My relationship with God, and in particular Jesus, is very personal, even unconventional. I feel closest to Jesus when I am alone, praying and just talking to him. I begin my mornings and end my days in prayer and during that time I find enormous strength in knowing that I can be fully myself with every one of my flaws and feel unconditionally loved. I’ve had a good life, but a challenging one. I have suffered like everyone else, but more often than not I have enjoyed glorious moments of great joy. I am a consummate worrier, mostly about everyone else. I don’t always share the concerns that I have because I don’t want to burden others with them. God is my confidante and my counselor. Even when I reach the depths of weariness he provides me with the comfort that I need to overcome my fears and my exhaustion with love.
Because I am an introvert I prefer communicating with my God in quiet places when I am alone. I attend church services and am filled with wonder as I sit with my fellow humans, but it is not there that I feel the most spiritual moments. I am not one to proselytize or push my religious views unless someone asks about them. I have great respect for each person’s beliefs and understand that God takes many forms and is found in many religions. He is even present in ways that are not obvious in the hearts and souls of non-believers.
Holy Week encapsulates the story of Jesus and what he wanted us to learn about how how we humans should live. He arrived in Jerusalem as a hero amid shouts of adulation from crowds of people who had come to see him. In that moment he was the rock star of his time and place and yet he would soon be subjected to betrayal, condemnation, humiliation and death. It would be one of his trusted friends who would turn on him for a few pieces of gold. He would be tried on trumped up charges, whipped until his flesh hung from his body, turned on by the fickle crowd who chose him to die over Barabas. He would be mocked with a crown of thorns and called the King of the Jews. He would bear a heavy cross on a stoney route up to the top of a hill. There he would die the most hideous kind of death, hanging from a cross on which he had been nailed, slowly becoming unable to support his body so that he might breathe. All the while he continued to utter his message of love, forgiveness and redemption.
We humans sometimes forget the powerful message of Holy Week. We judge others self-righteously. We insist that one way of honoring God is better than another. We create caricatures of God in which he grants special favors to some and condemns others. We lose our faith when life gets tough. We do not understand that the suffering that we see around us is created by us, not God. We forget the example of Jesus who taught us over and over again how to love our neighbors without judgement or conditions.
I’ll be the first to admit that I am often confounded by life and by people. I do not understand evil nor do I condone it. I wonder why innocent people have to suffer. I look at acts of war and I realize that God has no part in such things. War is our own human creation just as all forms of violence are. I watch myself make egregious mistakes and have to talk with God about how I have hurt someone’s feelings or even destroyed a relationship. I know he wants me to make amends but still be kind and forgiving of myself. I’ve often grieved for Judas because I think that Jesus would have forgiven him, but instead Judas gave up and killed himself. I tend to believe that Jesus still loved Judas in spite of all that happened. Jesus knew that only a very broken soul would resort to taking his own life.
I’m hardly a theologian. There is much about God that confuses me. I talk about those things when I pray. I see very openly spiritual people and I admire them greatly because I have always been more reticent in declaring my views. I don’t think that God passes out favors just because we praise him, but I do believe that he sends souls to live among us who understand how we should all behave, hoping that we follow their examples. I think that often they are simple people who impress us with their unassuming goodness. My mother was certainly one of those people. Her life was a series of one difficulty after another and yet she epitomized love and kindness. She embraced people and even her suffering with joy and honored God by with quiet humility.
My mother-in-law was another of those wonderful people who seemed to have understood the messages that God has sent us. She studied all of the religions of the world. She actively attempted to understand what our roles as people should be. She read from the great theologians and ultimately came to the same conclusions that that are mine that God takes many forms but ultimately simply wants us to be compassionate with each other. She loved people with every ounce of her being. God was her comfort and her joy and she saw her role as one of following the example of Jesus by living each day without judgement.
So as Holy Week begins in earnest for the many thousandths of times I am pensive. I know that I will not be free from suffering only because I choose to believe, but I will be loved. My duty is not so much to go to church or be a member of a particular organized religion as it is to love my neighbor just as I love myself. Neither of those directives is always easy but with God’s help I will continue to try. I have faith that when the vast majority of humanity decides comes together in love great things happen and even in these uncertain times I see that goodness unfolding all around me from Catholics, Christians, Jews, Muslims, people of many religions and even those who do not believe. I feel God’s presence among us and I embrace the teaching that what we really need is to spread his love. That is the message and essence of Holy Week when Jesus was the greatest example of love.