Venerating the Holy Cross of Pakil
When He was born in Bethlehem, Jesus was not placed in a 5,000-Peso crib. Mary and Joseph didn’t spend thousands of pesos for his birth in Makati Med or St. Luke’s. Neither was he dressed in branded clothes for infants. He didn’t have an Instagram account at 6 months old and neither did he have an iPhone filled with games and applications for toddlers.
The main retablo the Cubao Cathedral spruced up for today’s Liturgy
No – Jesus Christ was born in a cave and laid on a wooden manger. The same element of wood figures predominantly in Jesus’ death: the wood of the cross. The theme of humility plays a great deal in the life of the Person we consider “our Lord and Savior”.
Today, the Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion, He is welcomed by people waving palm leaves as He entered the holy city of Jerusalem not on a war horse with a retinue of soldiers and a marching band but on a donkey, the poor man’s beast of burden. Like them centuries before, we welcome Jesus – whether He’s portrayed as a baby or an adult man – with cheers and joy. We go to Mass, we pray, we make the Sign of the Cross; on application forms we indicate that we’re “Roman Catholic”.
In His birth and death, Jesus is welcomed by cheers and hymns. At His birth, the skies resounded with Gloria in excelsis Deo. Upon His entry to Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday, He was welcomed with shouts of Hosanna.
As we begin the Holy Week – which EWTN eloquently calls “the week that changed the world” – let us take time out for these days of intense prayer and contemplation. It is not the time to go to the beach and it isn’t even the time to “bond” with your family. No, as Catholics, we are given this time by Holy Mother Church to reconnect with God and with ourselves. Holy Week is a time of prayer, silence and deep reflection.
Traditionally, Holy Week is a time to think about Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection. But in today’s Liturgy, it is good to see Jesus’ life and ministry as a message of humility.
Then after He had washed their feet, and taken His garments, being set down again, He said to them: Know you what I have done to you? You call me Master, and Lord; and you say well, for so I am. If then I being your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’ s feet. For I have given you an example, that as I have done to you, so you do also. Amen, amen I say to you: The servant is not greater than his Lord; neither is the apostle greater than he that sent him. If you know these things, you shall be blessed if you do them. – St. John 13:12-17
The scourged Christ at the Pillar from the Pagrel Collection of Don Luis Araneta, on loan to the San Agustim Museum
Holy Week is a time penance and abstinence, basically of self-denial. It is an opportunity given to us generously (annually!) to ponder on the life, teachings and example of Our Lord Jesus Christ and on His way of loving. One of the key messages, however, of Holy Week, which we really fail to recognize in this time of ours, is humility.
How can humility be possible when at the click or tap of a button, we are “followed” and “liked”? At the moment a dish is placed in front of us, with one click, we take a photo and broadcast it to the world. “100 Likes”, “70 retweets”, “2000 friends”. In this day and age of social media, we are all guilty of that feeling of recognition, acknowledgment, of self-importance.
Instantly, the world can turn us into celebrities. In a moment, our thoughts become quotes. What has become of “silence”, “privacy” and yes, “humility”?
Do we equate social media with pride? No. Social media is also as an extremely critical channel of information. It has saved and connected lives, facilitated the exchange of important news and also, heartwarming stories.
But we must admit that our current environment makes it more difficult to be humble. When the “likes” keep rolling, when the “comments” flood and when “selfies” become a daily habit, isn’t it more admittedly hard to be humble?
What does it mean to be humble? Jesus. Look and remember Jesus.
Amidst shouts of praise, He entered Jerusalem on a donkey and not a valiant stead. Instead of people brandishing swords and throwing coins, he was welcomed with palm leaves.
And ultimately, when He could have avoided the Father’s will and pursued His position as the Son of God, we see, hear, read and know that on Maundy Thursday, He accepted His cup – He was betrayed, tortured, killed and buried.
Humility comes in many ways but nothing is more moving but that of living lives in silent courage and fullness. What do I mean?
I know of people who relish and indulge in their work, who adore their daily tasks, who enjoy their lives without talking about it, without broadcasting it. How many stories have we heard of rich, affluent men and women who give so much without asking for anything in return? We know of stories of men who “shy away” from the limelight, who always know how to recognize their team mates and subordinates.
That is humility. Humility is doing one’s obligation in silence, in obedience, in full trust of God. When we speak of humility, we speak of silence – no fanfare, no vanity. Humility almost always leads to substance or character. Humility strengthens us, makes us learn how to be tough, to be courageous.
Evil begins when we start thinking of what people think of us. When we concern ourselves with pleasing and impressing others, that’s when we begin to be vain, selfish, proud, pompous, arrogant. We begin to find ways to always be ahead, above or before others.
