Scandal and the Tenth Station of the Cross
Sunday March 24, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Palm Sunday
Reading I (Isaiah 50:4-7) Reading II (Philippians 2:6-11)
Gospel (St. Matthew 26:14-27:66)
Today, as we celebrate the Passion of Our Lord, we look back as Christian people and we see the love of God in human form, the love of God as completely and perfectly as it can be understood. But that was 2,000 years ago and it is easy for us to look at the Passion in sort of an antiseptic way. We forget, sometimes, just how brutal and disgusting it really was - to the point where the prophet Isaiah would be able to say in the fifty-third chapter of his great Book that "there was nothing in Him that attracted us." All of His beauty was gone; He was marred beyond human form. And we hear also from the prophets that they "wagged their heads and they spoke to Him, mocking Him" – all of the different things that we heard about: how He was scourged and He was mocked and He was crowned with thorns, all of the horrible things which happened to Him. It is easy for us to be able to look at it from 2,000 years away and praise Him for what He did and to recognize that this act of Our Lord - His Passion, His Crucifixion - is the central act of human history and the greatest act of love that humanity has ever known and will ever know.
Yet in the midst of that, we just need to transport ourselves back 2,000 years and ask ourselves: Would we see it the same way if we were standing there watching it happen? His Mother did. Saint Mary Magdalene did. Saint John the Evangelist did. The rest abandoned Him. They were horrified by what was happening. They were scandalized and they were afraid for themselves. They did not understand and they could not comprehend what it was that He was doing, and they all abandoned Him.
In the news, over the last couple of months, you have heard about many scandalous things that have been happening in the Church. The Church is Jesus Christ. And the Church must be crucified; the Church must endure the Passion of Jesus Christ. While I am not a prophet, I suggest to you that if you look at the Stations of the Cross, I think right now that we are at the Tenth Station in the Passion of Our Lord, in the Passion of the Church. It is not 2,000 years ago that we can look at it from a distance and make it real clean and antiseptic - we are in it. We are now the ones who have to make a decision. Are we going to abandon the Church in the hour of Her passion or are we going to remain faithful like Our Blessed Lady, Saint Mary Magdalene, and Saint John the Evangelist?
When we think of what is going on and then we look at that Tenth Station, we can say that indeed the Church is being stripped of Her garments. But the garments of Jesus, after walking along with the Cross upon His shoulders, would have stuck to the wounds that were caused by the scourging; and when they tore off the garments of Our Lord before they crucified Him, they would have ripped the scabs and the blood and everything else, and what would have been revealed was a torn and broken body. The same is happening now to the Church. If we look just at the humanity of Christ, He is marred beyond recognition. There is no beauty or comeliness in Him, nothing that would make us want to look upon Him. The same is going to happen with the Church. I suspect that we have just begun.
This has all been done very willfully and intentionally by a group of people with the intent of destroying the Church, just as things were done willfully and intentionally by Judas and the high priests with the intent of destroying Jesus. We must remain faithful in the midst of it all and look beyond the humanness. Look beyond all the wounds and all of the disgust, and look at the divinity; keep your eyes focused on Jesus Christ. Remember that, 2,000 years ago, it was the high priests and the Pharisees and the scribes who rejected Jesus and turned Him over to be crucified. Should we be surprised now that there are some among the ranks - even of the bishops and the priests and those who would be professionals within the Church - who are the ones who are denying Jesus, who are the ones who are rejecting Him and who are turning Him over to the secular authorities once again to be crucified?
This is not going to be a quick, easy thing. This is going to get dragged out and it is going to be an agony. And many are going to abandon the Church in the hour of Her passion. Keep firmly in mind the Passion of Our Lord, and ask yourself, knowing what you know today, if you were alive 2,000 years ago watching what happened to Our Lord, what would your response have been? Knowing what you know today, watching Our Lord in His Church endure His Passion, what is your response? Are you going to wag your head and flap your tongue and blaspheme the Lord and say foolish things? Or are you going to stand at the foot of the Cross like Our Lady and like Saint Mary Magdalene and remain silent and pray and trust that He is the One that He says He is, and recognize that the Crucifixion is the greatest act of love that humanity has ever known and the Church is about to be crucified? But as we heard in the first reading, She has turned Her face like flint; She will not be put to shame because She knows that God is with Her.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.