CAN you think with your heart? In other words, can you have a critical mind and at the same time have intense feelings of love, compassion, sympathy and care for other people? Jesus was able to do this as he entered the city of Jerusalem before his crucifixion and death. He fully knew what was going to happen to him—he would suffer and die on the cross like a common criminal as he imagined while he was at the Garden of Gethsemane, yet he would succumb to this kind of suffering and death because of his intense love for people.
The Passion according to the Gospel of Luke shows this heroic love of Jesus even at the time of his betrayal, crucifixion and last breath. He healed the man with a severed ear, comforted the women of Jerusalem, forgave his executioners, and promised Paradise to the repentant thief. For the sake of other people’s lives, he was willing to give his own life. His ministry on earth was all about self-giving.
And so, when we listen to the reading of the Passion of Christ this Sunday, we hear it as a proclamation of God’s intense love and mercy for his people. The Passion of Christ is God’s love story to us. He sent his own Son who became one with us to suffer and die for our salvation.
Jesus’ ultimate act of service to us was his crucifixion and death. He took the pain of every lashing and fall on the ground. He endured every step and mockery on his way to Calvary. And he embraced the whole world with unfailing love while he was nailed and dying on the cross.
“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” These were words that came out of the lips of Jesus while he was dying on the cross. And as if these words were not enough to express his love for people up to the point of his death, he told the thief who was nailed next to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
He wanted his disciples to have the same love for his people. And so, when an argument broke out among his disciples during his last supper with them about who among them should be regarded as the greatest, he reminded them that the greatest among them would be the one who would serve.
Those of us who are engaged in the ministry of preparing future priests emphasize this ministry of heroic service and love for God’s people to our seminarians. We would tell them that their seminary formation, particularly their theological studies, should move from the head to the heart. This is the reason why we ask them to exercise ministry even when they are still in the seminary. On Holy Week, for example, we ask them to go to their parishes to assist their priests, to be present and to pray with the people. All their preparation in the seminary is geared toward pastoral charity.
We realize that our seminarians develop pastoral charity as they exercise ministry to vulnerable members of our society during the seminary formation. The opportunities that we give them to assist in ministries to the sick, the aging, the imprisoned, the homeless, the youth and children allow them to have compassionate and sensitive hearts.
As baptized Christians, we all share in the ministry of Christ. Our experiences of crucifixion and death such the challenges we face to become faithful in marriage and to be humble in our human encounters are part of this sharing in the ministry of Christ. It’s a ministry of mercy, forgiveness, service and reconciliation.
As we observe Holy Week, may we be mindful of the meaning of Christ’s crucifixion, death, and resurrection. May we all grow in Christ’s heroic love and service to our fellow men and women!
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From a Filipino immigrant family, Reverend Rodel G. Balagtas was ordained to the priesthood from St. John’s Seminary in 1991. He served as Associate Pastor at St. Augustine, Culver City (1991-1993); St. Martha, Valinda (1993-1999); and St. Joseph the Worker, Canoga Park (1999-2001). In 2001, he served as Administrator Pro Tem of St. John Neumann in Santa Maria, CA, until his appointment as pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary, Los Angeles, in 2002, which lasted 12 years. His term as Associate Director of Pastoral Field Education at St. John’s Seminary began in July 2014.