“Let him be crucified!” – Mt. 27:22

I struggle to celebrate Palm Sunday and enter Holy Week. My head wants to declare that love and justice conquer all sufferings and evils, that humility underlies radical trust in God. My heart resists the humiliation that precedes humility and the pain that breaks open my soul to a greater self-giving love. It is very tempting for me to approach the Passion of Jesus like a bystander watching a dramatic play on a stage, or see it as a story that happened somewhere in history, to someone else. Yet, remembering deaths of loved ones invites me to enter this week differently.

Both my cousin and maternal grandmother suffered greatly at the end of their lives. Although they died two decades apart, they taught me a similar lesson. In their own ways, they struggled yet embraced their crosses. Despite my ability to accept her impending passing, my grandmother had come to peaceful acceptance of her death. Before she passed, she shared with me that Jesus was with her, that she was sharing his suffering. That he was sharing hers. Throughout much of her life, this was her experience, her crucible of faith – Jesus’ way of drawing her close to him. My young cousin Thy witnessed a similar intimacy. When suggested by her pastor to unite her suffering to Jesus’ and offer them to help children in a nearby hospital nearby, she understood fully and said “yes”. She allowed so many of us, including myself, to be with her in her last moments. We sang the Prayer of St Francis in tears as she gave up her spirit. Like our grandmother, she embodied Jesus’ stance before his passion; she taught us how to die with grace. While the doctors and our earnest prayer could not save her, I believe our presence may have eased her suffering and accompanied her home to God. Remembering the way she and our grandmother lived and died beckons me to enter the passion of Jesus.

When we let the suffering of anyone near or afar disturb us, we enter the drama of Christ’s passion. We are drawn into the dramatic love God has for us. This week, let us allow ourselves to be drawn close to the poor, needy, marginalized, or afflicted. Jesus invites us to encounter him in women and man who suffer from trafficking, from being cheated, from being deported, from family brokenness, from being violated, etc. He beckons us, as Pope Francis says, “to be looked in the eye, to be acknowledged, to be loved.”

Lord Jesus, help me be united with you through my losses as well as through those who suffer.