Christ the King Catholic Church
We all have customs or traditions that are part of our Lenten preparation for Easter. There are certain things that we might give up, like candy or soft drinks; devotions that we might practice, like the stations of the cross; or works of charity, like helping at the Food Pantry or volunteering at the Saint Vincent de Paul.
I have a Lenten tradition that dates back many years now. At first glance, it might seem like a strange tradition. At a time when many people might 'give up' movies, I force myself to watch a movie every year during Holy Week. It's not a movie that I enjoy. It's a movie I dread watching.
The movie is "Schindler's List." It tells the story of a German businessman, named Oscar Schindler, who risked everything during World War II in order to save 1,100 Jewish men, women and children from certain death in the Nazi concentration camps.
As a kid I loved horror movies. I could watch movies like "The Blob that Ate New York" or "Aliens from Planet Neptune over and over again. But I have never been able to watch movies about the concentration camps. Steven Spielberg made a different kind of horror movie when he made "Schindler' s List". Evil is a common theme in movies, but "Schindler' s List" is the ultimate horror movie because evil isn't disguised as an alien from outer space. Evil isn't given some grotesque, distorted face. In "Schindler' s List" evil wears the face of ordinary men and women.
The people who run the concentration camps and those who carry out their orders are 'ordinary' people. They go to work in the morning and come home in the evening. They kiss their spouses and wrestle with their kids. They go to church on Sunday and take family vacations. Spielberg produced the ultimate horror movie precisely because he didn't disguise the face of evil. It's one of those movies in which people remain seated through all the final credits and walk out of the theatre in complete silence.
Today we begin Holy Week. And for me, something very similar to what happened in "Schindler's List" takes place. We remember the events of the last week of Jesus' life. And we come face to face with evil. When we hear the story of Jesus' suffering and death, we might think of the people who played a part in his passion as uniquely evil. But that would be a mistake. If we think of these people as different from ourselves, we miss the point of Holy Week -- and the possibility ofHoly Week.
The Pharisees, Caiaphas, Pilate, Judas, Peter, the soldiers, the crowd were all ordinary people going about the business of their lives.
The truth is that darkness sleeps in all of us. And this darkness makes us capable of evil and even appalling evil.
Caiaphas and the Pharisees were religious men. They were completely convinced of their own righteousness. They were convinced that they had a monopoly on the truth. And these very religious men could do terrible things - and do them in the name of God.
Pilate and the soldiers were just doing their jobs, following orders - even if it meant condemning and crucifying an innocent man.
Peter and Judas both professed their love for Jesus and then, in an instant, betrayed him, reminding us how fickle we can be.
The crowd did what crowds do. One day they shouted, 'Hosanna,' and the next day, 'Crucify him, crucify him!'
The people who lived at the time of Jesus were like us. The evil that brought Jesus to the cross was not uniquely theirs. Holy Week is not a time for pointing fingers or throwing stones at others. Holy Week is a time for us to recognize ourselves in the story. It is a time for us to recognize the evil of which are capable and the evil we sometimes do and repent of that evil.
At the end of "Schindler's List" in the face of man's inhumanity to man, people sat in silence - stunned silence. After hearing the story of the Passion, we, too, should spend time in silence. In the days after I first saw "Schindler' s List" I remember
feeling a sense of remorse for every unkind word I had ever spoken and every unkind deed I had ever committed. I knew that those words and those actions had contributed to man's inhumanity to man that was on full display in the movie and the horror that was the Holocaust.
And so, too, today, as we enter Holy Week, the Church calls us to hear the story of the Passion and to be appalled by the suffering and death of Jesus and the part that our sins have played in a passion that continues today in the suffering and the injustice in our world today. Our words, our attitudes, our actions - and our inaction, all contribute to man's inhumanity to man.
The possibility of Holy Week is that we recognize this, that we are appalled by this and that we tum away from all that contributes to evil in our world today.
In one of our Lenten songs we sing the words, "Lord, does the story always have to end this way?" The possibility of Holy Week is that the answer to that question is a resounding 'no'. Holy Week doesn't end with Good Friday when goodness itself was nailed to a cross. Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday and an empty tomb in which God has the final word. And the word is 'Yes'! "Yes" to Jesus and the power of love that he proclaimed with his last words as he looked out at our world and said, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
On Good Friday we were all of part of the world's 'no' to Jesus. The possibility of Holy Week, the great possibility of Holy Week is that we can now be part of God's 'Yes,' God's resounding 'Yes,' to Jesus. We can become part of a new creation.
We are capable of terrible things, appalling things. But we are also capable of goodness, heroic goodness. We see signs of this heroic goodness all around us in these dark days of the pandemic.
"Does the story always have to end this way?" The Good News of Holy Week is that the answer to that question is "No." The story does not have to end that way. As we have echoed the "No' of our world to Jesus, we are now invited to echo God's "Yes" to Jesus. The Good News of Holy Week is that it doesn't end with Good Friday. It ends with Easter Sunday!
In these days people are longing for a return to normal. I was struck by a reflection I saw on Facebook this week. The reflection challenges us to long for something
better than a return to normal - to the way things used to be. When the pandemic subsides, if things haven't changed for the better because of what we have experienced, ifwe haven't changed, we will have learned nothing. The same can be said of Holy Week. May we arrive at Easter Sunday as a better people, a more compassionate and a more loving people because of what we have experienced during Holy Week.