Easter and the Cross

Cross

Every Good Friday evening our Youth Ministry does a devotional: ‘Living Stations of the Cross’.  It takes them about 6 to 8 weeks to put it together and it is very moving.  As their spiritual guide it is honor to watch these young adults grow in their faith journey as they improve their skills in the devotion.

Every year, among so many moving scenes, (which includes raising Christ on his cross) the moment that gets me is after Jesus is in the tomb, the devotion is over and people are leaving I sit and gaze at the empty cross with the long purple cloth (used to take him down); it is draped on the cross beam hanging lower in the middle.  I keep wondering, every year, will I be able to see and feel this moment again (now I am not being morbid: I could move or the devotion could be discontinued, you just never know).  It is the moment in Lent that seems to bring the Lenten and Easter message together; when I realize what I am worth to God; and it is when I am more aware than ever how much I fallen short of that love.  It is a moment of awareness and, thanks be to God, resolve; resolve to try and move my life closer to how God sees me.  I treasure those few Good Friday minutes of contemplation and solitude.  I treasure that moment with my God!

They say the shadow of the Cross falls back on the Manger, indeed the shadow of the Cross falls on every action, liturgical or otherwise, in the Catholic Church, and should fall back on each of us every day.  But the shadow is there only because of the light of the Resurrection, Easter brings meaning to the Cross and our hope.  Today, on this Easter Sunday, I wish each of you the moment of the Cross bathed in the glorious light of Easter.

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Two Processions

Jesus arrives at Jerusalem; the people following him have grown to a throng of supporters, or, at least, supporters of their idea of who He is.  His actions have given them some indication that He is claiming Kingship. In his Holiness Benedict XVI’s second volume on Jesus of Nazareth, concerning Holy Week, we see that Jesus’ choice of a donkey is full of Old Testament allusions to kingship. They put him on the donkey, they cover the donkey and the road with their clothes and branches, through their actions and the voices they are announcing ‘here comes the Messiah, the Savior of Israel’. ”Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ we hear them proclaim.  It is He that will free God’s chosen ones from their oppressors.  It is He that will vanquish the conqueror back to where they came from.  It is He that will make Israel strong.  We are a people united, and He is our leader. And they enter Jerusalem with their idea of the Messiah in the front.

Jesus arrives at His death.
– Earlier in the week people followed Him into Jerusalem; now they have abandoned Him, He is alone.
– Earlier in the week they put Him on a Donkey; now they have put Him on a Cross.
– Earlier in the week they laid their clothes before Him; now they have stripped Him of His clothes.

His followers who are horrified and feeling betrayed can’t see the plan; can’t understand yet, the victory that is unfolding right in front of them.

-Earlier in the week they proclaimed with their actions and words:’ here comes the Messiah, the Savior of Israel’; now here truly comes the Messiah, the Savior of Israel, indeed mankind.
-Earlier in the week they had grand dreams of vanquishing their conquerors. Now, He vanquishes the Accuser back to where he came from, Hell; Jesus is dealing death to death.
-Earlier in the week they anticipated being freed from their oppressors; now He will truly free us from our oppressions, self-inflicted.

In the midst of this seemingly ultimate failure of their Messiah He is making them strong.  The night before He gave them His body to unite them; now He gives His body to save them. Now with His last act He shows total defeat and gains us total Victory. Everything is in place, and Satan has fallen into His own trap.  Soon, he sees his mistake, “Truly, this was the Son of God!”  exclaims a pagan, a Roman centurion – salvation comes one soul at a time.

What started out as raucous cheering and adulation from mankind, and snickering from Hell has turned into one long wail of defeat from He who is named ‘Light Bearer’; for the true sun has broken through death and given hope to mankind.  Satan is stung and his attempt to stop God’s plan has failed – it can’t be stopped by even the death of God.

All of this happens as Christ’s followers hide and mourn for their loss, at least most of them; but not all. Nicodemus steps forward, Joseph of Arimathea steps forward, Simon of Cyrene is aware, Veronica is aware.  The ember of faith glows brighter.  Let’s stand beside those few who stood with Jesus to His victory.  Let’s place our trust in He who in spite of how events may look, is strong and ever present.  Let’s look past the shades of fear to the light of victory.  Let’s strive to understand the true God and not our idea of who he is like.  Let’s walk together with Christ, and each other, on the via Dolorosa to our tree of victory, our tree of life.  Let us join the heavenly hosts and all of history in the praising Christ:

Adoramus te, Christe, et benedicimus tibi.
Quia per sanctam crucem tuam redemisti mundum.

Why Mary?

In our onging Lent reflection series on the Stations of the Cross, let’s look at when Jesus meets his mother

There has always been a current of thought that questions the intensity of devotion to the Blessed Mother.  Why should we spend so much time on Mary when it is to God Himself through His Son that we should devoting all our time?  This is especially true outside of the Roman and Orthodox Catholic Churches – but even within them there is this current;  why Mary?  We can see back in the mid-20th century where in the northern hemisphere Catholics had lessened their attention to the Blessed Mother.

