I think there is something special about a cover—about taking a song, a painting, or a movie and recreating it within the modern frame of mind. Aretha Franklin’s bold and unapologetic “Respect” is a perfect example, as she interprets the song as a Black woman in the 1960’s. As is Jimi Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” in which he narrates the song with hauntingly beautiful guitar riffs. In visual art, Andy Warhol recreates the portrait of Mao Zedong with a messy array of bright colors—an unusual depiction of the dictator. Finally, modern movies, headlined by the Cohen Brothers’ True Grit, give life to old characters and stories, recreating them for new audiences.
However, even the Beatles, the most covered band of all time, cannot compete with the millions of interpretations of Jesus Christ. Thousands of artists have painted Christ crucified or the Madonna and Child. Everyone from Van Gogh, Basquiat, or da Vinci have painted Jesus Christ, each in their own manner. It can be mind-numbing to try to flip through them all, viewing each painting, alien to the others, and, oftentimes, to us. There are always two questions to ask when discussing art: “What is this artist trying to say?” and “What do we think he or she is trying to say?”
These questions matter much more when investigating faith. In a special way, how artists of all disciplines—including sculptors, writers, or directors—interpret Jesus will affect us. Every Catholic, no doubt, thinks of Jesus through some piece of art or another, but Jesus is more than just a collection of paints, words, or images. Jesus is alive. It is tempting to trap Him in a Caravaggio, an El Greco, or even in the Passion of the Christ—to prevent Him from challenging us. Jesus as represented in art cannot call us out in our sins; He cannot tell us the hard truths we need to wrestle with. Even further, we should not trap Jesus in the Church or solely in the Mass. Yes, we are oftentimes challenged in specific ways during the Mass, especially when a priest gives a difficult homily. It can be easy, however, to selectively hear the priest, interpreting him and hearing only what we want to hear. We often want a sanitized Jesus, one that affirms us and makes us feel good. But while Jesus resides in the tabernacle and comes to meet us in every celebration of the Eucharist, He cannot be left there. Jesus wants to encounter us personally in order for us to help others encounter Him.
Jesus always challenged His disciples to worship, act, and believe in accordance with truth. Jesus was not “sanitized” or acting in the “proper way” when He overturned the tables of the money changers; He was not “sanitized” when He described the narrow way; and He surely was not clean and tidy when He died on the Cross. Jesus defied our expectations. He was filled with passion for God’s truth. While He is Beauty itself, Jesus often made His listeners look away as they were unable to embrace the unsavory truth that can be hard to swallow.
I enjoy going to Washington’s National Gallery of Art or New York’s MET, but next time I see Christ there, I will be reminded that He is not trapped in the golden walls of the frame. Jesus is alive, living in the Eucharist and in others. While it is beautiful to witness Jesus in the arts, we must remember that Christ lives in the audience, the museum goers. While the beauty of the art itself is mesmerizing, Christ is alive in flesh, both on the altar and in people who remind us that, while beautiful, Christ’s message is a challenge.
This coming Sunday, to close out the Easter Octave, we will celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday. Devotion to Divine Mercy started with St. Faustina in the early 1900s and Divine Mercy Sunday became officially recognized by Pope John Paul II in 2000 along with the canonization of St. Faustina. Growing up, I would hear a homily about the image of Divine Mercy every Divine Mercy Sunday, but it wasn’t until I was introduced to the Divine Mercy Chaplet that I began to understand more about the overall message of Divine Mercy.
The Chaplet of Divine Mercy is a devotion that was started by St. Faustina from her visions of Jesus. It is a series of prayers that can be said on rosary beads, albeit usually much quicker than a rosary, that is especially connected to Divine Mercy Sunday. What particularly strikes me about the Divine Mercy Chaplet is how many of the prayers end with “us and the whole world.” Both the Eternal Father prayer, the prayer said on the “Our Father” beads, and the prayer said on each of the “Hail Mary” beads ends with this emphasis on “us and the whole world.” I began to understand what Divine Mercy meant when I thought about mercy not just in terms of myself, but about the whole world, both my closest friends and people I had never met.
The message of Divine Mercy is that through the mercy Jesus shows us, we are called to be merciful and in harmony with all of our brothers and sisters throughout the world. Our inward journey of mercy ultimately leads us outward to living a merciful life. For me, I am reminded of the Beatitudes and the call for everyone to be merciful, peacemakers, and more (Matthew 5:3-12). However, I have found myself struggling with how I, a college student, can live out this mercy to the “whole world.” How can I show mercy to the “whole world” during the COVID-19 pandemic when we cannot travel? These are some of the questions I find myself grappling with when thinking about how to live out a life of Divine Mercy.
When I think about Divine Mercy, I think about God’s abundant love for us and how we are called to share that love with all our brothers and sisters. In that, I mainly think about community service opportunities I have had while in college to go on both service and justice immersion trips around the country, as well as locally in Washington, DC. But I also thought about doing little acts of service throughout the day. I think just as we can do little acts of service throughout the day, we can do little acts of mercy to spread a consistent ethos of mercy. As Mother Teresa is attributed with saying, “we cannot all do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
In my daily life, I have learned that there are many ways that we can treat people with mercy and love, bringing the ethos of Divine Mercy to our daily lives. A lot of this includes little things, such as: not getting upset when the cafeteria food takes twice as long as normal to be made, receiving and giving criticism in group projects and assignments with love rather than having an attitude of superiority, and being adaptable and understanding when situations change, especially with COVID-19. Over the years I have seen some commercials advertising “pass it on” campaigns in terms of good deeds, but I think that idea also applies to living in a merciful and loving way. Our mercy spreads to the “whole world” through us being merciful to someone who is in turn merciful to many more people. As we approach and celebrate this Divine Mercy Sunday, let us think about ways that we can live a life of Divine Mercy every day.
