On our recent trip to visit our daughter in Nevada, I attended Mass at the St Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in Reno, Nevada one Sunday morning in April. I always enjoy visiting other churches to hear Mass and see how they are celebrated. Most churches are in the process of opening up as the pandemic recedes, so I was especially interested in seeing how they were doing this at St. Thomas’s. I noticed that they had pews taped off as usual, but they were taped about 2 feet in which was curious. The cantor came up to the lectern and began giving some directions for the Gloria and then began the opening Easter Hymn “the strife is over“. Tears began to well up in my eyes from a flood of emotions.
I had recently been talking with other friends about the seeming lack of joy in the Easter season following Easter Sunday especially when compared with Christmas season following Christmas Day. One hears a variety of beautiful Christmas hymns before and after Christmas day: O Holy Night, Adeste Fideles, Silent Night and so on. There are many Easter hymns as well but not nearly sung as often. And here I was, over 2000 miles from home hearing the cantor and a congregation singing: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia…..the strife is over …….” A beautiful hymn exclaiming that Christ’s suffering on the cross is over and now also the suffering from the pandemic on the way out. Bittersweet joy of Easter, the pandemic and the joy of singing for the first time in 10 months. I could barely sing along with all the feelings going on inside.
The priest started the Mass by asking everyone to greet each other which everyone did. He was especially reverent throughout the Mass and everyone participated in kind. This parish was keeping that Easter joy and what a joy it was to be there. We all need to remember that Christmas happened so that Easter could happen! The Resurrection is Jesus’ triumph over death and makes possible the joy of eternal life with Him. That is certainly a reason to keep that joyous feeling before us! I am still listening to those beautiful Easter hymns. And the warmth and love of that parish surely is boosting my soul all the way to Pentecost!
By the way, this parish brought Communion down to the people in the pews! That is why they left space in the taped off pews. I learn something new every day.
It is always a sobering time when Lent arrives each year. A time of preparation, denial and discipline as we are getting ready to recall Jesus’ time of great trial and sacrifice. A time of mixed emotions as well since the resurrection on Easter Sunday marks His triumph over evil and death as well as our salvation. The greatest day on our Christian calendar!
Speaking of mixed emotions, when I watched Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ, I was surprised at my emotional reaction to Peter’s realization that he had just denied Christ three times. I felt so bad for Peter! He was on his knees sobbing before the Blessed Mother before he ran off at the horror of what he himself had done. That caused a lot of soul searching for myself! But, then, isn’t that what Lent is all about?
Below is an article that appeared in Word Among Us ( a favorite publication of mine) last week for your contemplation. I wish you all the blessings of Easter!
Behold the Man
A new look at Jesus’ crucifixion.
Imagine that you have traveled back to the year AD 63 and are sitting with the apostle John, who is telling you what it was like to be on Calvary as Jesus gave his life for us on the cross.
“When Jesus was arrested after our Passover meal, most of us ran away. It was probably the darkest moment of my life. Jesus had just shown us at the meal how much he was willing to give for us, and I couldn’t stay with him in his moment of need. He had sacrificed three years teaching us, encouraging us, loving us, and healing us—and I couldn’t risk sacrificing anything for him.
“When I realized what I had done, I knew I couldn’t stay in hiding. I asked God to forgive me for running away, and I began searching high and low for Jesus. When I finally caught up with him, he was being led to Calvary.
Father, Forgive Them
“I pushed through the crowd just in time to see the soldiers driving the spikes into Jesus’ hands. And amidst the noise of the crowds, the pounding of the hammers, and Jesus’ own cries of pain, I heard him say, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (Luke 23:34). When I first heard this, I wondered whom he was praying for. Was it the Jewish rulers who had condemned him? Was it Pontius Pilate and the Roman soldiers who had flogged him, beaten him, and crucified him? Or maybe it was us, who had been with him so long and yet abandoned him at the very end?
“But over the years as I’ve prayed and talked about this with the other apostles, I realized that Jesus was doing exactly what he had taught us to do. For as long as we were with him, he kept telling us that we had to forgive seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:22). Now here he was, being just as free with his mercy as he always told us to be.
Free to Forgive
“As we reflect on this beautiful act of Jesus on Good Friday, we see just how far God’s forgiveness reached. Peter knew that he was forgiven for having denied Jesus. Thomas knew he was forgiven for his lack of faith. We were all forgiven for having run away. Now we know that no one is beyond God’s mercy. Jesus proved it when he forgave the soldiers who mocked him, the chief priests who condemned him, and even Judas, who betrayed him.