Why Mary?  Well, one answer we can see in the fourth Station.

Jesus, on His via Dolorosa meets her and this interaction points us to the importance of her to our journey.  In the midst of all the terrible atrocities thrown toward Jesus, here is His mother, unafraid as Veronica.  But where Veronica is coming forward fearlessly to help someone who she pities, who is in need of compassion; Mary is coming forth with the strength and tenderness of a Mother’s love.  Cardinal Comastri in his 2006 Way of the Cross meditations comments on her appearance:

Every mother is love made visible, an abode of tender affection and undying fidelity; because, a true mother loves, even when she is not loved in return. 

Mary is the Mother!
In her, womanhood is unalloyed and love is not poisoned by the waves of selfishness that constrict and smother human hearts.
Mary is the Mother!
Her heart faithfully accompanies the heart of her Son, shares in his sufferings, carries his cross, and herself feels the pain of every wound inflicted on the body of her Son.

To this end, being a disciple of Christ, we all need to strive for this type of love.  Our ability to offer disinterested love, love without expectations, agape, requires that we love as God has shown us; love especially when love is not returned.

As creatures it is, most of the time, hard for us to understand transcendental expectations; take what seems ethereal and cryptic to our sensibilities and experiences and put it in to practice. This is what Mary shows us. Who better to turn to, to learn what true love is about? Who better than she; who met her Son in His moment of extreme passion, pouring out her love amidst a ravening crowd and sharing with Him His very suffering?  Who better to emulate than this little woman who felt every aspect of her Son’s suffering and still, in spite of the sword in her soul, walked with Him to His death, radiating compassionate love?  Who better to learn from than Mary, who loved her Son’s disciples, even after they had abandoned Him at His time of Passion.  Mary, mother of us all shows us the way to love, to Christ.  As she looks into His eyes on the via dolorosa allowing all this love to take place know she looking into ours as well.

Finger

Habemus Papem was heard throughout the world this week.  A Jesuit Cardinal, taking the name Francis, in honor of St. Francis of Assisi, became our Holy Father. With my unusual sense of historical humor I can’t help but notice, among my joys, that it was a Franciscan Pope, Clement XIV, who in 1773 suppressed the Jesuits. History has a way of bringing together events, and God has a way of showing us His hand in it.

But history is filled with many todays and today’s Gospel is filled with the kind of drama that makes good TV: scandal, challenge, intrigue, deceit.  But in the midst of all of this we hear: ‘Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.’  This brings to my mind Exodus 31:18: ‘When the LORD had finished speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two tablets of the covenant, the stone tablets inscribed by God’s own finger.

God himself came down to His chosen people, hidden in a cloud on top of Mt. Sinai and wrote the rules for a good and holy life.  His sinful and wayward people, who were challenging Moses and therefore Himself throughout their exodus, were still precious.  Though their hearts were hardened God still loved them all.

This is a love that continued, throughout the Old Testament history until that time when God came down even lower; came down to the dirt, our dirt and spoke to us in person.  Christ our savior, God among us, came to finish what He had started with Abraham, what He strengthened with Moses and the ten commandments; what He continued with the prophets.

And now, in this Gospel passage; here is God, being challenged in devious ways by those He loves bending down, and once again with His finger He writes.  He writes in the dirt and on our hearts. What He writes isn’t told to us; but by the reaction of those who were testing Him and by His absolving the adulterous woman I think we can get a good idea. Love is the greatest judgment, Love is the answer.  We are given witness to God loving the condemned and the condemners; a lesson that will reach its ultimate expression on Calvary. We are shown that a life with our God who is among us is what stills our hearts (as St Augustine prays).

It a lesson that saved Saul and gave us Paul; who in today’s reading talks about this grace from God and what it did to him and for him.  He tells the Philippians and us about the joy of having found Christ and how his priorities, his very life has changed: ‘I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus.’  And how this has affected him: ‘I consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.

This lesson of who Christ is and the love He brings should drive each of us.  It is the reason for the Church.  It should be the reason for all of our actions.  We are obligated, for love of God, to proclaim Him to those we meet.  It is our mission as disciples to proclaim the Gospel, to tell the world of Christ’s love for each of us.  Anything short of this is tantamount to failure: we fail in our ministry and we fail in building up the Mystical Body of Christ, the Church; we let God down!  No amount of good work, without the proclamation of the Christ can reach the level of discipleship; can move us on our journey to God. Pope Francis in his first Mass as Pope says:  “we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail. We will become a pitiful non-governmental organization, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ.

This isn’t an easy task, for to reach this level we need to share in the Cross.  We need to accept the task of carrying this symbol of ultimate love.  To proclaim Christ Jesus, in a true and meaningful way, we must embrace the Cross. Again Pope Francis:

When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, (and I would add our vocations to his list) but not disciples of the Lord.

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.” and so will we.

