Saturday, April 3, 2010

Holy Week and Vulnerability

I was thinking about vulnerability during this Holy Week. A human being is usually vulnerable through power or intimacy (or both). The poor or the uneducated can be vulnerable to the power of those who exploit their situation. A spouse can be vulnerable to the words or actions of the other spouse in the most intimate of relationships. The word vulnerable comes from the Latin word vulnus, which means wound. It makes me think of Original Sin and our wounded human nature. Because of that wound, we needed a Savior, and because we needed a Savior, we needed a Sacrifice, since only love could save us, and real love is self-giving. Another meaning of vulnus is disaster, and it certainly seemed a disaster on that first Good Friday and Holy Saturday. However, what appeared to be a disaster became our salvation.

Even God makes Himself vulnerable. In the beginning, He gave us free will because love cannot be compelled. God allowed Himself to not be loved, so that we could know love. When He became a man, he made Himself a vulnerable baby: God needed the protection of a lowly carpenter and his teenage wife to protect Him from the murderous King Herod. Jesus made Himself vulnerable to betrayal from His closest friends. Judas turned Him over to the power of the the religious authorities. Peter denied knowing Him. All the apostles except John abandoned Him at the Crucifixion. Jesus subjected Himself to the power of the Roman Empire in His scourging, in the mocking, in His march with the cross, and in His crucifixion. There is speculation that He was naked on the cross, which is about as vulnerable as one can be. From the cross, Jesus voiced the great prayer of vulnerability, Psalm 22: "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!" The five wounds of Christ are the marks of His vulnerability. The beautiful prayer, the Anima Christi, reminds us that Christ's vulnerability can be our stronghold: "Within your wounds, hide me."

From the vulnerability of the Crucifixion came the strength of the Resurrection. From Christ came two very intimate sacraments with great power: the Eucharist and Reconciliation. In the Eucharist, Jesus makes Himself vulnerable to us. He opens Himself to neglect, to sacrilege, and to indifference in exchange for giving us the opportunity for the intimacy of receiving Him into our bodies. In Reconciliation, we make ourselves vulnerable, exposing our most embarrassing, our most humiliating, and our most degrading sins in exchange for the the opportunity for the intimacy of receiving His vast mercy. From both of these sacraments we encounter the tremendous power of grace.

Vulnerability can lead to strength. Such a paradox. Holy Week is a time for contemplating paradox, for contemplating the contradiction of the cross.

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