St. Edith Stein 6
I treasure the Palm Sunday liturgy for the opportunity it gives me to demand that Jesus be crucified. (For any non-Catholics reading this, the traditional Palm Sunday liturgy involves a lengthy reading of the Passion narrative in which the congregation speaks the words of the mob.) Presumably we all like to think we would have stood by Our Lord when his own people as well as the Roman authorities were demanding his blood, but surely we flatter ourselves. No, much more fitting that we should put ourselves in the role of those who shouted “Crucify Him!” To speak these words as part of a reading of the entire story of the arrest and crucifixion is to discern in the hatred of the Jerusalem crowd the same detestation of the good which is spoken of in the book of Wisdom: “He was made to reprove our thoughts. He is grievous unto us even to behold.”
And it is to feel something familiar to us all, or at least to anyone who has ever reflected on the psychology of his own sin: the violent thrusting aside of that which is in the way of the wrong we have determined to do. One need not have committed murder or adultery to know it; it’s enough to recall the ecstatic moment in which we surrender to an outburst of rage, or crush the protest of conscience against malicious gossip.
There have been a few attempts in recent years to take this role in the Palm Sunday reading away from the congregation, I suppose because it’s too negative or something. That is at best misguided. We need reminders like this. To attempt to remove them from our lives is like attempting to keep a child from burning his fingers by anesthetizing them. To attempt to remove them from the practice of the Catholic faith is to make the faith itself superfluous and meaningless.
If I do not see in myself the same conscience-murdering impulse that drove the mob against Jesus, I become blind in the only way that really matters. The knowledge of my own wish for death is the only thing that gives me hope of life.
Against the grain of contemporary thought which wishes, either sentimentally or in reaction to excessive harshness in the past, to absolve of responsibility those who are unwilling to hear the word of God, St. Edith Stein has a perhaps alarming corrective:
Although we ought not to think it impossible that an unbeliever (meaning someone completely ignorant of God) could lack personal guilt and thereby be impervious to the image-language of Holy Scripture, we should not reject all human guilt….In most cases…the ‘unbeliever’ will share the responsibility for his blindness.
And, a little further:
In the case of someone who from mental lethargy and apathy or carelessness fails to gain any knowledge of God, his inability should rather be taken as punishment.
I hear the gates of Hell swing open here. The more the unbeliever refuses to hear, the more he becomes incapable of hearing. This is the mystery which I brought up several weeks ago in relation to Matthew 25:29 (“For unto everyone that hath shall be given…but from him that hath not shall be taken away…”): the culpability of one who fails to receive the truth which can be known but not proven. Although it is the practicing atheist who is referred to in this passage, the same process and the same judgment may be operative in the life of an ostensible believer. How can it be just that one should be damned for not knowing? But how can it be just that he be saved if he refuses to know?
When does ignorance become willful and culpable? The psychological movements which constitute such a decision on the part of a soul must be so subtle that we may well be thankful that we are forbidden to judge them in others, and have responsibility only for our own.