Tag Archives: Holy Week

The Wait

 

 Holy Saturday.  Can you imagine for a moment the feelings those first disciples of Christ must have had on this day?   They had spent the past three years following this man.  Learning from Him, loving Him, and coming to know that He was the Son of God.  Just a week earlier they were filled with such hope and excitement as they joyously followed Him into Jerusalem proclaiming “Hosanna!”  How much changed in that one week!  Their excitement turned to confusion and fear as He spoke of His coming death.  In that upper room for the Last Supper they saw Him begin His sacrifice by offering His body and blood in the bread and the wine.  They wanted to remain with Him and followed Him to the garden but could not keep awake.

Then the arrest.  In that instant fear took hold and most of the disciples scattered.  Those who remained followed at a distance as their Lord was taken away like a criminal, though He had done no wrong.  And on that Friday, Jesus,  their teacher, their friend, their Lord, died.  They were afraid and troubled.  They hid themselves in the upper room with the doors locked.

Filled with sorrow and fear, they hid.  Where they had hope before they now felt lost and confused.  Everything seemed dark.  Did they wonder, how can we possibly go on?  Did they recall His promises of rebuilding the Temple in three days?  Did they dare to hope in their hearts that this would be fulfilled?  Or did the fear overcome the flicker of hope so that they forced themselves not to think on it so as not to be disappointed?

How do we celebrate Holy Saturday today? Most of us probably use the day to prepare for Easter tomorrow.  Preparing food and getting the house ready for visits with famiky and friends perhaps.  We know that Good Friday was not the end!  We know that Jesus Christ lives!  With this knowledge we can go about today not in fear or confusion but in hope and excitement as we prepare for the wondrous celebration of Easter!

What about other times of waiting though?  All of us face those in between periods.  Those times when things seem dark, when hope seems lost, when we feel confused and do not know where to turn next.  While we wait for His plan to unfold in our own lives, do we wait in fear and hide ourselves away?  Do we let the hope within us fade so that even when the wonder of God is right before our eyes we still doubt it in our hearts?  Or do we face our own times of waiting filled the hope and peace of Christ?

We know that Christ is Risen!  It seems easier to celebrate this time of waiting on Holy Saturday since we know the outcome.  Even if we do not know the outcome of whatever it is we may be waiting for here on earth, we know that Christ has died, Christ has risen, and Christ will come again!  He conquered sin and death and by His wounds we have been healed!  This wondrous love is what awaits us.  Though we may not know what will happen from day to day as we wait for answers to our earthly questions and worries, we know the One who is in control.  We know the immense love He has for us all, the love that was shown on the cross.  We know that He has a plan for each of us greater than we could imagine for ourselves, even if we cannot see it yet.  By following in His footsteps and accepting the love He poured out for us on the cross, we know that we have so much more to look forward to: eternity in Heaven with our Savior!

As excruciating as Good Friday was for those first disciples, as sorrowful as that first Holy Saturday, it was not the end.  The pain and sorrow turned to a greater joy than they could have imagined.  A peace beyond all understanding and hope beyond any they had known before came to them in the Risen Lord.

We will all face tough times here on earth.  Times of sorrow, times of doubt,  of worry, confusion, of frustration with the waiting. But we can find peace and hope while we wait.  Because in the midst of all our trials, Christ is still there.  And the love that He has for us will never die.  As we continue our celebration of the Triduum, I pray that we can look to Easter with a hope and peace that fills every part of our being.  I pray that we will carry the love and joy of Easter within our hearts as a promise to us all that the “Saturdays” in our lives, those dark and confusing times of waiting, those will come to and end! I pray that we may strive daily to live our lives not in fear or confusion, not in sorrow or pain, but in the glorious hope and peace of Christ and His wondrous love.  May the peace of Christ be with us all and may each of you enjoy a very blessed, a very joyous, and a very hope-filled Easter.

