A novelist of the end of the 19th Century once wrote, “adversity does not build character, it reveals it.” It’s an interesting quote and certainly has a very strong element of truth to it. On the one hand, adversity does build character, but the quote emphasizes something else that is important, that adversity also reveals it – it reveals who the person really is. It echoes what the Lord Himself said, “for there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17). We come to our annual celebration of Holy Week and of these days when our salvation was won for us by Christ on His Cross and by the shedding of His Blood. It was also a week that, through the adversity and difficulties that it brought with it, many things that were hidden were made visible – in the adversity that people faced, their character was revealed.
We can think first of the Pharisees and they who so often portrayed themselves as upholders of God’s law would be revealed to be men who were prideful and obstinate and would hand the Son of God Himself over to death. We think of Pilate who was revealed to be a man who liked to portray himself as the strong Roman governor, but who would be weak-kneed when it came to defending the Truth against the crowd. We see the crowd itself who were so filled with excitement when Christ arrived in Jerusalem, turn against Him as soon as He didn’t do what they expected and wanted Him to do. We see Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus whose faith was hidden begin to come into the light. We look at the Apostles and we see Judas who was revealed as a thief, a betrayer, a tool in the hands of the evil one; we can see St. Peter who, despite his brave words, realized that outside of the grace of God, he would become a coward; we see St. John who stands faithfully at the foot of the Cross and reveals the depth of his love for the Lord and the reason he was known as “the Beloved Disciple”; we see the other Apostles who claimed they could drink the same chalice as the Lord would, run and hide and scatter as soon as the chalice became too bitter for them. We see the inner strength of the holy women who refused to run from Calvary; we see the good thief whose life was spent in crime reveal a heart that could be converted and the bad thief whose heart had become too hardened for it; we see the centurion who, even when looking upon the bloodied and broken Body of our Lord would see beyond the surface and recognize the Son of God Himself. And, of course, we see Our Lady, full of grace from the very first moment of her conception, to be the greatest of all the disciples, the most faithful of any who have lived, as the fairest honor of our race and given to us, at the foot of the Cross as our Mother. “Adversity does not build character, it reveals it” – that which was hidden has now “come to light.”
In the mysterious ways of God’s providence, this Holy Week unfolds in the same time of this ongoing pandemic – in this time of adversity and of challenge and of trial. It is one thing to consider ourselves patient when our patience isn’t being tested; one thing to consider ourselves courageous when there is no need for bravery; one thing to think of ourselves as faithful when our faith isn’t tested – but it is something very different when our patience, our courage, our faith really is tested – then we can see whether or not it is what we like to think it is. So too does this time challenge us and in it reveals who we really are. As we are challenged by worry or anxiety, with the loss of income or even of our job, of a change in our home life, in the disappearance of so many exterior activities, in the inability to practice our faith as we are used to we will find out who we really are, not just who we think we are. Will we be like the crowds and be faithful so long as God does what we want Him to do? Will we be like Judas who betrays the Lord and gives up on Him? Will we be like the majority of the Apostles who cloak themselves in fear? Will we be like the bad thief whose heart grows even harder? We certainly can be - or we can be different. We can be like St. Peter who sees himself as he really is and through that examination of conscience lays the ground work for his glorious future. We can be like St. John whose love for the Lord reaches a new height through his faithfulness. We can be like Joseph and Nicodemus and grab ahold of our faith more firmly. We can be like the centurion who looks on with the eyes of growing faith and sees the hand of God Himself a work calling us to Himself. A time of adversity is upon us during this Holy Week – what is it revealing about our character? What do we want it to reveal? Who do we want this time of adversity to help us become?
We know when we are a little child, that when we encounter adversity, we run, instinctively, to our mothers, for consolation, support and strength, but also to give us a perspective on what is unfolding in order to help us to grow through it. Of course, at the foot of the Cross, we are shown clearly that Mary is our Mother. No matter what age we may be, we are still her children. May we turn to Our Lady, especially during this Holy Week, and ask her to strengthen and support us and to bring us with her, during this time of adversity, to the foot of the Cross, there to worship Christ, Our Crucified Lord – the King of heaven and earth.