From One Miserable Sinner to Another

From One Miserable Sinner to Another

Turning the other cheek, bearing wrongs patiently, and choosing to be kind in moments of anger are all well and good when thought of in the abstract. In the particular moment when any of these are called for, a flood of excuses and defenses are more likely to come to mind rather than the goodness of following the Lord.

I try really hard to not let any personal dislike of students color our overall relationship. Some people are just harder to love and students are no different. I am well aware that I am not the easiest person to get along with for all people and all personality types. The same is true with the people seated in my classroom each and every day.

It is hard, however, when I make great attempts to overlook personal slights, strive to forget previous negative encounters in the pursuit of answering present questions, and other like situations, only to discover that they already don’t like me. That instead of seeing how I try to patiently attend to their present concerns despite the fact that they repeatedly laugh at me, they only see that I have not always responded favorably toward them.

A flood of defenses came to my mind. I replay the conversations over in my mind and I wonder if I had said this instead of that, perhaps it would have been received better. Or, if I’m feeling particularly cantankerous, I’ll think of all the sharp barbs I could have thrown or the harsh yet true things I could have said but did not. It isn’t a one time occurrence, but each time it happens, it strikes me anew.

It seems unfair and it seems unjust. And perhaps it is both.

Welcome to the end of Holy Week.

Tonight, we will eat the Last Supper with Our Lord and then follow Him into the garden to wait. Tomorrow, we will walk the road to Calvary and we will, despite our best intentions, cry for Christ to be crucified. On Holy Saturday, we will wait in the awkward tension between the death of Jesus and His subsequent Resurrection. It is in the light of the Triduum, these holiest of days, that I consider the small inconvenience of being misunderstood by students.

Continue reading “From One Miserable Sinner to Another”

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent

Lent seemed to be forty days of falling on my face.

As Easter approached, I found myself holding back, wishing the days would reverse and I would have the gift of more Lent.  I was annoyed with myself because I knew better.  The Lents that are the most intense and where I am the most faithful yield the best Easters.  After forty days of extra prayer and penance, I burst with joy into an Easter that truly finds me resurrected and renewed.

This time, I wanted an extra long Lent.  I wanted more time to make up for the ways I failed day after day.  I wanted more time to get it right.

I walked into Holy Week and then into the Triduum with a bittersweet feeling.  After such a pitiful Lent, it didn’t seem as though I deserved to rejoice in the Resurrection.  At some point between Holy Thursday and the Easter Vigil I became convinced of one thing: I am in incredible need of a Savior.

On Ash Wednesday, I had great hopes of competing well and running this sacrificial race for Our Lord.  I wanted to do great things and to show how much I love the Lord.  When I arrived at the altar of repose on Holy Thursday evening, I had to acknowledge that the Lord was the only one professing the depths of His faithful love.  I desire to be a follower of Jesus and yet I quickly become like the disciples in that night of testing.  I run away, I hide, and I wonder what Jesus will do with someone so small and pitiful. Continue reading “I Need Easter Because I Failed at Lent”

The Little Red Hen

The Little Red Hen

I wonder what caused the Little Red Hen to be what she was.

You know, the story about the Little Red Hen who does all the work and nobody else will help her?  My whole life this story has been presented in a way that makes it seem like the Little Red Hen is in the right and everyone else in the wrong.  Of course, the others should have helped do the work and not simply expect to partake of the end result.  Yet it still calls to mind a question: did the Little Red Hen behave in the way she ought to have behaved? Continue reading “The Little Red Hen”

“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

“Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week

I watched Beauty and the Beast this weekend and I’ve been turning one lyric over and over in my mind ever since.  “How in the midst of all this sorrow can so much hope and love endure?” (from ‘Days in the Sun’)  For several reasons, it seemed to be the perfect phrase to carry into this Holy Week.

In the midst of experiencing again the Passion of Jesus Christ, how can we still find hope and love?  When I read the news, how can I find hope and love in the events of strife and discord?  In tragedy on a personal or community level, how can I wade through the hurt and find hope?

