When you hear “Lent,” or “Stations of the Cross,” what comes to mind? Is this just an annual season before the Easter festivities, or a must-follow ritual the Church demands of you? Or, is this a period you can truly focus and reflect on the mystery of God’s love for mankind – and the mystery of one man’s sacrifice and passion for all (including those He was yet to meet, like you and I)?
Some years ago, during a discussion among friends, one person asked, “what’s the point of going through Lent and the Stations of the Cross all over again when Jesus did that already?” and the response was, “if we put ourselves through the Stations of the Cross meaningfully, we are able (even just for a few days) to put our feet in Christ’s sandals so that we would also learn to love (even to death) all mankind; regardless of how often we are hurt in the process.”
The Passion of Christ demonstrates how much we are loved and how far God will go to show love to us. Sometimes, I think Jesus may have wanted to change His mind while praying in Gethsemane, where he sought God in the midst of sorrow and distress. Sometimes, we also feel sorrow, anguish, and distress. If given the power, we would ‘run out’ of our lives. How often have we come to that point of not wanting to go any further? How often have we thought, “I’m not sure I can do this”? I know I have.
Jesus turned to God for comfort and reassurance. Who do you turn to during the tough times?
Focus on Spirituality:
When everyone Jesus knew had either ‘sold Him off,’ denied Him, or run away for their own safety, it must have felt as though He had been abandoned by those he had thought loved Him so dearly. Even today, there are people all around us who feel abandoned and do not know where or who to turn to.
Today, as we ask Jesus where He would like to celebrate Passover, His response is: “I would like to celebrate Passover in your heart.” Have you prepared your heart for the Passover feast? If we also ask Jesus, “who would you like to celebrate it with?” I am sure His response is: “the lonely, the broken, the anxious, the weary, the frightened, and the sick and with you.” As we prepare our own hearts for the Passover feast, let us extend Jesus’ invitation to those in need on His behalf.
LORD, thank You for choosing my heart to celebrate the Passover; teach me to prepare my heart so that You would have the best Passover feast. As I send out Your invitations, help me look out for the hearts that need You- help me look beyond the cover-up smiles; and as I give out these invitations of hugs, laughter, smiles, joy and comfort, may I remember to take my seat at the table to feast with You. Amen!
Journey with Jesus through the Stations of the Cross - may it not be out of a sense of obligation but because You know that Jesus needs a friend who will walk with Him through His rise and falls on this journey. Do not look too far, there may be someone closest to you who needs a friend or a listening ear for a short journey. As you take this journey, allow Jesus to prepare your heart not just for the Passover but for all His celebrations and may the way you speak and live give you away (like Peter’s speech betrayed him).
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Benita Amoako is a St. Joseph Worker Program NY Alumnae.
“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?
\We are once again in the midst of the liturgical season of Lent. These forty days before the Triduum are opportunities to prepare ourselves to enter into the Passion of Christ through penitential practices such as prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and self-sacrifice. Done correctly, our Lenten practices can be cathartically cleansing as we imitate Christ’s forty days in the desert after His baptism. This incredible withdrawal of the Lord from the outside world to dwell on the calling of His Heavenly Father before the commencement of earthly ministry remains a model for us all. During Lent, the faithful do not isolate themselves from the world in fear but rather draw strength from Christ. Shaking off the comforts and complacencies of living in the world may be a bit jolting, but our ultimate goal is holiness; anything else is just a noisy distraction which can never truly satisfy our deepest desires.
Today, technology has become integrated into our lives and relationships. Social media, the internet, and the incredible utility of our smartphones may occupy a large part of our daily attention. It’s no wonder we can find it harder to disconnect from the outside world. Indeed, while the proper and moderated use of technology can be beneficial, observing the dangers of failing to unplug from the world (i.e., harming real human connections), has helped deepen my appreciation for the isolation opportunities afforded by Lenten observances.
Lent calls each of us to remember the ultimate sacrifice God Himself made on Good Friday. This salvific act is so significant that it cannot be restricted to just one day on the liturgical calendar. The Church commemorates Jesus’ Last Supper, Passion, and Death during the Triduum. As these days draw near, the faithful are called to prepare themselves to enter into the Paschal Mystery by putting aside our worldly comforts and imitating how our Lord spent precious time among His disciples before His death.
While Lent is an increased time of preparation and time of intentional growth in holiness, the Church has no shortage of opportunities to deepen our relationship with the Lord year-round. Sunday Mass offers us the spiritual nourishment and proper grounding to start each week. The choices we make in the hours or days following Mass can build upon the scriptural and sacramental foundations laid during the service. Recommitting ourselves to our families and their needs can strengthen the love binding us together; praying with and serving each other builds up the domestic church. For example, volunteering to lead devotional prayers together as a couple or family is a beautiful expression of intimacy and faith. Additionally, during Lent and beyond, we may replace screen time with spiritual reading so we can be inspired by the writings of saints or theologians and discover new avenues of holiness for our lives. Certainly, we can sacrifice a worldly comfort during Lent, but we can also perform charitable works and make a difference in the lives of others during this season. Lent is not a diet!
