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Archives: April 2015
Tenebrae, or the office of shadows, took place on Good Friday, April 3, at The Basilica of Saint Mary. This service commemorates the death of Jesus and his descent into hell. Tenebrae is Latin for shadows/darkness. As the service unfolds, all candles and lights in The Basilica are extinguished until only one candle remains. When the last candle is carried out of the church and complete darkness fills The Basilica, the organ and timpani begin a symbolic earthquake. The service ends with thousands of rose petals being dropped from The Basilica dome.
Good Friday service took place on April 3 at The Basilica of Saint Mary.
Holy Thursday service took place on April 2 at The Basilica of Saint Mary.
For this Sunday’s readings, click on the link below or copy and paste it into your browser.
I have always felt a great deal of sympathy for poor Thomas. One quick and ill-conceived comment and he is forever labeled “doubting Thomas.” Perhaps even worse, because we read this story every year on the Sunday after Easter there is little chance that he will ever live down this appellation.
In defense of Thomas, I would like to suggest that he is not so much a doubter as he is a realist. Thomas had accepted the hard and ugly fact of Jesus’ death, and he had begun to move ahead. (I say this because our Gospel today reminds us that he was the only one who was not cowering in fear behind locked doors.) Also, his statement: “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” --- while crude --- is merely asking for a proof similar to what the other disciples had already seen and experienced.
When we think of Thomas, it is important to remember that we have grown up with a belief in Jesus’ resurrection. If we can put ourselves in his shoes, however, we can perhaps begin to grasp what an unprecedented, unexpected, astonishing, miracle Jesus’ resurrection was. From this perspective, I wonder if most of us were in Thomas’ shoes wouldn’t ask for a bit more “proof” before believing wholeheartedly in Jesus’ resurrection.
Our first reading for this Sunday moves us quickly from the resurrection to the life of the early Christian community. It begins with the unequivocal statement: “The community of believers was of one heart and mind……………...”
Our second reading for this Sunday is taken from the first letter of St. John. (Our second readings throughout the Easter season will be taken from this letter.) In the section we read this weekend, John reminds us that we show our love for God and the children of God, not just by knowing, but by keeping the commandments of God.
Questions for Discussion/Reflection
- Alfred Tennyson once said: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Do you agree or disagree?
- What would you say to someone who had difficulty believing in the resurrection?
- What can we do today to make the community of believers of one mind and heart?
In the garden of olives,
among the ancient trees with their gnarled bark and twisted branches
the apostles have fallen asleep,
blissfully unaware of what is about to happen.
By contrast, Jesus became increasingly restless and almost desperate.
Could he really go through with this?
Did he have the strength to endure the agony of a dreadful death?
Though fear threatened to darken his soul;
to crush his will;
and even to end his mission,
he rose above it,
uttering quietly at first,
but then stronger and stronger again:
"Not my will, but your will be done."
As he rose from prayer, Judas approached him.
He had shared Jesus’ life for some three years.
They talked together, ate together, traveled together.
That night, he came to Jesus and kissed him one last time.
This was no kiss of love, rather, a kiss of rejection and betrayal.
Though they all cheered him on just days before, on that night
Judas betrayed him, his disciples abandoned him and the soldiers arrested him as if he were a criminal.
Standing the Sanhedrin he appeared helpless, frail, vulnerably human,
not unlike the many defenseless people he set out to help.
He spent his life preaching and teaching,
blessing and healing,
choosing the side of the oppressed,
now he is waiting to be judged
joining the fate of all those who are oppressed,
of those who are suffering,
and ultimately, those condemned to death .
His fate, like that of many others,
was decided based on fear, envy and jealousy:
“You are not like us.”
Having abandoned Jesus in The Garden Peter returned quietly and probably somewhat sheepishly.
He warmed himself at the campfire
near the place where Jesus was held captive.
Jesus and Peter had a strong,
while at times tumultuous relationship.
Peter seems to have been prone to grandstanding.
Yet, he also suffered great doubts, he was afraid,
and he ran away when Jesus was arrested.
Like Peter, we are well-meaning and loving, yet, we are weak.
"I am never going to betray you." And yet we do!
We love and try to live according to the Gospel, but we fail.