But we are not alone in this mission to embrace the Cross and proclaim what isn’t generally popular.  God is still among us, He continues to stoop down to us and write on our hearts with His finger, and lift us up.  Holy Mother Church through Her ministry administers the sacraments of God’s Love; gives us Christ. Christ, through her, gives us the Sacraments: Baptism; Confirmation; Marriage; the Sacrament of the Sick; gives us the fount of all strength – His own body and blood in the Eucharist; and gives us the sacrament of Reconciliation when we fall from the path.  Tonight is our Lenten Penance service, where through another sacrament (Holy Orders) Christ will convey to each of you who participate through his Priests what He said to the woman in today’s Gospel. “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin any more.

We all need Christ so let’s come and heal ourselves, strengthen ourselves, so that we can go out and build the Church, move the Church forward.

Don’t Weep for Me.

The crowd lines the street at the Praetorium gate; they have come out to witness, sadly, an all too common spectacle.  But this day, from the gate staggers Christ under the weight of the cross; the cross of their sins, our sins, the sins of the world; past, present and future. And there among them, a group of women weeping and lamenting the treatment of Christ.  They are followers of His and they are standing, waiting, watching and weeping as He starts His Via Dolorosa.

As He passes Christ turns to them and tells them ‘Do not weep for me…’  He looks at them, into them; He knows them – knows their past, knows their future, knows their love; knows their sins.  He is carrying the cross for them – for everyone. It had to be this way; their (and our) transgressions couldn’t be wiped away with remorse, they were too great.  The sins of the world need a great payment for redemption, a great sacrifice. There is nothing mankind can give God that wasn’t His to begin with; only God’s love and mercy can remove our offenses.  As these women begin to follow Christ they are unaware of the import of His actions, as He staggers to His death; but He knows He is walking their sins to their death.

His walk that started almost 2,000 years ago continues still.  He walks towards us as we too stand on the side of the road and weep at the injustice done to Him.  We are as complicit as those women were in this injustice; we are the reason for His walk.  He looks into our eyes and tells us: ‘don’t weep for Me’.  He knows us, knows our past, knows our future, knows our conscience – and He walks our sins to their death.  He sees our reluctance to follow His path, our weak desire to be closer to Him and our excuses as to why we lag behind.

Easier to feel the anguish of remorse than the struggle of discipleship.

Like the rich man we can go away sad, but relieved, as we don’t follow the true path – it is just too hard, too inconvenient.

But still, He walks the path for us; He takes our sins to their death.

Our decisions have slowed us on our journey; we have found a comfortable hovel to wallow in.  Why walk the hard road to paradise when we can stay here and weep for mankind, weep for our plight? Interior improvement isn’t desirable since improvement requires struggle and after all:

He walks the path for us; He takes our sins to their death.

But it is the journey of true love that makes us whole: love for others, love for God. It is true Love that brings peace; brings joy.  The struggle of love enriches us, strengthens us.  True, it does what we fear: it moves us from the side of the road comfortably weeping into the road walking with Christ.  But it is the only way to escape the spiritual hovel we have been living in; the only way to return thanks for a gift that isn’t deserved; the only way to be truly and fully human.  It is the only way to stop weeping.

As with those faithful women let us too walk the path with Him as He takes our sins to their death.

3rd Reflection of the Way of the Cross

The Way of the Cross: his way, my way, our way.  The Way of the Cross; that can bring our totality, who we are, how we think, what we feel into contact with Christ’s great act of total love.

I walk with our lord on the path he took.
I stand with him at the Praetorium, side by side, looking sadly at those who know not what they do.
I stand in the crowd watching the spectacle of his so-called trial.
I stand and listen in shock to those around us shouting for his blood.
I stand with them shouting for his death.
I watch in horror as the cohort scourges our savior and blood runs into pools.
I watch in ecstasy as he is beaten and torn.
I hang my head as he is mocked with a crown of thorns.
I crane my neck to make sure I see how humiliated he looks as the thorns dig in.
I am on the side of the Via Dolorosa and sympathy runs with my tears.
I watch from the roadside and breathe a sigh of relief that it is him and not me.
I hurt when he falls.
I heckle as he lies on the ground.
I desire to come to him as Veronica did to help this hurting soul.
I nip at his heals to speed him up on this brutal path.
I look around wildly on Golgotha to find some way to stop this.
I settle in my place on this Place of the Skull to enjoy the spectacle.
I hang on his left and ridicule him.
I hang on his right and ask for his help.

But ultimately I stand next to His mother as He gives her to me and wonder how can I be worthy? Can I surmount the evil I see inside me and allow God to work through me?  I see deep within me and what I am capable of, and it disgusts me.  I see within me a longing for what I desire to be, and it gives me hope.  I know how weak I am, and it frightens me. I feel the hunger of discipleship, and it encourages me.

I see Jesus; as He sees everything about me from on high, from the cross, and still He shows me how much He loves me.  I pick up my own cross and move forward on the Via Dolorosa of my life and understand it more and more each time I walk on His.  I know that as I walk through His steps – He walks with me in mine.

To you Lord Jesus,
companion on our journey,
goal of our life
with your Father and your Holy Spirit
be honor and glory for ever.