The short answer is that it is difficult to do, but it must be possible.  It isn’t a matter of denying the pain or sorrow.  The Lord knew we would experience pain.  He understands the depths of feeling forsaken and abandoned.  His closest friends fell asleep during His moments of great agony.  When soldiers came to arrest Him, the apostles all fled.  Jesus isn’t asking us to deny pain or to act like it doesn’t impact us.  Rather, He is asking us to choose to find the Resurrection in the midst of every crucifixion.  Or, at the very least, to acknowledge that there will be a Resurrection, even if death seems to be victorious right now. Continue reading ““Beauty and the Beast” Gave Me the Perfect Phrase for Holy Week”

Ever-New

Ever-New

Do you remember?  Do you remember?

The voices are hushed but brimming with excitement.  It is dark with only flickering candlelight illuminating joyous faces.  Of course they all remember.

By all rights, this should be a story that is told with sadness, one where sorrow should be the predominant feeling.  It should be tragic and riddled with painful memories.  That is not the case, however.

They can barely keep the laughter at bay.  Wide smiles show how their hearts desire to break out of their chests.  They are simultaneously on the brink of crying and shouting, so full are their hearts.

Do you remember?  Why is this night different from all other nights?

The second question is a carryover from their Jewish roots–but it is fitting here.  It is perfectly fulfilled here.

There are numerous possible narrators to the story, each holding a piece that contributes to the full picture.  John is there and he tells of His last moments on the cross and the ache in his heart as he watched Him die.  Mary Magdalene speaks of her sleepless night, the long Sabbath, and rushing with spices to the tomb early on the first day of the week.  Peter speaks of walking into the empty tomb, marveling at the clothes that remain where the body once was placed.  Each person adds another detail to a story they have told over and over again.  Yet it is one of which they can never tire.  It isn’t simply a story from the past but rather re-tells an encounter they had with the living God.

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Saturday evening as I stood in a dark church while the Easter candle was being lit, I considered something I never have before: what would it have been like to be at the second Easter?  The first Easter would have been incredible, but as I stood in the church, it was very clear that I wasn’t at the first Easter.  But the second Easter?  When they gather together to re-live what had happened a year ago?  I could imagine that.  If I closed my eyes and focused on the prayers, I could feel this uncontrollable joy welling up in my heart.  Before long, I was fighting back tears and grinning like a fool in the darkness.

I had encouraged my students to delve into Holy Week and to consider the well-known story in a new light.  Chances are really good that none of them remembered what I said, but I found myself taking my own advice.  What if I wasn’t at Easter Vigil (like I am every year) but rather was at the first anniversary of the first Easter?  They couldn’t even wait until Sunday to gather.  Instead, they gather together in the darkness to hold a vigil for the Resurrection.

A lot can change in a year.  One year earlier, they were wrapping their minds around the Passion, vacillating between numbness and crushing sorrow.  Even in the finding of the empty tomb and the first appearances of Jesus, there were still so many questions and much confusion.  A year later and they were witnesses of the Resurrection, filled with the Holy Spirit, and traveling to proclaim the Gospel.  They didn’t have all of their questions answered but their mission was certain.  Gathering together, their joy grew exponentially as they considered again those three sacred days.

Do you remember?  Do you remember?  The new followers, the ones who were not there one year earlier, listen eagerly to the story, caught up in the drama of human salvation.  Even as they re-tell the Passion and Death of Jesus there is an undercurrent of joy.  They enter into His death deeply, recalling where they had been during those moments of agony, but they know that He lives now.  With solemnity, they trace the providence of God from the beginning.  From creation to freedom from Egypt to the challenges of the prophets, they recall how God had prepared them for the fulfillment of all the old covenants.  Soon they are talking about Easter Sunday, with all the little details pouring in:
“I thought He was a gardener!”  Mary Magdalene recalls.
“I ran faster than Peter,” John says with a youthful wink at the Vicar of Christ.
“I didn’t go to the tomb, because I knew He had risen,” Mary, the mother of Jesus, says with a smile of remembrance.