Lent is intended to bring us closer to God, Who is found not in the noise of the world, but in the quiet whisperings of an open heart. Prayer enables us to make room in our hearts for Him to dwell in the temples of our bodies and radiate through our lives. We cleanse ourselves of distractions that prevent us from the holiness He calls us to and we commit ourselves to prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We repent of our sinful shortcomings and avail ourselves of the sacraments of the Church. Our desire to accompany our Lord can be fulfilled by our faithful vigilance in Eucharistic Adoration, especially in the nighttime hours when our “spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Our Lord is present in the Eucharist we receive at Mass, the Sacrament we adore, the family we are a part of, and the people we serve. He is always ready to not just be a relegated part of our lives, but the core of our very being. The season of Lent can serve to motivate us to choose the better part rather than be complacent in the empty comforts of the world. Though we seek isolation from the distractions of the world to accomplish a meaningful and fruitful Lenten observance, we are promised by the Lord God Himself that we never walk alone when he says: “I am with you always, until the end of the age.”
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As Americans gather around the dinner table for the annual Thanksgiving meal, families have the opportunity to recall and be thankful for the blessings in their lives. The true focus of this national occasion is not simply to marvel at the bounty of food upon the table, but to acknowledge the labors and gifts which directly and indirectly impacted one’s quality of life. As Christians, we know that all thanksgiving is oriented towards God as families join hands and bow their heads in prayers of gratitude. Attitudes of gratitude don’t need to be restricted to the fourth Thursday of November, but can be prevalent in our hearts, minds, and daily lives throughout each year.
True expressions of thanksgiving are rooted in the acknowledgement that nothing in this life should be taken for granted. The blessings of life ultimately come from God’s innate goodness, and Scripture details many occasions of gratitude to God that are often accompanied by offering sacrifices or praise. We read in the psalms, “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69) and “Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song.” (Psalm 95) Thessalonians reminds us to “give thanks in all circumstances” and Ephesians similarly admonishes us to “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.” Thanksgiving is a fundamental component of a life of faith. Furthermore, the sacrifices God is interested in include the sacrifice of our pride in favor of humility, the sacrifice of personal desires and wants in favor of trust in His will, and the sacrifice of sinful behaviors in favor of living the life of holiness God has desired for us.
As Catholics, we are infinitely grateful for the ultimate sacrifice of Christ upon the cross and the means God Himself has instituted for our embrace of the gift of salvation. As such, the highest form of prayer on earth is participation in the Holy Mass and the direct reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist (which itself means “thanksgiving”). Thanksgiving disposes our hearts to more fully receive Christ and be transformed by His love. By imitating Jesus, who broke bread and gave thanks to His Heavenly Father prior to his Passion, we are given the strength to similarly give thanks in all circumstances and grow more Christ-like as a result.
Of the many pieces of spiritual advice I’ve been given by priests, the reminder to grow in gratitude for what God has given me is a constant opportunity to realize my utter dependency on His providence. In gratitude lies true joy. This Thanksgiving, I invite you to celebrate an attitude of gratitude that overflows into the new year and the years to come.
Our lives are unmistakably touched by the actions and values of our personal heroes. Many of us looked upon our parents as our first heroes, later adding to their exalted ranks the likes of athletic legends, first responders, teachers, coaches, and others whose passion and commitment went above and beyond in order to make a difference. Even today, heroes walk among us in their duties to God, country, and community: many have answered the call to serve in the armed forces, some are called to religious ministry, and others seek to defend and uphold life through witnessing to life and serving on the margins of society. Many live their lives simply, with no fame or fanfare, as they faithfully seek to better their own little corner of the world and love their families, neighbors, and friends.
As Catholics, we have no limit to the heroes to whom we can lift our aspirations (and intercessions!); they are the countless saints of the Kingdom of God and Church Triumphant who, even now, urge us to live more fully for Christ. They are incredible examples that bring others into an encounter with the living God through their lives. All are called to be saints. As Mother Angelica always urged her EWTN viewers, “Don’t miss the opportunity!” Mother Angelica is one of my favorite heroes: her wisdom and insight, coupled with her iconic sense of humor, was so easily accessible on TV and the internet. When she looked into the camera, she was looking at me, speaking to me, urging me to be a better Christian.
Sainthood is not just the attainment of spiritual perfection; what is heroic is recognizing and repenting of one’s spiritual shortcomings, returning to the merciful embrace of the Lord, and committing to be a better witness to Christ. Mother Angelica would similarly observe, “Faith is what gets you started. Hope is what keeps you going. Love is what brings you to the end.” Never let personal difficulty or worrying that it’s too much for you to handle scare you from addressing your hunger and desire for holiness.
The saints came from all walks of life, meaning that each of us can fully answer the universal call to holiness no matter the circumstances. The demands of the spiritual life require a uniquely formed system of accountability, determination, and humility. While God is forever patient with us, we may become frustrated at ourselves or compare ourselves to our peers. That is why we can turn to the saints as guides and intercessors; they can shape our unique circumstances in life to better identify ways of living out our Christian witness in the world.
With all the turmoil of the world, how critical it is for us to live boldly and authentically as Christians! And if we are viewed and treated suspiciously by observers, may we patiently embrace all that for the glory of God! How heroic are the martyrs of Holy Mother Church who “rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the Name [of Christ].” Especially when the negativity of the news tempts many to lose hope in the apparent darkness of the times, how necessary, then, it is for us to bring the brilliant Light of Christ and His Gospel message to expel the darkness and bring peace to those awaiting salvation. May the saints of heaven always remain sources of heroic inspiration throughout our lives, and may we be found worthy to one day join them in the eternal feast of the Kingdom of God!
My grandmother passed today.
In her last few days, she told her nine children, “I remain in the will of God. God’s will is love and mercy. What do I have to fear?”
In a word, she got it. She got what life was all about: she had a friendship with God that helped her to understand his identity and to recognize death as the vehicle that would bring her eternally to him.
