Good Friday

Lent 1
We solemnly celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday, using the simplest of signs. On Holy Thursday Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet. At table he gave them in bread and wine his own body and blood as signs of his love for them and for all humanity.

On Good Friday we take another symbol, the cross, a powerful sign of death, which first struck fear into the hearts of Jesus’ disciples, but then as they recalled the Lord’s journey from the garden to Calvary, as they saw the empty tomb, as they were taught by the Risen Jesus himself, they began to see that God can conquer even death itself.

On this day, we read the memories of John, the Lord’s disciple, who followed him from the Sea of Galilee, to Jerusalem, its temple and its feasts, to Calvary where he stood with the women and watched the Lord die. Like the others, he recoiled before it all, but then saw signs of victory even in the garden, in the judgment hall, before Pilate, and finally in the cross itself. (John 18-19)

On this darkest of days, Christ’s victory is proclaimed in John’s gospel.

“Go into my opened side,
Opened by the spear,
Go in and there abide
For my love is here.” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 251)

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you.
By your cross you have redeemed the world.

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Stations of the Cross

We’re reflecting on the Passion of the Lord today. The early persecution of the church in Rome during Nero’s reign may have influenced the composition of the Gospel of Mark. Is Mark’s passion narrative a response to a church reeling from  Nero’s absurd persecution?”My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries from the Cross. His only words.

Probably some of those early Christians were put to death in Nero’s gardens, which now are the gardens of the Passionist Monastery of Saints John and Paul in Rome.

Here are the Stations of the Cross in that garden. 

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Where did it happen?

Any Christian visiting Jerusalem has to wonder where the events recalled in the gospels took place. Where was Jesus judged by Pilate? What was the way he went to Calvary? Where was he buried?

Reliable historians generally weigh in positively on the tomb of Jesus in the Church of the Holy Sepucher “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks in his solidly researched “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (New York, 2008). “Yes, very probably,” he answers. (p 49)

Our traditional Stations of the Cross, which begin along Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa” at the place where the Fortress Antonia once stood are less historically reliable.  Murphy-O Connor says they are “defined by faith and not by history.” (pp 37-38)

Pilgrims, not archeologists, gave us this route. After the Christian church was established by Constantine in the 4th century, pilgrims  processing from the Mount of Olives on Holy Thursday would go through St. Stephen’s Gate and as they went up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would stop at certain places to recall incidents from the Passion story. Over time the places were different. Our present stations along the Via Dolorosa were fixed only in the 19th century. (cf. Murphy-O’Connor, p 37)

A look at the above map of Jerusalem from the time of Jesus at the Israel Museum–which we have simplified a little– suggests another possible picture. At the far right bottom is a luxurious  palace complex (only part is visible in the picture} built by Herod the Great. When Pontius Pilate came from Caesaria Maritima for the feast he stayed there. Herod Antipas stayed at another part.

The gateway to a public courtyard beyond the palace buildings would have been where Pilate received the crowd and passed judgment on Jesus. As the gospels say, Pilate sent Jesus to Herod who was nearby, since Jesus, a Galilean, was Herod’s subject. The houses surrounding the palace belonged to Jerusalem’s ruling class.

After sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate handed him over to a detachment of soldiers quartered somewhere in the great towers to the left of the palace, who scourged him and crowned him with thorns.

They then led him away to Calvary, probably parading him through part of the upper city as a warning to others. The small rock outcropping near to the wall on the left of our first picture is Calvary where he was crucified. He was buried in a tomb only a stone’s throw away, according to the gospels.

Today only some remains can be seen in the area called the Citadel which still dominates the western part of the Old City. From this high place,  Herod could look down on the city. Obviously, the Jews despised his pretentious display so close to the temple; in September 66 AD, Jewish revolutionaries attacked and burned down the place, setting off the war that ended with Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AD.

Yesterday Fr. Pol and I were up on the southern ramparts of the city wall where Herod’s palace once stood. Nothing remains of Herod’s palace, but the towers are still there though rebuilt a number of times since then. The last major change was in the 14th century. If you look at the foundations, you can see some of Herod’s construction.