“Hearing Jesus speak words of forgiveness even as nails were being driven into him, even as he was being hung on the cross, even as he had to gasp for every breath, we all need to ask whether we are willing to forgive just as fully. And today, I’d like to ask you: Is there any way you need to follow Jesus’ example and forgive? Are there people whose forgiveness you need to seek? Don’t hold back. Remember Jesus and all he gave up for you. Then ask his Spirit to help you be just as generous.
Jesus, Remember Me
“A little bit later, something very moving happened to one of the thieves who was crucified next to Jesus. It seemed as if Jesus’ love and humility—and the way in which he embraced such an unjust death—changed this man. He defended Jesus when the other thief started insulting him. Then he turned and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And again, in the midst of his agony, Jesus reached out in love and mercy. ‘Today,’ he told the man, ‘you will be with me in Paradise’ (Luke 23:42-43).
“It’s amazing that Jesus would welcome this sinner into his kingdom with just as much assurance as he welcomed Peter, James, and the rest of the apostles—men who had given up so much to follow him. But this thief has become a reminder to me that anyone who turns to Jesus will be received into heaven.
“Again, the depth of his mercy and love is overwhelming. And again, consider: Is there someone whom you have given up on? Is there someone whom you think will never be welcomed into heaven? Don’t judge! Don’t condemn! Don’t forget that you are just as unworthy as he was. Don’t forget that you needed salvation through the cross just as much as this thief did. Jesus didn’t condemn this man. He didn’t condemn his disciples, even though they had deserted him. He won’t turn anyone away, and he asks us to be just as open and merciful—even to our enemies.
Why Have You Forsaken Me?
“Jesus’ words just before he died were probably confusing to the apostles: ‘My God, my God,’ he cried out, ‘why have you forsaken me?’ (Mark 15:34). It’s hard to believe that Jesus, who was always close to the Father, could be abandoned by his Father at his moment of greatest suffering and need. Would God really turn away from him just as his Son was performing the greatest act of obedience the world would ever know?
“However, Jesus felt separated from his Father because he was carrying our sins. He was speaking both from the crushing pain of his crucifixion and from the relentless spiritual attacks he was enduring. This was Satan’s pivotal moment. If there was any chance of getting Jesus to deny his Father and turn away from his commitment to us, it was now. The spiritual assault he was enduring was so violent that it must have felt as if he were separated from his Father. At the same time, he must have known in his heart that God would never abandon him. This cry that issued from his bloodied lips and his parched mouth was both an acknowledgment of the battle he was fighting and an affirmation that even if it felt as if God had left him, he would not abandon God.”
Just as Jesus felt forsaken and abandoned by God on the cross, the same can happen to us. St. John must have felt that way at times, especially when he and Peter and James were arrested, or when they were beaten or mocked for telling people about Jesus. At these times they held onto trust in God and confidence that Jesus was with them, even if it felt as if he’d abandoned them. Are there times when you feel alone and forsaken? Are you wondering whether God has left you in a situation of confusion, struggle, or pain? He hasn’t. Remember the psalm: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18). He is always with you!
Behold the Man
So many other things happened that day. Jesus said and did so much, even as he hung in agony and his life’s blood slowly left his body. There’s so much more you can receive and experience as you ponder Jesus’ death. As you read the passion stories, take Pilate’s advice and “behold the man” (John 19:5). Behold the man, wounded and bruised, crowned with thorns. Behold the man, who was despised and rejected. Behold the man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.
But behold also the man who loved you so much that he gave up everything for you. Behold the man who endured the nails, the whip, the thorns, and the cross for you. Behold the man who endured the weight of sin, the onslaught of the devil, and the loneliness of desertion for you. Behold him and bow down in worship and love. Behold him and give him your life. Behold him and know that he has won for you a place in heaven.
When Peter, James, and the rest saw Jesus on Easter Sunday, they beheld Jesus again—this time as a glorified man—and their hearts were filled with joy. This Lent, behold the glorified Jesus. Fix your heart on him as he is seated in heaven, pouring out grace upon grace into your heart. Behold him every time you celebrate Mass and recall the love he poured out at the Last Supper. Behold him in your family and neighbors and love and serve them just as he has loved and served you. Finally, behold him in the poor and suffering and imitate him by washing their feet. May God bless you.
Isaiah is consistently beautiful in his writings whether it be in the Advent/Christmas seasons, or Lent/Easter times. I always love them. The Mass reading this past Tuesday, Is 55:10-11, captures a beautiful reality.
My daily prayer life involves Lectio Divina which is a practice of reading the daily scripture readings and then pondering and being open to listening for what God wants to impart to you. A passage like this is ideal. The meditation for this day (Feb 23) from Word Among Us gives an excellent description of Lectio Divina and commentary on Isaiah’s passage.
