“And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” -- Luke 2:35
I have a tradition of watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ every year, usually on Good Friday. However, this year I decided to watch it on Ash Wednesday to prepare me for Lent. Every time I watch it, something new stands out to me.
This year, I noticed with particular clarity how Mary follows Jesus throughout every step of His Passion and, more specifically, the effect it has on Our Lord. Whether it be His arrest, scourging, or His walk towards Calvary, every time He locked eyes with Mary, His energy was replenished and His courage renewed.
Granted, this is from a film, but it isn’t that difficult to imagine. The love that Christ had for His mother is beyond anything we can conceptualize. I’ve always found this—and her—to be somewhat mysterious and always a little bit beyond my reach of understanding. But I think reflecting on her title of “Our Lady of Sorrows” can encourage us to suffer well, especially during this Lenten season.
Mary, perfectly united with the will of her Son, was always completely open to His grace and His love. Along with this perfect unity, however, came the most intense and acute suffering ever suffered after Christ Himself. It is said by many saints, including St. Ephrem, St. Ambrose, St. Bridget of Sweden, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, that Mary suffered an interior, emotional crucifixion during the Passion of her son. Additionally, due to her sinless nature, the intensity of her suffering during Christ’s Passion was beyond anything we can imagine. St. Bernardine of Siena once said, “the grief of Mary was so great that, were it divided amongst all men, it would suffice to cause their immediate death.”
This suffering of Our Lady of Sorrows, so beautifully depicted in the film, is ironically comforting. Mary is the ultimate example of not only how to suffer, but also how it can glorify God if fully embraced. She shows us that even through our suffering we can fulfill the will of God. One can argue that much of her life—beginning with the prophecy of Simeon and continuing through the laying of Christ in the tomb—was lived in some degree of suffering, especially knowing what would befall her Son. But because she was completely devoted to the fulfillment of the will of God, her suffering was redeemed in and through the glory of the resurrection of Christ.
The film depiction of Christ looking to His mother is also something we can learn from this Lent. Mary can be a source of strength and encouragement as we continue to do works of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving throughout these forty days. Mary suffered quietly and faithfully. She stood with her Son at the cross until the end, knowing in faith that his Passion and death would fulfill God’s plan and bring salvation to mankind.
What can we take from this? Our Lady of Sorrows shows us that suffering well--that is, directed in union with God’s will-- can glorify Him and help us along the path to our salvation. This Lent, as I meditate on her walk with Christ toward Calvary, I am refreshed in the knowledge that our suffering doesn’t need to have a bitter end. If unified with Christ it can, and will, be redeemed in and through Him in eternal life.
How can we make our walk through the desert and toward Calvary this Lent look more like Mary’s?
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
We are now over a week into our Lenten journey; the reality has set in. We are questioning our decisions to give up sweets or the snooze button, and we are tired. Perhaps we have even failed a few times. The forty days seem to drag, and the somberness of the liturgical season has made itself known. Yet during the Ash Wednesday service at my parish, our priest was talking about the joy of the season and how our failures are meant to bring us closer to Our Lord. In a word, he talked about the hope of Lent.
As someone who would rather stay in the joy and light of the Christmas season, I was really challenged by Father’s perspective, especially now, after my many failed attempts to give up the snooze button. We often focus so much on the “giving up” aspect of Lent that the words joy and hope do not seem to go hand in hand with this season. This is especially true when I think of the phrase that kickstarts our Lenten journey: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” On a superficial level, this sign on our forehead doesn’t look so good. Where are the hope and joy in having ashes smeared on your forehead?
Throughout his homily, Father also encouraged us to change our perspective on the difficult acts of penance we are attempting and instead to live in the reality that this season could be a time of true conversion of heart. Our Lord desires us to be holy! The acts of penance we choose could be the very means He uses to break us of habitual sin and to bring a deeper level of charity into our hearts. Conversion of heart and holiness? I could get behind that; I can see the joy there!
The priest did not say “if you fail your resolutions” but “when you fail.” This is a reminder of our weakness and utter dependence on Jesus, who will be making His way to Calvary soon, in Scripture, to save our souls. This dependence on Him will assist in our conversion of heart, considering “we can do nothing without him” (John 15:5). So: it’s alright to fail, but run back to Him. Beg Him for more grace!
Now let’s read this sentence from the Ash Wednesday service one more time: “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Where is the hope there? Father explained that this is the most hopeful reality yet. Ultimately this reminder of our sinfulness and our death paradoxically represents the life we have in Christ, the Resurrection of Jesus, and the hope we have of entering into the Eternal Reward. Even though the phrase seems bleak, it can propel our hope throughout these 40 days. We have something to strive for, to live for, and to love for.
Though I have failed at my Lenten resolutions more times than I have not, I pray with the hope that my humanity might be resurrected, that Our Lord may convert my sinful ways, and that I may remember that this liturgical season is less about what I do and more about what the Lord is doing in my heart to get me home.
What are ways you need to be renewed in hope and joy? How can you accept the failures that come with penance and run to Jesus this Lenten season?
“Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
For more resources to accompany you on your Lenten journey, please click here.
