During Holy Week I’ve encountered two very different and yet equally profound meanings in the act of a kiss. The first, of course, is the act by which Judas symbolized his betrayal of Christ: a tender, intimate act which was a lie and a travesty. The other was the act by which we show reverence for the cross of Christ in the liturgy of Good Friday.
I celebrated Good Friday liturgy with my family at Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts, home to a community of retired Jesuits. There is a beautiful chapel there somewhat reminiscent of the baroque style of the Jesuit church in Rome, the Gesù, and being there calls to mind the grand sweep of Jesuit history symbolized by that church. As I looked around the congregation, I saw men who have spent decades in service to Christ. They have been professors, pastors, presidents. They have served in Beirut, Beijing, Boston, and Botswana. They have baptized, taught, built, preached, and given spiritual direction to thousands. Now, here they live out what is likely their final assignment: they move slowly with walkers, or are pushed about in wheelchairs, and spend much time in silence.
The celebrant raised the cross as he and two other priests approached the altar: “behold the cross of Christ, on which was hung the salvation of the world.” The three of them processed around the large chapel, pausing for those who were non-ambulatory, so that they might kiss the cross. The rest of us later processed up the center aisle in order to similarly revere the cross.
It was the faces of those old Jesuits who inspired me. For a moment, I saw not an old man in a wheelchair, but a missionary still responding to the Call of Christ the King. They would raise their arms and lovingly bring the wood of the cross to their lips and kiss the feet of the One for whom they had toiled their whole lives. There was something in their eyes. I could see it. They are still in love.
Ignatius writes in the Spiritual Exercises, “love shows itself more in deeds than in words.” A kiss is a small gesture, but it is a symbol, a manifestation of something deeper that stretches across years, lifetimes, and generations. It is a deed by which a person can render back to God the love that God has given. Once again the Jesuits have taught me something: the meaning of a kiss.