The days of Holy Week challenge us to envision a life in which we take responsibility for our indifference.
He emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor and Nobel prize-winning peace activist, wrote that “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” Indifference, a lack of concern or a refusal to act in the face of injustice, is at the heart of human suffering. With this in mind, St. Maximilian Kolbe (who was executed by the Nazis on August 14, 1941, after having offered his own life to save another condemned prisoner) described indifference as “the most deadly poison of our times.”
In most cases, our indifference is born of comfort or complacency and a sense that “I shouldn’t get involved” or “it isn’t my business.” Sadly, we can all-too-easily recognize how these attitudes allow injustice, abuse, and neglect to continue and increase in too many places in the world today.
However tempting it might be to pretend otherwise, there are things worth living for, suffering for, and even dying for. This is why the question of Cuban poet José Marti—“When others are weeping blood, what right do I have to weep tears?”—calls us to an even more essential question: “What is the value of a life that is lived without anything worth dying for?”
The inconvenience, discomfort, sadness, and pain we may feel if we open our hearts and pay attention to what is happening in and to the world around us are the only real antidote to indifference, because those feelings should call us to action. And Palm Sunday and Holy Week reveal for us a God who, in Jesus, was anything but indifferent: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7a, 8).
Although Palm Sunday’s ability to confront and confound our indifference can be startling and even frightening, the real grace of this celebration is in the opportunity it provides for us to renew our commitment to life in Christ. The days of Holy Week challenge us to envision a life in which—rather than simply limping along from “mistake” to “mistake” — we take responsibility for our indifference, our self-preference, and our sins to become free to grow in love and care about what we do to others, to creation, and to our own bodies, psyches, and souls.
In the end, living the mystery of the Cross leaves no room for indifference because, as St. Cyril of Alexandria observed, “Christ’s example of courage in God’s service will be of great profit for us, for only by putting the love of God before our earthly life and being prepared when occasion demands to fight zealously for the truth, can we attain the supreme blessing of perfect union with God” (Commentary on John, 12.19).
Have you been indifferent toward the suffering others in the past? How do you see the indifference of society allowing evil to thrive in the world today?
How has your own experience of suffering been lessened by the care and concern of others?
How is the celebration of the liturgy this Sunday—and throughout Holy Week—inviting you to live with greater intentionality and mindfulness? How is God inviting you to do and be more?
Words of Wisdom: “There is melancholy, but also peaceful acceptance. There is insight into the fickleness of the human heart, and also immense compassion. There is a deep awareness of the unspeakable pain to be suffered, but also a strong determination to do God’s will. Above all, there is love, an endless, deep, and far-reaching love born from an unbreakable intimacy with God and reaching out to all people, wherever they are, were, or will be. There is nothing that he does not fully know. There is nobody whom he does not fully love.”—Henri Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak