgiveness from God and the people we are in a relationship with. Forgiveness is a CHOICE - a decision to seek and to accept and be prepared to let go.

St Thomas had doubts about faith. We too have doubts and uncertainty - but in the area of forgiveness - that God can actually forgive me this hidden sin, this terrible thing I said or did. Jesus’ wounds revealed today remind us the price He paid but also of His willing forgiveness and mercy

Peace or shalom - the Jewish understanding was more than a simple greeting like a 'hello' or 'good day' -it was the desire that the person receiving the blessing might be whole in body, mind and spirit. Jesus then follows His peace greeting with the theme of forgiveness.

Peace is crucial. Being at peace with one another and being at peace with God are pre-requisites to living a full and free Christian life - only then will you have peace with yourself – it is hard work and a deliberate choice.


We all experience the feeling that we are not really deserving of forgiveness. This is worth bearing in mind in our hesitation to forgive others in turn. Power in a relationship does not lie with the person who has control (there is no real love where there is control anyway)but with The person who grants forgiveness. There are no relationships without conflict or misunderstanding.

'Peace I leave with you' are the words we hear before the Sign of Peace and these are linked with Jesus' words: 'a peace the world cannot give, that is my gift to you. Peace is also mentioned at the end of Mass : 'the Mass is ended, go in peace'

Jesus wishes PEACE at all levels of our being, and the power He confers on His Apostles today after breathing the Spirit on them is the authority to forgive in His Name.

Let us flee then to the ocean of Divine Mercy and experience once more the joy of beinig forgiven everything from our past. Then we will experience a peace the world cannot give.

Let us share that peace joy and forgiveness with the whole world.

Easter Sunday

Easter Sunday – Christ is risen alleluia

It has been said that if you want to get to know someone, live with them for a while or go on holidays with them. They get to know you too! After a while all the quirks show up, and we get to know one another’s habits, from the way we dress, wash, clean up after ourselves and so on. It is always a source of amusement to hear of married couple’s experiences, and the unexpected things that tend to get under their skin about each other’s behaviour. One couple I know soon found themselves annoyed with how they squeezed the tube of toothpaste – one squeezed the tube in the middle to the annoyance of the other who felt it should be squeezed evenly and uniformly form the end! This I have heard called ‘weatherproofing’ – some call it ‘nagging’!

Another couple I know spoke of the annoyance of the wife - of how, in this case, the husband scraped excess unused butter from his knife back on the side of the butter dish!

It is the everyday things, the seemingly small things that grate, not the major crises that one would expect to challenge the relationship! One does not have to be married though to experience the petty annoyances that aggravate. Think of the things that our mothers used to drill in to us, hanging up our coats, bringing our dishes to the sink, doing our homework, going to bed, making our bed, and so on.
I labour the point because there is an extremely important detail, a clue, as it were, to the disciples’ final realisation that Jesus would – and did – rise from the dead. The disciples Peter and John, two of the three closest disciples to Jesus, are the first of the Apostles to see the empty tomb, undisturbed. What do they see that convinces them that Jesus had truly risen? The way his clothes were left after Him!
What do we read?

So Peter set out with the other disciple to go to the tomb. They ran together, but the other disciple, running faster than Peter, reached the tomb first; he bent down and saw the linen cloths lying on the ground, but did not go in. Simon Peter who was following now came up, went right into the tomb, saw the linen cloths on the ground, and also the cloth that had been over his head; this was not with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple who had reached the tomb first also went in; he saw and he believed. Till this moment they had failed to understand the teaching of scripture, that he must rise from the dead.

The rolling up of the head cloth by itself is the ‘giveaway’. Jesus tidied up after Himself as He did in life in the three years that the disciples had got to know him.

So now, in the minds of the disciples, Jesus ‘pulls it off’ as it were. The trademark astonishment of the disciples, in this His greatest miracle, their failure to understand, now gives way to complete realisation –and most importantly faith, faith in who Jesus is.

