By Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S.
“So, what did you see on vacation?”
I have a tendency to veer towards live theater, especially with deep discounts. Recapping what I saw on vacation months ago, I mentioned that two of the shows really were technically one show, spread over about seven-and-a-half hours.
“How could you sit through something that long?!” Was the response from nearly everyone.
The something that long was The Inheritance, a bold take and response to the question of what one generation owes the next, in the case of the play, what the current generation of millennial gay men owe to the previous generation who endured the AIDS crisis on the 1980s and 1990s. At the end of part one, the lead character, Eric Glass, visits the house promised to him by Walter Poole before he died. A simple, quiet house with fresh, country air. Years earlier, Walter brought his friends, one-by-one, dying from AIDS up to this house. A makeshift hospice, giving some respite, some peace, some comfort in the midst of tragedy and loss. A generation of young men who died isolated, alone and afraid—many still rejected by parents and family today. At the end of part one, Eric visits the house for the first time and the entire space of the theatre stops time: one after another, the ghosts of those men who died in the house appear in the house to welcome Eric. One after another. There is not much of a better word of that moment than profound.
This weekend’s Gospel is the longest we get on the year. For most of us, with public masses suspended, we will not get the opportunity to hear it live (streaming is close, but not quite there there). The Word will take a different shape and flesh in us in these unique circumstances. The weight of the death of Jesus this Lenten and Holy Week season comes with newer layers for us.
Thousands around the world have entered their own passion of fatally contracting COVID-19. Millions of Catholics held outside of chapels, cathedrals and churches to try to contain the spread of this virus aligned with this Messiah pushed outside the city for his crucifixion and death. The strangeness and isolation of self-quarantining, of funerals or weddings with 50 or fewer allowed in the church at the same time we commemorate in the Gospel this Christ who was welcomed by thousands when he entered Jerusalem to nearly every disciple abandoning him except for Mary, the other Mary, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Matthew gives example after example of attempts to offer wine or somehow give a little solace on the cross to this Jesus who refuses each time. There is no real solace to be had in the midst of crucifixion. There is no comfort in the midst of everything breaking down. There is little hope in the midst of death.
The anxiety, fear, and isolation we have encountered and will likely encounter in the coming weeks and months is something our God takes on in Emmanuel too. We are an Easter people, and we rejoice in resurrection. But before Easter Sunday, there is Good Friday and just as importantly, Holy Saturday—the waiting at the tomb, the holding of brokenness and finitude without an answer or solution. This Palm Sunday, we are reminded of God taking flesh in Jesus in the triumph of entering Jerusalem, in the brokenness on a tree outside of Jerusalem, and in the fear, abandonment and anxiety of his passion. May we enter into this Holy Week assured of God’s presence in the midst of all of our experiences in the midst of addressing this global pandemic. May our solidarity with one another in these trying times give us the strength to reach out to those isolated, alone and afraid that we may continue to build up the Body of Christ.
To view the full scripture reading, click here.
Fr. Jim Smith, C.PP.S., is the parochial vicar of the St. Henry cluster of parishes in and around St. Henry, Ohio