Tag Archives: Lent

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

Spring Cleaning

Despite the fact that snow is once again falling outside, it was 50 degrees yesterday and the tease of warm weather made it feel like spring is truly just around the corner. The warm sunny day allowed us to take a nice walk outside with our pup and the fresh air was wonderful. Both my husband and I were fighting small colds this week and decided to use our “spring” weather as an inspiration for some premature spring cleaning. We spent the morning cleaning our home and even decided it was time to hang the spring wreath up on our front door. After a few hours of hard work, the house is spotless and ready for spring, even if the cold snowy weather reminds us that winter is not quite through with us yet.

This winter has been the coldest and snowiest we have had in several years and it is starting to take its toll on everyone. Where the snow used to appear magical and glistening it now looks bleak and dreary. The cold temperatures that we use for an excuse to cuddle up with a nice cup of hot cocoa and a warm blanket are now just a way of keeping us indoors as we longingly wait for sunny days again. We are just about desperate for spring to arrive and taking part in some early spring cleaning made it feel like we were closer to those warm days and April showers that we know will eventually come our way.

As we clean out our homes and prepare ourselves for spring, it occurred to me that this being the Lenten season, is it not also the perfect time to clean out our hearts? During Lent we wait in our own sort of winter. We know that Easter Sunday and the celebration of the Resurrection are ahead, but first we have to go through the season of Lent. We fast, we pray, we help others, we clean out our hearts for the Lord.

“A clean heart create for me God; renew within me a steadfast spirit.” Psalm 51:12

When the winter weather seems like it has gone on forever, we turn our thoughts towards spring. We move our focus to the sunny days ahead. We dream of blossoming tulips and chirping birds. We clean out our homes to prepare for the start of a new exciting season. Just as the long winter months can drag us down, sometimes we face moments in life that weigh on us and try to crush our spirits.

When we feel the weight of the world pulling us down, we need to turn our focus to what lies ahead. We need to think instead on the love of Christ and the hope we have in Him. We pray for God to create clean hearts within us. We ask Him to clear out the dreariness, the worries, the troubles that we face. We ask God to fill our hearts with the steadfast spirit that is filled not with dreary long winter days but that is alive with the faith and hope of the spring that is coming!

Jesus has risen from the dead! He has conquered death and saved us from sin so that we may be with Him forever in His kingdom! As we go forward this Lent and remember the sacrifice our Lord made for us, let us also remember that the love of God fills us with hope and joy even in the midst of a seemingly endless winter. No matter what trials we face, even when all seems bleak and hope seems lost, we know that spring is coming. As we put away winter boots and clean out our homes for spring, let us pray that this season of Lent we will spend time with The Lord and allow Him to create clean hearts within us that are filled with the hope and joy of the Risen Christ.

The Message of the Ashes

Crossofashes

Cross of Ashes – Wikipedia

Today is Ash Wednesday and marks the beginning of the Lenten season.  Throughout the season of Lent, we are called to place more attention on fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.  In short, we are called to grow closer to God.  The ashes we receive on our foreheads today at Mass signify that “we are dust and to dust we shall return.”  It is a reminder that we are sinners and that everything in our world here will one day be gone, even our earthly bodies.  But through Christ, we know that we have been saved and although the worldly things around us fade, we have the promise of eternity in Heaven with Jesus because of His sacrifice for us.  The ashes may be just for today, but the message they hold should go forward with us into Lent.

By fasting and giving up things we enjoy, we partake in small sacrifices.  In this way, we acknowledge the sacrifice our Lord made for us and we also remember that it is not the things of this world that matter.  Only Christ can bring us peace and the love He has will truly last forever.  It only makes sense, then, that we place our focus on Him!  By fasting, abstaining from meat, and giving up foods or habits, we recognize that our time and energy is best spent on our relationship with the Lord.

In addition to fasting, we are called to almsgiving.  The message of the ashes speaks to us again as we are reminded that the wealth we have here on earth means nothing.  Jesus tells us not to worry about money or how we will eat or what we will wear (Matthew 6:25-34) because He will provide.  Therefore, we should be willing to give of our time and money as much as we are able. In this way, we remove our focus from the wealth of this world, which will eventually turn to dust and ashes, and instead place our focus on sharing the love of Christ.

During Lent we are called to spend more time in prayer with the Lord.  The ashes we receive remind us that our goal is eternity with Him.  Although we are sinners, we do not need to live in fear and sorrow because Christ has overcome death for us!  The deep and profound love our Lord has for us should make us yearn to spend as much time with Him as we can while we are here on earth waiting to meet Him in Heaven.  We can commit to spending more time in prayer by participating in retreats, attending Mass more frequently, reading the Bible more, spending time with the Lord in Adoration, participating in the Sacraments, etc.  Through an increase in our prayer lives, we become more of the person God is calling us to be.   We grow closer to God and are better able to share His love with others when we are continuing to go deeper and deeper into our own relationship with Him.

The ashes we receive at Mass today will wash off and be gone by tomorrow.  But as we begin this season of Lent, let us pray that their message carries us through Lent.  The material things of this world will perish, but the love of our Lord will never die.   He has given Himself for us so that we too might live forever with all the angels and Saints in Heaven with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

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.

Facing Temptation

In last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 4:1-13) we heard of Jesus being tempted in the desert. This is a familiar story to most of us, but although we may know it well, it still bears a sobering truth to it. And that is this: it doesn’t matter who we are or how holy we may be, we all will be tempted throughout our lives.

