Friday, 16 April 2010

In His footsteps

3 hours Jesus spent hanging on the cross before His death
3 hours I spent kneeling in church before the Good Friday service

This year, us Initiation Year seminarians were allowed to participate in the Easter Triduum at any church of our choice, as part of our pastoral exposure programme. My seminarian classmate and I chose to attend the Good Friday service at St Joseph's church as we had heard much about their annual Good Friday procession, where this devotional practice handed down by the Fathers of the Portuguese Mission included the statue of Jesus being taken down from the cross before being carried around the church in solemn procession amidst a sea of lighted candles held up by Catholics and even non-Catholics, some of whom have been a part of this devotion every year without fail since their childhood days.

But this isn't the main point of my post. While the re-enactment of Jesus being taken down from the cross did invoke a deeper experience of witnessing the love and sacrifice of our Lord before me, what I wish to focus on was the 3 hours spent kneeling on the pews (thank goodness for cushion) prior to the service.

The reason why me and my classmate were at St Joseph's church 3 hours before the start of the service was because we heard that the church would be very crowded, and that if we wanted a seat as close to the 'action' as possible, we should be there early. Short of sounding like kiasu 'aunties' desperate to 'chop' seats, it was because we had the luxury of time in our initiation year (that's why some call it the 'honeymoon' year) that we decided to make those 3 hours a meaningful way of accompanying and sharing in Jesus' suffering while He hung on the cross for 3 hours before His death.

Armed with a bible, some reflection material, and my journal, I entered the church with my classmate and we planted ourselves as close to the front as possible (I don't suppose this makes us sound any less of kiasu aunties huh). I then knelt down and began to pray for the grace and strength to last those 3 hours. What I was caught unaware and unprepared for was the sudden prompting to remain in that kneeling position...for half an hour...then an hour more...then subsequently to challenge myself to remain in solidarity with the Lord by remaining in that position for the entire 3 hours just as He remained up on the cross for the same duration.

Although kneeling was nothing compared to being nailed to a cross, but within the first hour, the initial strength of the knee slowly gave way to discomfort (even with the cushion) and a slight pressure resulting from the weight of my body (thank goodness the Lenten practice of fasting relieved my knee of some grams). In time, even with the occassional shifting of the knee, pain started to build up in the knee caps, sometimes to the point of numbness before I relieve it with a temporary lift until I place it down again on another spot. But as the pain and discomfort of the adopted position grew, so did the experience draw me deeper into the whole experience of sharing in the pain and suffering of our Lord.

"If I am merely kneeling on cushioned pews, imagine the exponential amount of pain and suffering Jesus went through from hanging on the cross by mere nails pierced through his flesh, already discounting the scourging and torture He went through prior to His crucifixion." I thought to myself.

As I began to share a mere fraction of the suffering Jesus went through, I began to reflect on the image of Jesus being hung on the cross - bloody, scarred, wounded, vulnerable, weak, humiliated - the very image that was to win over the powers and the ways of the world, the very image that was to bring about the defeat of sin and death, the very image that was to bring about our very salvation. And this was the very image Christ seemed to be calling me to adopt in order to defeat the powers of the world, of evil, and to carry on His redemptive work for His church through my vocation.

Walking in His Footsteps

I began to realise that only when I follow in the footsteps of Jesus - to freely and willingly take on suffering in obedience to the will of God, to gladly accept the blood, scars, wounds that will come my way, to humbly allow myself to be vulnerable, weak and even humiliated, to experience the physical and emotional pain and suffering - can I then truly allow God to take over and work in me just as Jesus allowed the Father to work through Him. It is in my weakness, suffering, and vulnerability that I will begin to depend more on God, to trust in His protection and providence, to allow Him to give me strength I never knew I had, to rid myself from self-pride and personal desires and ideals, and truly be susceptible and open to the will of God that may reveal outcomes of "resurrections" I never thought possible, works of redemption I never thought myself capable of.

From the above experience and insight, I began to see my own experiences of suffering and pain as a way of walking in Jesus' footsteps, sharing in His suffering, pain and redemptive work.

Walking MY PATH in His Footsteps

However, just recently, I received another relevation related to the earlier insight during one morning's hour of adoration before the Lord. In the midst of my adoration, an image of Jesus' wounded feet descended before me and seemed to have stepped into MY footsteps. As I pondered further at that image, I began to realise that even before I found the strength, inspiration, and will to walk in Jesus' footsteps by sharing in His suffering, Jesus was the one who FIRST walked in my footsteps to share MY suffering during His passion, suffering and death! It was 2,000 years ago before I even started walking in my own footsteps did He already walked in them, shared in the suffering and pain that I am discovering and experiencing along my path, and already knew how I would be feeling and what I am going through right this moment as I continue to walk in my footsteps.

Jesus already knows what it feels like to have to part from a loved one, to have to break a relationship I cherished so much, to have to witness other happy couples getting married and starting families, to have to deal with sacrifices that come with this priestly vocation, to have to deal with my own weaknesses and sinfulness, to have to deal with conflicts and tension that exist in relationships with other people, to have to deal with outcomes that are not according to mywishes, to have to deal with sudden circumstances in my life that throw me into confusion and despair, and the list goes on.

All these Jesus had already walked in them, walking with His wounded, bloody feet with two permanent holes etched in them. And as I continue to walk in His footsteps that form my part of the journey, He is still there with me, walking with me, suffering with me. And because He has already walked in those footsteps of mine, He even knows which step I would trip so as to be prepared to catch me. He knows which step I would land on a stone so as to be prepared to hold me steady. He even knows which step I may miss, so that He takes it upon Himself to make up for it and take that step on my behalf. He also knows which steps are hardest and most tiring so as to be ready to carry me on His back and walk those familiar steps again for me.

With a God so loving as to send His only Son down to become one of us, and to pave the way for us by taking those footsteps first, why should I turn away from Him in the midst of my tiring, painful, heart-wrenching footsteps, when I can turn my face to Him instead, and allow Him to catch me, to hold me, to support me, and even to carry me.

Jesus never skips a step, even when we do.

So let us never feel afraid or alone whenever we take the steps that are laid before us, for Jesus has already walked in them, and we already know where these footsteps will eventually lead to, even if they have to pass through the dusty, bloody roads leading up to Calvary, for beyond those steps are footsteps towards redemption, resurrection, and Paradise.

And that's where I want my feet to end up eventually...even if my journey started with two knees on the ground (or cushioned pews for that matter).