In Ron Rolheiser’s book, The Passion and the Cross, he asks the question “Why do we call Jesus’ suffering just before his death his passion?” He reminds us that we have understood passion to mean “intense sufferings.” He says this isn’t wrong – however, we miss a “key point” in that “passion comes from the Latin passio meaning passiveness, non-activity, absorbing something more than actively doing anything. “
The passion of Jesus refers to that time in his life that is not defined by what he was doing but rather by what was being done to him. The last supper, Ron Rolheiser states, marks the moment when Jesus stopped doing. He stopped preaching and teaching, healing others, he stopped performing miracles. He entered the Garden of Gethsemane and he prayed, he stopped doing all the things he did in his ministry and understood he was now entering this end time of his life. This ending of his active ministry meant he would be humiliated, beaten, abandoned, and falsely accused. All of this would lead to him being nailed to a cross to die. These things would all be done to him and this is what Ron Rolheiser refers to as the passion; an understanding that nothing more could be taken from him. After praying and experiencing the anxiety of anticipating what was to come, Jesus came to an acceptance and from a place of inner freedom, he gave of himself, no one took his life from him.
Many of us have experienced being misunderstood, or we heard a sarcastic remark directed to us, perhaps that critical comment or the indifference of being dismissed that we experienced from a family member or friend, or another’s bias or prejudice was directed toward us. In these examples we have a glimpse of what Jesus felt when he was in Gethsemane. Ron Rolheiser asks in these moments will we “let go of our light? In the face of hatred, will we let go of love? Will our hearts be angry, clinging, unforgiving, and bitter at the unfairness of life? Or, will our hearts be grateful, empathetic, and warm, as was the heart of Jesus when he said to his Father, “not my will but yours be done (Luke 22:24).” He states this is the “real and central drama of the passion of the Christ: not the ropes, whips, and nails.
As we enter Holy Week how might we acknowledge and experience the passion of acceptance, surrender, forgiveness, gratitude, empathy and warmness of heart, of not doing? Through prayer, giving voice to our anxiety about what has been and what is to come and then the choice to freely give what cannot be taken from us; understanding the agony (Latin agonia meaning readying himself) for what Holy Week can be for us, readying ourselves.
We have all experienced to varying degrees, the challenges described, throughout the last year because of Covid 19, the hate toward our Black, Brown, Native and Asian sisters and brothers. We have witnessed more than one half million people who have died because of the virus, physical destruction of property and businesses. Families have struggled with loved ones who are caught in political beliefs that cause significant distress, and continue to experience that separation due to murders, mass shootings and the assault and raging anger at our Capitol. Even divisions in our faith communities have felt like an assault, a cry to “crucify him” – when in our soul we do know and claim to follow in the example and invitation Jesus freely offered to us.
We can as Ron Rolheiser offers, be one “who helps carry life for others, … to give ourselves over in love, duty, and service without resentment.” It is through the transformation of prayer we arrive at a moment in our life when we can say “Nobody takes my love and service from me; I give it over freely.” Is that not what Jesus did when he let Pilate know that Pilate could not take his (Jesus’) life from him when he (Jesus) was giving it freely? We are good people, holy people, people with the capacity to love deeply and pray unceasingly. The Holy Week invitation is to be attentive and notice these gifts that come from the passion of Jesus. “Nobody takes my love and service from me; I give it over freely.” There is no greater LOVE.
Holy Week blessings and Easter Peace be yours.