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JESUS IS CONDEMNED
To be condemned for a serious crime that one has committed is a terrifying moment in one's life. To be condemned for a crime that one has not committed--to be condemned when one is innocent--is both a grave injustice and a personally humiliating moment.
In the Old Testament, prophets who proclaimed God's word to his people often experienced opposition, ridicule, condemnation and even death. Jesus knew his Jewish tradition well and understood that his mission and message would be opposed by some, even the majority of his listeners. But he remained faithful to his mission and assented to his Father's will.
Throughout his life, Cardinal Bernardin also paid the price many times for remaining faithful to his pastoral mission. An influential figure, Bernardin spoke out publicly against nuclear weapons, abortion, euthanasia. He called for a consistent ethic of life and for common-ground dialogue. At times he met opposition and made enemies. He also knew the sting of false accusation. But he accepted these hardships as the necessary price of being a believer, and he encouraged us to do the same.
The First Station of the Cross stands in sharp contrast with Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem only a few days earlier. Then some of his disciples, caught up in the excitement of the event, had loudly proclaimed,
"Blessed is he who comes as king
in the name of the Lord!"
Now Jesus stands alone; his disciples have scattered. And the crowd calls for the death penalty: "Crucify him!"
Pilate addressed them again, for he wanted Jesus to be the one released.
But they shouted back, "Crucify him, crucify him!" He said to them for the third time, "What wrong is this man guilty of? I have not discovered anything about him that calls for the death penalty. I will therefore chastise him and release him." But they demanded with loud cries that he be crucified, and their shouts increased in violence. Pilate then decreed that what they demanded should be done. He released the one they asked for, who had been thrown in prison for insurrection and murder, and delivered Jesus up to their wishes.
Jesus Accepted the Price of
Being a Prophet
The Gospels often portray Jesus as an itinerant prophet who is led by God's Spirit. Like the lives of the prophets of old, Jesus' life is not his own. It belongs entirely to his Father who sent him into the world with a prophetic, saving, reconciling mission. Prophetic ministry is often difficult because the prophet's message falls on deaf ears, is unpopular or countercultural, or is resisted with outright hostility. Moreover, people sometimes--wittingly or unwittingly--try to lure a prophet from his God-given mission. . . .
Jesus often confronted serious obstacles to his mission. Let's focus our attention on this dimension of his prophetic ministry. If we are truly united with the Lord, we will experience both his joys and sorrows, his peaceful moments as well as the tense ones. I am particularly impressed with the way Jesus responded to pressures, hostility, intrigue, fickleness, shallowness, indifference. Despite the fact that he is God's Son, Jesus had to grapple with the diverse forces of his day--just as we do. That is why--if we want to understand ourselves and our own ministry better--we must first focus on Jesus and learn from his ministry.
At various times and in diverse ways, Jesus faced the fierce hostility of both demons and humans. As we know from the events during the last week of his public ministry, a very fine line divided the crowd chanting "hosannas" from those demanding his death. Particularly intense was the hostility of those whose very task and purpose in life were challenged by his message. At times only Jesus' moral authority was challenged. At other times, however, his very life was threatened!
Grappling with difficult issues and people each day is part and parcel of our ministry. We cannot reasonably expect to escape from it. Why? Because the message we proclaim often goes against the grain; it is not what some people want to hear. In many instances it goes against the mores of the moment. But it helps us to know that this was very much a part of Jesus' own life and ministry--that he, too, had to deal with it each day. He was able--but not without considerable cost to himself--to confront successfully the hostility of the crowds and demons as he went about proclaiming the Good News. (May 16, 1990)
O God, my strength and my shield, give me the integrity and the courage to proclaim the risen Lord and his gospel faithfully. Help me acquire the perspective of faith when I encounter opposition to your word, so that I may be united with your Son in his humiliation and suffering for your greater glory.
The Burden of the Cross Is Heavy Indeed
Allow me to share with you some of what I have learned about the truth of this during the past three and a half months. On Thursday, November 11, , the media carried the story that I was going to be sued in a sexual misconduct case. I had heard rumors of such a suit earlier in the day but did not know what the specific allegation entailed. You can imagine how I felt! The next morning, Friday, as I was reciting the Rosary as part of my morning prayer, I began to meditate on the sorrowful mysteries. When I began with the "agony in the garden," I was suddenly able to understand much more deeply than ever before what that moment meant in Jesus' life. I felt very close to him in his agony, and also asked the Father, "Why me?"
The past three and a half months have been very painful. I was very embarrassed by the charges, which I knew were absolutely false. I had to stand--literally before the entire world--again and again to declare my innocence. Fortunately, I received a great outpouring of support from throughout the Archdiocese and, indeed, the entire country and the world. But I was also very disturbed by those who seemed, on the mere basis of the widely publicized charge, to assume that I was guilty.
The love and prayers of so many friends were a great comfort to me. But I would not have survived the burden of this cross had it not been for the time I spent in prayer each day. Ultimately, it was only my intimacy with the Lord--which grew and deepened these past few months--that enabled me to have a sense of inner peace, which in turn allowed me to continue my pastoral ministry each day. As I said earlier, this is a great mystery, but our suffering can bring us very close to Jesus. And that makes all the difference in the world! (March 6, 1994)
My God, your beloved Son encountered the mystery of suffering throughout his life, but, when he stood before Pilate, he entered into that mystery more deeply. Help me to accept suffering in my life by uniting myself more closely with the risen Lord through prayer each day.
