Every year with the arrival of Holy Week, I endeavor to place myself in the unfolding drama of our Lord’s incomprehensible and arduous path to Calvary. It is an extremely fruitful and therefore established devotion of prayer in preparation for the Holiest day of the year. And no doubt, the Church in Her wisdom understands our need to unite in Christ’s suffering especially at this solemn time leading up to Jesus’ resurrection. So, during Lent we pray the stations of the cross, we meditate on the most sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and during the Holy Mass on Palm Sunday, we even play a role in the gospel’s Passion, interjecting vitriolic phrases like, “Crucify Him. Crucify Him!” Were more cringe-worthy words ever uttered? As a child, I remember only whispering those lines because they were just too ugly to say with gusto. As much as I hate reciting them to this day, I now understand the importance of trying to be present with Christ and feel the onus of my own sinfulness. Like it or not, we actually play a part of that fateful scene 2000 years ago.
When I was in college, a sweet friend of mine was enrolled in a model mugging course. She was a super “girly girl” who was forever urging me to “just try a little eyeshadow.” “It’ll only take a second,” she’d implore. “What about this silver? It’s soooo pretty.” She never got much traction with this tomboy. So, when she signed up for a rough and tumble self-defense program that promised to whip her into shape and give her herculean strength in the event of an attack, I was surprised but supportive. She was thrilled with the course which emphasized real-life situations. They even enlisted large, burly men to role-play the attackers. Many of the volunteer aggressors had friends or family members who had been assaulted, so they took it very seriously and were encouraged to not hold back.
Upon completion of the course, my friend invited me to a graduation ceremony of sorts. There were no diplomas handed out, but each student was presented with her own moment to fend off a “surprise” attack. The course director spoke to the audience and asked for our participation. She told us that it was important we cheer on our loved ones as they took down their would-be attacker. We were to clap and shout. It was even suggested we scream, “Kick him! Punch him! etc.” They wanted those words and swells of sounds emblazoned in each graduate’s psyche, so if and when an attempted assault took place, the woman would remember them as she fought off her assailant—a personal soundtrack for an adrenaline rush, if you will. They would hopefully recall the voices of their friends cheering their names as they faced off a real rapist.
I will never forget the moment my petite, ultra-feminine friend sashayed her way across the matted gym floor, while one of the volunteer attackers, suited in a ridiculously giant helmet and huge body armor, pounced on her. Just the size differential was ridiculous. He dwarfed her. My breath caught as he bounded on her. Out of the depths of my soul, I heard myself screaming, “Get him! GET HIM! Kick him in the HEAD. TAKE HIM DOWN. BEAT the CRAP out of him!” In the middle of the tumult, my taste for blood startled me. I was shaking and moved to tears, overcome with mixed emotions as I marveled at the source of those ugly, mean-spirited words. It was all so confusing. Of course, I wanted my friend to fight back, but at the same time, I was deeply saddened that this even had to take place. Why? Why did this cute-as-a-button young woman need encouragement to kick someone in the skull? And why did I crave another human being’s destruction? Though I wouldn’t have been able to articulate it at the time, I understood at that moment in a profound way that we lived in a fallen world.
Over the next several days of the Holy Triduum, I will try to situate myself with Jesus as He sweats blood in the agony of the garden, or as He shoulders His crippling cross, weighed down by my own sins. And I will recall those sickening, yet necessary words, “Crucify Him!” As brutal as they are to think, let alone say, they are a requisite part of our salvation. In order to play a part in the redemption of the world, I must be reconciled with my role in the downfall. It’s so hard to wrap my head around this horrifying sacrifice. I will forever struggle with the fact that our Lord willingly laid down His life and was viciously murdered by the same people He loved. My kids regularly ask me, “If it’s the day Jesus died, why do we call it Good Friday? Shouldn’t it be bad Friday?” They’re on to something. It is so GOOD that Jesus suffered ridicule, torture and ultimately death for us. He did so to defeat death and sin and to make us empowered to become children of the King. In providing us this dramatic death, we have our own soundtrack when faced with the inevitable suffering and attacks of this world. Emblazoned in our Christian brains, are the tragic, heart-breaking scenes from the Passion of Our Lord. We must recall all that He endured for our sakes.
When I saw my friend after her graduation, I gave her a big hug as tears welled in my eyes. I knew she would always be vulnerable in this world, but she had taken part in something that would strengthen and embolden her. I was grateful to have witnessed her struggle against all that darkness and to have accompanied her on a journey to higher ground and ultimately to victory.
A blessed Triduum to you!