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 GesÃ¹, 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.
This brought tears to my eyes as it brought back vivid, moving memories of masses with the elderly Jesuits in St. Louis. I recall an elderly Jesuit, wheelchair bound, concelebrating with such love and passion that he was weeping as his feeble voice gave life to the prayers and as he reached his frail, trembling hand towards the raised Eucharist. As he reached for Jesus, weeping through his words, you could feel God in the room, and,intimately with that priest, in the most powerful communion I have ever witnessed. Tears poured down my cheeks, as they pour out now in this moment of recollection. We are all united in these profound spiritual experiences. Thank you, Father Muldoon for helping me to remember how much the elderly Jesuits transform my faith. God bless you.
Thank you, Jeanie. But the only ones who call me “Father” are my two daughters. 🙂
Our church was wall to wall people for the Easter Vigil (we have 3000 families in our membership), and the Veneration of the Cross was magnificent. Such devotion left me spellbound. I helped an invalided woman stand up to kiss the cross and she was tearful in her thanks but more tearful in being able to participate in this ritual. To say the ceremony touched my heart is woefully short of expressing how I felt, seeing so many people in God’s hands. God is so good to us. I’m happy that the Jesuits do this for their elderly members. God never goes away, does He?
Not even when we wish he would for a minute. Thank God for that one.
What beautiful thoughts about the senior Jesuits. God bless them!
The reverence down to the Cross by ordinary folks is for me one of the most beautiful parts of the Holy Week services. In our parish that part of the ceremony took nearly an hour as parishioners of all shapes/sizes/backgrounds/ages came to adore the Cross. As one of the deacons I was privileged to hold the cross as people came forward, and it is a very emotional part for me.
Your description of the old Jesuits doing the same, because they are still in love with the ONE was magnificent. Thank you.
Tim, thank you so much for this loving tribute to the Jesuit community. I owe so much to the Jesuits and Ignatian Spirituality. When I converted to Catholicism, I had been a faithful Christian all my life but God called me to the Catholic expression of the Christian faith and I responded; however, it is the Jesuits who affirmed that I was ok talking about falling in love with Jesus and they provided me with the confidence to spread this message to others. My spiritual home is with the Jesuit community through Ignatian Spirituality and I am extremely grateful to our Lord for bringing me to this place. I appreciate Loyola Press and all that each person there does for so many also.