When I was fifteen years old, I remember thinking, “One day I will write a book and the first line will be: ‘From the time I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in a special way.’” I did not know how or why God had called me, but I knew it to be true. God had somehow touched me and that touch had made me a bit different.
I was probably most aware of this difference on Palm Sunday. Each year, as the story of Jesus’ passion was read during Mass, my two brothers squirmed and fidgeted, shifting their weight, leaning on the pew in front of us, obviously bored and wanting to sit down. I, on the other hand, was enraptured. This was the Sunday I anticipated all year, the reading I loved the most. I savored every word of the story and imagined myself in every scene.
When the crowds cried, “Crucify him,” I wanted to cover my ears and scream, “NO!” I imagined Jesus mocked and betrayed and ultimately abandoned. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he pleads to his silent father. I cried for him every time I heard the story.
I would be annoyed with my brothers for their distracting fidgeting. How could they not get the significance of this story? How could they not understand what was happening? “Boys!” I used to think dismissively.
But, by the time I was fifteen, I realized it was not about their being boys. It was about me and my connection with this story, and I realized that I had a relationship with God that was different from my brothers.
I loved going to church, not just on Palm Sunday, but every Sunday. I loved the quiet of it, the smell of candles and incense, the peace. I hungered for connection with God. “I could live here,” I used to think.
My love of church continued throughout my life, but it wasn’t until about fifteen years ago that I gained a deeper insight into my connection with the passion story.
It was Palm Sunday and I was processing into church with my palm branch, just as I had done every year before that. But this particular Palm Sunday, my body resisted entering the church. It was as if I was literally walking with Jesus and wanted him to stop. “Don’t go,” I wanted to say to him, knowing the story that was about to play out. I started to cry before I even got to the church doors. “Don’t go.” But the procession continued and I was carried along inside, tears streaming down my face.
In that moment, I recognized my close identification with Jesus as an innocent victim, betrayed and forsaken; and I realized that I was crying for eight-year-old self.