Murphy-O’Connor suggests a way they may have taken Jesus to Calvary from here. “If, as seems likely, Jesus was brought into the city on his way to execution, the approximate route would have been east on David Street, north on the Triple Suk, and then west to Golgotha.” (p.38)

Fr. Pol and I traveled that route yesterday, down David Street, to the Triple Suk and then west to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  My sense is Murphy-O’Connor is right, but I think we better not change the Via Dolorosa. One reason is that good piety, which gave us the Stations of the Cross, has a truth and beauty all its own. It should not be looked down on. Another reason is that  it would start a war in Jerusalem, and the city has enough grief now.

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Holy Thursday

Lent 1
“Love makes one little room and everywhere.”That was so when Jesus entered the supper room in Jerusalem to eat with his disciples on the night before he died. A dark fate awaited him as powerful forces readied to take his life. His disciples, “his own who were in the world,” were arguing among themselves as they took their places at table. Jn 13,1-15

What would he do? Understandably he might respond with disappointment, like the servant whom the prophet Isaiah described, “I toiled in vain; and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength…” (Is. 49).

Jesus, however, took bread and gave it to his disciples. “Take this,” he said, “this is my body.” He took the cup and gave it to them. “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many.”

That night, without wariness or regret, he gave himself to his Father and to his disciples. As our Savior and Redeemer he gave himself unhesitatingly for the life of the world. In the supper room a love was tested and a love was displayed that reached everywhere.

Holy Thursday night. “Now is not the time to write, rather to weep. Jesus is dead to give us life. All creatures are mourning, the sun is darkened, the earth quakes, the rocks are rent, the veil of the temple is torn. Only my heart remains harder than flint. I will say no more. Join the poor mother of the dead Jesus as her companion. Ask the dear Magdalene and John where their hearts are. Let the sea of their pains flood within you. I end at the foot of the cross.” (Letter 181)

How shall I make a return to the Lord
for the goodness he has shown to me.
The cup of salvation I will take up
and call on the name of the Lord. Ps 116

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Resurrection Thinking

I spoke about the Resurrection today at Immmaculate Conception Church in Melbourne Beach, Florida. We have to keep that mystery in mind as we go through Holy Week. “it’s not enough that Jesus intervenes at the moment of our death; he is The Lord of all creation.”

One of the delights of the internet is that it puts you in touch with the world so  quickly.  On February 11, 2012 the Anglican Bishop N. T. Wright  addressed the Conference of Italian bishops on the resurrection of Jesus Christ. His theme was “Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.” 1 Corinthians.

Wright is a highly regarded New Testament scholar and I found his thoughts on the   resurrection particularly interesting. The theme of the Italian bishops’ conference was “Jesus, our Contemporary.”

He begins with this challenging picture of the Risen Christ.

“ On the one hand, it is precisely because Jesus is risen from the dead that he is alive in a new, unique way; that he is able to be with us as a living presence, which we know in prayer and silence, in reading scripture and in the sacraments, and (not least) in the service of the poor.

All those things he has promised us, and his promises do not fail. He is, in that sense, truly our contemporary. But at the same time, as our title indicates, in his resurrection Jesus stands over against us. He is different. He is the first fruits; we are the harvest that still awaits. He has gone on ahead while we wait behind.

What is more, the meaning of his resurrection cannot be reduced to anything so comfortable as simple regarding him as ‘contemporary’ in the sense of a friend beside us, a smiling and comforting presence. Because he is raised from the dead, he is Lord of the world, sovereign over the whole cosmos, the one before whom we bow the knee, believing that in the end every creature will come to do so as well.

It’s not enough that Jesus intervenes at the moment of our death. He is the Lord of creation.”

Wright goes on to say that our belief in the Jesus as Lord of creation has been undermined by the thinking of the Enlightenment, which placed God (if God exists) beyond our world. We are the lords of creation, then. This life and all in it is in our hands to shape and control as we think best.