The central point of Christianity is not about following rules or attending excessively long religious services.  Christianity is about encountering the person of Jesus Christ.  Everything else is aimed at fulfilling or bringing about that encounter.  As I sat in Easter Sunday Mass, listening to the priest’s homily, I couldn’t help but glance around a little and see some tired, bored faces.  And I wondered, “How many of these people here have never really encountered Jesus Christ?”  They attend Mass because their husband or wife or parents want them to or because they feel some guilt if they should stop attending.  How sad would it be if a relationship with God that is intended to be marked with joy is instead filled with simply surface level commitment.

The joy of Easter should not be mainly that we can now eat or do what we previously could not eat or do during Lent.  It should be because we once again remember that Jesus Christ is the Savior we need.  He died, He is risen, and that changes everything.  It is not old news or historical details but is something that is ever-ancient yet ever-new.  In that dark church on the eve of Easter, I thought of the joy and fulfillment that filled the hearts of the early Christians as they recalled the previous year.  And I longed for that joy only to realize that it could and should be mine.  We should be like the early Christians, gathering with hearts of praise to recall what the Lord has done for us.

Do you remember?  Do you remember?  He died, He rose, and He lives.  And it continues to change my entire life. 

A Mercy Divine

A Mercy Divine

“My people, what have I done to you or how have I offended you?  Answer me!  I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the cross.  My people, what have I done to you?  How have I offended you?  Answer me!  For forty years I led you safely through the desert.  I fed you with manna from heaven, and brought you to a land of plenty; but you led your Savior to the cross.  What more could I have done for you?  I planted you as my fairest vine, but you yielded only bitterness: when I was thirsty you gave me vinegar to drink, and you pierced your Savior with a lance.”  (Reproaches of Good Friday)

Good Friday is a day of worlds colliding.  We acknowledge the death of Our Lord and our role in it, but we also recall this as the glorious means for our salvation.  The cross is an instrument of torture and yet we take time to exalt the cross, coming forward on bended knee to kiss Our Savior as He is fastened to it.

Today, we begin the Divine Mercy Novena which concludes on Divine Mercy Sunday.  After the Good Friday service, we prayed the first day of the novena.  And I couldn’t help but remember another time when I had prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  It was about six years ago and I stood on the cold, snowy ground of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

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For the sake of His sorrowful Passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.

We had already toured Auschwitz I.  There I saw picture after picture of people who had entered that place of death.  Next to each picture was a little card that gave the person’s name, their entrance date, and the date of their death.  But the faces were what became engraved on my heart.  I had heard for years about the number of people who died in the Nazi concentration camps, but to see only a fraction of their pictures changed statistics into human lives.

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In silence, we loaded the bus so that we could go to Auschwitz II.  Here we saw long barracks and miles of barbed wire fences.  And we struggled to understand that human beings did this to other human beings.  We saw cattle cars that humans arrived in and we surveyed the watchtowers that were situated to keep all under surveillance.

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In the last few minutes of being there, we prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet.  Because what else can you do when surrounded by such a witness to the depravity of humanity?    We could only make appeals to the mercy of God.  I could not offer to God my own merit or good works because they are insufficient in the face of such tragedy.  I can only offer His Son back to Him.

Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.

Kneeling during the Good Friday service and during the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I could not help but consider this again.  In the wake of the death of Jesus Christ, I can offer nothing to atone for it.  These hands were not physically there, but my sins were bought and paid for with His blood on that day.  Even if I lived a perfect life, I could not make up for what has been done.  The only offering I can make is Jesus Himself.