The ultimate teaching today is that there is resurrection for all of our dead and for ourselves. The key to eternal life for us too is faith in the Risen Lord. As for our beloved dead are with God, and God is very near.

Good Friday homily 2012

Good Friday homily 2012 - as seen and heard on RTE

Dear friends

Greetings to all of you from St Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh this Good Friday.

We have just listened to the Passion of our Lord according to St John. Now, at this 3.00 hour, we are at the heart of the Passion of Holy week. Shortly we will be venerating the Cross, the centre-piece of our Christian faith and the sign and symbol of this, the darkest of days.

Before we do so, I invite you to pause before the cross. If you have a crucifix before you at home or wherever you are at the moment, let us reflect for a few moments before it. There is one aspect of every Crucifix that is at once obvious and yet easily overlooked – and that is – Christ hangs alone.

Christ, as we heard just now, betrayed by Judas, abandoned by his followers, delivered by the chief priests and the elders, and handed over by Pilate to be crucified, now hangs alone amid much betrayal and cowardice. Jesus is all alone in intense pain, about to die.

What does this aloneness of Christ mean to us?

How often have we felt alone – perhaps at home, in a sick bed, in a hospital ward or a nursing home? At such times, with more time on our hands than we would care to wish for to reflect on our lives have we felt great isolation, fear and pain, with longing for someone to listen, or to keep silent company with us? How often we might feel let down by others, have felt pity for ourselves that no-one has come to visit us, that there is no-one who, we feel, really cares?

We do not have to be sick to feel alone. Loneliness, a sense of being neglected, forgotten, misunderstood, wondering if anyone could even be bothered to understand - these are often the dark thoughts and moods that surface when we are left for a prolonged period on our own in pain or sorrow.

Whatever form it takes, the Cross is the great rude awakening. The Cross introduces, or re-introduces you and me to the world of suffering to, what CS Lewis called, ‘the world of others’. I may, by way of example, be rudely awakened and shocked when I hear of a diagnosis of an illness, be it mine or that of someone dear to me.
The Cross often catches us unawares, and comes in many guises in your life and mine. At times, when reminded of the pain and suffering of others, we feel a sense of shame that we could be so caught up in ourselves, that we could be blind for so long to the plight of so many in our world. Taken up with our own agenda, the Cross seems to be an unwelcome intrusion into our cosy world as we experience the loss of the three things we all hold dear, namely our convenience, our comfort and our control, those temporary supports that at some point or other we all have to let go.
Some crosses in life are unavoidable. We can be reminded at a funeral of our impending mortality – and none of us are comfortable with that reminder.

But as we ponder today the cross of Jesus, it is not that we are celebrating an instrument of torture or pain. We are commemorating Christ’s suffering, his intense pain at all levels of His being – His prolonged mental, physical, emotional and above all spiritual anguish – endured out of love for our sakes. Nor are we trying to explain away suffering today. Rather, suffering is seen in all its naked awfulness on the Cross.

We are identifying today with the Cross, because Christ in His wisdom and love, chose the path of suffering and in doing so, identifies Himself with US in our pain, in our sense of being forsaken, in our thirst for others’ love. This is a great mystery.

Above all, what we are saying today is that WITH Christ there IS a reason to carry on. There is meaning, though hidden from our sight.

We all meet people with incredible heart-rending suffering. In the course of my ministry, in their suffering people have said to me: ‘Father, I never knew it could hurt so much.’ Others have confided to me, in their weariness: ‘Father, will it ever end?’ ‘Is there no end’, they ask, ‘to the pain of bereavement, to prolonged depression, of anxiety, of seemingly endless meaninglessness?’ More have asked amidst the scandals in recent times: ‘is there no end to this feeling of a sense of betrayal in the Church?’

The crucifix is BOTH Christ and the Cross – as Christians we come to the realisation, sooner or later, that we cannot have one without the other – Christ without the cross, the cross without Christ.

