by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
On Good Friday during the liturgy commemorating the Lord’s passion, while the people are venerating the cross, the cantors and choir sing what are called the “Reproaches.”
Each Reproach recalls a way in which Our Lord manifested incredible love for his people by rescuing them from enslavement in Egypt and bringing them into the Promised Land and then contrasts it with the treatment of Jesus during his passion and crucifixion.
The cantors sing: “I scourged Egypt for your sake with its firstborn sons, and you scourged me and handed me over.”
“I led you out from Egypt as Pharaoh lay sunk in the Red Sea, and you handed me over to the chief priests.”
“I opened up the sea before you, and you opened my side with a lance.”
“I went before you in a pillar of cloud, and you led me into Pilate’s palace.”
“I fed you with manna in the desert, and on me you rained blows and lashes.”
“I gave you saving water from the rock to drink, and for drink you gave me gall and vinegar.”
“I struck down for you the kings of the Canaanites, and you struck my head with a reed.”
“I put in your hand a royal scepter, and you put on my head a crown of thorns.”
“I exalted you with great power, and you hung me on the scaffold of the cross.”
Each of these statements contrasting God’s compassion upon Israel to the cruelty inflicted upon Jesus is followed by Our Lord asking the question and then making the request: “My people, what have I done to you? Or how have I grieved you? Answer me!”
It is well for us to ponder during these special days the many ways in which God has showered us with his love. Everything we have that is good comes from God’s generosity — life, health, family, friends, our gifts and talents, opportunities for school and work, the material blessings of our lives, etc.
In addition to all of this, Jesus died on Calvary for each one of us. Our Lord bore the brunt of our sin by enduring the cruel physical pain of scourging, carrying the weight of the cross on his back, having his body nailed to its wood and undergoing an excruciating death. Moreover, Our Lord also experienced the profound emotional pain of betrayal, abandonment, rejection and humiliation for our sakes.
How have we responded to God’s incredible generosity? How often have we taken for granted all that has been given to us and, like the chosen people in the desert, whined and complained about what we lacked?
How often have we considered prayer a burden rather than a privilege? How frequently have we chosen to give priority to a thousand trivialities rather than spend time in conversation with the Lord of the universe? How many times have we neglected to even show up for Sunday Mass, considering it an imposition on our time to receive the very life and power of God in the Eucharist? Or if we have been physically present, how often have our minds and hearts been a million miles away?
If our hearts are open at all to the incredible events of two thousand years ago that we are privileged to touch in a special way during the liturgies of Holy Week and Easter, how can we not be grateful for all that God has done for us? We have been created for a joy that is the fruit of a grateful heart.
For the Christian, joy and happiness are available to us no matter what the external circumstances of our lives. For those who have accepted God’s love revealed by Jesus, we can be joyful even when we are materially poor, experiencing pain, physically confined, and/or enduring serious limitations and inconveniences resulting from poor health. If we accept God’s love in our hearts, nothing can deprive us of joy.
An excellent exercise for Easter would be to develop our own personal litany of thanksgiving. Attempt to list all of God’s blessings in your life. Do not forget the eternal destiny you were given through the waters of baptism. The next time you catch yourself complaining about what is difficult in your life, begin to recite your litany of blessings.
Then imagine Our Lord asking the questions: What have I done to you? How have I grieved you? Answer me.