The Compass: Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay
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April 14, 2000 Issue

Experienced God

Jesus experienced our life as humans. During Holy Week, we can experience his life.

By Tony Staley
Compass Editor

Most summers, when I was in high school and college, were spent working in a cannery that processed fruits and vegetables. Part of one summer, I helped load cases of frozen fruits and vegetables onto rail cars. As cannery jobs go, it was pretty good. We could set our own pace and we could talk on the job. Neither one was possible in most other jobs where noisy machines decided how fast one worked and made conversation impossible.

The only drawback was that sometimes we'd run out of rail cars to load. When that happened, we'd be put to work on other projects, such as sweeping floors or repairing broken pallets. At such times, our boss would come to us and say, "Here's what we're going to do next..." Except that when he said "we," he meant "you," since he didn't really mean he was going to join us at the new task anymore than he stood side-by-side with us stacking cases in rail cars.

As we prepare to enter Holy Week, this story well illustrates a difference between my boss and our Christian God. God does stand by our side and go through life with us. Through the incarnation of Jesus and the resulting human joy and suffering - including death on a cross - God experienced first-hand what humanity entails. Only Christianity can make that claim.

There are many ways to explain why Jesus became one of us and died. These explanations include the need to redeem or save sinful humanity and, as we were taught in our Catholic grade school religion classes, thereby reopen the gates of Paradise slammed shut with the sin of our first parents. One also could argue that Jesus came to provide us with an example of how we should live and love God, ourselves and others.

It would not be accurate to say that Jesus became one of us out of idle curiosity - that is, that the Trinity was sitting around talking one day, wondering what it felt like to be human, and therefore decided to send the Second Person to find out.

However, by becoming human, Jesus learned intimately what's involved in being human. Jesus went through it all, from birth, infancy and childhood, through adulthood, death - and the resurrection we believe awaits us all because of Jesus' resurrection.

Along the way, Jesus felt hunger as a baby - and probably as a growing teenager - and definitely during his 40-day retreat in the desert. He experienced love from Mary and Joseph and his closest friends. He felt joy at the wedding feast of Cana, in the miracles of healing and the companionship of friends. He knew sorrow at the death of his friend, Lazarus. He learned about the frustrations of being misunderstood - especially by his closest followers. He knew about the fickleness of a public who demanded more miracles and who turned against him when he discovered that he was not the political savior they thought he was. He found out about betrayal through the actions of Judas and Peter. He learned about terrible mental agony from the Garden of Gethsemane the night before his death. And, he experienced the almost unbearable physical pain of scourging and crucifixion and the reality of dying.

These feelings are the realities we all experience as we undergo the blessings and trials that come to us during our own lives. And unlike believers in a non-Christian religion, we know that our God underwent these same sorts of joys and sorrows, including the penultimate experience of death - a concept they cannot grasp possible for the deity. But the good news is that his death was followed on the third day by the ultimate event that, as St. Paul said, denies death its victory and sting (cf 1 Cor 15:55) by proving the wisdom and power of God through the same cross that to others is a stumbling block or an absurdity (cf 1 Cor 1:23-24).

Holy Week affords us the opportunity to experience with Jesus many of the key events in his life. By plunging into these eight days of liturgies, we can experience Jesus' life just as he experienced our lives as humans.

The key liturgies during Holy Week are Passion Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil and Easter. The saving events of Jesus' life played out this week can deeply touch and shape our lives if we participate fully in them by paying close attention to the proclamation of the Scriptures and the preaching on them, active engagement in the entire liturgy, and meditation during the week.

Taking advantage of Holy Week to the full extent of our abilities will allow us on Easter to triumphantly proclaim, along with our Triune God, "Been there. Done that."

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