How do you survive the “Passions” of life? Jesus went from the high of riding into Jerusalem to the sound of cheers and praise on a donkey to the low of hanging on a cross in excruciating pain, feeling completely abandoned. Where was God in all of this? Where is God in the natural disasters, the violence and the political injustice?
Jesus turned to his roots and cried out the psalms of his taught faith. But before he was taught his faith, he had an experience of God and unconditional love.
I was blessed to have the experience of God through the unconditional love of my family who also taught me my faith.
But there is such a large population of people who are not born into love but into hopelessness and, many times, violence. It is hard to imagine the emptiness or void. Many children grow up thinking the odds are slim they will live past 17. This provides a “do what you can, while you can” outlook on life.
When I hear the stories, one after another, of our incarcerated brothers and sisters, it is like hearing the passion narrative replayed in modern times. Sixty percent (60%)* of the incarcerated did not stay grounded in reality due to drugs, and many made any choice possible to try and eliminate their pain, at the expense of others. Family, society and systems had abandoned so many of them, and “love” only came with a price.
There is a powerful line in our Apostles Creed: He descended into hell. We believe Jesus took on our sins and redeemed them. We envision Jesus becoming one with those who lived a life of hell, a life of hopelessness: those not knowing any other option existed beyond “I’m going to be dead by 17.”
When someone reaches out and provides an experience of unconditional love to another, it provides a context to comprehend the unconditional love of God. Many come to realize that Jesus has been accompanying them through their hell, died for them, and has redeemed them. Their transformation is unbelievable to witness; a true resurrection. Why did they have to live a lifetime of hell, while I had a lifetime of unconditional love? That’s a question for God in the next life. But their transformations have touched my life now in deep, deep places and transformed me. It is a gift not taken for granted.
Sharing the gift of unconditional love and allowing the exchange to transform us both is what Jesus lived, suffered, and died to teach us. The call to love one another and accompany each other through our passions is the Gospel message, as Jesus demonstrated in the Passion narrative today. We are all called to be one.
Karen Clifton is Executive Coordinator of Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition.
*Statistic from the Bureau of Justice