We recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of the election of Pope Francis as the Vicar of Christ. A good deal of attention was given to this anniversary and the many matters of which Pope Francis has spoken, as well to the many matters he has given attention to during these years. Of the many sayings for which Pope Francis is known, one of them is his speaking about the Church going to the periphery to listen to and to take care of the most neglected and forgotten in society. Going to the periphery has been a constant theme of the pope, and he has also referred to God as going to the periphery in taking on human nature. The pope has emphasized how Jesus has always gone out to the peripheries.
As we celebrate Holy Week, Pope Francis’ reminder of the periphery is a good one to keep before us. Indeed, God truly has gone to the periphery, and we commemorate it this week. He became one of us in the Person of Jesus Christ and gave His life in the periphery of death on the Cross in order that we might have life. There is no periphery that we face in life in which God is not with us. Because of this, we are able to go to the periphery of God Himself in the Resurrection of Christ and find life and joy, as He has given them to us, so that we might be one with Him.
By His suffering on the Cross, Christ went to the periphery and took to Himself all human suffering, which results from sin. By His willingness to go to the periphery, there is no suffering in which He is not present. We cannot even begin to imagine the physical and psychological suffering which Christ freely endured. The physical pain of His crucifixion came nowhere near the psychological pain of His being abandoned by His disciples. He hung for three hours as a condemned criminal. The scene of Good Friday is an abominable one of pain, betrayal and blasphemy. Yet, the scene of Good Friday, the crucifix, is the central symbol of our faith. On the Cross, Christ is at the periphery, and because of His freely accepting the Cross, there is no suffering which is not redemptive.
Good Friday is only part of God’s going to the periphery for us. The drama of Holy Week finds Christ descending into hell after His brutal death. Our Creed professes that Jesus really did die and went down among the dead as one truly dead. Christ’s descent followed the separation of His soul from His body. In His human soul, the Son of God willingly experienced the powerlessness of the dead in order that He might proclaim the Good News to them. Jesus neither descended into hell to destroy it nor to deliver the damned. He did so to liberate the just. He descended into the realm of the dead as the completion of His suffering mission.
Like Good Friday, Holy Saturday reminds us of the depth of God’s love for us through Jesus’ willingness to experience agony and pain. The love of God is one that goes to the periphery and to places where we would least expect to find Him. He went to those places precisely so we might always find Him there and never be far from Him. An ancient homily for Holy Saturday captures well the day’s meaning as well as that of all of Holy Week. It says: “Today a great silence reigns on the earth, a great silence, and a great stillness. A great silence because the king is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh, and He has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.”
The events of Good Friday and Holy Saturday find their full meaning on Easter Sunday. On the third day, Christ rises from the dead and the fullness of life is offered to all. By His Resurrection, death and sin are crushed as God brings us to His periphery. We are able to enter into His life and into eternal life. That is the ultimate goal and purpose of our lives, and to bring us to that periphery is why God went to the periphery for us.
The mystery of Holy Thursday, the Eucharist, is a true reenactment of the events of Holy Week and their culmination in the Resurrection. This Holy Thursday has a particular significance as we continue to celebrate the National Eucharistic Revival. At the Last Supper, before His death, His descent among the dead and His Resurrection, Christ gave us the gift of the Mass, through which He would always truly be present to us. In the Mass, we enter into Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection mysteriously as time and eternity intersect. Through the Eucharist, God takes us to the periphery, and we are as close to eternity as we can get in this life. He again goes to the periphery by becoming present under the appearance of ordinary bread and wine, where we would least expect to find Him. Holy Thursday is the Paschal Mystery as God gives us the greatest gift through which His Son is always among us.
As we celebrate this Holy Week and enter into the Easter Triduum, may we find God at the periphery. There is no suffering in our lives from which God is absent. At the same time, there is no joy that God withholds from us. Indeed, Holy Week mystically reminds us that Jesus Christ took a journey to the periphery so we might always recognize God’s presence in every situation in our lives and ultimately experience the fullness of His presence in Heaven.
May Holy Week and the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection on Easter be a time of grace and peace for all of you and your families!
Most Reverend Gerald M. Barbarito
March 31, 2023