Jesus said: ‘if anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself, take up his cross every day and follow Me.’ To be a Christian is, by definition then, to suffer, but not needlessly. As Christ and the Cross go hand in hand, then likewise to suffer without Christ present in the midst of great pain means that we suffer terribly alone and in misery. As one holy man, by the name of Saint Braulio, put it, ‘everything that happens in our lives without Christ is mere emptiness’. It is worth repeating: ‘everything that happens in our lives without Christ is mere emptiness.’

Therefore, it follows that with Christ, everything that happens has meaning.
There is something more. We are not meant to suffer alone.

Many of us today on Good Friday will also pray the Stations of the Cross. There we remember in particular those who accompanied Christ, even though they could not take the Cross away from Him. Let us be Simon of Cyrene to one another, bearing one another’s burdens; let us try to be like Veronica wiping away one another’s tears. Let us also practice the tender compassion of Mary and the faithful few by our silent presence to Christ in those who suffer in our midst.

Today therefore, throughout the Christian world we are following Christ to Calvary, but we are also acknowledging moments too in our lives when all is dark and bare and meaningless.

But be assured, viewers and listeners to this broadcast, of our prayers for you today here in Cobh. You are not alone.

Later this year we will be hosting the International Eucharistic Congress in June. The theme of the congress is Communion with Christ, Communion with one another. We are the Body of Christ –we belong to one another. We are all in this together. We are the one Body of Christ.

Finally, as we pause at the cross today, we know that the Cross is not the end. The light of Easter beckons ever so dimly in the distance. We are people of hope in the resurrection - that all pain comes to an end.

As Julian of Norwich put it: ‘all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.’

Holy Thursday

We have all used the expression ‘famous last words’ and indeed may be familiar as with the famous last words or epitaphs on a headstone of a famous historical figure.
But more importantly, ‘last words’ apply to death. What is your or my experience of death and separation?

If you have been by the bedside of someone you care about as they lie dying in the last weeks and days of a terminal illness, you may recall and treasure their last words, your last conversation with them. They are charged with meaning and emotion. There is a strange privileged bond when you are specifically addressed by them with others present. They ask for you, and you draw nearer so that they can see you and hear you. Later, after their passing, you pause to remember those intimate moments you had alone with them or with others.

We treasure therefore in a particular way the last words of Jesus, addressed to the Father and to those around Him at the Last Supper and at Gethsemane tonight. It is said that people die as they live – and Jesus’ last words reflect the continual intimacy He had with His Father as well as His continuous selflessness towards others. Jesus therefore died as He lives, ever giving of Himself.

Tonight we are caught up in the drama of the last hours of ‘normality’ of Jesus, when He is in control. We are at once bystanders and participants in Holy week.
How often we have re-lived, or re-played in our minds, in slow motion, the last weeks, days or hours with a loved one, a family member a dear friend. All we seem to have left now are the memories. At times, after they have died, we have the strange sensation of their lingering presence, at least in the immediate aftermath. The emotional impact - the laughter, the tears, the sorrow and pain, the process and stages of mourning, the anger, the depression, the guilt of self-pity all take their course.

The actions and words of Jesus, therefore, all find resonance in our lives and experiences.

Holy Thursday is all about the last journey together – Jesus has said;‘where I am going you cannot come’ and we react ‘must you leave me all alone’?

The last meal together - the last time He touched me -the last time we sang or prayed or spoke together - the last time I saw Him – are the experiences felt by His followers during His Passion and death.

All of this forms the mood of the Church tonight as we gather for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper and as the dark clouds of impending doom gather over Jesus in His last free hours. They also relate to our own experiences of parting with those we love.

The words of Jesus; ‘I will not be with you much longer’ correspond to a diagnosis of a terminal illness, the prognosis of how much time do I have, months, weeks, days, even hours. We brace ourselves for the inevitable, though we are never ready for the impact of death and final separation no matter how much time we have to prepare for the awful blow.

