Yesterday, I watched the movie ‘The Railway Man’ to support a fund-raising effort for the Philippines. Many of you might have seen it already but for me, that was the first time, and I would say it’s worth watching not only because its aim was to help some people in the Philippines, but because of its amazing story line (based on a true story of course), a story of what love and forgiveness can do. For the benefit of those who haven’t seen this film yet, I would recommend you watch it.
It was a story of a British Army officer, who was one of the prisoners of war by the Japanese forces during the Second World War. One day, he was discovered to be the main culprit in making a radio from which he and the other prisoners learned what was going on with the rest of the world during the war. Because of that he had to bear a terrible and unimaginable torture by the Japanese soldiers. He survived though, got married, but the trauma of war lingered within him. Then when he learned that one of those who tortured him was still alive, he went to search him to seek revenge. He found the man but instead of revenge, he forgave him. They became great friends until they both died few years ago.
I’m sharing this beautiful and true story of love and forgiveness with you because we are just getting into Holy Week- and like the story I just shared with you, the drama of Holy Week is also about love and forgiveness- love of God for us and forgiveness for all our sins by dying on the cross for us.
‘Love is the greatest of all risks’ says Jean Vanier, and this is really true of God. He loves us so much that he would take all risks even death itself just to express his love for us. This is what we are encouraged to reflect on this Holy week. Yes, holy week is an opportune time for us to re-call and to pay more attention on our God who in and through Jesus, showed us how seriously in love He is with us.
Such is God’s love for us, that no matter how small or insignificant we think we are, God still cares for us and makes us a big part in the real drama of our salvation just as Jesus asked ‘So-and-So’ (i.e. nameless, faceless, or seemingly insignificant in the society) to use the latter’s upper room for his last supper with his disciples. Such is his love for us that he left us a living and a life-giving memory of him through the Holy Eucharist. Such is God’s love for us, that despite we deny, disown him in public or even betray him for money, as Peter and Judas Iscariot did, he would still look at us with loving gaze and give us opportunity to repent. Such is his love for us that he wouldn’t turn his cheek away even if mocked, spat upon, slapped, being shamed or humiliated, or even crowned with thorns all because he wants to forgive us and he wants to save us from all shame that our sins bring us. Such is his love for us that though he is suffering himself, he is still one with us in our sufferings too just as he expressed his concern to and sadness for the women in Jerusalem. Such is his love for us that he embraced death, he willed to die because only through his death on the cross that we can have life. He lay down his life not only because we are his friends but because he wants to give life for his friends.
However, holy week is not just a reflection on God’s love for us and his forgiveness. It is also a time to express our response to God’s love for us. We can do this by solemnly and actively participating in our Holy Week and Easter liturgies and ceremonies, doing works of charity, reaching out to others in need, prayer and fasting, going to the sacrament of penance and reconciliation, being an instrument of God’s love and forgiveness ourselves in whatever way, form and capacity.
Because of love, God has taken all risks for us. We can see this quite clearly if we just stop what we normally do with our days, put an end to whatever bad habits or bad deeds we may be accustomed to be doing, drop whatever unnecessary baggage, concerns or worries we may have at the foot of the cross, and look up to the Cross of Jesus. ‘When we stand before Jesus crucified’, Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium, ‘we see the depth of his love which exalts and sustains us, but at the same time, unless we are blind, we begin to realize that Jesus’ gaze, burning with love, expands to embrace all his people.’ And there is more we can realize when we stand before the Cross of Jesus, the Pope continues. ‘We realize once more that he wants to make use of us to draw close to his beloved people. He takes us from the midst of his people and he sends us to his people…’ (EG # 268). In other words, by putting ourselves before the Cross and contemplating on Jesus on the cross, we come to understand our real identity as Christians as well as we come to know our Christian mission.
Jesus takes the greatest of all risks for us in love, are we willing to take risks too for our loving God?
Let this be a point for our reflection as we enter into Holy Week.