Just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth
making it fertile and fruitful,…
So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me void,
but shall do my will,..
DAILY MEDITATION: ISAIAH 55:10-11
My word . . . shall not return to me void. (Isaiah 55:11)
Have you ever been inside a greenhouse? Its transparent walls trap heat and humidity, creating a tropical atmosphere—even in the wintertime. The walls also keep out hungry herbivores. It’s no wonder a greenhouse is such a fertile environment!
This may be a good metaphor for the practice of lectio divina, an ancient, prayerful way of reading Scripture. In today’s first reading, we hear about the life-giving power of God’s word. It’s like rain that waters the earth and causes crops to grow and bear fruit. You could say that lectio divina is an especially fertile environment for growth.
In order to experience God’s written word through lectio divina, you need to “wall yourself off” from distractions for a time. This creates space for the four traditional stages of this practice: reading, meditation, prayer, and contemplation.
Reading. Just as fertile soil helps plants grow, the words of Scripture are a rich medium in which we can experience God’s grace. So unhurried reading of a short passage is the first step of lectio divina. This stage usually ends as you pause at a phrase—even a word—that catches your attention.
Meditation. Remember the greenhouse’s clear walls that let in so much light? Similarly, you can invite the Holy Spirit to illuminate the truths in that phrase or word as you ponder it and turn it over in your mind.
Prayer. Next, bring your reflections before the Lord in the form of a prayerful conversation. Maybe you could thank him for a truth he has revealed. Or ask him whatever questions come into your heart. Then give him room to respond. At this point, the Lord may already be irrigating your soul with peace or joy.
Contemplation. Now be still and open. Allow anything God has said or done to soak in. Let his word take root within you—even if you don’t immediately “feel” anything happening.
And that’s it. But don’t be fooled. Even though it’s structured and simple, lectio divina contains living surprises, like any good greenhouse. You never know at which stage you may encounter the Lord walking through the garden.
The most powerful part of the Mass is centered on receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In addition to that transforming experience, there are other beautiful things that occur during Mass. Shortly after the Mass begins, we all recite the Confiteor together “I confess to Almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned….” And, at the end, “…therefore, I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the angels and saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me…” So, right from the beginning of Mass, we acknowledge who we are to each other and ask for help from each other. You can feel the love for each other knowing who we are….disciples of Jesus Christ. The Liturgy of the Eucharist begins and after the Consecration of the bread and wine we say the Lord’s Prayer and then turn to all those around us and give a Sign of Peace to each other. More love. Two more short powerful prayers from Scripture and then we receive Communion together. As St. Ignatius of Loyola said that if you don’t get emotional at some point in the Mass, it was no a good Mass. That should be your experience.
So, one morning in January during prayer time when I was going through the Daily Readings, I was struck by the words in Heb 24-25: “We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another,…” I knew what this was all about. Why we need to be physically together to live our faith. God sent His only Son Jesus to be with us physically and Jesus instituted the Sacraments to be outward physical signs of grace for us.
The meditation from Word Among Us for that day is below and describes best the ways we can rouse one another.
DAILY MEDITATION: HEBREWS 10:19-25
We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. (Hebrews 10:24)
How simple the gospel message is! Through his cross and resurrection, Jesus has opened up a way for each of us to be set free from sin and enter into the presence of God. Jesus is risen, and the door to heaven is now wide open. But as simple and straightforward as this message is, we sometimes need help seeing the open door that’s right in front of us. And that’s where brothers and sisters in Christ come in.
Sometimes they remind us that the sacraments are powerful and readily available. They might say, “You seem pretty burdened. Have you thought about going to Confession? The parish down the road has confessions every Saturday.” Or “I’m going to an online Mass at the end of my shift today. How about joining me from your computer?” Or “I wonder if your dad might be open to receiving the Anointing of the Sick?”
Sometimes they point out opportunities we might have overlooked. They might tell us about a homeless center whose food pantry is running low. They might invite us to a virtual parish Bible study we have been meaning to check out. Or they might urge us to write to our representative about an important issue.
Sometimes they help us see where the Holy Spirit is already at work in our lives. “What a great idea!” a friend might say. “That sounds inspired. How can I help you make it work?” Or “You always seem to have a bigger perspective than I do. I really appreciate the way you help expand my vision.” Or “You’re so good at getting to the heart of a complex situation. Don’t be afraid to say it the way you see it.”
Sometimes they exhort us to trust God and to believe when our faith is wavering. At other times, our faith helps them persevere through a challenging time.
In all these ways and many more, we can “rouse one another” to a deeper surrender to the Lord!
“Lord, help us to give and receive the encouragement that will make us faithful stewards of your gifts.”