In today’s rather lengthy Gospel, we hear the Passion of Our Lord and it has an underlying message of Jesus’ humble obedience to the Will of the Father. In atonement for our sins, the Son had to be sacrificed. Jesus assumed the full human experience in suffering and death. Yes, He doubted and negotiated with the Father, asking God if He can take away the burden. But Jesus, in the end, took upon Himself our vulnerability.
Jesus’ example of humility is something we ought to truly reflect on as we try to wrestle with the standards of the world. As we are bombarded by reality shows, Youtube celebrities and the dynamic exchange of personal information, we are challenged by the silent carpenter of Nazareth whose life changed the world. How can humility be so powerful, so moving, so inspirational?
The triumph of Christ
How does humility equate to triumph? Again, we have the example of our Divine Master. Jesus had to endure the full brunt of His Cross – he was spat upon, whipped, hit, cursed, denied and abandoned. His parents were denied room when Mary was about to give birth to Him. Imagine the pain of rejection and the confusing despair that might have enveloped Joseph and Mary.
Holy Week retells Jesus’ story of humility and triumph, how His life, sufferings and glory are intertwined with our salvation. Christ’s humility is showcased from Passion Sunday to Black Saturday. His suffering, passion and death tell the story of God assuming the lowest and most humiliating point of human life: its end. Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross speaks of His surrender to the Father.
But it is this very same act of humility that Faith helps us bridge and connect to triumph. The Sacred Mysteries are precisely those instances when God overrides human logic. When Jesus was raised from the dead, we experience the triumph of His humility, faith and love.
His triumph is the victory of self-less love. Easter Sunday is the day when the Father fulfilled His promise. Faith comes into play. When we trust in the Lord, when we follow His hard example of leading a life of humble goodness, we know and believe that like Him, we too shall be raised to eternal life. For the believer, humility is a critical element of faith. To take that great leap of faith demands a surrender to the Will of the Father.
Christ’s triumph should never be equated to getting a trophy or a citation. No. The triumph of Christ’s self-effacing love happens when people are converted, when people are comforted, when people feel loved.
The apotheosis of the Most Holy Name of Jesus as illustrated in San Beda Abbey’s sanctuary. Painted by Salvador Alberich, OSB and Lesmes Lopez, OSB
Passiontide and His Love
Remember how we opened Lent? We began with the imposition of ashes as the following words were said to each of the faithful: “You came from dust and to dust you shall return.”
Humility comes from the word “humos” which is Latin for soil. Indeed, it is the great tragedy of the human experience. We are capable to reach great heights but in the end, our bodies rot in the soil. Our legacies and memories may be remembered. A crater in the moon or a mountain can be named after you. But in the end, you disappear.
Think about it. We store up riches during the week and eat, drink and enjoy ourselves on weekends. In fact, our entire lives are patterned after that routine. But God can sniff the life from us as we sleep. How many stories have we heard lately of young men and women in their 20s unexpectedly die of aneurism?
We are all subject to the power of God or for unbelievers, of circumstance. Let us savor wisely the moments we have. Instead of you putting your eyes only on the prize, how about you open your ears to good music, your mouth to new food or your hands to help? Sometimes, we see people simply as “human resources” and fail to see that they can be friends. We read and study too much when we forget that our mom might need someone to talk to. We rave too much about the newest material things when we forget to ask our house help how her family is in the province.
Know the essentials.
People spend so much on alcohol – and suffer its effects the next day and forget that the money they’re spending can be spent for actually something that won’t cause a hangover. I’m not even saying “give to the poor”. Perhaps the 2,000 Pesos you spend in one night could have gone to your MBA or travel fund. Or yes, maybe some donation. Let’s learn to know what is good and pleasing to God, and from there, act.
Ultimately, humility leads us to love others more than ourselves. When we begin to live-out this very Catholic virtue, we begin to truly become sensitive and compassionate. Humility frees us from sentimentality, which is a sign of vanity and pride. When we’re humble, we begin to open our eyes to the broader horizon – there are more souls suffering, there are more people in need of help and attention. A true Catholic finds his joy and happiness in others. That is the sad truth for this generation which has been bombarded with the Disney concept of loving one’s self. YOLO does not apply to a disciple of Christ.
Christ’s love inspires, moves, compels and empowers generations of believers to follow Him. Indeed, Holy Week was the week that changed the world because from then on, the work of our missionary discipleship began. When the Apostles experienced Jesus both as true man and true God, they were overwhelmed with great love for Him and for everything He stood for.
Thus, we have the Church. From the line of the apostles, we are called to follow their footsteps in encountering Christ, in being moved to embrace Him and in so-doing embrace His call to missionary discipleship. Before we can claim we are disciples of Christ, we must learn to accept and love what He stood for. His manger and His cross show us the way of a true disciple: that of humble service, silent prayer and deep faith in the triumph of the resurrection.