You see many things but do not observe; ears open, but do not hear. Isaiah 42:20
Many years ago, when Mike was four and Chris only two, we traveled to Rome for a couple of weeks so that my husband could present a paper at a conference there. While Victor worked, the two boys and I enjoyed the sights of Rome.
The shortest route to the subway stop ran through the local indoor market, a cool and colorful oasis in the soggy heat of a Roman summer. One afternoon we wove our way through the crowded Friday market and popped out onto the street to find ourselves at the edge of a crowd, all pushing and craning for a look at the street.
We couldn’t turn back and couldn’t move forward. Sirens were sounding, and men were barking orders. In the confusion I turned to the man next to me and asked in halting Italian what was happening. “There’s been a bank robbery,” he said, “with guns.” I clung tightly to the boys’ hands and prayed.
I am cantoring Palm Sunday and in preparation to sing the Psalm, I spent some time earlier in the week meditating on the readings, lingering with Matthew’s version of the Passion. I began to wonder what it might have been like, had I been in Jerusalem the morning that Jesus was crucified?
Would it have been like that Friday in Rome? All noise and confusion, with very little information to be had, and no time to think before you are confronted by a difficult and frightening reality. Would I have grasped what was happening at all, understood that in the dust of that Jerusalem street, lay Jesus, the Son of God, dying for my sins?
I wonder, too, how often I miss seeing Christ walking that road to the crucifixion here and now, seeing Christ, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., put it, playing in ten thousand places. Have I learned from listening to the Passion narrative how to spot those bearing crosses, those caught up in living out the Paschal mystery through their own suffering, or do I stand there in the crowd, confused and a bit too complacent?
I watch an elderly man come into the dim church, himself a bit unsteady on his feet, holding tight to his frail wife, bearing as much of her weight as he can. I see Simon of Cyrene steadying Jesus, pulling the weight of the cross onto his own shoulders.
I see a photo of a priest standing alone before a crowd, a cross in his hands, a soldier pointing a gun behind him. I hear Jesus in St. John’s Passion, “I came to testify to the truth.”
I read of parents in the Sudan, boiling poisonous roots for their children to eat. I see the soldiers offering gall to Jesus to drink.
I will hear the Passion read twice this week, but had I eyes, I could read the Passion daily. For Christ plays in a thousand places, looking up at me from the dust where he has fallen, asking, “Do you see me? Can you hear me? Will you pick up my cross and walk with me?”
Read slowly and meditatively Mark’s account of the Passion (we will hear Matthew’s on Sunday and John’s on Friday): Mark 15:1-41
Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Permit me not to be separated from you.
From the wicked foe, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
For ever and ever.
The text sung here, which comes from the Book of Lamentations, is from a response traditionally used during Holy Week:
“O vos ómnes qui transítis per víam, atténdite et vidéte: Si est dólor símilis sícut dólor méus. Atténdite, univérsi pópuli, et vidéte dolórem méum. Si est dólor símilis sícut dólor méus.”
“O all you who walk by on the road, pay attention and see: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow. Pay attention, all people, and look at my sorrow: if there be any sorrow like my sorrow.”
Michelle Francl-Donnay is a member of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Bryn Mawr.