By Carol Kaalberg
For The Catholic Messenger
Have you ever had a hearing test? You put on a set of headphones, and every time you hear a beep, you are supposed to raise your hand. At the end of the whole thing, they give you a number, which is supposed to let you know how well you hear.
I am not confident about hearing tests. It seems to me that hearing tests neglect an important fact — some sounds are much easier to hear than others. You know what I am speaking of if you have ever had the chance to say to a 7-year-old: “it’s time to stop watching TV.” Certain sounds travel better than others. If you say to that same child: “Dessert is ready,” you will find that the functioning of the ears depends a great deal on what sounds are striking them.
Each day, a thousand messages strike our ears, but only a few find their way into our minds and plant themselves in our hearts. “Drink Coke.” “The light bill is due.” “Have a good time.” “Just do it.” In the middle of all of these words striking our ears, the Word of the Gospel also comes. We have to ask ourselves, what happens to that Word when it reaches my hearing? Does it enter into my heart, and change the way that I live? Or does it roll off and fall to the ground like the words of a father asking his teenage son to mow the lawn? In short, does the seed of the Word fall on hearing ears or selective-hearing ears?
We are preparing for Holy Week, and the Passion story is the longest passage of Scripture you ever hear in church. It’s nearly two chapters long. It includes a cast of characters too numerous to follow without a missalette. It also requires you to pay attention for a long time in a culture not much given to listening or better than that, actual hearing! One suggestion to help you “hear with the ears of your heart” is to pinpoint yourself on the road to your own discipleship. Which character in this Passion Sunday story best represents your relationship to Jesus this year?
Are you an unapologetic traitor like Judas, glad to take the money and run? Or are you more like Peter, who talks a good game but lies when the truth becomes too expensive to own? Are you a violent character like Barabbas, whose reign of horror is redeemed at the price of innocent suffering? Are you a powerbroker like Pilate, making pragmatic decrees rather than seeking the troublesome truth? Do you sleep through the hour of crisis, when vigilant prayer is called for? Are you a high priest of moral judgment, quick to identify blasphemy when a prophet may be speaking among you?
Do you prefer to turn aside as the innocent perish, when to represent him or her requires too much of your own time and talent? Are you currently mourning your denials and betrayals of loved ones, wishing you’d shown more courage as needed for each situation?
Will you dare to renew your loyalty to Christ and trust his forgiveness — or will you give yourself over to despair and be unwilling to act for justice? Do you feel like a surprised bystander dragged into the realm of suffering like Simon of Cyrene, forced to bear a burden you didn’t seek? Are you here again this year to watch Jesus die on the cross, maybe to blame him for being there to begin with? Do you feel like a crucified victim yourself, bleeding and dying from a thousand blows delivered by a cruel and uncaring world?
Who do you identify with or what do you hear that touches your heart as the Passion Story is proclaimed?
Possibly the Passion Gospel is saying to you: are you one of the walking dead this year, amazed to have been called from your tomb and given a second chance by the Lord of life? Are you a centurion type, agnostic about the whole Jesus event until an earthquake in your life shakes you into recognition of its importance? Have you been among the faithful ones all along, watching over their crucified Lord from a distance, waiting for the chance to minister to him in death as in life? Are you like the rich man from Arimathea, who got involved at the end and finally found a risk he was willing to take?
Wherever you find yourself, whoever you are this Holy Week, it does not have to be the defining moment of your personal discipleship. Easter gives you a second chance to become the child of God you long to be. Our celebration of the Gospel is nothing less than a school for hearing and learning how to transform ourselves and the world around us. Palm/Passion Sunday is a staging area for our mission to the world. Holy Week is our invitation to enter more deeply into the life of Christ, which is our own life and vocation through baptism.
Some have suggested that Jesus’ cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken Me?” was a cry of despair at a time when Jesus felt completely abandoned. Others suggest that Jesus was praying Psalm 22, a lament that begins with great sadness and suffering but concludes on a note of joy and confidence in God.
Whatever you hear this Palm/Passion Sunday, be reminded in all he did, in all he said and especially on the cross, Jesus revealed the nature of our God, our Savior, our All. Let us pray for one another that we might hear and be touched and, more importantly, transformed by this Holy Week mystery of God in which our very life unfolds.
(Carol Kaalberg is cluster coordinator for St. Joseph Parish, Hills, and St. Mary Parish in Lone Tree and St. Mary Parish in Nichols.)