This is a week for Christians to review their lives and ask if they practice the values they say they live by. There are of course hundreds of thousands of good, dedicated and committed Catholics who are also great Christians. They are involved in the parish justice and peace, in human rights work, serving and caring for the sick and homeless. They take a stand for human dignity and against the brutal violence that destroys life.
They are what they are: followers of Jesus Christ in word and action. They bring meaning to the Resurrection. It is more than a historical event. In today’s world, they bring life to those suffering and in pain, abandoned and abused.
We are all challenged also to think for ourselves, be rational and aware and understand right and wrong in our lives and in the world. We are called to have a strong morality and put into action the values and principles we hold and cherish. Like flowers in a garden, unless nurtured with the water of action, they wilt and die.
It is not a happy week for Christians. It is a week with a story of betrayal, spying, false accusations against an innocent person, marking him a criminal suspect without evidence, illegal arrest, torture by the military, a mock trial and an ignominious death penalty, the victim left to bleed and suffocate to death as a crucified criminal before friends and family. The Resurrection is the only happy event. For two thousand years, Jesus of Nazareth has been revered as the oppressed and innocent suffering servant to whom victims through the ages look to as an image of themselves.
If we look around in the world today, we see this same brutality and injustice endured by Jesus of Nazareth being suffered by hundreds of thousands of people of all religions. Many are gassed to death, bombed, maimed and shot to death when they are at worship and prayer or just walking in the street. We see women and children gassed to death by an ugly dictator and millions left to starve. If we deplore what happened to Him two thousand years ago, how much more must we deplore and take civil action today to protest the same evil and support our neighbor whom he taught us to protect and love?
Many people say, “I am not religious.” They may mean they don’t have religious faith or do not attend church ceremonies but they may have core values that they live by and put into practice in their daily lives. These are people of integrity. Making our values the core of our lives and action is the heart of being a person of integrity. These non-church going people are frequently more authentic “Christians” than the traditional church going parishioner who is disconnected from the values of Jesus of Nazareth. Some people have no concern or love for those in need.
To be a true person of integrity is to be a good neighbor. We must come to the aid of the person who has been bombed, beaten up on the road, hurt in an accident, shot by a death squad or the victim of a terrorist attack. The hungry, lonely, the sick and abandoned and abused need our help. We must stand and speak out for the truth and dignity of every human being and take a stand for life. Jesus taught in his story of the good Samaritan how to be a good neighbor.
How many church-going Catholics have wrongfully closed their minds and hearts, their doors and borders to the refugees fleeing the gas attacks and violence in Syria? They are disconnected from the values of Jesus of Nazareth. Holy Week is a time for repentance and renewal of our commitment.
We see that the one clear thing is that sin is more than a personal break or fault between an individual and God. There is social sin. Our action or failure to act as an individual or a community has a social dimension. We frequently sin against the community by inaction and failure to take a stand and to be faithful to the principles and values we claim to live by.
In the Philippines, many people consider themselves good Catholics yet they live in contradiction. They may be devout, practicing Catholics, attend mass and go to Holy Week ceremonies but at the same time they think that killing fellow Filipinos in cold blood is alright because they have been tagged as “drug suspects” and branded as criminals. Just like what happened to Jesus of Nazareth who was falsely accused and killed without evidence or a fair trial.
They don’t believe that people are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is until one of their relatives or close friends is tagged as a suspect and has to run away and hide or is shot dead by a death squad. It can happen to anyone. These unthinking Catholics say it is a good thing their neighbors can be blamed with a pointed finger and shot without evidence, due process, the rule of law or a fair trial. They condemn them as criminals.
It’s time for change. Turning away from such unreflective negative attitudes can make an otherwise unholy week into a Holy one of repentance and resurrection in both spirit and action.