“Out of darkness, God has called us, claimed by Christ as God’s own people. Holy nation, royal priesthood, walking in God’s marvelous light.” -Christopher Walker, Out of Darkness
At some point or another, almost everyone lives in one kind of darkness. For some, that darkness can come with the loss of a loved one or a job. For others, darkness can creep into our lives when we move for a job, start college, have an unexpected medical diagnosis, or just seem to have everything go wrong in our lives. Right now, we are all living in the shadows and darkness of another kind—one that includes loss of life and jobs, but that is also much more. The current pandemic seemingly brought darkness upon the world just as we got ready to celebrate the Sacred Triduum, three days that culminate in our proclamation that Christ is the light of the world. The darkness, for many, is made even darker without being able to go to church, without a physical community of faith, and without the reception of the Eucharist. And yet, as St. Peter said in his epistle, we are all “‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may announce the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Pt 2:9). We are called to live in the light, not in the darkness that we find ourselves in. Right now, that may seem impossible. The light seems to be out without a definite end in sight. ,
I have been lucky over the past few months to be not only living in community, but to also have regular access to the celebration of the Eucharist. Mass is celebrated daily at the seminary, so my own personal darkness does not include the absence of a community or the sacraments. For me, darkness creeps in as a result of not being with those I love. I couldn’t go to visit my family in New York in between the end of the semester and the beginning of my summer assignment. I am limited to phone calls here and there with those I love, and the occasional FaceTime video with my goddaughter and her brother. This has been my own personal cross to bear, but it’s one that I know has made me appreciate the people in my life more than I did before the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. But there are other things that are hard too, especially right after Archbishop Aymond suspended public Masses in New Orleans. Other things such as this have entered into my own darkness and tried to snuff out the light of Christ.
In the Eucharistic liturgy, right before the distribution of Communion, the priest, holding the Body and Blood of Christ, says “Behold the Lamb of God. Behold him who takes away the sin of the world. Blessed are those called to the supper of the Lamb.” But, right now, those called to the supper of the Lamb can’t come. To pray this prayer, to hear this prayer every day, is not easy to hear while many of the people of God aren’t able to be nourished through the Eucharist. This chosen race is wandering in the desert, seemingly alone. And yet, Jesus is there with us in our tombs. He is there with us in our darkness. He is there with us--waiting to bring us out of that darkness into the wonderful, marvelous, light. God is with us even if we can’t seem to pray right now. God is with us even if we can’t receive him physically right now. God is with us even if all we can do is yell and cry with despair and loneliness. God is always with us, preparing the dwelling place for us, his chosen race, his royal priesthood.
And so, as we dwell in our darkness, let us remember that we are made for more. We are made to live as the children of the light, not as the children of the darkness. Jesus entered the tomb as a dead man and walked out of it alive. Let us pray, in a special way, asking Jesus to enter our darkness. That we, his chosen race, his holy people, his royal priesthood, may no longer dwell in darkness, but in his wonderful light.
Out of the darkness of missing the Eucharist, God is calling us.
Out of the darkness of loneliness, God is calling us, for we have been claimed by Christ.
Out of the darkness of uncertainty, God is calling us, for we are his own people.
Out of the darkness of sadness, God is calling us, for we are to live in his marvelous light
“Out of darkness, God has called us, claimed by Christ as God’s own people. Holy nation, royal priesthood, walking in God’s marvelous light.”
"Humanity will never find peace until it turns with trust to Divine Mercy" (Diary, p. 132).
Here we are, with Divine Mercy Sunday this weekend, and instead of being in our churches with our communities, we are at home figuring out how to make this day still sacred. What do we do? Have we entered into the joy of this holy Easter season in the Church, or are have we fallen into despair that we remain in this time of “shelter in place”? Maybe it’s both?
For me, I was sort of giving God an ultimatum during the Lenten season: “Lord, we will endure Lent separated from our communities, but shouldn’t you show your power and end all of this when Easter comes?” I have truly wrestled with embracing our new normal at home and fully entering into the joy of the Resurrection—the joy that comes from knowing I have been freed from the bondage of sin and death although it’s completely undeserved. We know this physical separation during the coronavirus pandemic is a way to love our fellow man, and we embrace it for the sake of love. Yet still, have our hearts embraced the message of Divine Mercy?
