Il Spasimo, Jesus carrying the cross, by Raphael, 1516 Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Who am I on the Via Dolorosa?

By  Fr. Thomas Rosica, Catholic Register Special
  • March 26, 2015

This year on Palm Sunday, we listen attentively to Mark’s Passion story of Jesus’ final days and hours on Earth — a story of striking contrasts. In Mark’s jarring story, we witness the anguish of Jesus who has been totally abandoned by friends and disciples. He is resigned to His fate. He makes no response to Judas when he betrays Him, nor to Pilate during His interrogation. In Mark, Pilate makes no effort to save Him, as the Roman procurator does in the other three Gospels.

In the midst of Mark’s stories of betrayal and violence, the evangelist inserts a dramatic story of exquisite fidelity. While Jesus visits Simon the Leper in Bethany on the Mount of Olives, an anonymous woman breaks open her alabaster jar of costly perfumed oil and anoints Jesus’ head in royal, biblical fashion (14:3-9).

As the fragrance of the oil fills the room, those with Jesus are shocked at the woman’s extravagant gesture. But Jesus defends her. “She had performed an act of true fidelity and love,” He tells them, “for she has anticipated anointing my body for burial.” For this, Jesus promises, she would be remembered wherever the Gospel would be preached. This woman is the only one in all of the New Testament to be so greatly honoured.

Is this not what each of us is called to do during Holy Week in particular? Is it not to love Jesus and to be attentive to Him throughout the final tragic movements of His earthly life, and in the midst of all of the setbacks, failures and betrayals of our own lives? Our lives must be like the woman’s jar of expensive ointment poured out so lavishly on the Lord in the final moments of His life on Earth.

Who am I in the passion story of Jesus this week? Am I like Judas who pretends to love Jesus and then kisses the Master in order to hand Him over and betray Him? Am I like powerful leaders who hide behind the trappings of office, documents, rules and regulations, prestige and privilege and appeal to tribunals or consultants, rules, manuals, committees and bureaucratic structures and even seek false witnesses and condemn the innocent just to prove our point?

Am I like Pontius Pilate, fearful for my own reputation, unsure of my mission, and wash my hands of complex situations that require thought, reflection and a change of mind and heart on my part?

Am I like that jeering mob which was not sure whether they were at a religious meeting, a trial or a circus, and then chose Barabbas? For them it was all the same: it was all about making Jesus into an irrelevant fool. Am I like the soldiers who strike Jesus, spit on Him, insult Him, delight in humiliating Him?

Am I like Simon of Cyrene, conscripted from my private little world, minding my little business, immersed in my own stuff, weary, yet willing to help the Lord carry that heavy cross? Or perhaps am I like those fearless women, and like the mother of Jesus, who were there, taking in all the inexplicable terror and inhumanity, suffering in terrifying silence?

Am I like Joseph of Arimathea, the hidden disciple, who lovingly carries the body of Jesus to give it burial?

Who am I in the passion story of Mark’s Gospel? Who am I this week? Where am I this week along the Via Dolorosa? During the moving liturgies of Holy Week, we are given the special grace to carry on, with joy and in hope, despite rejection, humiliation and suffering. In light of Mark’s passion story which leads us into the Triduum, let us pray for the grace and fidelity of that woman in Mark’s story, whose alabaster jar of nard was poured out in active service, in decisive, courageous works, and in watchful presence at the end. Her action on Jesus’ behalf was hopeful, positive, courageous and unambiguous. Her faith in and love of Jesus and her decisive following of Him are, finally, what discipleship is all about.

(Fr. Rosica, CSB, is CEO of Salt and Light Catholic Media Foundation and English language assistant, Holy See Press Office. For more of Fr. Rosica, visit