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The Spirit is Willing

rose-655361_640Each year as we reflect upon the Passion of the Lord during Holy Week, I am filled with resolve to be a better person.  To turn away from sin and to fill my life with all that is holy.  To think of the pain Christ endured because of my sins makes me yearn to never sin again.

And yet, as wonderful as it would be to say that since last Easter, I have not sinned, that is certainly not the case.  Although in my heart I firmly intend to turn away from sin, in my soul I long to be closer to the Lord, I am still only human.

Thinking about our sins and our failings in light of the sacrifice Jesus made for us is one thing.  What would it have been like to be there?  We sing the words, “Oh  sometimes it causes me to tremble, were you there when they crucified my Lord?”  And while we journey alongside Christ through prayer and the Mass, we were not there.  But the apostles were.  They followed Him, learned from Him, left everything for Him.  They loved Him deeply and in their hearts they were so filled with resolve to follow Him always, never to sin again.

We hear the apostles one by one almost pleading with Jesus to not be the betrayer, “Surely it is not I?” (Mk 14:19)  We hear Peter promising the Lord that “Even though all should have their faith shaken, mine will not be” (Mk 14:29) and “Even though I should have to die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all spoke similarly. (Mk 14:31)  They ate with Him and listened to Him as He told them of His coming death, even while their hearts did not fully understand.  They followed Him to Gethsemane to be with Him while He prayed and stayed there to keep watch as He asked.  And then, in their final moments with the Lord, they fell asleep.

Jesus comes to Peter saying, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  (Mk 14:37-38)  Despite His words, twice more Jesus returned to find them asleep.  Though their hearts were in the right place, they could not bring themselves to stay awake!

After Jesus is arrested,  although Peter proclaimed His dedication to the Lord and was determined never to deny Him, we know that he does just that. Not once, not twice, but three times does he deny even knowing Jesus.  After this the Gospel tells us that Peter “broke down and wept”. (Mk 14:72)

Peter was not just a bystander who listened to Christ from a distance.  He had dedicated his whole life to Christ!  He had boldly answered Christ,You are the Messiah.” (Mk 8:29)  And while his spirit was so very willing to follow Christ no matter the cost, he still fell to sin.  Though his spirit was willing, his flesh was weak.  Weak with fear, confusion, and exhaustion.

But Peter’s story does not end here.  Despite the weakness of his flesh, despite his failings and sin, his spirit was still willing!  He wept at the realization of what he had done.  He resolved once again to try harder, to follow more closely, to turn away from sin and live a holy life dedicated to the Lord. The Lord knew that He could do great things through Peter.  Jesus said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (Mt 18:18)

Jesus knew that the willingness of Peter’s spirit would prevail against the weakness of his fleas.  Peter’s story is not one of despair, but one of hope and of great mercy and grace.  Despite his failings, Peter allowed the Lord to work within him.  He repented of his sins and did not let his past failings prevent him from continuing on in Christ.

As we celebrate our Lord’s passion this week we call to mind our own sinfulness.  While we are called to repent and turn from sin, sometimes our flesh is weak.  During these moments of weakness, we do not need to despair.  Our God is loving and merciful beyond our understanding and His grace is more than we can fathom.  When we find that we have failed, we need only to ask forgiveness, turn away from sin, and return fully to His endless love.  We are not held back by past failings but are renewed in Christ.  Though our flesh may be weak, if our spirits are willing He can still work within us to draw us ever closer to Him and to share in His love.

Stripped Bare

Last night, at Holy Thursday Mass, as communion came to a close the church grew dark as one by one the lights were turned off until the only light was that of the glowing candles lighting the way for the procession of the Real Presence of Christ to a candle-lit altar on the opposite side of the church and a soft glow that very dimly lit the crucifix hanging above.  Too large and too high up to be taken down or covered, it was the only visible statue left. The choir sang solemnly as we knelt in the darkened church.

The beauty of this solemn hymn echoed through the otherwise silent church as we knelt in the darkness.  The altar was stripped bare.  The tabernacle left open and empty.   The celebration of the washing of the feet and the last supper had given way to the remembrance of the darkest night.  The night our Lord was betrayed, arrested, and sent to His death.