The grace with which my grandmother understood her last days is uncommon. Death usually seems to surprise or horrify. We don’t think about it too often in our culture, either because it makes us uncomfortable or we’re often focused on earthly things.
As a teenager, I experienced a lot of family deaths in a short period of time. During an incredibly formative period, I attended many funerals, said many prayers, visited several hospitals, and travelled often unexpectedly. Life seemed incredibly uncertain and precarious, and I found myself often asking, “Who’s next?”
Death was real, and it seemed to be everywhere. Though I felt like an adult at the time, I was still unable to comprehend the greatness and depth of what was occurring. It is normal for human beings to dislike death. Death is ugly, unnatural, and uncompassionate. It visited my grandparents, aunt, and cousin. It tried to visit my own father.
In those teenage years, death and I were at war. It took my relatives and did not ask my permission. As a method of self-preservation, I attempted to turn off my feelings and approached life with a blasé attitude. If it was all going to end, I thought, then what was the point? What was the point of feeling if feelings are heartache and tears? What was the point of getting too close to someone who would ultimately slip away?
It was an immature but perhaps understandable reaction for a teenager. And since then, it has taken many years for me to be able to “feel” again and understand death’s role in the spiritual life.
If we start researching the saints and their perspective on death, we quickly find a completely different understanding of death than the one the world gives us. “Tomorrow will be a wonderful day” Blessed Solanus Casey said to a fellow priest, prophesying his own death the next morning. He and many of the saints saw death as a friend, a door, a wedding banquet, a bridge welcoming man into reality—eternal life. “Death is no phantom, no horrible specter as presented in pictures,” Therese of Lisieux said. “In the catechism it is stated that death is the separation of soul and body, that is all! Well, I am not afraid of a separation which will unite me to the good God forever.”
The saints also understood that life on earth is a pilgrimage, not our final destination. As a girl, Therese of Lisieux found inspiration in the quote: “The world is thy ship and not thy home.” We are pilgrims on a road hopefully leading back to God. Every decision we make leads us either closer to this end or farther from it.
I believe mankind has such an aversion to death because we were not created for it. In the beginning, death did not exist. Death was the consequence of sin: separation from God. In order to not leave us in this state of separation permanently, God worked throughout time and intervened in human history in order to bring mankind back to himself in a state even greater than we experienced prior to the Fall. He now invites us to share in his very life—the trinitarian life of love, of complete gift of self—in heaven which “is the ultimate end and fulfillment of the deepest human longings, the state of supreme, definitive happiness” (CCC1023).
Because of God’s work throughout salvation history culminating in the Passion, death and Resurrection of his Son, death no longer is the last word. As Paul wrote to the early Church in Corinth: “Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is taken away—transfigured. God took the ugliest and most unnatural consequence of sin and transformed it into the passageway that leads us back to him. This is the Christian perspective of death, what the saints understood, but what we have such a hard time truly grasping. We often only see the life taken too soon, the pain and suffering of the dying, the wrinkles, the tubes, the bloodshed. Christ offers us more: resurrection, transfiguration.
St. Paul says that if we but understood the eternal, we would willingly suffer on earth—calling tribulation “momentary light affliction.” He says, “We are not discouraged…although our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to what is seen but to what is unseen; for what is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal.” 1 Cor 4:16-18
I believe my grandmother, in her final days, understood what St. Paul and the saints did: death was simply the vehicle that would bring her into the loving arms of the Father. She understood God’s identity in two words—love and mercy—and surrendered to this truth in order to live eternally in God’s love. I look to her example and see incredible strength and faith, and I pray, as I visit her tomb in Mexico, that I can have the grace to remain in God’s will and see death as a momentary light affliction producing an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
“She competed well; she finished the race; she kept the faith” (cf 2 Tim. 4:7).
May we all do the same.
There are few sights like a church on fire. The fire which raged from the roof of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris on the evening of April 15, 2019 was different: thanks be to God that it (at this time of writing) does not appear to be caused by anything more than renovation negligence and that no one was killed in the blaze. The evening of the fire, the attention of the world focused on the smoke billowing above the Parisian skyline as first responders battled the flames to save the most iconic church in France. In the scenes broadcast from the River Seine, I not only saw the intensity of the fire that toppled the historic spire, but I also observed the more subtle fanning of the embers of a faith long thought to be extinguished in the hearts of the French people.
Watching a tragedy stirs up strong emotions within even the most hardened of hearts. Many scenes of prayers being offered or sacred hymns being sung—despite perhaps intense feelings of helplessness—were reported by passers-by, pilgrims, and tourists alike. Furthermore, support was expressed around the world for the Church and her members in France. The sight of the beautiful cathedral of the capital city apparently being irreparably damaged was a very sad one indeed, especially during Holy Week. The many treasures at risk included the Most Holy Eucharist and relics of Christ’s Passion. Different people took different meanings from that incredible sight: many were shaking their heads and crying at the destruction of a landmark cultural icon, others mourned the apparent loss of a grand local spiritual refuge, and some saw a Church which has long suffered against secularism appear in danger of collapse.