Jesus never condemned Peter, neither does he condemn us.
Rather, Jesus invites us to acknowledge our failings, accept our weaknesses, know our limits, ask forgiveness and try again.
In turn, we are asked to accept the failings of others, to show mercy to those who hurt us, and to never disregard anyone.
This kind of mercy is not shown to him, though.
The same people who sang Hosannas mere days ago,
now cry out: “Crucify.”
Prejudice, insinuation, gossip, instigation, mob-mentality,
-none of which are foreign to our world today-
seal Jesus’ fate as Pilate condemns him to death.
Even when facing death Jesus did not waver in His love of God
in His commitment to God’s people,
and in His condemnation of injustice, religious and civic alike.
The cross is Jesus’ decisive stance against hatred and his ever-lasting banner of love.
The cross of Jesus is a permanent reminder that like Him, we are to love unconditionally and speak out against all injustice.
His cross is our stance against hatred,
and our banner for love even unto death.
Then the soldiers stripped off his clothes.
They threatened and mocked him.
They tied his body to a pillar and whipped him.
They placed a purple cape over his bleeding shoulders and
pressed a crown of thorns into his skull.
They utterly humiliated him.
Like Jesus, people are imprisoned today and they are abused,
Some of them are Christians who are suffering for their faith
Some of them will die for Christ.
Others are not Christian and they too suffer
and they too might die, for their faith.
Jesus endured this profound humiliation to expose all abuse;
to show that God is on the side of all victims;
and that violence is never of God.
bent under the weight of the wood,
arduous step after arduous step,
Jesus carries his cross.
The cross of Jesus is heavy,
weighed down by all the misery and evil in our world.
He staggers under this burden.
He falls and gets up, falls and gets up, falls and gets up,
never giving up on even one of us.
Gazing upon Jesus carrying the cross,
may we be inspired to mend our sinful ways,
and turn from deeds of darkness to acts of light,
and so lift the burdens that not only weigh down Jesus,
but weigh down so many people around us.
Shouldering the cross, Jesus teaches us to reject all sin and injustice,
and to struggle for solidarity and hope,
arduous step after arduous step.
Simon of Cyrene is a passer-by, an on-looker,
whose curiosity is peeked by all that is happening?
A stranger, he is pressed into helping Jesus,
buttressing the weight of the cross.
Like Simon was asked to help Jesus carry his cross,
we are called to carry one another's cross.
Women accompanied Jesus from the very beginning.
They ministered to the needy with him;
They spread the Good News alongside him;
They were faith-filled, courageous, and committed to his mission.
Seeing how Jesus struggled to carry his cross,
how he had been abandoned by all but one of his disciples,
the women ignored the soldiers and walked up to him,
They embraced him.
They wiped his face.
They offered him solace, even but for a moment.
Jesus’ suffering continues unto today,
for he suffers with all those who suffer;
their suffering is his suffering;
and his suffering is our suffering,
we must be courageous like the women of Jerusalem.
We must stand up to those who cause and perpetuate injustices.
And we must console and help those in need.
Having arrived at Golgotha they laid his body on a cross,
they stretched his arms and legs over the wood,
they pounded nails into his hands and feet
and raised the cross.
Naked, humiliated, tortured, disfigured,
the Son of God hangs on a cross:
a sign of foolishness to many,
the way to salvation for us.
Hanging on the cross,
Jesus, an innocent victim,
embodied all victims,
thus unmistakably stating
that God is on the side of those
who are marginalized, ignored, avoided, deserted .
Like Jesus we are called to stand by those in need,
drawing them near, treating them with respect,
comforting them, accompanying them,
raising them up and offering them hope and new life.
Next to the cross of Jesus we see two other crosses,
one is bathed in light and anticipation,
the other is engulfed in darkness and dread.
The God of love reaches out to those who repent
and showers them with love.
How wonderful to know that we who are sinners
are worthy of God's love,
are deserving of God's forgiveness.
Aware of our sinfulness,
we are invited to ask God to forgives us our sins,
as we forgive those who have sinned against us,
so that one day we may all share in Paradise
By the shadows of loneliness and confusion are crowding the scene.
Only a few people remained with Jesus,
among the women, there was Mary, the mother of Jesus,
and there was also John, his beloved disciple.
