Finding God on the Cobblestones
Palm Sunday is particularly dear to my heart. Years ago, I participated in the Tenth Forum for Youth sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity. It was an incredible opportunity to gather with young adults from around the world to learn and discuss issues relevant to our lives and faith. I stay in touch with many of my fellow delegates. My first birthday wishes usually come from the Philippines now, sometime in the evening the day before my birthday. We checked in on each other in the early days of the pandemic as our countries experienced their first cases. We offer prayers for the births of children, for cancer diagnoses, for marriages, for new jobs. These friends embody Church for me. I feel the true universal nature of our Church with every message, post, and email.
At that Forum the most surreal thing happened. In the midst of one of the presentations, as I was wearing the translation headset, I was suddenly pulled out of my focus by a tap on my shoulder. The staff person asked me to follow them. In a sentence that sprawled from English to Spanish to Italian, I was asked to read at Mass on Sunday. I agreed, though quite hazy on the details. It was a Catholic event after all, we celebrated Mass together every day. As I was stepping on the toes of about half the European delegates on the way back through the row to my seat, it dawned on me. We were celebrating Mass in St. Peter’s Square that Sunday…with the Pope.
That Sunday found me and the woman from India huddling in the pre-dawn hours, not dressed warmly enough for the cool breeze, watching and waiting, as those women did all those years ago. The youth minister in me shared snacks I had in my bag with some other delegates as we waited and waited, we had left before breakfast and had several hours to go in our flimsy chairs. I stood there, surrounded by all these people who I now count as friends, facing the crowd in St. Peter’s Square, desperately praying I don’t trip on cobblestones or muddle the reading from Isaiah. As I stood in heels on those harsh cobblestones for the duration of the chanting of the Gospel, feeling my knees slowly turn to jelly, I wondered what it was for Mary to stand there at the cross and did she lose power over herself in her grief.
Once I was finished and seated again after the Gospel, I felt I could finally breathe deeply. As I looked around now, simply able to take in the moment, I realized this was Church, this is what we are about. The People of God were gathered from all the corners of the earth. We helped and supported each other with what we had. Snacks from me, fans from the delegate from Thailand as the chilly morning quickly heated, sharing water, voicing quiet translations from those who understood whatever language was being spoken. As we embodied Church, were the very Body of Christ, we listened to the Passion. We were reminded that God’s love is not only present in each other, but was incarnated, crucified, and died for us. For me. For you.
This long and difficult Gospel that I still feel in my knees. It gives us the summary of the entire week to come. The week is full of so much meaning and symbolism, this is a chance to stay rooted in the core message of God’s immeasurable love and sacrifice for us. That love and sacrifice is for all, something that experience eleven years ago reminds me. It is not just for me, those who look like me, believe like me, practice the faith like me. God’s love and salvation is for everyone.
As you enter into this Holy Week, I challenge you to look at how universal is your understanding of the Church. Do you really see the Church in all its shapes, forms, languages, and peoples?
I also invite you to the silence. During the Gospel there is the moment when there is a pause and those who are able are invited to kneel. This week, as we continue to hear of God’s grace, love, and mercy, I invite you to sit with God in silence. Listen. Sit and listen to the Last Supper. Sit in the Garden. Sit at Jesus’s feet while he is on the Cross. Sit with Mary and wait at the Tomb. Do not be afraid of silence. God is with you.