Here’s what I observed: seeing a church burning on live television is indeed a heart-stopping scene, but I am—and dare I say God is—more interested in seeing hearts burn within a person! Seeing a man fully alive and in touch with his values, faith, or beliefs rather than suppressing them when inconvenient or unpopular is inspiring and a great witness. The voices of the people in Paris were publically lifted in singing ancient hymns and prayers for the salvation of the physical church building and the Catholic Church overall. Secularism has long been taking root in France, so seeing this active and public embrace of faith was incredibly touching. In times of despair or tragedy, people have been historically observed to seek sanctuary and emotional healing in churches and places of worship. Just think of cities in Europe, at risk of invasion or disease, in which people flocked to pray together for deliverance or divine mercy. Even in the United States after 9/11 and other heinous acts of violence, the churches with formerly empty pews were crowded with voices raised together in hopeful prayer to counter bowed heads of sorrow. As Christians we do not mourn like those who have no hope, but even in our sadness we can lift our eyes to God, breathe to calm ourselves, and confidently pray, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
From these collective acts of faith, the hope of spiritual renewal can be strong. The seeds of faith instilled in youth but unnourished later in life may suddenly be rediscovered and re-cultivated by God’s grace and perhaps the shock of the sudden end of the status quo. Intense personal reflection and the reevaluation of priorities may ensue to further sustain spiritual growth and comfort. Imagine the state of the Church had the apostles not been inflamed with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Just as those followers of Christ rediscovered God in the Upper Room thousands of years ago, so too can we encounter the fire of the Holy Spirit to bring light to the confused, healing to the broken, and peace to the conflicted. The fires of faith have not been extinguished, as we have beautifully seen, but rather the embers are still hot and glowing, just needing to be stirred up again to blaze towards Heaven. As Pope Francis tweeted, let us “unite in prayer with the people of France, as we wait for the sorrow inflicted by the serious damage to be transformed into hope with reconstruction. Holy Mary, Our Lady, pray for us.”
May Notre-Dame, our Blessed Mother, pray for us!
Holy Week can be the most emotionally intense period of the liturgical year. Beginning with Palm Sunday, we notice some changes to the usual liturgy, namely: the opening reading, the much longer narrated Gospel, the red vestments, and the presence of blessed palms. As the week continues, our anticipation may be building towards an emotional peak, probably the commemoration of Christ’s death on Good Friday or His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. We may be tempted to take it all in stride and grimace at the raw details of Jesus’s sacred Passion while holding on for the joys of the Easter proclamation. We are, after all, the “Easter people and Alleluia is our song,” according to St. John Paul the Great. I have found myself guilty of this detachment sometimes and now propose, as we have already entered Holy Week, that we immerse ourselves into the intense details—that raw, human emotion—of the Triduum in order to accompany Christ more closely during the most significant moments of His earthly ministry and the fulfillment of salvific history.
On Palm Sunday, we celebrate the entrance of the Savior into Jerusalem, that sacred capital of the Jewish nation then occupied by the Roman Empire. The joys and uproars that Jesus’s entrance brings facilitate the events at the end of the week, when we observe the frenzied crowd turning against the One they now hail as the long-awaited Messiah. Of course, Jesus knows fully what will come to pass in the next days before the Passover.
Do we stand among the crowds welcoming Jesus into our hearts and wanting Him to rule over us as the eternal Heavenly King, or are we like the jealous plotting authorities who resent Jesus over His exposure of our hypocrisy and prideful nature?
The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are filled with anticipation. An observer of the times could tell something big was about to happen in Jerusalem. The holy city would soon be embroiled in the rancor sowed by the authorities against Jesus rather than preparing to celebrate the annual Passover meal.
Are we spending this time of calm in prayer and preparation in the presence of the Lord, or are we going about our daily routine until we face the ugliness that has been fermenting against Jesus and that forces us to decide if we will stand against the crowds for the sake of the Savior?
Holy Thursday arrives and already the focus may be towards the one evening Mass scheduled at the parish. Many dioceses celebrate the annual Chrism Mass earlier in the day, during which the sacred oils of ministry are blessed by the bishop and distributed among the parishes from the cathedral. In the evening, the Last Supper and the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane are commemorated with liturgical richness: the humble washing of feet, solemn processions, chanting, the use of candles, Eucharistic adoration after the tabernacle is emptied, and then… silence. There is so much to unpack. We can ask ourselves:
Am I heeding the Lord’s request to “Keep watch and pray”? Am I remaining vigilant and faithfully at the side of our Lord as he leads the Passover meal, praying with Him in the garden, or not abandoning Him during His arrest?
We, of course, cannot celebrate Easter Sunday without recalling Good Friday. This year, I invite you to place yourself at the foot of the cross and gaze upon Christ crucified. With the Blessed Mother and St. John beside you, behold the sight of the suffering Savior, scourged and dying. Listen to His seven final words and feel their intensity. Here the cruelest injustices have been heaped upon Jesus; He bears them willingly and lovingly. Recall your own failings, which have driven nails and scourged the sacred flesh of our Lord. This can be a true time of repentance and faith.
Do I offer even a fraction of the love being poured out from the cross this day?
The darkness of Good Friday recedes, Holy Saturday arrives and there is…more silence. Our Beloved Lord has died and there is a sudden emptiness as we come to terms with the reality that the departed is gone. We must not gloss over this period before Easter Sunday: take time to mourn for our Lord and the human acts of sin which buried Him in the tomb. It had to occur, but it is not the end. We do not mourn for the dead as if we have no hope— because of the Resurrection, Christians do not fear death or even despise suffering. Jesus bore the worst in humanity with love and died to accomplish salvation for all who seek it.
In the holy silence of Holy Saturday, am I reflecting on the events that have passed, long foretold by the biblical prophets, as Mary and the disciples did in the Upper Room?