‘Do this in memory of me’ – if someone has ever said to you ‘after I’m gone, I want you to do something for me, it’s important, you reply: ‘anything’. Jesus’ parting wishes to His disciples are three-fold:

(1) The washing of the feet –to go and to love and serve one another in humility.

(2) The celebration of the Last Supper - which is the first Mass and the inauguration of the priesthood with the words: ‘Take and eat, this is my body, drink, this is my blood’, and ‘do this in memory of me.’

(3) while He is gone, but He has left us a parting gift – that of His Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament which we honour particularly with the solemn procession to the altar of repose and in silent adoration as we ‘keep watch’ – his last favour to his most intimate disciples – ‘can you not keep watch one hour with me?’ We end tonight therefore with a vigil, as we see Jesus struggle in the mystery of his humanity and divinity – as He struggles to surrender to His Father’s will.
We have kept vigil with those we love, by day and night, and now Jesus asks us to do the same.

There is silence; there are no words we can say at such a time. Jesus’ hour has come, the hour of darkness and suffering, of surrendering Himself to death for our sakes. Let us honour Him, let us adore Him, let us return love for the love He has shown us. After all, all He wants from any one of us, is something we can each uniquely give, that is our love.

Palm Sunday

Passion Sunday

The drama of the Passion story, with parts and voices and narrative is re-told in our churches today. It is the Passion - only – no resurrection account is retold just yet.

Perhaps the exchange between Jesus and those who protest his anointing for death is an interpretative key. The stand- off of the Pharisees and the leading Jews that we have read in recent days at Mass now ends with the betrayal by Judas and Jesus’ handover to the Sanhedrin.

Jesus’ own body is treated with reverence only at the beginning and end of the account. The gentleness and tenderness in which he is held in regard by the faithful few is in stark contrast to the noise and blows that are in the middle
Throughout the Passion he is abandoned, alone, betrayed, interrogated, accused, ‘dealt with harshly’ (Isaiah) rained on with blows, scourged, mocked, stripped and crucified by the mob. The words of Jesus become fewer as the narrative proceeds. ‘Harshly dealt with, he bore it humbly, like a dumb lamb before its shearers.’

Shakespeare famously said:
‘All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances..’

We stand in Church today at Mass and read out our assigned parts – that of Jesus, or the Narrator, the Crowd, the Others. Why? Because all of us sinners have played our part and continue to so one way or another, as one of the ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’.
We can list out the good: the compassionate woman who anointed him, the disciples, most of them women who took care of his body, Nicodemus.

The bad: Judas, Pilate, the priests and elders, the Romans, the thieves, the people who rained down blows, those who carried out the mockery and scourging, the wavering uncertain commitment of the disciples, those who watched with disdain as Jesus lay dying.

If ‘All the world's a stage’, how then is the Passion being continually played out in today’s stage of our world and our Church? How is Christ’s Body the Church, being treated?

‘The poor you will always have with you’ at the beginning of the Gospel are the other Christs, or corresponds to the presence of Christ anew in those in our world - the downtrodden who experience injustices - isolation, mockery, are stripped of their rights, condemned, persecuted, pass by on our streets ignored, and die by the whim of the mob of popular opinion.

Who are the poor today in my own life? Where is Jesus being treated unjustly today in the person of my neighbour by me personally, because ‘whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren that you do unto me?’

We think of the poor; the persecuted Christians; those rounded on by the mob, subject to media ridicule, even at times certain members of Christ’s Body the Church.

What part are we playing today? Who can we identify with? Christ, the disciples, particularly the men who do not come out of today’s Passion, smelling of roses. Or the compassionate women, Simon of Cyrene, Nicodemus?

Have I, like Christ, ever experienced isolation, betrayal, mockery, condemnation?
Have I ever practised, or meted out on the other hand, isolation, betrayal, mockery, condemnation of others?

Likewise have I practised or experienced the examples of mercy?

Regarding ‘the players’, therefore, the two questions the Passion challenges you and me with are:

Which of the characters do I aspire to be?

Which of them am I, in reality, at present?