We are beginning the Week of the Disciples.  The prophet Isaiah says:  ‘the Lord gave him the tongue of a disciple so that he could give an answer to the wearer’.

There seems to be a lot of people around who are getting tried of following Christ.  Perhaps you – who like the prophet – have had more than your share of suffering – are being called by God to give an answer to these three disciples.  You who have faithfully, every year, honoured the memory of your beloved disappeared.  You have been called to share, in a special way, in the passion of Christ and you have not shirked that suffering. You have not allowed that suffering to drive a wedge between you and God.

Perhaps you often wondered why a good and loving God can allow such atrocious things to take place – and that is a great mystery.  God made us of love.  He did not make us a race of puppets or robots to dance to his command.  Instead he gave us a certain amount of freedom.  Some people choose to abuse that freedom and do evil.  But God has such respect for our freedom that He would not overrule that freedom.  But this does not mean that God approves of all that is being done.  Because you accept patiently, like Christ, all the suffering you had to endure, they you too shall enter into God’s kingdom.

Today we begin the celebration of Holy Week.  It will reach its climax on next Saturday night – Sunday morning – when we remember the resurrection of Jesus from the tomb. 

During the month of January it was my privilege to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem and to visit the Garden of Gethsemane and to offer holy Mass there.  I was able to walk the route that Jesus walked as he carried his cross to Calvary.  At Calvary I knelt and prayed and gazed upon the rock that was split on the first Good Friday.  Then I moved on to the Holy Sepulchre – where the body of Jesus lay until the stone at the door was rolled back – and I said Mass there too. 

You know, as I travelled along, I asked myself, with which of those characters do I identify most closely as we listen to the story of the Passion?  We would all love to think that we are choosing Jesus or his mother or Mary Magdalene, or John the beloved disciple.  Maybe that is not how Jesus sees us.

Many of you have suffered.  Like Mary you have lost a dearly beloved member of your family at a young age.  Like Jesus, he was unjustly taken away and tortured and killed.  Like Mary, you have experienced all of this with disbelief.

Mary stood at the foot of the cross.  Mary met Jesus on the road to Calvary.  She did not have to but she met him because she wanted to meet him.  She stood there to the bitter end.  She listened to her child as the nails were hammered home. 

What a sword of anguish that must have pierced her heart as he looked on helplessly as one of the soldiers ran his lance through the side of her beloved son – Jesus.  How she must have shuddered to hear him say: “I thirst” and instinctively would have moved to satisfy that thirst.  But obviously, the Roman soldiers were not going to allow anything like that to happen.

Simon of Cyrene was enlisted to help Jesus carry the cross.  His sons, Alexander and Rufus were known to the disciples and perhaps Simon himself had met Jesus.  But I often wonder what he was doing in the city that day?  Was he selling fruit or vegetables or eggs perhaps?  Was he in a hurry home to his dinner and maybe he was ready to be caught. I would say the virtue of the cross chose Simon of Cyrene.  I would say he was never to see again.  From a task it became a privilege and a joy to help the Saviour of the world carry the cross – the instrument with which he saved the world. 

I pray today that those who have a heavy cross to carry in life right now may see that, in fact, they are helping Christ to carry his cross and filling up what is missing in the sufferings of Christ. 

Is it not amazing that among the twelve disciples – chosen and specially trained by Jesus – one betrayed him – another denied he ever knew him.  The others ran away.  There is no point in speculating why they ran away.  Would we have done better?

But I am sure Mary was pleasantly surprised to hear son say:  “Father forgive them for they know not what they do”.  It took some courage and love – first of all – to have those feelings towards his executioners and then to put them into words. 

Yet, we have to reflect on what they mean.  What is God like? – I was asked earlier today on a radio interview.  I had to think.  No-one has ever seen God but He has spoken to us through his prophets and, above all, through is son.  So, when we look at Jesus and listen t o his words and see what he suffered for love of us, we know that is what God is like.  A God who forgives – on the grounds of ignorance or on the grounds of his youth as in the case of St. Patrick.