On Saturday evening, we experience the Easter Vigil. This extraordinary Mass begins in darkness outside the Church with the Service of Light in which a “blazing fire” is used to light the Paschal candle. This candle processes through the church and is used to light the unlit candles of all present. Nine readings from the Old and New Testament are read, recounting significant moments of salvation history. It is during this Mass that the Church also welcomes new members from the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults into the Body of Christ. The congregation joins in the renewal of baptismal promises and recalls their own Sacraments of Initiation.
In the wonder of this Easter Vigil, are we joining wholeheartedly in the joy and celebration of the Resurrection? Do we marvel at the re-telling of the mighty acts of God throughout human history? Do we rejoice in welcoming new members to the Church?
Finally Easter Sunday, the world rejoices with the proclamation, Christus vincit! Christus regnat! Christus imperat! Christ conquers! Christ reigns! Christ commands! We proclaim Christ’s great salvific act but do not shy away from what He endured to accomplish that eternal victory. We glorify Christ who has ascended from the depths of death to rescue humanity and deliver them to the throne of God. Nothing like this has happened before. The world celebrates God’s great love!
Do we joyfully proclaim Christ to those who have no hope in their lives, who yearn for meaning and purpose?
By taking the time each day of Holy Week to reflect upon the nuances and details of these great events in Scripture, we can better prepare for the emotional gravitas of the liturgies this week and accompany Christ himself. The graces of standing firm and being witnesses to His Passion can yield the same reward first achieved by the good thief crucified next to Jesus, to whom Christ declared, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
For more resources to accompany you in your Lenten and Easter journeys, please click here.
On this day we memorialize the death of John the Baptist, the man who introduced Jesus’s ministry to the world and whom Jesus said was the greatest man born among women (Matt 11:11). Yet, despite this accolade from the Son of Man himself, the Gospels tell us that John the Baptist also seems to have wrestled with something that many of us are still wrestling with today: doubt. Yes, even the Baptist, the camel-shirt-wearing, desert dwelling, locust-crunching prophet who calls the crowds that come to him a “brood of vipers,” sat in prison and wondered about whether the “nobody” carpenter from Nazareth was who he said he was.
The Gospels suggest that part of John’s doubt seems to have come from his expectations for Jesus. When John is called by God out of the desert, he announces the coming of the Messiah with metaphors of destruction:
“Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
I am baptizing you with water, for repentance, but the one who is coming after me is mightier than I. I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the holy Spirit and fire.
His winnowing fan is in his hand. He will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” (Matt 3:10-12)
John’s expectation for the Messiah is that he will cleanse through destruction; that he will rid the world of sin, but in a grandiose, violent way. His metaphors and proclamations are laced with references to fire and culling, suggesting that John envisions Jesus the way we tend to envision John—full of passion, intensity, even a little frightening. When Christ comes to John for baptism, Christ does not condemn John’s vision, but rather Jesus’ ministry adds to the story. Rather than cutting the root from the tree, Jesus invites sinners to dine with him. Rather than shaking his fists from the river, Jesus sits on the mountain top and declares the poor blessed.
Later, when John is imprisoned for publicly condemning the unlawful marriage of Herod, he receives word of Jesus’ latest miracles: the healing of a Centurion’s slave and raising of a widow’s dead son. The Gospels paint an interesting portrait of John’s response.
When John heard in prison of the works of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to him
with this question, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” (Matt 11:2-3)
I can imagine John sitting in the corner of his cell, hearing of these miracles and wondering whether everything he thought about the Carpenter had been wrong. In the darkness of his cell, alone, surely knowing he would soon die, John doubts whether this man who heals is actually the ax he had been expecting.
There are two things that stand out about John’s moment of doubt:
First, John’s response to his doubt is to go to the source himself. John does not sit frustrated and angry, allowing his doubt to grow into resentment or apathy like so many of us do today. He sends his disciples to Jesus directly. John’s response should serve as a model for our own inquiries. Prayer, direct communication with Christ, is necessary to knowing the truth about his identity. Imagine it in terms of a marriage. What if a husband and wife never communicated with one another when they were concerned with the actions of the other? Not only does a potentially problematic action go unaddressed, but the spouse who desires to know the mind of her lover cannot. She risks constructing a faulty image in her head, one that further drives a wedge between herself and her husband. So too do we drive a wedge between ourselves and the Lord when we doubt and leave those doubts untethered by prayer. When we question Christ, when we question our faith, when we question what is right or how to respond to injustice with charity, we should take those questions to prayer and ask for understanding. We should ask to see God as he truly is, not as we want him to be.
The second important thing to note about John’s moment of doubt is Jesus’ response. Matthew reports it this way:
Jesus said to them in reply, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.”
As they were going off, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? Then what did you go out to see? Someone dressed in fine clothing? Those who wear fine clothing are in royal palaces. Then why did you go out? To see a prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
‘Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way before you.’
Amen, I say to you, among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Matt 11:7-10).
In his response to John and the crowds, Jesus first reaffirms his own actions, for these are the actions foretold in Scripture of the coming of the Messiah. He does not answer with words, but with deeds, highlighting the truth that “by their fruit will you know them.” Jesus then also seems to chastise the crowd for their judgment of John. “What did you go out to the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind?” Jesus says that John’s vision of Christ is admirable, as it comes from place of virtue and strength. Although John initially sees Jesus only through his own eyes, Jesus recognizes that those eyes earnestly desire the truth and have been well formed. Jesus rewards John for his faith, even if it is imperfect. He does not allow John to remain misguided, but he recognizes John’s effort to know Christ as well as he can and rewards him with the accolade “no greater than.”