Our belief in the Risen Christ is influenced by this thinking, Wright believes. The only role we give to the Risen Lord is to save us from death and bring us to heaven. But we must see him as Lord of Creation, present here and now. We must live in him today and continue his work, not in a heavy-handed way, but humbly as Jesus called for in his teaching on the beatitudes.

“This is how Jesus wants to run the world: by calling people to be peacemakers, gentle, lowly, hungry for justice. When God wants to change the world, he doesn’t send in the tanks; he sends in the meek, the pure in heart, those who weep for the world’s sorrows and ache for its wrongs. And by the time the power-brokers notice what’s going on, Jesus’ followers have set up schools and hospitals, they have fed the hungry and cared for the orphans and the widows. That’s what the early church was known for, and it’s why they turned the world upside down. In the early centuries the main thing that emperors knew about bishops was that they were always taking the side of the poor. Wouldn’t it be good if it were the same today.”

You can find the full English text here. Pull now 9:30 Saturday, Feb 11 from the Italian menu.

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Wednesday of Holy Week

Lent 1
The gospels offer little information about the twelve disciples of Jesus. Peter is best known among them, since Jesus gave him a special role and also lived in his house in Capernaum.

Then, there’s Judas. Matthew’s gospel gives more information about him than  any other New Testament source and so it’s read on “Spy Wednesday,”  the day in Holy Week that recalls Judas’ offer to the rulers to hand Jesus over for thirty pieces of silver.(Matthew 26,14-25)

“Surely it is not I?” the disciples say one after the other when Jesus announces someone will betray him. And we say so too, as we watch Judas being pointed out. With Peter also we say we will not deny him. But the readings for these days caution us that there’s a communion of sinners as well as a communion of saints.

We’re also sinful disciples. We are never far from the disciples who once sat at table with Jesus.
We come as sinners to the Easter triduum, which begins the evening of Holy Thursday and ends on Easter Sunday. God shows great mercy; we  hope for the forgiveness and new life that Jesus gave his disciples who left him the night before he died.

“We who wish to find the All, who is God, must cast ourselves into nothingness. God is “I AM; we are they who are not, for dig as deeply as we can, we will find nothing, nothing. And we who are sinners are worse than nothing.
“God, out of nothing created the visible and invisible world. The infinite Good, by drawing good from evil through justifying sinners, performs a greater work of omnipotence than if he were to create a thousand worlds more vast and beautiful than this one. For in justifying sinners, he draws them from sin, an abyss darker and deeper than nothingness itself.” (St. Paul of the Cross, Letter 248 )

Lord, in your great love answer me. Ps. 69

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Tuesday of Holy Week

Lent 1
The gospels from Monday to Thursday in Holy Week take us away from the crowded temple area in Jerusalem where Jesus spoke to many of his avowed enemies. These days he eats at table with “his own.” In Bethany six days before Passover he ate with Martha , Mary and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. Mary anointed his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love. The gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday bring us to the table in Jerusalem where he ate with the twelve who followed him.

Love will be poured out there too, but the gospels for Tuesday and Wednesday say it was love with great cost. “I tell you solemnly, one of you will betray me,” Jesus says to his disciples. Friends that followed him abandon him. Judas dips his hand into the dish with him and then goes out into the night. Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus must face suffering and death alone.

Are we unlike them?

Does a troubled Jesus face us too, “his own,” to whom he gave new life in the waters of baptism and Bread at his table. Will we not betray or deny? Are we sure we will not go away? The gospels are not just about what’s past; they’re also about now.

We think the saints exaggerate when they call themselves great sinners, but they know the truth. That’s the way St. Paul of the Cross described himself in his account of his forty day retreat as a young man:

“I rejoiced that our great God should wish to use so great a sinner, and on the other hand, I knew not where to cast myself, knowing myself so wretched. Enough! I know I shall tell my beloved Jesus that all creatures shall sing of his mercies.” (Letter 2)

In you, O Lord, I take refuge
never let me be put to shame.
Be my rock of refuge
a stronghold to give me safety.
For you are my rock and my fortress,
O God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked. Ps 71

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