Old Ghosts

Father Don Farnan

Apr 5

Each spring as we recall the passion of Christ, we recollect His walk to Calvary and our own walk of destiny.  As He encountered good and bad people, from soldiers carrying out His execution and religious leaders demanding His death to those who sought to relieve His pain or who watched in horror, including His own mother, so do we encounter grace and evil on our life’s journey.  There were also good people who acted badly in His final hours because of deep misery or tremendous misunderstanding, especially disciples who denied Him, betrayed Him, abandoned Him, fought for, then fled from, Him.  Perhaps reflection upon the way of the cross can help us make some sense of how we meet similar souls today, from strangers to those we love, how we treat them and they treat us, how we sometimes act out of character depending on the fragile state of our mind when vulnerable.

In Patrick Kavanaugh’s famous poem, On Raglan Road, he notes that old ghosts tend to meet on certain quiet streets.  When we return to Holy Week, we revisit those pensive roadways and resurrect scenes of our connection to salvation history.  Gospels tell about the old ghosts of Moses and Elijah that appeared to a few and bodies from graves that arose and appeared to many.  Sirach states: “Let us praise those godly people, ancestors of generations past, subduers of the land and bearers of faith…their bodies are buried but their names live on…their souls are beyond yet their spirits remain…Illustrious in their day, we recount their impact.”  Jesus, likewise, is perceived as a ghost on a couple of occasions: walking upon a stormy sea or passing through a locked door.  I have seen a few ghosts, as well, though they may have been “tricks” of my eyes or mind toying with my spirituality.  When we brush up against encounters that both haunt us and grace us, they present a powerful reality within our loving walk with God.

For certain remembrances of the journey, we are internally and eternally grateful; for others we harbor guilt and regret.  Simon of Cyrene who helped carry Jesus’ cross may reawaken us to those that lent us a hand through tough times.  His unsuspecting suffering prompts us to realize that we don’t usually get through difficulties alone; it’s better to lean on others when we need to and hold each other up when we can.  Veronica, who stepped out of the crowd to offer a daring act of comfort, points to individuals who courageously risk their safety or status to bring compassion to someone in need.  The women who had nothing to offer but their tears, prayers, and tender-hearted empathy, are also known to us, like those who respond in the wake of school shootings, tornados, earthquakes, or acts of unjust aggression to grieve, rebuild, resettle, and restore hope.  Jesus confronted many bad people, too, starting with religious brethren who accused Him, judged Him, and falsely condemned Him.  The Sanhedrin, Pharisees, lawyers, and scribes of that time are not much different from some who hold power over victims now.  The soldiers who whipped, scourged, beat, and tortured Him, the mob that taunted, cussed, bullied, or ignored Him, are reminiscent of people in our society today that do the same.

Retracing the path of Holy Week, from washing feet to reverencing crosses, can cleanse windows to our past and/or open doors for our future.  Confronting good and bad spirits, ghosts real or imagined, is important.  It reminds us that we, too, have a destiny with death and what lies beyond earthly existence.  But we don’t walk the path alone.  We are accompanied by loving souls, unsuspecting strangers, bad actors, compassionate grace, generations of saints from ages past, and Christ.  During Holy Week especially, we are encouraged to roam the quiet streets of our spiritual world, for they will take us where we need to go and where God awaits.