An American Via Dolorosa

During Lent I have a few music selections that I return to: Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Winton Marsalis’ From the Plantation to the Penitentiary, and Bach’s St. John’s Passion. Each one helps me enter the season of suffering and joy in a unique way–blending the Christendom culture of Old Europe with our own gritty history to form a Via Dolorosa that is distinctly American.

This Holy Week I am remembering Martha Hennessy (Dorothy Day’s granddaughter) who, with others, is fasting in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

John Dear, Catholic peace activist, wrote a touching commentary in the National Catholic Reporter this week reflecting on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus and what happens when we experience betrayal by our Church. Below is an excerpt:

Sometimes I think every follower of the nonviolent Jesus sooner or later experiences betrayal from the church. And perhaps we betray others, too. We do not suffer the great mythic betrayal that Jesus underwent, of course, but we do experience small betrayals. As we watch the breakdown of the institutional church and the expansion of our war-making empire, we might ask ourselves: When have we been betrayed? Who betrayed us and how? How did we respond to the little betrayals we experienced within the church? Have we been as nonviolent as Jesus? More, whom have we betrayed? These are important Lenten questions to ponder.

As I travel the nation these days and meet good people everywhere, over and again I hear how good people feel betrayed by church leaders, whether in regard to issues of justice and peace, women and gays and lesbians, or local parish closings or administrative issues. So many feel betrayed. So many are hurt. So many are angry. So many are walking away.

Given the details of the story, I wonder if any Christian’s cooperation with the empire is a betrayal of Christ. If Christ is present today in the poor, the marginalized, the enemy, in the children of Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Syria and Mexico — then any time we support the American empire that oppresses, hurts and kills children, we are betraying Christ. Those who supported the U.S. killing of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children in the last 20 years, from sanctions to war, for example, certainly betrayed as well as crucified Christ.

As we name this experience, the way forward comes by focusing our attention on the nonviolent Jesus. We need to remain calm, peaceful and nonviolent like him and pray over this, even in agony, that the will of the God of peace be done. We want to remain centered in that Spirit of peace, love and nonviolence and faithful to that Spirit for the rest of our lives. This Holy Thursday/Good Friday world offers us the chance to rise to the occasion, so to speak — to remain nonviolent like Jesus, to forgive like Jesus and to offer boundless compassion and universal love like Jesus.

“The only way to become wise is through betrayal,” poet Robert Bly once said. That’s a powerful insight. If we can work through our betrayals as Jesus did — through deep prayer, love, understanding, forgiveness and mindfulness — we will discover a new wisdom and a deeper peace. I think we will enter upon a new plain of compassion that we never knew existed.–John Dear, SJ (On Holy Thursday, Betrayal and Friendship)

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