A couple years ago, I considered the words of the Divine Mercy Chaplet and I realized that it is truly a mercy that can only come from God.  We plead our cause by offering to God the very One we killed.  In any other situation, this would seem laughably grotesque.  Imagine a murderer asking for clemency from a mother or father by invoking the name of the child killed.  Not simply through their name but asking that through the child’s death mercy and forgiveness will be shown to the murderer.  Such mercy is what can only come from God.

Good Friday comes down to accepting that I cannot do anything.  In the Passion narrative, I am the one calling for His crucifixion and claiming that He is not my king.  And I must say those words because I profess them often enough with my life.  Good Friday isn’t about beating yourself up or trying to make yourself feel lousy.  It is about accepting the role we have played in the death of Jesus Christ.  He didn’t die, though, so that we could wallow in guilt and self-pity.  He came to make us new.  He came to utterly transform us.  He came to take every part of us and to pour His perfect mercy over all the parts of our heart that most need it, yet are too fearful or prideful to plead for it.

Christ says “Give me All.  I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.  I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it.  No half-measures are any good.  I don’t want to cut off a branch here and there, I want to have the whole tree down.  I don’t want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out.  Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked–the whole outfit.  I will give you a new self instead.  In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours.” (Mere Christianity, p. 166)

Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion–inexhaustible,  look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
(Closing prayer for the Divine Mercy Chaplet)

Thirst

Thirst

Today, during my sophomore classes, we prayed the Stations of the Cross.  Though I’ve prayed them many times before, God seems to repeatedly sow new meaning into the lines.  Phrases I hadn’t before realized, come to life in a startling way.

The thirst of Christ struck me in prayer today.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me, far from my prayer, far from the words of my cry?  O my God, I cry out by day, and you answer not; I cry out by night, and there is no relief for me.  All my bones are racked.  My heart has become like wax melting away within my chest.  My throat is dried up like baked clay, my tongue cleaves to my jaws; they have pierced my hands and my feet; I can count all my bones.”  (Ps. 21/22, The Way of the Cross)

I’ve grown up hearing about Bl. Mother Teresa saying that Christ was thirsting for our souls while on the cross.  And that took on a new depth today and will be something I will return to throughout this Holy Week.

For a few brief seconds, I was able to imagine the intense thirst of Christ.  I considered a couple moments in my life where I have felt extremely thirsty, when my tongue seems to stick to my mouth.  The instances have been few and far between.  I had always passed over these words with little thought, but today I was unable to.  I could imagine Christ’s dry mouth and His tongue sticking to His jaws, as He tried to peel it away to speak a few words.  He longed for a little water.

This thirst Christ had was one aspect of His intense suffering.  He also had the scourging on His back, His hands and feet were pierced, His head was seeping blood as the thorns bit into His scalp, and He was repeatedly pushing Himself up to take in some air.  His thirst was one part of the physical agony.  But it struck me.  For a few seconds, I imagined, to a degree, that thirst and my heart seemed unready to take in the rest of the Passion while surrounded by a bunch of teenagers.

A new depth of thirst was realized.  If I now have a greater understanding of His physical thirst, how much deeper was His thirst for souls.  Even more than for a cup of cool water, Christ was longing for our souls.  The intensity of such a thirst pains my heart.  Here Christ so deeply desires my heart and I am slow to give Him it in its entirety.  May a new thirst fill my own heart for the Lord.  May the intense thirsting of Christ on the cross be my new attitude toward Christ Himself.

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.  When shall I come and behold the face of God?  (Ps. 42)

The Triduum

The Triduum is an experience for all of the senses.  While I’ve never been anything but Catholic, I cannot imagine another church matching the beauty of the Triduum and the way the liturgies invite us into the Pascal Mystery.

Holy Thursday begins with joy and beckoning us to the table of Our Lord’s Last Supper.  I can imagine Christ bending low to wash my feet as the priest in persona Christi stoops to wash the feet of the young men called forward.  After the Eucharistic prayer, I approach the priest to receive from him my Lord, the Word made flesh and remaining in the appearance of bread and wine.  Tonight, I am an apostle from another century, experiencing the Last Supper and encountering Christ in a tangible way.  My senses are alive as the Eucharistic procession weaves its way around the church.  An incense thurible fills my nose with the sweet, rich odor I link only to the Eucharist.  The priest is embracing Jesus as we sing Pange Lingua Gloriosi.  Our Lord is carried to an altar and the faithful are invited to come and wait with Him.