On the memorial of his death, let us try to be a little more like John the Baptist. Let us yearn for the Lord. Let us know him in prayer and the sacraments. Let us have the humility to open ourselves and our expectations to revision. Let us place our doubts before the Cross and allow John’s words to guide our prayers:
“He must increase; I must decrease.”
Questions for Reflection: How can moments of doubt make your faith stronger? Is Jesus inviting you to “go to the source” – to come to him in prayer?
But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe." -John 20:25
During this beautiful liturgical season of rejoicing in the Resurrection of Our Lord, I always find this particular passage about “Doubting Thomas” extremely important to stop and reflect upon. After weeks and weeks experiencing the desert of Lent, the Passion on Good Friday, and the somber waiting on Holy Saturday, we celebrate the Father’s goodness, His promise fulfilled, His Son glorified on Easter Sunday! Praise Him, for “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)
On the Sunday when the Gospel passage about Thomas is proclaimed, I tend to sympathize with the “doubting” disciple. Thomas was not there the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples. I resonate with Thomas’s human response of needing to touch the side of the Lord in order to believe.
What strikes me about Thomas is his initial understanding that the Resurrected Lord would have His wounds. Why did Thomas believe the Lord in His glory would still be wounded? I find myself thinking of the Lord in His glorified body as “perfect,” without blemish, without the aftermath of pain, with every scar from Good Friday completely gone. Thomas, however, needed to see evidence from the Lord’s action on Friday for the sake of belief. Thomas came to know the Risen Lord through His wounds.
Do you fall into the same temptation that I do, that resurrection means pain and suffering will be completely dispelled and erased, as if it never happened? This is not how the Lord comes in His glory. Jesus returns with His wounds, glorified, resurrected, transfigured. In fact, Jesus’ wounds were necessary for the increasing of faith for His disciples. Christ takes on the burden of our sins in order to overcome them. He conquers man’s greatest foe, death itself, and invites us to eternal life. The scars and wounds Christ shows Thomas give testament to this truth. The pain of Good Friday brings the sweetness in the joy of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday and thereafter.
How does this apply to our lives? Are you struggling with something you see little hope in? Do you find yourself asking the Lord for a different cross? Just as Jesus’ wounds and sufferings are glorified, so shall ours be if we turn them over to God. We can be sure then that our own struggles, crosses, and sufferings will be brought to glory, not forgotten, but resurrected. Our particular areas of pain can bring others to the glory of Jesus Christ! Let us ask St. Thomas to help our unbelief and truly live in the hope of the Resurrection.
“Each man in his suffering can also become a sharer in the redemptive suffering of Christ.” –St. John Paul II, Salvifici Doloris
Question for Reflection: How can the story of “Doubting Thomas” increase your faith? Have there been times in your life when you, too, need to see in order to believe?
In my adult years, I have often turned to St. Teresa of Avila as a spiritual mother. I love her courage, her passion, her wit, and her boldness. Throughout her life, she was always on the go. She was a reformer who brought the Carmelite Order back to its original roots. She got things done, founding over fifteen monasteries. And yet she was a great mystic--a woman who received beautiful graces, revelations and experiences of God in profound ways that are hard to tangibly explain. She went into ecstasies as a result of her deep relationship with the Lord and wrote a book called The Interior Castle about the journey of faith leading to union with God. I love the synthesis of the practical and the mystical in her personality. This synthesis becomes more compelling in our lives today, for it reveals that we are capable of a deep interior life and relationship with God in the midst of the busyness of life.
There is a story about Teresa of Avila that has caused me to laugh in genuine appreciation of her character. According to tradition, Teresa fell off her donkey while journeying to visit one of her convents--causing her to land in the mud and dirty her Carmelite habit. With her quick, fiery Spanish temper, Teresa looked up to heaven and said to God, “If this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you don’t have many.”
I love this story because it beautifully depicts St. Teresa’s humanity and honest relationship with God. It is a raw, unfiltered moment of frankness that I believe is an example of both true prayer and transparency in our relationship with God.
If prayer is ongoing dialogue with God through words, thoughts or actions, what is Teresa’s statement if not prayer? She talks to God with confidence and trust. She is bold about her feelings, knowing that God can handle her honesty. Notably, where does Teresa turn first in her day to day life? To God. He is her crutch, her foundation, even in times of frustration and annoyance. He is at the forefront of her mind.
When I first heard this anecdote, I could completely relate to St. Teresa. Like her, I fall down on the road towards holiness. Furthermore, I often catch myself blaming God for different moments of hardship and frustration. What we sometimes miss as we lie there in the mud is the hand that’s in front of us--the extended hand of Christ that I often imagine in the story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus saves from being stoned. God is not the one who pushes us down, but he is the one who picks us up. How quick are we to reach for the outstretched hand? Do we even reach out for it? Or are we too proud, choosing to try to get up by ourselves? What did St. Teresa do? In one of her reflections, she writes, “I praise the mercy of God, for it was he alone who gave me his hand.” (Life, Ch 7, The Collected Works of St. Teresa of Avila, Volume One, ICS Publications, Washington D.C. 1987)
Do we turn immediately to God in our day to day lives? This is a question we can all reflect upon. Taking our reflection a step further, do we respond to the situations in which we find ourselves with joy or a sense of humor?
I believe Pope Francis and St. Teresa would have been great friends. In his homily at the canonization Mass of Junipero Serra, Pope Francis reminded us of St. Paul’s command to “rejoice always.” If we forget this call, we fall into the temptation of becoming “sourpusses”--to use Pope Francis’ term. We are called to be people of joy in the midst of suffering, not in the absence of it. It is this type of transparency in our relationship with God, this type of outlook on the life of faith, this sense of humor that helps us move forward in answering the universal call to be missionary disciples who witness to the Gospel through their encounter with those around them.
