Question: What did Jesus mean on the way of the cross when he said to the women who lamented him: “For if these things are done when the wood is green what will happen when it is dry?” (Lk 23:31).
— Jason Aquero, via email
Answer: Most of the commentaries, ancient and modern, see this as a contrast between the innocent and virtuous Lord and a people grown sinful and lacking in virtue. Jesus is the green wood, and green wood has life and bears fruit.
So Jesus says, in effect, to the women who weep: If then the Romans have so raged against me, a fruit-bearing and ever-flourishing tree, what will they not attempt against a people who are a dry tree, destitute of every life-giving virtue, and bearing no fruit?
Historically, the Lord was indicating the destruction of Jerusalem. That destruction did come 40 years later when the Romans, on account of a Jewish uprising, utterly destroyed Jerusalem. Josephus, a Jewish historian of the time, said that 1.2 million Jews lost their lives in the final siege and destruction of Jerusalem. It was indeed a time of horrible suffering and atrocity.
Jesus’ lament with these women on his way of the cross echoed his sad lament earlier, a desire to save his people: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how many times I yearned to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were unwilling! Behold, your house will be abandoned” (Lk 13:34-35).
And similar historical patterns have beset individuals, nations and empires that fall away from the green wood of virtue to become the dry wood destined for fire.
Germs and Communion
Question: I think Communion in the hand is to be preferred to on the tongue. Further, Communion on the tongue is unsanitary since the priest often touches the mouths of hundreds of people. For this reason, it seems that the shared cup is also to be avoided. It is also unfair to ask the clergy to purify chalices filled with bacteria, etc. As a priest, what do you think of this?
— Name withheld, Philadelphia
Answer: The concern for germs and other hygienic matters is a fairly modern notion. While it is true that bacteria can adversely affect health, the vast majority of people have little to fear since we have immune systems that battle billions of such microbes everywhere and all day long. If one is in poor health, it makes sense to avoid unnecessary exposures, but, other things being equal, most of us should confidently proceed through our day with little fear of serious illness. Reasonable caution has its place, but squeamishness is not usually a necessary stance.
As for the priest, generally in the distribution of Communion, there is little problem with touching the lips or tongue of those who receive in the traditional way. To the degree that it happens, it is usually minor. There are also many bacteria on the hands, but here too, exposure is minor.
As for purifying the chalices, most priests encounter little difficulty. If my own health is fragile or I have some concern with what I must purify, I use a little unconsecrated wine (as the old rubrics required) which has alcohol and helps reduce the issues you raise.
Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at blog.adw.org. Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.