Friday, April 6, 2012

Keeping Christ Out, No More

Every year, without fail, I always fight with myself at the Good Friday service. Always. It's the one that nearly gets me, know what I mean?

I wrestle with my emotions and whether or not I should let them loose or keep them reigned in. Since the first time I altar served for Good Friday a few years ago, it's always difficult to keep myself composed. During the Veneration of the Cross, the servers wipe the places where the faithful venerate the cross. Most people kiss Jesus' feet and a handful, the wood of the cross.

The first time I served, I watched people's faces as they came up. One time, a woman came up with tears in her eyes. As she leaned forward to kiss the feet of Jesus, I heard the choir leading the congregation in song, specifically "Jesus, Remember Me." It was the perfect combination of beauty, of love, of faith, of devotion, of mystery. But I held back my own tears and repeatedly swallowed the lump in my throat. I shunned the goodness that was coming out of darkness.

Every year since that first time, I've come up with ways to avoid being emotionally involved. I was always afraid of showing how I felt, and by that I mean, I didn't want to let the tears fall. As I write this now, though, I think it goes deeper than being embarrassed of others seeing me. It's because I was afraid. Afraid of opening myself up and completely giving my entire being over to Christ. We remember His death today, and I can't even bring myself to shed a tear. No, no. Not one.

This year, my strategy was working just fine. I didn't look at anybody, but I would occasionally glance up to see how far along the line was moving. I just focused on the cross and where people touched it with their lips or with just their fingers. At one point, a woman bent down, and I noticed a few tears drip down Jesus' leg and onto the cross.

That didn't bother me that much, just a tiny bit. And the line moved, and it moved.

More time passed and out of the corner of my eye, I saw an elderly woman processing up on her knees, with a friend or relative alongside to steady her, should she fall. The cross was lowered so that she could reach it. For the first time tonight, I looked at someone's face. At her beautiful, weathered, wrinkled, freckled face. Streaming with tears. She ran her hand over the body of Jesus and down the wood of the cross, as she said something in Spanish between her tears. She then kissed His feet and tried to stand up, but she couldn't. Her companion assisted, but it wasn't enough. I bent down to help, and she was able to get to her feet after a few seconds of momentous effort. Before she walked away, she touched the cross again. And you know what song the choir was singing in the background? "Jesus, Remember Me." The song that always gets me.

She turned to leave, and I looked away. I looked at my hands. At the cross. At my feet. At the clergy's arm. I looked in vain at anything that would distract me, but I couldn't find a single object to keep my thoughts occupied. Within seconds, this woman's deep faith and love began crumbling my poorly constructed wall, a wall designed to keep Christ out. Though, the wall didn't fall down all the way because I forced myself not to let it. It took me several times of fake coughing into my arm and many blinks to get rid of the forming tears, but I did it. Once again, like clockwork, I refused to open up and let Christ in. I'm sure that someone who was paying attention to me would've realized the moment/episode I had, despite my best efforts to hide it.

I walked back to my seat in a sort of daze, annoyed and angry with myself that I was too afraid to just be. Then I remembered the part of the Passion in which the crowd participates by reading aloud, "Crucify Him! Crucify Him!" I can easily say that phrase and sin left and right like it's nothing. What I can't do was become vulnerable, to become fully open. What I couldn't do was let the tears fall. Tears of mourning, of thanksgiving, of love.

I realized tonight that I have been fighting not just with myself, but with Jesus for a very long time. I prayed that tonight would be the last time I was afraid. Tonight, hopefully, will be the last time that I avoid shedding tears for Jesus.

You see, the season of Lent and the Triduum liturgies have always been my favorite time/liturgical season of the year. Tonight, God provided me yet another reason to love Good Friday, but more importantly, to love Him.

Blessed and happy Easter to all of you.