In the Gospel narratives we read in the daily Masses, there are two emerging issues that set Christ on a collision course with the established powers.
First is the virtue of compassion he championed, which opposed the legalistic practices of religion then. Second is his claim as the Son of God, or what we could consider the virtue of authenticity.
Compassion and authenticity are what brought about Christ’s passion, suffering and death.
The compassion of Christ, especially his healing on a Sabbath, caused his first run-in with the religious authorities. This was compounded by his claim as being the Son of God, laying claim to his authentic self.
Let us consider these virtues of compassion and authenticity. The latter leads to the question of who one is (identity) and the meaning of one’s life (mission), which are intertwined.
As one understands this authentic self, one discovers that compassion, as one of the best expressions of Christian love, is integral to identity and mission.
We have defined compassion—to enter the chaos of the other and help the other make meaning out of it (paraphrased from a female author), or simply to enter the life of others and help them make meaning out of their lives.
The definition of compassion is powerfully expressed in the Mystery of the Incarnation. St. Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-8, “… [T]hough he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.”
This central grace of the Incarnation reaches its full meaning in the passion and death on the Cross of Christ.
But behind this event, perhaps the most defining event in human history, is a lifetime lived to prepare for this moment of total self-emptying in loving obedience to his Father’s will.
He came to life in the Incarnation out of the Trinity’s compassion for humanity. He lived his life as a witness to the compassion of God, touching the lives of individuals in very concrete ways.
He died giving us the perfect act of compassion from him and his Father, the one Mystery of the Cross-Resurrection-Ascension; the mystery that gives ultimate meaning to our entire life as it is placed within the horizon of eternity.
Everything has meaning because we believe, and we know life does not end in death.
Christ’s claim that he is the Son of God is not just the final straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak; it is the core of Christ’s relationship with God.
This claim totally defines him and his mission: he is the Beloved Son in whom the Father is well pleased.
Christ was consumed by this identity and mission. From the moment this was confirmed with great clarity—“This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”—he lived this with great passion, and he eventually died for it with equal passion.
This Passion Sunday, these virtues come shining through in the narrative of Christ’s passion and death, his passionate commitment to his identity and mission. The fulfillment of this mission becomes the once-and-for-all expression of God’s compassion for us.
Passion Sunday ushers in the greatest spiritual feast of the year in our Christian faith, remembering and renewing the grace of the Paschal Mystery in our day-to-day life.
Yes, we remember how Christ “gave himself up” for us—his suffering and bloody death—but the central grace of his loving us through this must not be lost or even dimmed. He suffered and died because of his love for us. St. Paul summarizes it perfectly: “… [T]he Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”
We pray that this Holy Week will be a grace-filled period of remembering how much God loves us through his presence in the persons he has blessed our life with and the significant moments of our life. May this season of grace renew our compassion and the authenticity of identity and mission.
As the refrain of a song goes, “We remember. We celebrate. We believe.” Let us celebrate God’s compassion and love. May this lead us to a commitment to “live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up for me.”