On September 14th, we celebrate the feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In the Gospel of John, Jesus tells us: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life from one's friends” (John 15:13). That love is never more evident than our Lord's passion and death on the Cross. By that Holy Cross, we have been redeemed. Jesus Christ foretold his Passion to the Apostles, instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper, and fulfilled God's plan for human salvation at Calvary upon that Holy Cross. This, my friends, is the greatest love ever known to humankind; by the grace of God, we will come to know the fullness of God's love in eternity. The promise of eternal salvation was made possible upon that Cross and we, as Catholics, are called to pick up our cross and follow Christ daily. This is a very hard thing to accomplish in today's world.
Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to guide and strengthen us while following his commands. Paul tells us: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13). Jesus Christ empowers us with the Holy Spirit today just as he did with the Apostles. It is exactly that God-given power that we need in today’s often secular world to preach Christ crucified and “fight the good fight,” as St. Paul says. For if we profess Christ without recognizing and living his sacrifice on the Cross, we cannot be disciples of the Lord. Peter found that out when Jesus admonished him after the foretelling of his passion and death. I keep written on my desk calendar in my office and in my daily liturgical calendar, a Latin phrase that I think summarizes this idea: Lex orandi, Lex credendi, Lex vivendi - As we worship, So we believe, So we live.
As we worship, so we believe, so we live. We must, through worship and prayer, “Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). We must believe all that Jesus has taught us, that he is our Lord and Savior, and that he suffered and died so that we may live. We must live out our faith in what Jesus has called us to do by spreading the good news and picking up our cross and following our Lord. This is not an easy task. It isn't easy being a Christian. Christ never said it would be easy. Being a Christian is not just being a member of a religion, it is our way of life. We live the faith Christ gave to us. When we struggle with this, when we get lazy or complacent with our prayer time, or if we need a reminder of just how much we are loved and what our calling is, we need only to gaze upon the Holy Cross.
We can also reflect on the Prophet Isaiah, when he told us exactly what Christ has done for us and for the salvation of man: "Yet it was our pain that he bore, our sufferings he endured. We thought of him as stricken, struck down by God and afflicted, but he was pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He bore the punishment that makes us whole, by his wounds we were healed" (Isaiah 53:4-5).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.” Remember, worship, believe, and live in the glory of Christ crucified!
*This post was originally published on September 11, 2014.
Mark A. Straub Sr. is a member of the Knights of Columbus and president of the parish council of Our Lady of the Woods Parish in Woodhaven, Michigan.
Whenever you think of Christianity, it is next to impossible to overlook the role and importance of love in the story of salvation. God’s love for us is one that is infinitely more enduring than any infatuation or passing attraction. It is one that gives and purifies, sacrifices and yields for the good of another -- again and again and again. God’s love is one that extends through, before, and beyond eternity and is ultimately expressed from Calvary to each and every person, fully, freely, and forever.
The Church has dedicated the month of June to a reminder of the depth of God’s love: the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In His Most Sacred Heart, we see how absolutely consumed with love God is for us — so much so that He was willing to bear those heinous wounds, false accusations and derisions, and even His death in order to grant salvation for all. Artistic depictions of the Sacred Heart remind us of the torment Christ endured on our behalf: the heart is wrapped in a crown of thorns, pierced, bleeding, and aflame with a cross rising from the tongues of fire. The visible wounds of Christ’s heart reveal His invisible love. Thus, devotion to the Sacred Heart is described as “devotion to the love of Jesus Christ in so far as this love is recalled and symbolically represented to us by His Heart of Flesh.” As creatures that have both soul and body, bodily representations of Christ’s love sometimes touch us in ways that words do not. The Sacred Heart teaches us that authentic love incurs great costs, but it also always gives life.
Historically, devotion to the Sacred Heart is believed to have grown from another devotion to Jesus’ body: the Sacred Wounds of Christ from His Passion. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said that the piercing of Christ’s side revealed His goodness and the charity of His heart for us: “How good and pleasant it is to dwell in the Heart of Jesus! Who is there who does not love a Heart so wounded? Who can refuse a return of love to a Heart so loving?” Other religious and saints, such as Francis of Assisi, have themselves exemplified closeness to the love poured out by Christ’s Five Wounds and Sacred Heart.
The devotion as it is most commonly known today is said to have begun with the 1673 appearance of our Lord to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a French nun of the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary. Over a series of visits, Our Lord revealed to St. Margaret Mary the importance of devotion to His Sacred Heart:
"Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love … But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus. Therefore, I ask of you that the Friday after the Octave of Corpus Christi be set apart for a special Feast to honor My Heart, by communicating on that day, and making reparation to It by a solemn act, in order to make amends for the indignities which It has received during the time It has been exposed on the altars. I promise you that My Heart shall expand Itself to shed in abundance the influence of Its Divine Love upon those who shall thus honor It, and cause It to be honored."
In 1856, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart was officially added to the liturgical calendar — the day before the Memorial of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The faithful have several options for honoring the Sacred Heart as requested by our Lord:
The Love that Christ continually showers on us should totally consume us. Christ’s death is an infinitely huge debt that we can never repay—but in His infinitely huge capacity to love and be merciful, all our Lord asks in return is our love. As we are invited to share in His Divine Love, we are called to let that love change us to become better disciples and better witnesses. Most of all, let us strive to become authors of great love stories, never ceasing to wonder at the incredible truth that the God of the Universe loves us!
The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart is also the World Day of Prayer for the Sanctification of Priests. Please pray for the priests in your parish and any other priests who have touched your life!