 Now certainly God will help us through these temptations if we only ask His help. As we pray in the Our Father, “Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.” God will deliver us from evil and help us to resist temptation, but that does not mean we will become immune to it. One temptation we need to resist is the complacency that can come when we are feeling so in touch with God that we feel temptation cannot touch us. One only needs to look to the Gospel to see how that is not true. Jesus is God. There is none holier, mightier, more loving, caring, or faithful to the will of the Lord than His only Son. If even He is subject to the temptation of the devil, how can we in our imperfect human ways think that we can avoid it?

 “The devil said to him,
“If you are the Son of God,
command this stone to become bread.”
Jesus answered him,
“It is written, One does not live on bread alone.””

 In this first temptation, the devil is attempting to use hunger to turn the Jesus away. The devil knows that Jesus has been out in the desert fasting is very hungry. This can be seen as such a simple request. Hungry? What harm can one stone into bread do? This temptation preys on human survival instincts. The desire to provide necessities for ourselves rather than relying on the Lord. How often we are faced with this sort of temptation. The temptation to seek our own will, make our own plans, with the good intention of taking care of ourselves and our families, but without God in the center. Certainly we know that we need food, water, etc. for our survival. And of course God is not suggesting that we turn a blind eye and let our families starve. But what we can learn from this is to rely on God. To keep Him at the center. Yes we need food, but food can only help us in this life. To truly live, not only in this world but in the next as well, we need more than just food. We need God. God is calling us to rely on Him. To make plans to support our families and sustain life, yes. But to do it with Him at the center, all the while praying, “Lord help me provide for my family. Lord let your will be done in me. Lord, show us the way.”

 “Then he took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, “I shall give to you all this power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All this will be yours, if you worship me.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It is written: You shall worship the Lord, your God, and him alone shall you serve.””

The second temptation deals with the pull of material things, of power and glory misdirected. The devil offers Jesus all the power and glory of the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worship. Jesus is King. He wants all the kingdoms of the world to turn to Him. But he resists this temptation. While we may not worship the devil, we need to remember that sin can be in the things we do, but also in the things we fail to do. While we may bow down and worship the devil, we need to be aware of the temptation to place anything before God. We need to resist the temptation to refrain from worship. When we receive wonderful blessings in our lives, we need to resist the temptation to take credit ourselves or to give the credit to anyone or anything other than God. Certainly we can acknowledge that good can come from God through other people. A promotion at work may be the work of God through your boss. In this instance, and in many like it, there is no harm in being thankful and expressing gratitude to your boss and even in feeling accomplished with yourself, as long as God comes first. We need to acknowledge that without God, we would not even be alive! He gives us the talents and abilities to perform our jobs and if we are able to excel and be noticed for it, we need to realize that it is all because of Him. So before taking all the credit, we need to praise and worship God for all the wondrous things He has given us. In this way we are able to resist the temptation to serve anyone other than God or to place anything before Him.

“Then he led him to Jerusalem, made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you, and: With their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus said to him in reply, “It also says, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.””

The third temptation we hear about deals with testing God. This one can sometimes creep up on us. How often when something goes wrong in our lives, when something ruins our plans, when we are faced with trials and sorrows do we feel tempted to question God? I think all of us at some point have thought, why? We feel tempted to question what we don’t understand. We may be tempted to think that because we follow the Lord, nothing bad will ever happen to us. The truth is God has a plan much greater than our own. He will not forsake us. Even when we do not understand the why, He is still there. We do not need to know the why. We do not need to test God to see if He truly cares, if He really is there. We know in our hearts that He is. And when troubles face us, we need only to rely on Him and know that He will be there for us even if we do not understand.

“When the devil had finished every temptation, he departed from him for a time.”

 This final part of the Gospel is important to remember as well. Even after tempting Jesus and seeing that He was not willing to bend even the slightest bit to the devil, it is not over. We are told that the devil departed from our Lord, for a time. In Matthew 16:23 we see Jesus tempted by the devil working through His dear friend Peter. Jesus has started to tell His disciples of the suffering and death that will befall Him. Peter is shocked and says that this shall never happen to Jesus. While Peter’s words may not seem incredibly harmful or evil, He was resisting the will of the Lord. Jesus knew this and says, “Get behind me, Satan!” He knows that despite Peter seemingly looking out for Him, Peter is falling prey to the temptation to test God and to question His will. We are also told of some temptations He encounters leading up to and during the crucifixion. Even after remaining obedient to God’s will through His arrest in the garden, even after performing such wondrous works throughout the lands and having resisted the devil already, the devil returns again to try and force our Lord to test God and to take matters into His own hands. When Jesus is being questioned by the authorities, they ask Him over and over if He is King, if He really is who the people say He is. Jesus could have said, nope sorry you have me confused with someone else! With Pilate already seeing nothing wrong in what He had done, if he had given into the temptation to simply turn away from God and denounce any claim that He was the Son of God, the Messiah, He may not have been crucified. Even on the cross after enduring such pain and suffering, he is tempted “If you truly are the Son of God, save yourself.” The devil was desperately trying to turn Jesus through these temptations before He conquered death once and for all. These repeated temptations show us that we, too, can be tempted repeatedly and, like Jesus, will need to resist the devil on more than one occasion.

 The thought of being faced with temptation over and over throughout our lives certainly doesn’t sound very appealing! But we need to be aware of this and to pray daily for God’s assistance in resisting the temptations we face. The fact is, the closer we may get God, the more the devil will try to turn us away. But we need not be afraid or worry at this thought. We only need to place all trust in God, pray for Him and His angels to watch over us, and be aware of the temptations that come our way so that we may resist them. And the most amazing part? Even if we do fall to temptation (as we in our sinful human nature sometimes do), God will still love us, still be by our side, and will still forgive us and welcome us to Him with open arms. Our Lord will never forsake us. We can do all things through Christ who gives us strength. (Philippians 4:13) With the strength of God on our side, we can be confident that although we may be tempted, we will never be abandoned.