With God's Love We Lack Nothing
The question "Why me?" has been asked by countless people through the ages. That question crossed my mind, I assure you. As you know, [in November 1993] I had suffered the humiliation of a false accusation of sexual misconduct. So when I discovered that I had cancer [in June 1995], I wondered why God had also allowed this to happen to me. We often tend to assume for some reason that when hardship or tragedies occur, God has punished or abandoned us. But in his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul lays that assumption to rest once and for all. No creature--absolutely no one--can separate us from God's all-powerful love that comes to us through his Son, Jesus (Romans 8:38-39). No adversity can prevent our access to God's love. God has not rejected or abandoned us. His love for us is absolute, not conditional. And if we have God's love, we have all we need. We lack nothing. (September 14, 1996)
Loving God, I, too, sometimes ask myself--and you--why something bad has happened to me. Deepen my faith and trust in you so that I will truly believe that nothing can separate me from your love. With the assurance of your love, I will lack nothing!
JESUS BEARS HIS CROSS
When Cardinal Bernardin made a pastoral visit to Lithuania in August 1990, he was well aware of the great suffering, the cross that Catholics there had borne for decades under Communism. They had remained steadfastly loyal in their faith, looking forward to a time in the future when they would experience resurrection and new life. Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, the forces of evil have been definitively conquered, even though the struggle continues in our own lives and times.
Most of us have not faced a similar, decades-long period of darkness as have those who lived in countries under Communist rule. At the same time, there are many kinds of crosses, and we cannot entirely escape from bearing them. Many of us would naturally prefer to celebrate the joy of Easter without having to undergo the pain of Good Friday. Peter is not alone in his resistance to hearing Jesus' predictions of his Passion, death and resurrection. But Jesus' example of bearing his Cross in this Second Station inspires us to look more deeply into the mystery of redemptive suffering. It will also help us accept alienation from others and even from God--a special kind of cross.
Finally, when they had finished making a fool of him, they stripped him of the cloak, dressed him in his own clothes, and led him off to crucifixion.
Suffering and the Cross Are at
the Heart of Christianity
Suffering and the Cross are at the very heart of the Christian faith. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:22-25), Saint Paul tells us about the paradox of the Cross. Suffering and death are signs of human weakness, defeat. It is for many an obstacle, a scandal, a stumbling block. But Jesus turned suffering and death into victory.
If we are to share in that victory, we, too, must be willing to take up our cross and follow him. There are, of course, many costs and risks involved in being his disciple. . . . But we know that the Cross is always followed by the resurrection--sometimes after a long period of suffering, persecution, and even martyrdom. (August 31, 1990)
God, my refuge and my strength, help me to accept, even embrace, the crosses that I encounter in my life. Teach me what it means to be an authentic disciple of your beloved Son. Transform my human weakness into steadfastness.
Following Christ Means
Bearing Our Crosses
When Jesus invites us to follow him, the Cross is embossed at the very center of the invitation. For most of us, this is not a call to martyrdom. Rather, Jesus asks for our steadfast loyalty to him and his way of life each day. We are not to be ashamed of or abandon our commitment to him and his gospel.
He does not ask something of us that he himself was unwilling to do. Saint Paul writes that, in responding to his Father's will, Jesus "was not alternately 'yes' and 'no'; he was never anything but 'yes' " (2 Corinthians 1:19). Obedience to the Father's will is at the heart of evangelical obedience. . . . In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prays, "Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done" (Luke 22:42). (May 17, 1990)
Lord, God of hosts, help me to walk in your ways, saying yes to you in my everyday life, even when what you ask of me seems more than I can humanly bear. Walk with me and help me to persevere.
Faith Means Listening to Jesus,
Even His Hard Sayings
In Matthew's Gospel (17:1-8), we encounter Jesus transfigured on a mountain, with Moses and Elijah at his side. We stand with the three disciples--Peter, James, and John--and witness an event filled with great mystery. What can this mean? Who is this Jesus?
Peter is apparently overcome with awe and offers to build booths or tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. What does Peter have in mind? Perhaps he simply wants to prolong this awesome moment as long as possible. Perhaps he prefers to stay on the mountain rather than continue the journey to Jerusalem, where, as Jesus had predicted, a painful death awaited the Lord. Perhaps Peter simply doesn't know what to say and says the first thing that comes to his mind. It wouldn't be the first time he spoke or acted impulsively!
At any rate, Peter does not understand the vision on his own. His voice is silenced by a voice from heaven. Speaking from a bright cloud, God the Father repeats what he said at Jesus' baptism: "This is my beloved Son on whom my favor rests. Listen to him!" (Matthew 17:5) [emphasis added]. That helps explain what is happening. Just before Jesus took the three disciples up the mountain where he was to be transfigured, Peter had professed that Jesus was the Messiah, "the Son of the living God" (Matthew 16:16). Then Jesus had explained that they were on their way to Jerusalem, where he would suffer, die, and rise again. Peter had immediately protested. This was not his idea of a Messiah! Jesus sharply rebuked him for judging by the world's standards, not by God's.
Now, on the mountain of the transfiguration, Peter hears directly from God the Father that he and the other disciples are to listen carefully to everything Jesus tells them. His instruction about how to live a good, moral life is intimately connected with his understanding of the necessity of suffering. To walk in his way involves costs and risks. Following in Jesus' footsteps often entails suffering because it is not the way of the world, and his followers often suffer ridicule and opposition. But loving one's enemies despite ill treatment and persecution--in imitation of Jesus--is a creative use of suffering in obedience to God's will.
The three disciples come down from the mountain with Jesus, and their lives are changed forever. Nothing can ever be the same again. They have gotten a glimpse of Jesus' heavenly glory. But one more experience awaits them near Jerusalem. He will invite them to join him in the Garden of Gethsemane, where they will also witness his human glory as he wrestles with God's will for himself. All disciples who wish to share Jesus' future glory must also be willing to share in his suffering. There is no other way. This is a sobering thought, but one that is more than balanced by God's promises of salvation, hope, and everlasting life.