I looked up at the crucifix now cloaked in darkness.  The shadows made our Savior look more sorrowful, more pained.  As the choir sang the words, I could hear Jesus pleading, “Stay with me!”  The music, the darkness, the thought of our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane pleading and praying overcame me and I closed my eyes as tears began to fall. The words echoed through me,  “Stay with me.  Remain with me.  Watch and pray.” (Mt 26:38)  The weight of those words filled me.  Our God asks us to simply be with Him.  To believe in Him, and to follow Him.  How simple a request and yet how often we fall short.  Each time the choir repeated the words, I felt overcome with emotion as more tears fell.

Eventually the music stopped.  Slowly the pews emptied as we silently sat in adoration of our Lord, truly present before us in the sacred Eucharist.  I opened my eyes to look up again at the altar bare before me.  And I felt in that moment my soul stripped as bare as the altar before me.  My gaze shifted to the illuminated Host on the side altar.  I looked on in adoration.  There were no words I could find to pray so I sat in silence.  Listening.  Silently praying only the name of my Savior who gave His life for us.  Emptied of all worries, all doubts, all fears, all thoughts.  Of everything but Jesus there before me. 

When the time came for me to leave, I reluctantly stood up and walked over to the small altar with the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  I knelt before Him and felt His presence fill me up completely.  The beauty, the reverence, the holiness of this sacred night had emptied me of me so I could be filled with Him.  I was stripped bare so that He could cover me with His love.  

Passion

Passion (noun) from the Latin, “pati” meaning “suffer.”  Definition: An intense desire or enthusiasm for something.

What a fitting word to describe the suffering and crucifixion of our Lord.  The Passion of our Lord which we read in the Gospel throughout this Holy Week  is hard to hear at times. The brutal manner in which our Savior was beaten, mocked, and put to death is hard to fathom.  Hearing accounts of the Passion becomes even more difficult with the realization that it is for our sins that this was endured. We realize in the reading of Christ’s Passion just how often we fall short of our Heavenly call.  We are forced to examine our consciences.  To see what side we would have been on.  Would we have denied Him?  Betrayed Him? What about now?  The Passion of Christ forces us to think on these sorrowful and sometimes uncomfortable realities.  

But at it’s heart, it is a story of Passion.  Passion in His suffering, yes.  But also the passion God has for us,  The deep, passionate love that God has for each one of us.  A love so strong and intense that He gave His only Son for us.  God has a passion for each of us.  He has an intense desire for each one of us.  A desire for us to be with Him in Heaven filled with the peace, love, and joy that comes only from Him.  

The Passion of Christ is not a made up story.  It is true.  Each sorrowful, beautiful, love filled moment is true.  As we head into the Holy Triduum, let us listen to the accounts of His sorrowful Passion bearing in mind the intense, powerful love that is behind it all.  Let us pray that this love fills us so that we may share it with those around us.  Let us pray that our hearts be opened and that we might be able to love the Lord our God with such a deep and wondrous passionate love!  On the cross His love for us was poured out in the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.  Through His dying, we have been given new life.  By His sorrowful Passion, He has redeemed the world.    

 

Jesus Wept

During Lent we hear Gospel accounts of temptation, miracles, and eventually of the Passion of our Lord.  Hearing these year after year means we become very familiar with them,  Sometimes that familiarity causes us to simply go through the motions of our Lenten and Holy Week preparations without realizing the full significance of what actually happened.  I know that for myself, the Holy Week liturgies always center me and bring me face to face with the reality of what Jesus did for me and for us all.  But even before Holy Week, two little words never fail to remind me of the enormity of that sacrifice, 

“Jesus Wept.” (John 11:35)

Often we read the Gospel and are so focused on the gloriousness of Jesus being fully diving, that we forget He is also fully man.  In a mystery we may never understand, Jesus is God and man.  Not half God and half man; but wholly God and wholly man in every way except sin.  Just like all men, He faced temptation, He had friends and family, He ate, He drank, He slept.  He grew frustrated at times.  He felt joy.  And He most certainly felt pain.

