Are you ready? Tomorrow begins the Triduum, when the Church recalls the passion, death and resurrection, the Paschal mystery, of Jesus Christ. Are you ready to walk the road to Calvary, to be present to Christ’s suffering? As we remember this mystery that happened over 2,000 years ago, we also recognize that Christ suffers again today in the crucified people of our own time. Christians are persecuted for their faith, communities are ravaged by war and violence, and children are dying from poverty and hunger. Our faith challenges us to be present to them. As we enter into these most holy days, may we have the courage to walk with the suffering Christ as we face the sufferings of our world. Are you ready?
“Jesus’ humiliation. These words show us God’s way and, consequently, that which must be the way of Christians: it is humility. A way which constantly amazes and disturbs us: we will never get used to a humble God! This week, Holy Week, which leads us to Easter, we will take this path of Jesus’ own humiliation. Only in this way will this week be ‘holy’ for us too!…We will be there at the betrayal of Judas, one of the Twelve, who will sell him for thirty pieces of silver. We will see the Lord arrested and carried off like a criminal; abandoned by his disciples, dragged before the Sanhedrin, condemned to death, beaten and insulted…And then, as he makes his sorrowful way beneath the cross, we will hear the jeering of the people and their leaders, who scoff at his being King and Son of God.…It is the way of Jesus; there is no other.”
~ Pope Francis, Palm Sunday Homily Sunday, 29 March 2015
In the Gospels on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday this week, we hear the “Spy” Gospels. In the past weeks, we’ve heard how the scribes and Pharisees were becoming more and more irate about Jesus and how they plotted to kill Him. In these three days, as we approach the Passion of the Lord, we hear about one of the disciples turning on Christ and selling Him for 30 pieces of silver.
Judas, the spy, comes to the fore. Reflecting on his actions can help us to see whether or not we too might betray Christ. In what ways do we sin? In what ways do we choose our own comforts over that of Christ and the Gospel?
In today’s first reading, the prophet Jeremiah recounts the ‘whisperings’ of those who seek to take him down. The whisperers seek to hold him down, to prevail over him. They seek to prevent him from fulfilling his prophetic mission. In these final days of Lent, we too might hear similar ‘whispers’ that seek to knock us off course as we journey toward Holy Week. Perhaps we are hearing the whispers of academic stress or of difficult relationships. Perhaps we hear the whispers of anxiety or busyness. Take these moments to still yourself before Christ and recount the whispers you are hearing. And take Jeremiah’s cue: pray for strength and take a few moments to simply praise Him.
Accordingly, dearly-beloved, being mindful of our weakness, because we easily fall into all kinds of faults, let us by no means neglect this special remedy and most effectual healing of our wounds. Let us remit, that we may have remission: let us grant the pardon which we crave: let us not be eager to be revenged when we pray to be forgiven. Let us not pass over the groans of the poor with deaf ear, but with prompt kindness bestow our mercy on the needy, that we may deserve to find mercy in the judgment. And he that, aided by God’s grace, shall strain every nerve after this perfection, will keep this holy fast faithfully; free from the leaven of the old wickedness, in the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth, he will reach the blessed Passover, and by newness of life will worthily rejoice in the mystery of man’s reformation through Christ our Lord Who with the Father and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.
– St. Leo the Great, Sermon I on Lent
“But with Mary there was perfect freedom. Her Divine Son was not accepted in any unforeseen or unpredictable way. He was willed. There was no element of chance; nothing was impersonal, for He was fully willed in mind and in body. How is this true? He was willed in mind, because, when the angel explained the miracle, Mary said: “Be it done unto me according to thy word.”
Fulton J. Sheen, The World’s First Love Mary, Mother of God, pg. 31
What then do we will in our hearts, the Lord’s great conception of life? A call to adventure, peace and love? Mary provides the secret, the entrance point, the example of a way in through our willed acceptance for the Holy Spirit’s overshadowing and penetration of our hearts ….if only we will it.
Snakes. Indiana Jones hates snakes, so did the Israelites at one point. After they escaped from Egypt and while they were in the desert, they sinned against the Lord. Seraph serpents came and bit them so that many of them died. But unlike Indiana, the Israelites had a change of heart because the Lord instructed Moses to make a statue of a snake so that the Israelites could be healed from it. And they were!
Sin can be healed in the same way. Adam was disobedient and sinned with fruit from a tree. But, Christ was obedient and brought us the fruit of salvation from a tree. God can even untwist the sin in our own lives in a similar way. In what ways have things been twisted in your life, and how might God heal them?
Fact: When I was a little kid I was an absolute bird nerd. At the age of eight I determined my career path to the point where I told my parents I would become an ornithologist and that I would attend college at either Cornell or the University of New Mexico (because those are the only two universities with programs in ornithology, of course). Needless to say, I did not end up following that path. I did, however, continue my interest in birds, and even to this day I’ll find myself pausing to take a better look when I come across one. This is why I was able to recognize on sight a lone black-and-white bird with a bright yellow-orange head: the Blackburnian Warbler. I saw it hopping along the trunk of one of the trees outside of St. Dominic Chapel on an early day in March, blissfully unaware of the strange human literally crouched on the slushy sidewalk trying to get a better look at it. But what is so interesting about this small bird and my sighting of it is that Blackburnian Warblers are Neotropical migrants− they leave the bitterly cold New England area and head south for the winter. These warblers are summer birds, not usually returning to Rhode Island until May. So as all this trivia was filtering through my mind, I stood there in wonder as this little warbler defied all expectations and boldly hopped from branch to frozen branch.
This bold defiance of seasonal constraints is exactly how I see myself striving to live my life before the Lord, especially throughout the season of Lent. It is all too easy to become comfortable in our routines, going through our weekly motions of Mass on Sunday, the same prayer every day, the same sins every time we confess. Don’t misunderstand− establishing habits is a great thing to do when it comes to prayer life. In fact, many of the most engaged Catholics are those who have distinct habits of prayer and worship; they know what works for them, and they stick with it. But while we look to establish our own habits, we must be constantly vigilant lest we allow ourselves to become so comfortable that the greater meaning behind them is lost. Rather than just “going through the motions”, we should continually strive to further push ourselves and grow in our faith. We should keep our eyes on the Heavenly prize at all costs, and never settle for adequacy. We were created to be great, and that is what we are in the eyes of our Creator. We need to live up to our potential− and when our lives fall into patterns which prevent us from doing so, we must look for new patterns. We must go boldly before the Lord! Romans 12:2 tells us, “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” So when our comfortable lives in the warm tropics become too unfulfilling, we fly back north for the winter. Like the tiny little warbler, let us challenge ourselves to strive for this constant renewal of self and faith.
Passiontide. For the next two weeks, the Church travels closer and closer to Calvary with Christ. The Gospel each day leads us on a journey with Jesus where we see the scribes and Pharisees confronting Him again and again. The tensions rise, and it all culminates during the Triduum at the end of Holy Week.
In this time, we are invited on this road with Christ and challenged to approach the cross with Him. Most of His disciples fled on the first Good Friday. Where will we be that? In what ways have our Lenten practices opened our hearts up to receive the graces of the Paschal mystery?