?My God, my God why have you deserted me??

Sean Loone

This article is a reflection on the spirituality of Anthony De Mello for the Year of Faith. Sean Loone is deacon at Our Lady of the Wayside in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, and lecturer at St Mary's Seminary, Oscott.

Anthony De Mello in his book Awareness1 challenges his readers to ?wake up? and see the world and therefore faith in a completely different way. He contends that most people are ?asleep? living life with their eyes closed and therefore failing to see, realise and appreciate the beauty of life. He puts it like this, ?All mystics, no matter what their theology are unanimous on one thing: that all is well, all is well. But tragically, most people never get to see that all is well because they are asleep. They are having a nightmare.?2 The book itself is challenging but goes to the very heart of what Anthony De Mello believed and taught about spirituality. I wanted to apply this way of looking at our faith to the words of Jesus from the cross seen through the eyes of someone who struggles to believe. This leads onto a reflection on the meaning of the Passion and an attempt to awaken that which lies deep within all of us, a unique response to the invitation to follow Christ with the open eyes of faith. Thus even from the cross we are able to say, ?all is well.? As you read, replace the word ?asleep? with the word ?blind? and hopefully it will be clear what I am trying to achieve.

As Jesus cries out from the cross, ?My God, my God why have you deserted me?? There is an immediate response from the Father to his son in the form of the torn veil in the Temple. This event is described in all three Synoptic Gospels, though each author describes it from their own unique point of view. Scholars have for a long time debated the significance of the torn veil at two levels. Firstly we have the argument over whether the veil refers to the one that separated the outer court from the sanctuary or the inner veil that led to the Holy of Holies. It seems highly unlikely; however, that any of the Gospel writers or even their readers would have had the specialized knowledge needed to understand the difference between the two veils or the symbolism involved.

However, what is more interesting and relevant is the debate over whether the tearing of the Temple veil is meant to symbolise or indeed reveal God the Father?s intention to abandon the Temple as the place of his presence and therefore worship. Or is it meant to symbolise the opening of a once-closed sacred place of worship to a new group of people; namely the Gentiles? If we focus on Mark?s Gospel we can attempt to get to the bottom of this argument and in so doing begin to understand the message of divine revelation. Mark tells us that, ?the veil of the Temple was torn in two from top to bottom.? This suggests a violent ripping not dissimilar to the high priest?s tearing of his garment earlier in the Gospel where Jesus was on trial and a judgement was being made about him. Here we can begin to see Mark working out his theology. Reflecting back on the trial of Jesus the tearing of the veil would appear to be nothing less than the fulfilment of the words of Our Lord, ?I am going to destroy this Temple made by human hands. (Mark 14.58) As a result when the Temple veil is torn in two, from top to bottom, it is in effect being destroyed and therefore not being opened to others, even Gentiles. However, the new Temple to which outsiders will be welcomed is not one built by human hands but will be the Lord himself.

As if to prove this point beyond doubt Mark follows the event with the proclamation of faith by a Roman Centurion, an outsider ? a Gentile; with the words; ?In truth this man was son of God.? For Mark this also echoes the trial of Jesus when he was challenged to declare whether he was ?the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One.? (Mark 14.61) When Jesus answers, ?I am,? he is mocked as a false prophet. Yet now his prophecy for Mark is being fulfilled because not only is the Temple, in effect, being destroyed, but for the first time in the whole of the Gospel, Jesus? true identity as God?s Son is being recognized and by a Gentile. Here then we are reaching the high point of Mark?s theology ? all we need are the eyes of faith to see it. Jesus has been abandoned by his disciples; betrayed by Judas; denied by Peter; accused of blasphemy by the priests; rejected by the crowd in favour of a murderer; mocked by the Sanhedrin, the crowds and the Roman soldiers as he journeyed to the cross; crucified and left to die in terrible agony.

Finally at the end of all of this and feeling even forsaken by the Father he lets out the terrible cry coming straight from the heart, ?My God, my God why have you deserted me?? In this moment of isolation and despair the answer to this agonising cry comes straight from the Father; the Temple veil is torn in two from top to bottom. Jesus is vindicated because God replaces the Temple as the place of worship with the body of his own Son and this will be born witness to by all people, including Gentiles. The fact that Mark includes Jews in this is seen by the one Jewish figure who now plays a leading role; that of Joseph of Arimathea, ?a prominent member of the Sanhedrin.? (Mark 15.43) Indeed only Mark amongst the Gospel writers describes this as an act of courage.

For Mark both the Roman Centurion and Joseph of Arimathea stress his theological outlook on the role of the Passion. It is only possible to come to belief and therefore be a true disciple through the suffering symbolized by a cross which strips away every human support we could possibly imagine so that all we are left with is God and therefore are totally dependent on him and him alone.

When we turn to the Gospel of Matthew we find that, once again, God has not deserted Jesus. However, what we do find here after Jesus cries out, ?My God, my God why have you deserted me?? is something unique to the Gospel. After the veil is torn in two, from top to bottom there is an earthquake, rocks are split, tombs are opened and the dead rise. As with Mark we find here earlier echoes of the Gospel. Matthew marked the birth of Jesus with a star in the sky, whilst his death is also marked by signs in the heavens, on earth and even under the earth. Once again, as with Mark there is a moment of Judgement for the Temple ? it is being abandoned by God. But equally there is a new beginning or a new opportunity, even new life as the saintly dead of Israel rise and Gentiles are embraced as the children of God as the Roman guards confess, ?In truth this man was son of God.?

Luke places the tearing of the Temple veil before Jesus? death, (Luke 23.45) and not after it as we have seen in Mark and Matthew. This is because for Luke the crucifixion is all about the forgiveness, compassion and mercy of God. As a result only acts of grace will follow the death of Jesus. Now the Gentile centurion echoes the conclusion of Pilate that this man was innocent; whilst at the same time the Jewish multitude who followed Jesus to Calvary and looked on as he was crucified (Luke 23.27,31) now repent and return home beating their breasts. Goodness even flows out of the Sanhedrin as Joseph of Arimathea, who did not consent to the crucifixion of Jesus, asks for his body so that it can be buried according to the Jewish custom. For Luke then, the tearing of the Temple veil in the context of Jesus? crucifixion becomes the opportunity of God?s forgiveness and healing grace.n

1 De Mello, A., Awareness, Fount 1997

2 De Mello, A., Awareness p 5