Like St. Teresa, may we always have a sense of humor. May we be bold and honest in our dialogue with God. May we be apostles of joy. And may we join in saying the phrase very often attributed to her, “God protect us from sour-faced saints”!
This coming Saturday, we will celebrate the Memorial of the Passion of St. John the Baptist. St. John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus, and is most well-known for baptizing Christ in the Jordan River. The baptism of Jesus signaled the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Although this Saturday we will recall St. John the Baptist’s death, by recalling his ministry of Baptism we are given the opportunity to reflect on this important sacrament.
If someone mentions baptism, I’m sure the first image we all conjure is one of a small baby, clothed in a white gown, surrounded by their parents and godparents, getting baptized. Indeed, this is the most common association of the sacrament. I’m sure most of us don’t remember our own baptisms, as our parents and godparents make baptismal promises for us and undertake the responsibility of raising us in our Catholic faith. However, infant baptism, while certainly the most recognizable form of the sacrament, is not the only point at which a person can be baptized. At the Easter Vigil, we often are witness to the baptisms of those who are entering the Church through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA). These new Catholics have been preparing for months to enter the Church and receive the Sacraments of Initiation, and the joy of their baptism is evident on their faces as they are cleansed in the waters.
When we are baptized, we receive symbols of our initiation into the Church community: water which cleanses us from Original Sin; a white garment demonstrating outwardly our new life in Christ; Chrism oil which strengthens us for life ahead; and a candle lit from the Easter candle symbolizing the light of Christ. These symbols of our Catholic identity are symbols that have been a part of baptism for centuries. If you’ve attended a Mass of Christian Burial, you may have noticed a reference to baptism in the funeral rite: the pall. A white cloth covers the casket of the deceased, and at the beginning of the funeral Mass, the priest notes that, “In the waters of baptism the deceased died with Christ and rose with him to new life. May he or she now share with him eternal glory” (Rites of Committal for the Order of Christian Funerals #305A). Throughout our lives, we are called to remember our baptisms, and the symbolism of a funeral pall brings us full circle from the new life we celebrate at baptism to the eternal life we attain in death. As we recall the Passion of St. John the Baptist this weekend, I invite you to take a moment to recall the baptismal promises that we make in the Rite of Baptism:
Do you reject Satan?
And all his works?
And all his empty promises?
Do you believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was born of the Virgin Mary was crucified, died, and was buried, rose from the dead, and is now seated at the right hand of the Father?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting?
Yesterday, we celebrated the Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul, which gives the faithful the opportunity to reflect on many different subjects. For instance, it is on this feast that the Pope traditionally presents the pallium to newly installed metropolitan archbishops, signifying their union with the Holy See. The feast is also important for the ecumenical movement because it is on this day that leaders of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches come together to pray and work towards full communion. However, one theme that seems to be missed is that of God’s mercy as exemplified by the lives of these two leaders of the early Church. And with the Jubilee Year of Mercy upcoming, one might want to look to these great saints for some inspiration.
One of the most well-known moments of the Passion is when Peter denies Christ three times (Mt 26:69-75) even after promising Jesus that, “though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29). Likewise, Paul also denied Jesus by his persecution of the disciples. He even takes part in the death of the first martyr, St. Stephen (Acts 7:58-60). If their stories had stopped there, we might judge the first as a fare-weather follower and the second as a ruthless fanatic.
Yet, we know that is not how the story ends. In the Gospel of John, Jesus appears to his disciples as they are fishing. They are eating breakfast on the shore when Christ asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” to which Peter replies yes twice and at the third time says, “Lord, you know everything, you know that I love you” (Jn 21:15-17). And thus, Peter is redeemed and given the charged by Jesus to “Feed my sheep.” He becomes the leader of the early church and by tradition is regarded as the first pope.
On his way to Damascus, Paul sees a bright light from the sky and voice crying out, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The voice is revealed to be that of Jesus himself. Blinded by the light, Paul enters Damascus when one of Jesus’ disciples, Ananias, lays his hands on him at the Lord’s command. Upon doing so, Paul’s vision is regained, is baptized, and goes on to preach the Gospel throughout the Mediterranean.
Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “The Church is not holy by herself; in fact, she is made up of sinners…Rather, she is made holy ever anew by the Holy One of God, by the purifying love of Christ.” Similarly, Pope Francis recalls, “[God] never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness…He is the loving Father who always pardons, who has that heart of mercy for us all.” The lives of Sts. Peter and Paul show us that no one is beyond forgiveness, so long as he or she seeks the mercy of God. Therefore, these two great pillars of the Church are a great reminder to have as we approach the Jubilee Year.
Victor David is a staff member at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Today we celebrate the memorial of Saint Mary Magdalene. Many of us probably remember Mary Magdalene as one of the women who remained at the feet of Jesus throughout his suffering and death on the cross. Or, we might remember her as the first person to witness his Resurrection. Both roles are very important to consider as we examine the readings from today and their importance in recognizing God’s presence in our lives.
Today’s Gospel from John focuses on Mary Magdalene’s visit to the tomb of Jesus. She arrives, finds it empty, and weeps. When confronted by Jesus, she can only say, “Sir, if you carried him away, tell me where you laid him, and I will take him.” Mary Magdalene is blinded by her grief, her own human failings, because in that moment, she believed her struggles were greater than God himself. She has forgotten Christ’s promise that he will rebuild this temple in three days (Cf, Jn 2:19). She, who sat at the feet of Jesus as he suffered on the cross, does not recognize that Christ is standing in front of her. We often go through life like Mary Magdalene, blinded by our everyday fears and hardships, but her life and her actions give us an example to follow. Though blinded by her own human failings, she learned to have faith and trust in the constant presence of the mercy and love of Christ.
