On Oct. 22, 1978, a striking, middle-aged Polish man named Karol Wojtyla looked out into the jubilant crowd in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican City. He had just taken the papal name John Paul II and was about to address the world at the inauguration Mass of his pontificate. He could have said many things, for he faced a world split by the Cold War, threatened by nuclear destruction, challenged by poverty and violence and confused by an increasingly pervasive moral relativism.
But he kept his message simple: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors to Christ!” Saint John Paul proclaimed the only lasting answer, the truth: Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, crucified and risen from the dead, is alone the solution to our great afflictions because he alone has repaired the relationship between God and humanity and offered joy and peace to all.
To our equally threatened world today, the same message rings true, for what is once true is always true: Open wide the doors to Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God, crucified and risen from the dead, for he alone has reunited us with God and each other, if only we accept and participate in his divine love.
Today, Holy Thursday, begins the Easter Triduum, which includes Good Friday and runs through Easter Sunday. Over these high holy days, we honor the torture, suffering and death of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, and celebrate his triumph over death in his bodily resurrection on Easter Sunday. Indeed, Christianity exists only because of the historical reality of the Triduum.
To repeat: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not symbols, myths or fairy tales. They actually occurred, are reality and are thus true. And in two particular ways, they demonstrate, vividly and unmistakably, that Christ alone is the answer to the mystical question that is every human life: His universal solidarity with mankind and his renewal of our relationality with God and with each other.
First, we learn that God is in unyielding, loving solidarity with all of humanity. Christ, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, is the Logos made flesh, the very “mind of God,” and all things come to be now and forever through him. In Christ, who is fully human and fully divine, God humbled himself to become one of us, taking on human form to reveal to humanity the extent of his love and of our own capax Dei, our capacity for God.
On Holy Thursday and Good Friday, that solidarity reached the apex of its expression. Despite the agonizing human stress and temptation to act otherwise—causing him to sweat blood—Christ lovingly acquiesced to the will of his Father throughout the Passion: “Not my will but yours be done.” He thereby overcame the primordial error of Eden—our sinful desire to exalt ourselves, to become “like gods,” and to decide for ourselves good and evil.
Christ, in accepting his Father’s will, entered the deepest throes of human suffering all the way unto death. He did so to repair our relationship with God that we ourselves had damaged by deifying self in the original Garden. Christ’s final utterances during his excruciating (literally, “ex cruce”—from the cross) death convey his complete solidarity with the suffering and sorrow of our world. In extreme anguish, he cried, just as each of us cries when we hit rock bottom, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” And nearing physical death, he pleaded, “I thirst,” just as we thirst so desperately when we, in our most acute need, seek relief.
Yet despite suffering such torment, Christ still loved mercifully, even those who nailed his hands and feet to the cross: “Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.” He showed that same loving mercy to the repentant criminal crucified to his side: “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” And he conferred a blessed maternal care on all of mankind through Saint John the Evangelist: “Behold, your mother.” Finally, in declaring, “It is finished” and “unto you I commend my spirit,” he revealed that our lives and the inevitable challenges within them have a purpose, a plan for greatness.
Second, Christ alone is the answer to the mystery of every human life because Christ alone overcame the inevitable enemy of human life: death and the separation from God that death entailed prior to our redemption. Today, we can advance ourselves technologically, scientifically and medically, but we will never be able to eliminate our physical mortality or determine the fate of our immortal souls.
On Easter, the Risen Christ, by his bodily resurrection, freed us from eternal death—the tragic separation from God that man himself had caused by deeming himself the arbiter of good and evil. Through the Resurrection, Christ destroyed the power of death to separate us from God, restored our relationship with God, and invited us to an everlasting life of union with our origin, our destiny and our joy: Christ himself, the source of all being and love.
That redemption provides the blueprint for repairing our relationships with others, for Christ’s commandment is to love one another as God has loved us and as we love ourselves. The communion established by Christ’s resurrection means that we must relate to each other as personal subjects and not in terms of “categories” or as compilations of “intersectional” characteristics such as race, gender, class, sexuality, religion, etc.
I am, for example, not only or even primarily a Duke senior of a certain background with a given GPA and a particular set of plans after graduation. Rather, I am Wills Rooney, a unique imago Dei possessing a dignity and interiority irreducible to categories. As are you, the reader of this column. Speak your name, and know that you are more than a demographic profile, more than your accomplishments, your looks, your wealth and your social status, more than whatever society labels you, more than whatever Duke labels you.
The love of God, so powerfully reflected through the historical facticity of the cross of Good Friday and the Resurrection of Easter Sunday, unites humanity and all of creation. It repairs, nourishes and fulfills us in our divine and human relations, all in stark contrast to the division and conflict that are sown by self-exalting power struggles, “identity” politics and the artificial categories of our world. Let us open wide the doors of our lives to the unifying love of the Risen Christ, turn upward in faith, hope and love and rejoice. As that remarkable contemporary saint, John Paul the Great, so often reminded us, “We are an Easter People, and Alleluia is our song!”
Wills Rooney is a Trinity senior. His column runs on alternatue Thursdays.
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