I know I am not the person you were expecting to hear from this morning. I am not attempting either to fill the shoes of he who is absent. Fr. Vega as you know has been on a slow path to recovery after being afflicted by a coincidence of maladies that befell him along with the chikungunya. We gathered around him when he turned 80 this past October and I, for one, saw the path to recovery quicken after the gathering. He was on his road to recovery when his heart became heavy with the departure of his dear friend, Dr. Payne. With time, Fr. Vega has come around again and was slowly easing back into teaching and giving mass. But he is not here with us today because just 2 days ago he was informed he had been transferred away from the Jesuit Residence to the St. Teresa de Jornet home that serves the destitute elderly population. This sudden change has left him shaken and speechless.
Just this past Sunday Father Vega had anticipated he would be talking to us about the words of Pope Francis. As I anticipated hearing his “Readers Digest” of Pope Francis and how he would tie it to the way of the cross, I found myself an observer in someone else’s pain and isolation. In this holiest of weeks the events of the past 72 hours made me reflect on how at different moments in life we may be called to or accidentally, unwittingly .play different roles in someone’s agony.
Please do not take my words as an exposition of theology, but as an invitation to reflect. I am not equating Christ’s passion to our own, his sacrifice won us the Heavens. But in the lower plain of mere ever sinning humans striving to live according to our faith? Have you ever witnessed someone be crucified for doing what they thought was right? Maybe they were fired from a job for tattling or standing up for what they thought was right. Maybe you know someone who was evicted because their medical bills they chose to pay saved a life and cost them their home. Maybe you know someone who has lived serving others and when the tides changed and it was not convenient they who were cherished were denounced, ignored, betrayed and left alone. I have lived perhaps half a life, but I can see faces for each one of those stories. I see people carrying crosses and being crucified publicly for sport and then it hits me…. when I see those walking alone carrying the cross. Who am I?
Am I Simon Cirene? Was I thrust, ordered to help the outcast? Is Simon’s help bearing the cross less meaningful because he was ordered? Or was his act gallant and kind, though not initially his choice? Am I like the women who when they were able to, they sneaked in between the crowd and gave Christ some comfort and let him know in his darkest hours they were solidary. Am I crying following in silence showing up in private when the deed is done, to bear witness and make my love be known. Where am I? Am I the centurian who like Vonn shared in his reflection, the centurian that followed protocol, thinking he was righteous, and did not see til it was too late that Jesus was the Son of God. Are my convictions turned inside out upon bearing witness to someone else’s cross. Or perhaps the cross has been your own, and you can find the comfort of knowing that before you he walked and like you knows the loneliness and sting of betrayal, and through the Grace of the Holy Spirit also hold fast to the joys of love resurrected.
Up to now I have mentioned crosses like crossroads, moments, actions, choices that had dramatic repercussions. But what if the cross were not a choice, but the result of the natural course of life and modernity. It would be a cross you could not refuse and one we would hopefully all meet in old age.
Quoting Pope Francis “the future of society is rooted in the elderly and young people. The latter, because they have the strength and are of the age to be able to bring the story forward. The former, because they are the living memory. A people that does not take of its elderly and children and youth has no future, because it abuses both its memory and its promise.” Pope Francis on Thursday sent a message for the participants of the 47th Social Week for Italian Catholics, which will be held from September 12 – 15, 2013 in Turin, Italy.
A month later, Pope Francis speaking at the 21 plenary meeting of the Pontifical Council for the Family said, “Children and the elderly represent the two poles of life and also the most vulnerable, the most often forgotten… A society that abandons children and that marginalizes the elderly will sever its roots and dark future,” he said.
More recently, just last month he added, “A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death”.
In short, it seems to me that the timeless truths in the Passion of Christ still echo in our modern experience. Sometimes we hear echoes of the crucifixion in an unjust turn of events, or in the alienation and desperation of another human being, and then there is the inevitable challenge of old age and the Pope’s invitation to not abandon them when they are vulnerable.
The story may not be repeated note by note, but there is a glimpse here and there that serves as an invitation to remember, reflect and choose to make your story, your choice informed by faith.
And as we ponder the story of the death on the cross of our Savior, I wish to remind you to relive your youth and reclaim your actions, because we are called to be a people of hope, hope as it is embodied in our young, hope that love will triumph. Please do not let yourselves be robbed of hope! Do not let hope be stolen! What ever you choose to do, be a vessel for love, be a messenger of hope and God willing we will see each other on Easter Sunday.