Christ says to her, “But go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” With these words Christ proves to Mary Magdalene and to us that by his death and resurrection he has given mankind the ability to develop a personal relationship with God. Even after his death, he is calling Mary Magdalene and the disciples to more, to recognize that through his suffering on the cross he has transcended death and opened the gates of heaven to us. He calls us to renew our faith in him, “to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” He calls us into his arms, to know him, to love him, and serve him.
This Gospel scene with Mary Magdalene reminds us that we are often blind to Christ’s presence in our lives. We sometimes forget just how significant his death on the cross actually was, we forget that he laid down his life so that we could overcome our daily struggle with sin and that we might one day be one with the Lord in heaven. This is a hard message to remember especially in these recent months in which a plane carrying 295 innocent people was shot down and people are being killed all around the world in the Ukraine, Israel, and Africa. Many of us feel lost and unable to help against this senseless violence and yet Mary Magdalene gives us the answer. That answer is Christ. He is always here for us. He is always present. We might not be able to see him at all times, for we are often blinded by our human failings, our pride, and our worldly desires, and yet Christ remains present to us. We have, like Mary Magdalene, to just open our eyes and trust in the Lord. We have to offer ourselves up as he did in the only way we know how, in imitating the life of Christ every day, first and foremost through prayer. By answering his call to know him, to love him, and to serve him we give ourselves completely to him just as Mary Magdalene did.
St. Theresa of Avila gives us a simple prayer to remember the continuous presence of Christ in our lives, we but only have to look for him:
Let nothing disturb you, let nothing frighten you, all things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things, whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.
Nicholas Shields is a current District Deputy for the Washington, D.C. Knights of Columbus and a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America.
In 1979, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, then Mother Teresa, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize given to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition of reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
Below is a portion of her Nobel Lecture in which she speaks of the joy in her work of enkindling charity and the call we have to pass on this joy to others.
And so here I am talking with you - I want you to find the poor here, right in your own home first. And begin love there. Be that good news to your own people. And find out about your next-door-neighbor - do you know who they are? I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long- do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children- their eyes shining with hunger - I don't know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her - where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew- and who are they, a Muslim family - and she knew. I didn't bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins- at home…
…And I know well that you have not given from your abundance, but you have given until it has hurt you. Today the little children they have- I was so surprised - there is so much joy for the children that are hungry. That the children like themselves will need love and care and tenderness, like they get so much from their parents. So let us thank God that we have had this opportunity to come to know each other, and this knowledge of each other has brought us very close. And we will be able to help not only the children of India and Africa, but will be able to help the children of the whole world, because as you know our Sisters are all over the world. And with this prize that I have received as a prize of peace, I am going to try to make the home for many people that have no home. Because I believe that love begins at home, and if we can create a home for the poor- I think that more and more love will spread. And we will be able through this understanding love to bring peace, be good news to the poor. The poor in our own family first, in our country and in the world.
To be able to do this, our Sisters, our lives have to be woven with prayer. They have to be woven with Christ to be able to understand, to be able to share. Because today there is so much suffering - and I feel that the passion of Christ is being relived all over again - are we there to share that passion, to share that suffering of people. Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove. When I pick up a person from the street, hungry, I give him a plate of rice, a piece of bread, I have satisfied. I have removed that hunger. But a person that is shut out, that feels unwanted, unloved, terrified, the person that has been thrown out from society - that poverty is so hurtable and so much, and I find that very difficult. Our Sisters are working amongst that kind of people in the West. So you must pray for us that we may be able to be that good news, but we cannot do that without you, you have to do that here in your country. You must come to know the poor, maybe our people here have material things, everything, but I think that if we all look into our own homes, how difficult we find it sometimes to smile at each other, and that the smile is the beginning of love.
And so let us always meet each other with a smile, for the smile is the beginning of love, and once we begin to love each other naturally we want to do something. So you pray for our Sisters and for me and for our Brothers, and for our Co-Workers that are around the world. That we may remain faithful to the gift of God, to love Him and serve Him in the poor together with you. What we have done we should not have been able to do if you did not share with your prayers, with your gifts, this continual giving. But I don't want you to give me from your abundance, I want that you give me until it hurts.
The other day I received 15 dollars from a man who has been on his back for twenty years, and the only part that he can move is his right hand. And the only companion that he enjoys is smoking. And he said to me: I do not smoke for one week, and I send you this money. It must have been a terrible sacrifice for him, but see how beautiful, how he shared, and with that money I bought bread and I gave to those who are hungry with a joy on both sides, he was giving and the poor were receiving. This is something that you and I- it is a gift of God to us to be able to share our love with others. And let it be as it was for Jesus. Let us love one another as he loved us. Let us love Him with undivided love. And the joy of loving Him and each other- let us give now - that Christmas is coming so close. Let us keep that joy of loving Jesus in our hearts. And share that joy with all that we come in touch with. And that radiating joy is real, for we have no reason not to be happy because we have no Christ with us. Christ in our hearts, Christ in the poor that we meet, Christ in the smile that we give and the smile that we receive. Let us make that one point: That no child will be unwanted, and also that we meet each other always with a smile, especially when it is difficult to smile.