‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’
The following homily was given by Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020, during a livestreamed Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne.
What was the most dramatically agonizing moment of the whole event of Jesus’ Passion? I believe it was that piercing expression of Jesus’ pain and sorrow when He cried out in a loud voice: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” We prayed these words in our Responsorial Psalm today, Psalm 22. Jesus prayed these words of Psalm 22 while hanging in excruciating agony on the cross.
As we begin Holy Week, I invite you to meditate on these words. Some erroneously think that Jesus was in despair, that He was rebelling against the Father. It’s true that Jesus felt forsaken, but He knew that this was not really so. After all, He also prayed while hanging on the cross: “Into your hands, Lord, I commend my spirit.” But in His soul, Jesus no longer felt the presence of the Father. He underwent the tragic human experience of complete desolation. This was Jesus’ greatest agony: the lack of interior consolation. Jesus’ soul was afflicted. It’s important to keep in mind that Jesus was praying Psalm 22, the psalm that begins with those words: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” But that wasn’t the end of the psalm. The psalm that begins with that cry of extreme anguish ends with words of trust in God and praise of God.
In praying those words of Psalm 22, Jesus is not praying in a solitary way. He is praying as Head of His Body, the Church. Remember that on the cross Jesus was carrying upon Himself all the sufferings of humanity. In His sacrifice, Jesus is in full solidarity with sinful humanity. That solidarity includes the experience of abandonment by God, the most difficult suffering we can experience. So many of the saints, like Mother Teresa, experienced this abandonment. Yet, like Jesus, they also trusted and persevered in the midst of pain and suffering. In suffering, we can pray Psalm 22 with Jesus.
In His Passion, Jesus suffered with us and for us. His solidarity with us was born of love. That solidarity is the cause of our salvation, our redemption. It’s not a defeat. It’s a victory — the victory of love!
We celebrate this Holy Week in the midst of a terrible pandemic. Hearing the account of the Passion today, I could not help but think of all of the people who are suffering, especially those who are very sick and dying from the coronavirus. Consciously or subconsciously, I imagine they are crying out with Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” I imagine that those who can’t even have their families and loved ones by their side in their agony must be feeling the desolation Jesus felt. This tragic situation reminds me of the words of the philosopher Blaise Pascal: “Jesus will be in agony even until the end of the world.” That is true, yet, we know and we believe that Jesus is with us in our agony. We can unite our sufferings to His for the salvation of the world. Our suffering in union with Him can be redemptive through love.
Let us pray that this love will fill the hearts of all those who are suffering in our world, particularly those afflicted by the coronavirus who are struggling to breathe, like Jesus struggled to breathe while hanging on the cross. During this Holy Week, let us enter into the mystery of our Lord’s Passion and Death, the mystery of love beyond our comprehension, the mystery of our God who is love and whose love is victorious. We will celebrate that great truth next Sunday!