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James Quentin Young

Cleaning Closets

Palm Sunday of Our Lord’s Passion inaugurates Holy Week. This is the time Christians remember and celebrate the mystery of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. At the heart of this celebration and commemoration stands the cross. This cross is laden with pain, humiliation, death but it is also crowned with salvation, resurrection and joy.

Unless we just go through these days moved only by the skin-deep experience of sadness and joy without allowing it to touch us deeply, we cannot but ask the question as to the reason for the cross. Why did Jesus have to die on the cross?

In a valiant attempt to make this mystery easily accessible, the answer has been made quite simple: “Jesus died for our sins.” If so, what does that mean? Did he die as a result of our sins? Did he die to atone for our sins? Did he die in order for us to rise above our sins? Did he die in order for us to move beyond our sins? And whose sins are we talking about? Do we mean the sins of our ancestors; our very own sins; or maybe even sins yet to be committed? A complete answer includes all of the above and much more. There is however another approach to this mystery. This approach suggests that the death of Jesus was the ultimate expression of God’s unconditional love for all of us as Jesus gave his life for the salvation of the world. We are the recipients of this unconditional love. In turn, we are called to love unconditionally. Once we have reached this level of love, then all sinfulness will be banned from the earth and the promise will be fulfilled.

Our Christian history has emphasized our human sinfulness and unworthiness. I remember a Good Friday homily in the early 1970ies during which the priest told us that we were nothing but “rats in the gutters of life, unworthy of God’s love”. We have a proven history of making sure that people are aware of their sinfulness and their unworthiness. There seems to be a resurgence of this with many believers pointing out sin in society and in people’s life. “Thank God I am not one of them.” We tend to feel good about ourselves as we define ourselves relative to the perceived graver sins of others. And as we enter into this game we often look at the part, rather than at the whole, a praxis which applies to much of our lives. We fail to see the moral forest in favor of one sinful tree. We love to position ourselves as protectors of the Gospel values up and against public sinners. If I recall, Jesus has a few choice words for us: “You who are without sin cast the first stone.” And further: “I will not condemn you either. Go home and sin no more.”

 All of us have closets filled with skeletons…skeletons of hatred, jealousy, envy, pride, self-righteousness… Holy week is a good time to open our closets and deal with those skeletons, our own skeletons. Change will only happen when we concern ourselves with our own skeletons. This is not an easy exercise. It is much easier to find fault with others. Can you imagine how wonderful the world would be if all of us spent as much time cleaning our own spiritual house as we spend on finding fault with others? May Holy Week 2016 be a time of remembrance, celebration and spiritual renewal for all of us.

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