When Lazarus dies, Jesus, being fully divine, know that this death is not the end.  And yet, His fully human nature is revealed by those two words, “Jesus wept.”  The loss of a friend, the grief He witnessed in Martha and Mary, it all affected Him in a very real and very human way.  And He wept.  

This seemingly normal reaction becomes more profound as we begin to realize that Jesus did not lose His humanness as His death approached.  Think of the Last Supper, the agony in the garden, and the crucifixion with the knowledge that He experienced all these things as man.  The betrayal of friends, feeling abandoned by God, suffering, and even death.  Jesus knows the pain we experience in this world because He Himself faced it.

Being fully human does not diminish His divinity but rather enhances it.  Jesus is God.  And God is not far off, distant, or unconcerned with us here on earth,  No. Our God is so loving that He sent His only Son to us as a man to show us the way.  To let us know that there will be pain and suffering in this world but that it is not the end.  

So if we feel lost or alone, like no one else knows the pain we face, let us remember that Jesus knows our pain.  He experienced it in a very real, very human way,  And as we approach Holy Week, let those words ring in the back of our minds as we recall His sacrifice for us.  God became man in Jesus and as man He felt every bit of that sacrifice.  For us He came into this world.  He lived.  He loved.  He suffered.  He died.  He wept.  

photo: “Jesus Wept” – James Tissot; Brooklyn Museum

The Agony in the Garden

“After withdrawing about a stone’s throw from them and kneeling, he prayed, saying, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done.” And to strengthen him an angel from heaven appeared to him. He was in such agony and he prayed so fervently that his sweat became like drops of blood falling on the ground.” ~Luke 22:41-44

This scripture passage is one of the most emotional for me. It shows our Lord in such a human light. It forces us to remember that, though He is God, he came to earth as human. He went through the same human emotions we go through. On this Holy Thursday, after washing the feet of His friends and having dinner with them, Jesus goes to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. He knows what is coming. He cannot explain how He feels to the apostles for they do not understand what is about to happen. So instead Jesus goes a little away from them and prays to His Father in heaven. His prayer is so human. So real. Jesus knows what is about to happen and is praying so strongly that it might not be so. An angel appears to Him to strengthen Him as his sweat turned to blood and fell from the agony He was in awaiting His Passion.

 Jesus prays to the Father knowing that He will be betrayed by a dear friend. How hurt do we become when a friend betrays us even in the slightest way through hurtful words? How more deeply must Our Lord have been hurting to see His friend betray Him in such a way as to turn Him in to the men who want to kill Him?

 Jesus prays knowing that He is going to suffer insurmountable physical and emotional pain at the hands of the very people who only a week before celebrated His entry into Jerusalem. He knows that He will be beaten in front of so many people. That He will be shamed. He must know how this might cause people to doubt Him as they see Him treated in such a way.
Jesus prays knowing that His Mother will have to watch Him suffer. How His heart must ache as He prays for this cup to pass. As He thinks of her watching her Son suffer so. Knowing that she will watch Him knowing there is nothing she can do.

 Jesus prays knowing that the very people He is saving through His death are the ones putting Him to death. He knows they do not understand what they are about to do. He loves them in spite of what is about to happen.

 I cannot imagine the grief that Jesus is going through in the garden. And yet, He knows that God will help Him through it all. He is strengthened by the Father and the angel God sends Him. Even while knowing everything that will take place, He still prays for God’s will because He knows that God is so truly wonderful, there can be nothing better than what He has in store for us all.