I fulfill my role of a disciple well.  In the intimately dim chapel, I wait with Jesus and I drift off to sleep at times.  Can I not wait one hour?  Apparently not.  It is beautiful to see the others in adoration, praying with Jesus before He is hidden from us, when the stark reality of the Pascal Mystery will become more obvious.  Then the time of waiting in the Garden is over and we depart in silence.  Talking seems inappropriate.  Nearly anything seems inappropriate on such an evening.

Good Friday is spent anticipating and remembering the Passion of Jesus.  The simplicity of the Good Friday service is unnerving and striking.  I can always feel an ache in my heart.  The tabernacle is left open and I am continually reminded that He is gone.  Approaching the cross so as to venerate it, I am questioning where to kiss Jesus.  My stomach feels the hunger of fasting and I kiss the crucifix with the kiss of Judas, with the kiss of John the beloved.  Good Friday fills me with a longing and with a sorrow.  The rest of the world seems to be continuing at its typical pace but I cannot carry on as normal.

The waiting of Holy Saturday is difficult.  Christ has been crucified and laid in the tomb.  He has yet to rise, though.  Fasting is not obligatory yet the feasting of Easter is still premature.  We wait.  Waiting is perhaps the focal point of Holy Saturday and it makes it all the more difficult.

Yet the Easter Vigil will arrive with its dark and quiet entrance.  A fire lit and from it, a flame passed to light all the candles in the darkened church.  There is a stillness of expectation.  We know the story, we know Christ will rise, and yet we are waiting for it to be lived out, to be fulfilled in this sacrifice.  Darkness turns into light.  As a church we are led through salvation history, to hear how God remains ever-faithful and is responding to the longings and yearnings of His people in an unforeseen way.  We are reminded that we are a part of something far larger than ourselves or our parish.  We are united to a Church that is truly universal and timeless.  Joy mounts in my soul as we continue through the Mass. As the beautiful music announces a living reality in my life: Christ has risen.  He rose 2,000 years ago and He rises today in my heart.  The highest feast of the Church is celebrated with all the pomp owed to a King who mounts a cross as a throne and gives Himself as the food for the wedding banquet.

Easter Sunday is bright and joyful, a renewal of the joy felt the night before.  While Easter Vigil tends to hold a heavy joy for me, Easter Sunday is a light, uplifting joy.  The sun must shine on such a day and if it does not, the joy of the feast becomes a light of its own right.  The lilies decorate the Church and we sing words that we have refrained from saying for weeks.  It adds a depth to the joy that would not be found if one simply arrived at Easter without the Lent.  The Easter Sunday celebration continues for the Easter Octave, each day the Church repeating the joy of the resurrection.  Liturgically, we celebrate the Easter Mass repeatedly.  We cannot move on, we must make it known that this is the highest of all celebrations.

The Triduum and Easter season are for all of the senses.  Breathing in the incense from the Eucharistic procession, waiting with Jesus in the Garden, saying the words of the angry crowd as Jesus is condemned to death, kissing the cross of Our Lord, waiting as Jesus is held in the tomb, lighting our candle from the Easter candle representing the light of Christ Himself, and singing with exultation the joy central to the Catholic faith: we worship a God made man who rose from the dead.  The Triduum calls us to live out the final days of Christ and to enter into the mystery by which we are saved.  In a beautiful combination of music, art, sights, and sounds, the Church transports us to the time of Jesus Christ.  Or, perhaps, she causes us to acknowledge that the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus are truly timeless events that we experience now through the beauty of the Body of Christ, the Church in her tri-fold magnificence.