When the message of Divine Mercy was given to Sister Faustina (and then to the world), the world was in a terribly dark place: war, hatred, and brokenness abounded. Jesus knew the world needed hope, a reminder of the infinite love He has for humanity, and to trust in His Mercy. And now, here we find ourselves in a different kind of darkness—a darkness of disease, isolation, blame, and fear. And still in this time and in this place in which we find ourselves separated from our communities, away from our physical Churches, and isolated in our homes, the Lord has gifted us the beautiful message of Divine Mercy. As Bishop Robert Barron said, “Into all the dark corners of our human experience, God’s mercy has come.”
The message of Divine Mercy reminds us that no matter how dark it is, or how deep our sin runs, Jesus’ great love for us is greater still! He has defeated sin and DEATH. What more can we fear? He desires to be with us, for us to embrace Love itself.
Divine Mercy is summarized by Jesus’ first words to His disciples after returning from the dead: “Peace be with you” (John 20: 19). After greeting his disciples this way, he says it again: “Peace be with you” (John 20: 21). The disciples, like us, needed to embrace the message Jesus brought, a command of peace and trust.
When we trust, surrendering our hearts and lives to the one we are meant for, true peace reigns. Peace that cannot be stolen by disease or fear but that is rooted in our identity as beloved sons and daughters of the one who can conquer all things, even death.
As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of Divine Mercy, may we surrender ourselves to Jesus, embracing the message of Divine Mercy— that His love on the cross, His resurrection from the dead, His love for me and for you can truly reign over our world in a time of uncomfortable uncertainty. Let us shout with joy, “Jesus we trust in you!” and allow His peace to rule in our hearts once more.
The ashes of our Lenten journey were more pronounced this year—not fading with Ash Wednesday but thickening in the following weeks with the outbreak of COVID-19. Each of the plans we had for Lent—the sacrifices, the resolutions, the acts of charity—were rearranged, making room for more sacrifices than we thought possible.
We sacrificed control, physical freedom, the assurance that our pantries would be stocked or that our bank accounts would be replenished. We sacrificed our physical friendships, birthday celebrations, anniversary milestones, family vacations, date nights. We’ve lost friends, family, or neighbors to a virus that until a few months ago was hardly known about or discussed. We’ve sacrificed our liturgical lives, being able to receive Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist, attendance at weddings or baptisms, pastoral formation, the journey into the Church on Easter via RCIA.
Pope Francis likens this pandemic to the evening storm experienced by the disciples in the boat, saying, “For weeks now it has been evening.”
This evening has been long, dark, full of the unknown. Throughout this “evening,” we have had to confront our vulnerabilities and experience our littleness. We’ve had to realize that without light, we cannot see. Perhaps we’ve grappled with fear in this darkness—a fear of the unknown, a fear of isolation, a fear that the dawn may never come.
Perhaps our minds have been left to imagine: Lord, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”
This time of quarantine, social distancing, and pandemic has been our evening storm which,
“Exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules…shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities… [and] lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls.”
We thought “we would stay healthy in a world that was sick,” but the storm has awakened us from our personal slumber. And we need light.
This realization is the seed of faith—a faith which recognizes the need for salvation, for one another, for the light of God. The realization of our littleness, our helplessness, our dependence, our mortality, is the perfect place from which to enter into the Triduum and await the lighting of the Easter candle—the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
God has provided flickers of hope, reflections of grace, throughout our journey at sea: livestreams of Masses, daily Scripture reflections, broadcasts of Adoration, priests hearing Confessions in drive-thrus, virtual retreats, Pope Francis’ blessing of the entire world.
We have seen a “creativity of love”--the production of ventilators in car factories, the making of masks in workplaces, the donations of money, food, and supplies across the world, the video chats to those in quarantine facing death alone. We see dancing from porch balconies. Teddy bears in windows. Embraces in hospitals. Birthday drive-bys with signs and honking. People on their knees.
Yes, the light of Christ exists even in the darkness. And the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it. It will shine ablaze all the more radiantly this year in the midst of our utter darkness, sparkling in the gloom. The darker the night, the better able we are to see the light. And in the darkness, we look up.
