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Way of the Cross: Anne-Marie Pelletier, a birth takes place on the Golgotha

In the first Way of the Cross written by a woman, birth is the key word. The gift we should ask for is the gift of tears, for on the Golgotha what is at stake is life, the only antidote to the banality of evil

The tears and the blood shed by the Saint Catherine of Siena. A glimpse of the sky seen through the fence of the lager by Etty Hillesum. Kenosis as the language of God for Christos Yannaras. The redeeming value of suffering of Dietrich Bonheffer. Those are the figures evoked in this year’s Meditations on the Way of the Cross, written at the request of Pope Francis by French Biblical scholar Anne-Marie Pelletier, recipient of the 2014 Ratzinger Award. It’s the first time for a woman, and it’s no coincidence that the key word of the entire text, distant from all forms of rhetoric, is birth, understood as the fulfilment of the mission of God, of his entire existence, which before the Golgotha was a suspended life. Indeed, it is life that the reflections are imbued with, never digressing, but instead showing us the burden of the suffering on the Cross until its extreme consequences. Life as an antidote to the “banality of evil”: that of Hannah Arendt, evoked – although never mentioned – in the phrase that titles one of her most famous books. Today the banality of evil has an increasingly wider scope. Pelletier’s list is long, concrete and detailed, as it must help us examine and measure the width, length, height and depth of the love of Christ. To act as the women who weep for Jesus: weeping is a sign of strength not of weakness, and it extends far beyond the stereotypes in which the female world is still sought to be encaged. It’s the lesson taught to us by Francis, with the revolution of tenderness that marked his pontificate since the beginning, which continues to thrive in the recollection of one of the most intense and original moments of the Jubilee of Mercy: The Prayer Vigil to Dry the Tears.

It all began on the Golgotha, which is where a birth takes place. On Golgotha, contrary to all appearances, what is at stake is life:
“It is our world with all its failings and sufferings, its pleas and protests, all those cries that in our day rise up to God from lands of dire poverty and war, from boats teeming with migrants… How many are the tears, how great is the misery, yet none of this will be lost in the sea of time. Instead it will be taken up by him, to be transfigured in the mystery of a love which vanquishes all evil.”

When Peter meets the gaze of Christ, after having betrayed him three times, “his tears pour forth, bittersweet, like the water that cleanses a stain.” Thus Peter learns the boundless forgiveness of the One who, in taking the Cross, “descends into the depths of our night”, coming down “to the earth, so often thankless and at times devastated, of our lives.”

Tears are necessary. “These tears of women are always present in this world”, they fall down their cheeks, and in their hearts, like the tears of blood spoken of by Catherine of Siena, the first woman proclaimed a Doctor of the Church. We live in a world where there is a lot to weep for:
“Tears of terror-stricken children and of those wounded on battlefields crying out for a mother, the tears of the sick and dying, alone on the threshold of the unknown. Tears of dismay falling on the face of this world, which was created on the first day for tears of joy, in the shared rejoicing of man and woman.”Tears are necessary. Just like the tears of Etty Hillesum, that courageous woman of Israel who remained undaunted amid the firestorm of Nazi persecution. Amid the hell in which the world had been plunged, she dared to say to God in her prayer: “I will try to help you!”.

Sometimes, “in the face of evil we are helpless.” To decode it, we need to understand God’s language, the abasement that leads God to come to us wherever we find ourselves, as we are taught by Orthodox theologian Christos Yannaras. “The tender love of God had to visit this hell of ours. It was the only way to free us from evil”: God is where he shouldn’t be and yet he is exactly where we need him to be, amidst so many scarred men and women we meet along the way. Against violence, we elevate the prayer of the monks killed in Tibhirine: “Disarm them! And disarm us!”

“Only a God who suffers can save us”, these words by Dietrich Bonhoeffer sump up the “simple and overwhelming truth” of the Christian faith. On Golgotha, also Mary arrived at the end of her walk.
“Standing there, she does not desert him. In the darkness, but with certainty, she knows that Jesus is both the promise and its fulfilment.”Water and blood, life and birth, come forth the side of Jesus on the Cross. Taking in her arms the body born of her flesh that has expanded to the measure of her grief, the Mother makes gestures that are “reverent caresses.” Thanks to the Mother, tenderness and compassion come into play. Now Jesus’ mission of mercy is fulfilled, “the violence of murderous men has receded into the distance. Gentleness has returned to the place of execution.” All tears shall be wiped away. When the women prepared spices and ointments to bid the last farewell to their Lord, they still didn’t know that the next morning they would find an empty tomb.

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