Jesus instructed them to find solace with one another,
to take care of one another.
In the midst of sadness and confusion
there is a glimmer of light:
“behold your mother, behold your son.”
These words, Jesus not only addressed to Mary and John,
but to all his followers.
Thus, Mary became not only the mother of Jesus
but also the mother of John and the mother of all of us.
Having the same heavenly mother
makes us brothers and sisters to one another.
And like John cared for Mary we are to care for one another.
Very little light was left.
The darkness was nearly all-consuming.
Death seemed to have conquered life.
The fires of hell rushed toward the cross.
At the depth of anguish
and at the height of pain
Jesus cried out "My God, why have you forsaken me?"
This is the spoken or unspoken cry of so many, struck by hardship.
It may have been our cry in the past.
Maybe it even is our cry today.
“why have you forsaken me?"
Yet God seems silent, both then and now.
In this apparent silence
we behold God’s mysterious response to our cry for help,
hanging on the Cross,
Jesus, the Son of God
who accepted death so we might live.
All of creation is still now.
After lowering Jesus from the cross,
His lifeless body is placed in his mother’s arms.
Cradling his body, Mary is bound to him in a heart-wrenching embrace.
She is the icon of the broken hearted.
She is the icon of boundless love.
She is the icon of self-sacrifice.
This scene is played out, over and over again
all over the world.
Too many people, like Mary,
have cradled the lifeless and tortured body of an innocent,
loved one in their arms?
Then the body of Jesus was placed in the tomb
and a heavy stone was rolled in front of the entrance.
Another Triduum is about to start. In two hours we will begin the Celebration of the Lord’s Supper. Enjoying some quiet time I am pondering the mysteries which we are about to celebrate. Not surprisingly, my mind wondered and I tookme back to that one Holy Thursday I will never forget. It happened some 25 years ago. I was a young liturgy student at the University of Notre Dame. That year I had decided to celebrate the Sacred Triduum at the motherhouse of a religious community. Having arrived early I spent some quiet time in the monastery chapel in preparation for the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. From my chair in the back row, I watched the sisters arrive for the service. Most of them were elderly. They used wheelchairs, walkers or another sister’s arm to make their way into the chapel. As I looked around I noticed that apart from the priest I was the only man in the chapel. This was of some concern to me as I did not know how they were going to orchestrate the washing of the feet. As one of the sisters put it to me later, did I really expect the sisters to "import" twelve men so the "imported" priest could wash their feet?
The service was simple, yet very beautiful. During the homily the priest explained the importance of the washing of the feet . I could not have agreed more. He went on to say that after he had washed the feet of twelve of the sisters we were invited to wash one another’s feet. As a liturgical purist, I was simply mortified at this. My first concern was that he was washing the feet of twelve women as apposed to the prescribed twelve men. Second, what did he mean by all of us were going to wash feet? Why were we straying from the custom of the priest washing the feet of twelve men symbolizing Christ washing the feet of the apostles?
After resisting the temptation to walk out, mostly because I had nowhere to walk to, I swallowed my liturgical pride and decided to stay. Reluctantly I watched the priest wash the feet of twelve sisters. Then I saw how the sisters started washing one another’s feet. As I was trying to make sense out of all this, I noticed one of the sisters making her way to one of her sisters who was sitting in a wheelchair. There she was helped to her knees. Gently and with great difficulty, she took the slippers off her sister’s gnarled feet. A bowl with water was brought to them. She placed her sister’s feet in the water and tenderly washed them. Then she dried them and kissed them.
This simple, yet profound interaction moved me profoundly. Never before had I been so deeply touched by this ritual. These feet, which had walked in the service of the church for more than seventy years, were tenderly washed by these hands, which had served the church for more than sixty years. I quickly slipped off my shoes and waited in line to have my feet washed so I could wash someone else’s feet.
As I reflected upon my experience later that night I finally grasped why Jesus told us to wash one another’s feet. The washing of the feet is not a superfluous ritual gesture or a simple reenactment of what Jesus did 2000 years ago. Rather it is an efficacious ritual rehearsal of what all of us are called to do every day of our life: to serve one another as he served us.
