I would guess that passion is something most of us think of as a very personal emotion directed toward interests and aspirations particular to a given individual. We hear of people having “passion projects” and this is understood to mean something undertaken for reasons well beyond the practical, and again, pertaining to an individual’s personal goals even as they often recruit others to realize their dream. And there is often what I might call an artistic dimension to these projects in that whatever is being undertaken, a great work of art, the building of some great edifice, the founding of an organization and so on, it is in large part the expression of an individual; and being such, it may or may not have a universal beneficial effect. Indeed, my appreciation of another’s passion project might be rather minimal, a “well done” to them for successfully pursuing a goal, but ultimately it isn’t anything of interest or relevance to me.
However, when we turn to the passion of the Christ, the passion project of Jesus of Nazareth, we see in it both the fulfilment of a person’s being—that is, for this Christ took flesh and lived among us; but there is also a universal beneficial effect. As personal as Christ’s struggle is on the cross (it is one that we can choose to stand back from and only observe), it is also one into which we can enter and authentically make our own. That passion, can become our passion; what was the initiative of one, becomes the earnest undertaking of a multitude. And by that multitude sharing in this passion of self-sacrifice for the sake of love, the world is transformed; and I would argue, for the better, and ultimately for the best.
So much of what we do in this life does not spring from passion but from practicality. We need to put food on the table, have a roof over our head. Most of us have a strong drive to find a partner and make a family. We feel a need for a social bond and so strive for friendship and community. And in some of this we experience passion. The passion of the lovestruck as a relationship is forming; the passion of the community crusader who is looking to clean up the neighbourhood. Some of these bursts of passion last a few weeks, some many years. Eventually, they must subside, lessen in their urgency even if still important. Yet if important, we look to reawaken the passion, and renew the energy that keeps us intent upon the object of our passion. That’s why we gather today. It won’t be the same at age 62 as it was at 32 or twelve, but substantially the passion is the same.
Sadly, for too many in this world, there are instances when one becomes disillusioned and realize that passion has led one astray, into unproductive, wasteful, even destructive misspending of time and talent.
And just as apt as we are to have our own passions, we can get caught up in the passion of others.
Sometimes that is beneficial. I was saddened last week to read of the death of the musical conductor, impresario and mentor, Boris Brott. Having met him a couple of times, his passion for producing beautiful music was one that others had been caught up in; and as a result, they found their purpose and fulfilment in entering into the world of classical music, in its production and its performance.
There are, however, odious individuals whose passions tend toward destruction as they are built upon vice and not virtue, are fed by resentment, envy, anger. Like the obsessed Captain Ahab hunting the great white whale Moby Dick, his crew ought to mutiny, but most get caught up in his obsession, others go along for the sake of personal gain, while a minority despair at the madness that has seized Ahab and their shipmates.
I am struck by how today we have so many advocates for teaching our children divisive ideas, for restructuring our workplaces in terms that set groups against each other; the reduction of all history and the issue of justice to things such as race, ethnicity, religion, gender, and so on. I acknowledge that history is the tragedy of human existence played out over time. All peoples have blood on their collective hands; all have failed, fallen short of the glory of God. But to arouse passionate resentment is to make community impossible. There is passion behind these projects of division and revenge.
I return to our Lord Jesus Christ in whom there is neither man nor woman, Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, but all stand in equal relation to the source of life, the perfection of love, the embodiment of truth. All of us ought to sense ourr unworthiness, but also hear the invitation to be reconciled. All of us can choose damnation or redemption.
Christ’s passion, welling up as it does from divine love, and so exhibiting a multitude of virtues as he pursued it; his passion was for our redemption.
We return to this story, and repeat it again, and we will repeat it again come the Triduum, come Good Friday; and it cannot be repeated enough until all of us enter it or reject it, and make ourselves part of it or retreat to the world’s seductive comforts. We can give ourselves to the prince of this world, and he will hungrily consume us; we can make this story our own as Jesus makes us his own and so live as ourselves perfected in love forever.
There is no one else I would rather follow than the one who calls me to love no matter the cost, no matter the manner of sacrifice and shows me the way like any good leader, by leading by example.
And lead he does against those who would divide so as to conquer, who win a desolating false peace by imposing brutalizing order, who work upon our vices to make us vicious toward each other and so deepen our predicament and make salvation seem an impossible dream.
Jesus leads us and wins; his resurrection is the sign of the victory to which we are called to partake of; but we must understand the path to that victory may lead through a dark valley, bring us into the presence of our enemies; have us climb the terrible hill of Calvary. Like soldiers contemplating the battle coming at dawn, we must be prepared for the struggle, be steeled against the fear and yet rise to make the charge, spurred on by the Passion of Christ who has come to redeem the world.