 How many times do I find myself wishing, hoping, and praying for something because I think it is what is best for me, for my family. I borrow this prayer from Jesus as I pray to my Heavenly Father asking for what it is I want, all the while saying, “Not my will but Yours be done.” I am not faced with impending death. With torture. With the eternity of all mankind. And yet I know that however humble my requests, however feeble my desires, my God will hear them. I pray that my prayer in my human weakness will be strengthened by the angels. And I know that despite what I might think, God’s will is so much greater than my own. His love for me, for us all, is so indescribably amazing and filling that I know He has wondrous things in store for me far beyond what this word may offer.

Was Judas Doomed to Betray Jesus?

In recently discussing the scripture surrounding Holy Week with my sister, we got on the topic of Judas.  Why did he do what he did?  And did he have a choice?

Judas was one of the 12 apostles of Christ.  He was one of the people closest to our Lord.  So why did he betray Jesus?  When we look at the time leading up to the crucifixion, we see a lot of turmoil.  Riots had become commonplace events.  Those in power were struggling to prove to Rome that they had control of the events taking place. Jesus had already attracted negative attention by those who disagreed with His beliefs or who felt threatened by the power He held.  In Luke 22:1-6 we read:

“Now the feast of the Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was drawing near, and the chief priests and the scribes were seeking a way to put Him to death, for they were afraid of the people.  Then Satan entered into Judas, the one surnamed Iscariot, who was counted among the Twelve, and he went to the chief priests and the temple guards to discuss a plan for handing Him over to them.  They were pleased and agreed to pay him money.  He accepted their offer and sought a favorable opportunity to hand Him over to them in the absence of a crowd.” 

In Matthew 26: 14-16 we read another, shorter account of Judas approaching the authorities:

“Then one of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, ‘What are you willing to give me if I hand Him over to you?’  They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand Him over”

Let’s move ahead a bit to Matthew 26:20-25:

“When it was evening, He reclined at the table with the Twelve.  And while they were eating, He said, ‘Amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.’  Deeply distressed at this, they began to say to Him on after another, ‘Surely it is not I, Lord.’ He said in reply, ‘He who has dipped his hand into the dish with me is the one who will betray me. The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of Him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.’  Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’   He answered, ‘You have said so.'”

There are several key points in this passage.  The first I would like to look at is this: each of the Twelve asks if they are the one who will betray Jesus.  Here is the difference.  One after another they all ask “Surely it is not I, Lord?”  Judas asks the question in a different way.  He asks, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?”  The other eleven refer to Jesus as Lord.  They verbally acknowledge that He truly is their Lord and God.  Judas has not fully given himself over to the fact that Jesus is Lord.  He instead refers to Him as Rabbi.  The term rabbi means teacher.  While Judas holds Jesus in great esteem, the fact the he is the only one who approaches the question with the word Rabbi rather than Lord, alludes to the fact that Judas had doubts.   When we begin to doubt God,we open up space in our hearts for the devil to enter in.  Judas had doubts about Jesus.  He also had a deep love for money.  He chose to go to the authorities in the midst of political turmoil for the promise of money.  The doubt he had, coupled with the fears he probably held over what would happen if he was associated with Jesus, opened up room in his heart for Satan to enter in.  And he did.  Once Satan entered into his heart, he made the arrangements to betray money.  He let Satan control his actions and gave into the worldly pleasures of money.

So now that we have looked at what may have motivated Judas, the next question is, did he have a choice?  Some people read the passage of the Last Supper and think that because Jesus could already tell that Judas was going to betray Him, there was no out.  That Judas was doomed and had no choice but to betray Jesus.  I do not believe this at all.

When we talk about God, one of the words we often use us omnipresent.  The word omnipresent means always present.  God is always present.  Jesus is God and therefore is also always present.  This does not only refer to being everywhere in the present.  God is not restricted to our human confines of time.  He is present in the past, in the present, and in the future simultaneously.  The future is not set in stone because we all have been given free will by God.  He does not know who among us will fall to sin.  He knows what choices we may face and what potential consequences may follow.  But ultimately the choice is ours.  So Jesus knows what will happen if Judas goes through with his plan because he is already present in the future.  It’s a lot to wrap your mind around and we will never fully comprehend God’s omnipresence but keeping that in mind allows us to see the choice that Judas had more clearly. 