Let us welcome the light of Christ this Easter by first lighting his love in our hearts.
When Christ’s life lives within us, we can enkindle it in the souls of others and set alight all we encounter. “Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons,” Pope Francis reminds us.
Wake up, Lord! The disciples shouted in the midst of the storm.
Wake up, Lord! The world shouts again today.
Let us awaken the Lord through our prayers and service. Through our acts of charity to those suffering, tired, or scared. Through our cries and supplications. Through our fasting in these unwelcome sackcloths and seemingly perpetual ashes.
Cry out with me again this Triduum, “Wake up, Lord! We are perishing.”
Christ’s response to our cries this week is open arms embracing us through nails and scourging. His response to our cries is a head beaten, bruised, and crowned with thorns. His response to our cries is silence to jeers, taunts, mockery, and abandonment. His response to our cries is the relinquishing of his spirit in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.
He who cried out to his Father, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” also knows the darkness intimately. He knows what it feels like to be alone and perishing. But by his words do we find the light: “Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?” ….“My Father…not as I will, but as you will.”
Our cries are never unheard. “The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith,” Pope Francis said. “We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love.”
The goal of our Lenten journey is transformation—to be transfigured. This is also our prayer throughout this pandemic. Yes, we pray that it ends, that healing comes, that daily life can resume, that economies will be restored, and that suffering will cease. But even more than all of that, we pray for transfiguration. Because when we are transfigured by the love and light of Christ, when our faith has awakened and we have realized our need for salvation, then the storm can rage on while we rest knowing we will not perish—for we will know deep in our hearts that with the “dawn there is rejoicing.”
Then, and only then, “In the silence of our cities, the Easter Gospel will resound.”
For more Easter and Lenten resources, please click here.
For more resources and reflections on COVID-19, please click here.
A month ago, I thought I would be balancing returning back from a service immersion trip and student leadership interviews. Today I sit in my makeshift home office preparing for my next Zoom call, trying to keep in check my own anxieties while still ministering to my students. To be honest, the first week was not easy, and I have still not mastered ministry from home and social distancing. As the days continue, I have progressively realized my need to change my mindset of survival to finding peace, stability, and hope. I went to Thomas Merton and St. Teresa of Avila, my two go to’s when needing to be reminded of where to find God. As I read the words of this Trappist monk and Carmelite nun, it dawned on me that in midst of darkness, fear, and chaos, I have been given an opportunity to create an inner monastery. The lives of these monastic friends of mine shed light on three aspects that I trust and can incorporate into my social distanced day-to-day in order to give me peace and calm my anxieties.
I invite you to share in the wisdom of the monastics and find the opportunity during these challenging times to create within our homes and families an inner monastery. Fears, sickness and hardship won’t be removed, but the insights of our brothers and sisters who have lived this life before us can help us to “recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
If you find it helpful, here is my Inner Monastery Routine. Finding balance will look different for each person, so take what works for you and make adjustments to fit your needs.
It might be frightening to look at our culture today. There is the sense that a Catholic worldview is not welcome. Some feel confusion about what it means to be Catholic. A culture of death and darkness seems to oppose God’s love. One wonders how the Holy Spirit will work in the world and through the Church amidst such hostility and division.
This is not the first time the Church has encountered such a moment. The 1500s were also a tumultuous era. At the beginning of the century, in, 1517, the Protestant Reformation started. Then the English Reformation of Henry VIII began in 1534. The Church responded with the Counter-Reformation. A new order, the Jesuits, was founded in 1540 and in 1545, the Council of Trent was initiated. By that time, millions of people had left the Catholic Church. It seemed to be a time of waywardness and chaos. How was the Holy Spirit going to work in such a world?