The readings for Easter Sunday can be found by clicking on the link below or by copying and pasting it into your browser. http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/040515.cfm
Our Gospel for Easter Sunday is from the Gospel of John. It records Mary of Magdala’s discovery of the empty tomb after which she sought out Simon Peter and told him. “They have taken the Lord from the tomb and we don’t know where they put him.” We should not be surprised that Mary did not immediately believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. The resurrection was an entirely new and unimagined event. And as we are told at the end of today’s Gospel: “For they did not yet understand the Scripture that he had to rise from the dead.”
The first reading for this Easter Sunday is taken from the Acts of the Apostles and is an excerpt from a speech by St. Peter. It really is the Gospel story in miniature. Perhaps the most surprising thing about his speech is that it was delivered in the house of Cornelius, who was Gentile. Initially Peter understood the mission of the nascent Church being only to the Jews. Given this, Peter is perhaps prescient in this speech because he boldly declares that “everyone who believes in him (Jesus) will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.” Elsewhere in Acts we know that it took Peter a while to come to this conclusion.
Our second reading for this Sunday is taken from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. In the section we read today Paul uses the imagery of yeast as he declares: “Therefore, let us celebrate the feast, not with old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.”
Questions for Reflection/Discussion:
- Try to put yourself in the place of Mary Magdalene as she went to the tomb in today’s Gospel. What would be your first thought at finding the tomb empty?
- How would you explain the resurrection to someone who had never heard of it before?
- Do you believe in the forgiveness of sins through the name of Jesus?
One of the things I like best about this time of year is seeing the new life that is starting to spring up all around us. That some things must die so that others may live, or that out of death comes new life, clearly is a part of the natural order. The cycle of life, death and rebirth is part of the wonder of creation. In addition to the world of nature, though, the phenomenon of death and rebirth is also found in human beings. The human spirit seems especially resilient. Time and time again I have witnessed people come back from the “grave” of trauma, loss, pain, and suffering. It is easy to look to these experiences, as well as the experiences in the world of nature, and be reminded of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is good and important. But we must always remember that, while these things may point to and be a good reminder of the resurrection of Jesus, ultimately they are not on par with the resurrection. They must always fall short of and pale in comparison to that miraculous and wondrous event.
There are many things in the natural world that are precursors of, metaphors for, and pointers to the resurrection. And yes, there are many experiences within human life that remind us of and speak to us of the resurrection. But these things are not comparable with and should not be thought of in the same way we think of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus differs from these experiences not just in degree, but in kind and type.
Now I realize that to some the above may seem like splitting hairs, but I think it is an important distinction. When we compare things in the world of nature, or within our human experience, with the resurrection of Jesus, we run the very real risk of thinking that the resurrection of Jesus is part of the this continuum. I believe, though, that this is a faulty way of looking at things. It reflects an incomplete understanding of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus is completely and wholly different from any experience/occurrence in the created world. In fact, the really good news about the resurrection of Jesus Christ is that it is not part of the natural order of things. It is a supernatural reality.
It is very important for Christians, who live with the natural cycle of death and rebirth, to understand how truly miraculous and how utterly different the resurrection of Jesus truly is. Because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, you and I are invited to share a completely new and wondrous life—a life that is eternal with our God in heaven. This is indeed good news. Moreover, it gives us hope and comfort in the face of the little deaths and rebirths we bear witness to or that are a part of each of our lives.
When we place the resurrection of Jesus on par with the cycle of life, death and rebirth that occurs in the world of nature and in our human experience, we sell short the wonderful miracle of the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus was not resuscitation and a return to this life, it was a resurrection to a completely new and eternal life.
As we look to the budding forth of new life around us during this season of spring, let us be grateful for the love of our God that makes this new life possible. And let us see in this new life a metaphor for the resurrection of Jesus. But let us also, though, always be mindful of the truly wondrous and miraculous event that the resurrection of Jesus was and is. In and through the resurrection of Jesus, we are offered the gift of new life—a life beyond this life—a life that begins (and never ends) in the eternal love of our God. This is the real miracle of Easter—that in His death and resurrection Christ not only shares eternal life with God, but has promised that same life to all those who believe in and follow him. Certainly we should celebrate this, but also and as importantly we should rejoice in this gift of eternal life that is offered to all believers.