When Jesus says to the Twelve, “One of you will betray me,” He is speaking in reference to the fact that one of the Twelve already has.  Judas may not have gone through with his actions yet, but in his heart he had already betrayed Jesus by going to the authorities to arrange for His arrest.  When Jesus stated that it would be better if the betrayer had never been born, I do not believe He is saying that Judas should have never lived because his sole purpose was to betray Christ.  No.  I believe He is issuing this as a warning.  I believe He is saying to Judas in that moment, I know what is in your heart, I know what you have planned, if you go through with this, you will be filled with such sorrow and grief at what Satan will have done through you that you will wish you were dead.  Of course this is merely my interpretation, but I think it makes sense.  Judas still had the choice.  Jesus had to die for our salvation, but it could have been accomplished with another had Judas chosen differently.  I think we see another clear example of the choice Judas had in John’s account of the discussion surrounding who was the betrayer in John 13:26-27

“Jesus answered, ‘It is the one to whom I hand the morsel after I have dipped it.’  So He dipped the morsel and [took it and] handed it to Judas, son of Simon the Iscariot.  After he took the morsel, Satan entered him.  So Jesus said to him, ‘What you are going to do, do quickly.'”

Jesus says clearly that the betrayer is the one who takes the morsel after Him.  He then hands it to Judas who takes it.  Judas did not have to take the morsel.  He just heard Jesus say whoever did would be the betrayer.  And if we combine this with the passage with the other Gospel accounts, we know Jesus had already warned Judas that if he goes through with this he will wish he was never born.  Mark’s gospel even places the two statements right next to each other in Mark 14:20-21. 

Judas had already let fear, doubt, and greed open him up to the power of the devil.  In his heart, he had already betrayed Jesus.  Jesus knew this and knew that Judas was learned in the teachings that stated the Son of Man would be betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:10.)  He knew that Judas probably felt he had no choice at this point.  And so he warned him.  And when he offered the morsel to Judas, Judas was filled with doubt and fear and allowed Satan to again enter into him.  Once the devil was inside him, he takes the morsel to finalize his intent of betrayal.

Jesus loved Judas.  Even when Judas comes to Jesus in the garden to arrest Him, Jesus greets him Friend (Matthew 26:50.)  Jesus came into the world to save us all.  He doesn’t want any of us to fall to sin.  He gave his very life to save us from sin!  Certainly He did not do this only to condemn his friend to sin without any chance of redemption.  Jesus, because He is God, is omnipresent and knew what God’s plan was.  He knew what was in the heart of Judas and knew that Judas was being used by Satan.  He tried to warn him but his heart was hardened and his will was weakened.  Judas knew after seeing Jesus condemned that what he had done was wrong. Matthew 27:3-10 tells us that he regretted his actions and even tried to return the money and tell that Jesus truly was innocent.    So filled with grief and remorse, Judas ran away and killed himself.

The story of Judas is a sad one.  It is easy to look at the story in brief and say ‘Oh Judas was a terrible person he betrayed Christ.’ But when we look at it more closely we see a man tormented by fear and doubt who succumbed to the devil.  We see a man who, even though he was warned, went through with the betrayal as Satan worked through him and despised what he had become enough to kill himself.  How many times do we doubt God and His will for our lives?  How many times are we afraid and do not place out trust completely in God?  How many times do we turn to money and material things instead of focusing on heavenly treasures?  How many times do we open ourselves up to the devil?  Certainly we have been warned.  We know what is good and what is bad.  Judas was unable to shake the hold that the devil had on him.  We have the chance to choose for ourselves what path we take.  We have to remain strong in the Lord.  We must heed the warnings we have been given and strive to place all our trust in the Lord so that there is no room for the devil in our lives.  The devil is very real and will try to steer us away from God.  Through prayer and faith in the Lord, we can resist his temptation and live with our Lord in heaven for all eternity.