Simple: By sending the Mother of God not to the Old World—Europe—but to the New World. Specifically, Mary appeared at the Hill of Tepeyac in 1531 to ask a 57-year-old peasant named Juan Diego to speak to Bishop Zumarraga about building a chapel in her honor there. This is where Our Lady, on December 9th, made her first apparition to her “Juanito” or “dear little Juan.” She told him that she was “the perfect and ever Virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the God of truth through Whom everything lives, the Lord of all things near us, the Lord of heaven and earth.” On her last visit on December 12th, Mary arranged roses in Juan Diego’s tilma and sent him to the bishop to ask him again to build a shrine to her on that spot. When he opened his tilma to show the bishop the roses, it revealed her image, which can still be seen in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Mary appeared on a hill that was already sacred to the ancient peoples of Mexico as a shrine to a mother goddess. She was dressed as an Aztec princess, pregnant with the God who made us. She spoke to a humble native of the land and called him her “youngest and dearest son.” Before her apparition, approximately 200,000 Native Americans had been baptized. Between the time of her visit to Juan Diego and her message to Bishop Zumarraga and their deaths in the spring of 1548, over 9 million ancestral peoples had received the gift of faith and baptism.
In a time of great conflict, colonialization, and racial tension, Mary appeared on this continent to tell Juan Diego, “I am truly your merciful Mother, yours and all the people who live united in this land and of all the other people of different ancestries, my lovers, who love me, those who seek me, those who trust in me.” She is the mother of all the peoples in the land, then and now. She reminds us that what truly defines us is not our status or ancestry, but our membership in the Body of Christ.
It can be a struggle to know and act like a member of Christ’s Body when there are so many opposing forces. What does it mean to act like a Christian, vote like a Christian, shop like a Christian, or even speak like a Christian? It means that we take our fears, our sorrows, our hopes, our hurts, and our weeping not to a political party or an outlet mall; but to our Mother, who in turn presents them to her Son.
Am I not here, I, who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Am I not the source of your joy? Are you not in the hollow of my mantle, in the crossing of my arms? Do you need anything more? -Our Lady to Juan Diego
Question for Reflection: In times of distress, do you turn to Our Lady to bring you closer to Christ?
When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught . . . Come and have breakfast.’ –John 21: 9-10
Easter is a season of renewal, wonder, and awe. The light of Christ conquers darkness, and new life overcomes sin and death. Hope lives, as Fr. Frank wrote, and “We are called to see with the eyes of faith in Christ.”
Excitement wells up in me around this time every year when the world is waking up – new blooms appear on trees and in gardens while the sunlight lasts longer each day. Even more exciting than this change in nature is the joy that comes from the Easter Vigil, when the Church welcomes new members and we renew our baptismal promises. As the earth awakens each spring, this liturgical season also invites us to wake up to Christ’s triumphant love.
The Gospel readings following Easter Sunday and the Easter Octave are cherished stories and intimate encounters with Jesus. He appears to his disciples when their eyes are still bleary from what happened on the Cross. He has indeed risen as he said. They are called to see and to not be afraid, to touch his wounds, and to ask him questions. One such story occurs before Jesus asks Peter if he loves him.
Jesus first directs the disciples to an overwhelming catch on the Sea of Tiberius after a long night of unsuccessful fishing. Their nets overflow. They do not recognize him at first until this moment. Then, John tells Peter and the others, “It is the Lord.” Peter impetuously jumps out to join Jesus while the others row ashore. Sitting at the charcoal fire with fish and bread, Jesus invites the fishermen to come and eat breakfast. I imagine this moment filled with wonder and awe. The disciples will now be “fishers of men,” following Christ’s example and listening to his voice.
In the forty days after his Resurrection, Jesus prepares his disciples for their new life of faith and evangelization. Like a dear friend, he gives them advice, teaches them, and even cooks for them. The meal on the beach must have tasted wonderful! This scene is a gift to the senses, like the coming of springtime and the exuberance of the Easter Vigil.
What would it be like to be one of the disciples on that beach at daybreak? The cool breeze and the smell of fire caught up in the air, the morning colors dancing in the sky from the sunrise, the feeling of contentment the disciples must have had after catching so many fish, their weariness from a long night, and the sound of Jesus’ voice giving gentle direction. What would it be like to recall all the times you sat with him, to remember the day of his death, and then be present with him and eat fish and bread? This moment on the beach is an intimate encounter that we are also called to experience after the events of Holy Week and throughout all of our lives.
During this fifty-day season, I invite you to listen, to sit, talk, and eat with Jesus on the seashore.
Reflection Question: What signs of Easter have you noticed springing up in your life since Holy Week? How will you share and enjoy them with Jesus?