“Extend your mercy towards others, so that there can be no one in need whom you meet without helping. For what hope is there for us if God should withdraw His Mercy from us?” – Saint Vincent de Paul (attributed)
To learn more about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, please click here.
We may be well-acquainted with Lenten practices and devotions such as giving something up, abstaining from meat, or praying the Stations of the Cross. It can be more difficult, however, to name ways to observe the Easter season.
Yet in the Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer at every Mass during the Easter season, we hear:
“It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed… Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory…”
What is “paschal joy” and how do we praise the Lord “more gloriously” in the Easter season?
It is unreasonable to expect anyone to will themselves to be happy at any given moment, much less for an entire season. But joy is not the same as happiness, nor is it the absence of sadness. Joy is a fruit of charity. It flows out of love; it results from a participation in goodness. We feel joy in the presence of someone or something we love; we rejoice in the well-being of our loved ones.
If our Lenten observance is focused on charity—particularly acts of charity such as prayer, fasting, and almsgiving—then joy flows naturally from them. The disciplines that turn our gaze outward to God and neighbor, the sacrifices we make, are all a participation in goodness, an act of love. Paschal (Easter) joy, then, can be seen as the fruit of our Lenten journey.
Our Lenten efforts are not meant to be temporary measures. They are intended to effect lasting change in us, to conform us more profoundly to our Lord who died but has been raised. What can we do then, so that we don’t simply drop our Lenten observance now that Easter has arrived? How can we instead allow these observances to take root in such a way that they enable us to celebrate the Easter season more fully and joyfully?
Consider one or more of the following suggestions to cultivate paschal joy and fill each of the fifty days of the season with festivities and devotions:
Click here for more resources to accompany you this Easter season.
 Preface I-V of Easter, Roman Missal, Third Typical Edition.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 150, no. 152.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 153.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 154.
 Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, no. 155.
 Cf John Paul II, General Audience, Wednesday, 30 May 1979
I often find myself avoiding sad and painful things, searching to find a silver lining and help make me or someone else feel better. It can be at the cost of seeming empathetic, too, like avoiding sitting with the pain and instead dealing with it head on. My immediate reaction is to fix something broken or to solve a problem instead of to actually let it sink in and affect me. Growing up, this was a coping mechanism that I’ve been able to turn into a strength of mine as a teacher, making split-second decisions and problem-solving throughout the day. Personally though, I think I need to wrestle with it. As we enter into the saddest, most heart-wrenching day of the year, my gut says “avoid the topic, think about Sunday,” but instead I’m going to go a little deeper for Good Friday this year.
Good Friday was what I can only imagine to be a marathon of a day for Christ to endure, only to end with his sacrifice in the Crucifixion. The brutality and agony that he must have felt while carrying his cross can be overwhelming to think about. He carried it bleeding, tired, hungry, and aching from the weight of such an enormous cross. I’ve never experienced pain like that, so I’ve found it easy to skip through, acknowledging it happened and moving on. But this is where I’ve gotten it wrong: Christ did all of that for me, for us, for every human being on this Earth. Jesus did that so we wouldn’t have to experience it for ourselves and could be together with God in his Kingdom one day. This day is the one I shouldn’t overlook.
The Stations of the Cross, a 14-step reflection on the Passion of Christ, is the perfect place for me to start contemplating Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday. While there are many versions of this devotion, I’m using the Stations of the Cross in the Spirit of St. Vincent Pallotti to help me think more clearly about the meaning of Good Friday. There are many different Stations of the Cross to use depending on your spirituality, vocation, or age. In my classroom I like to use a coloring book version and when I taught 2nd grade, we liked this one for children. For this year’s study, I think I’ll also try this Scriptural Stations of the Cross from the USCCB’s website, located on the Catholic Apostolate Center’s resource page as well. I hope to think more deeply and clearly about the Passion of Christ and appreciate a little more heavily the price he paid for me, everyone I know, and beyond.
There are many signs throughout this Triduum that we can think about in addition to praying with the Stations of the Cross. Tonight on Holy Thursday, the tabernacle was emptied and colored cloth was placed there instead. There will be no consecration of the Eucharist until the Easter Vigil and instead of Mass, we pray, remember, and venerate the Cross. The color for Good Friday’s services changes too: red is now the color we see and use to remember his blood shed for us. Red was also the color used on Palm Sunday, when Jesus made his way through palm branches on a donkey into the City of Jerusalem in joyous celebration.
These signs in church help us remember all that Christ did for us. We may take his sacrifice for granted possibly because it is easier to avoid the sad and scary realities about the time between Jesus’ arrest and Easter morning. We also may be too “busy” to stop and reflect on not just the happy moments when Jesus was teaching, but also how he gave His life to save ours. In our lives, we must continue to appreciate and enjoy the good parts of Christ’s life and ministry. We can live knowing that the end is happy and He is Risen on Easter morning. But without Good Friday, we wouldn’t have Easter Sunday. Tomorrow on Good Friday, I invite you to join me on this sad and painful day as I look more deeply at the Stations of the Cross.
For additional resources, please visit the “Additional Lenten Resources” page on the Catholic Apostolate Center page.