Praying the Divine Mercy Novena on Holy Saturday

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Belgapixels https://www.flickr.com/photos/belgapixels/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Belgapixels https://www.flickr.com/photos/belgapixels/

Our Passover Lamb lies in the grave.

The stone rolls over the entrance and settles with a hollow thunk. The seal is placed over it and the guards take up their watch.

Inside the tomb, Jesus’ body lies broken, dirty and cold in the silent nothingness of death. Blood congeals on the corpse’ forehead, back, wrists, ankles and chest. The limbs stiffen and this dead thing that once was a man becomes a figment of a living person. It is matter now, with no life inside it; a hard, silent piece of dead meat. Decomposition and rot begin.

This is death; raw, unyielding, and seemingly forever. It is the end of every living thing.

Death brings our dreams and accomplishments to dust. It puts a period at the end of our adventures and hopes and tosses them on the waste bin of what doesn’t matter any more. Death conquers all.

Or so it seems.

I am the Way. Jesus told his disciples. I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. 

Today, humanity’s Passover Lamb lies in the grave. The perfect and complete sacrifice, the true lamb without blemish, has shed His blood for us. His shed blood is the blood of the lamb on the lintel posts of the doors to our lives.

If we wear the blood of the Passover Lamb, the angel of unending death will pass us by. If we are not marked with the blood of the Lamb, the angel of death will mow us down with his eternal scythe.

Jesus lies in the tomb today. In our place.

On this second day of the Divine Mercy Novena, He asks us to “bring me the souls of priests and religious.”

No matter when Jesus comes again, we are all in the last days of our own lives. In these last days of our lives, when, as Yeats said, “the center does not hold,” we need leadership from our priests and religious.

“Without vision, the people perish,” the Bible says. Fearful functionaries and self-congratulators cannot lead us in these times. Our priests and religious need the Divine Mercy of Our Lord.

As do we all.

Please take time to pray the Divine Mercy Novena with us. Pray that God will send us holy priests and religious.

Second Day


Today bring to Me the Souls of Priests and Religious,

and immerse them in My unfathomable mercy. It was they who gave me strength to endure My bitter Passion. Through them as through channels My mercy flows out upon mankind.”

Most Merciful Jesus, from whom comes all that is good, increase Your grace in men and women consecrated to Your service,* that they may perform worthy works of mercy; and that all who see them may glorify the Father of Mercy who is in heaven.

Eternal Father, turn Your merciful gaze upon the company of chosen ones in Your vineyard — upon the souls of priests and religious; and endow them with the strength of Your blessing. For the love of the Heart of Your Son in which they are enfolded, impart to them Your power and light, that they may be able to guide others in the way of salvation and with one voice sing praise to Your boundless mercy for ages without end. Amen.

 

* In the original text, Saint Faustina uses the pronoun “us” since she was offering this prayer as a consecrated religious sister. The wording adapted here is intended to make the prayer suitable for universal use. 


5 Ways to Do Holy Thursday for Shut Ins and Shut Outs

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Waiting for the Word https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Waiting for the Word https://www.flickr.com/photos/waitingfortheword/

Go to mass tonight if you can. You will be blessed.

If you’re sick or you have to work or for some other reason you cannot go, try to take a moment to think on Jesus. You may be so busy or in such a problem that finding time for worship or contemplation of any sort is difficult. On the other hand, you may be flat on your back with nothing but time, dripping slowly by.

Here are 5 ways you can do Holy Thursday if you are shut in from illness or shut out because of other imperatives.

1. Pray. 

For those with time, pray the Rosary. Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. If you are sick, offer up your pains for conversions.

If you are pushing through a day with no rest stops, pray the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Or, pray a Hail Mary.

Or, just stop for a moment and think about Gethsemane and say “Thank you Jesus.”

If you are in your own, personal, Gethsemane today, ponder what He faced there and remember that God understands what you are going through. He knows with the knowing of having been there Himself.

2. Read the Bible. Read the transfiguration (Mark, chapter 9) or the Last Supper (Mark 14) or the story of Gethsemane (Mark 14.) Read Psalm 22.

Better yet, read them all.

When you read, ponder for a moment the power of this story. I could write many thousands of words discussing these Scripture readings and never touch their full meaning. This is the promise of our redemption, the New Covenant which fulfills that of the Old Testament, and the all-too-human suffering of abandonment and The Alone.

Read it and pray over it. Put yourself there, in the disciples’ sandals, with Jesus as He prayed to let this cup pass from Him. Let God show you the understanding of it that you need for today.

3. Watch something edifying on tv. So much of what we see in the media at this time of year is a thinly-disguised attack on the faith through bogus scholarship presented as an “investigation” into the “real Jesus” or “what really happened.”

The simple fact is that these are deconstructions of Scripture based on little more than the fantasies of the “scholars” who put them forward. Most of the time, if you backcheck these “experts” you will find that they are people with an agenda, usually having to do with their dislike of the Church’s stand on things such as gay marriage and abortion.

They are attacking Christianity because Christianity poses a barrier to the universal acceptance of their viewpoints. However, they are not doing this in a forthright and honest way. They are using phony “scholarship” and an anti-Christian media to unfairly and inaccurately bash Christianity in hopes of weakening its ability to oppose them in the marketplace of ideas.

I had all but given up on tv.

Then, I found some edifying videos on Amazon Prime; lives of the saints, Church history, inspiring stories of faithful Christian witness. I suggest you seek them out and watch them. I’ve looked for similar things on Netflix and couldn’t find them. If you find good ones in other venues, please share them here.

4. Sing or play music. I’ve been under the weather for the past three weeks, and I haven’t felt up to playing my piano. That’s a huge deprivation for me. I’m going to change that today, at least for a while, and tap out a hymn or two. I have lots of Christian music of all genres on my iPhone. I play that and sing along in my rusty voice.

Music is worship with wings, especially, playing the piano. If you pick the guitar or bow the fiddle or pound the ivories, make a joyful noise to the Lord. If you don’t play an instrument, or don’t have access to one, sing a hymn, and if all else fails, just listen to Christian music for a while in your car or at your house.

5. Talk about Jesus with your Christian friends. I don’t mean making a speech or trying to convert someone. I mean just talking about the events of this week 2,000 years ago with a fellow Christian.

Don’t try to be profound. Just fellowship by talking about Our Lord with another Christian.

I know there are many other ways to “do” Holy Thursday if you can’t get to mass. I also know that even if you do go to mass, these are also important things to do.

A Christian can never engage in too much prayer, Scripture, and private worship in the guise of watching good Christian entertainment, making a joyful noise unto the Lord and talking about Him with other people who love Him.

Build yourself up in Christ today, step by step, brick by brick.

This is Holy Thursday. No matter your circumstance, you can find a moment and a means to love Him today. It will be your blessing if you do.

From Hitler to the BTK Killer, How Do You Forgive a Monster?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Tony Webster https://www.flickr.com/photos/diversey/

When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer. Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie Ten Boom’s story was pivotal in my growth as a Christian.

My conversion to Christ happened when I was alone, driving my car. No other person, no church or clergy, participated in it. It was literally Jesus, reaching out to me and filing me with His love.

I knew that what I had experienced was real. I knew that I had encountered Another, and that this Being bore no resemblance to the poisoned descriptions of Him that had been used as a club against me so many times in my life.

This was a Being of ecstatic love and joy.

I was changed by the experience, changed further by the on-going relationship with this Being, who I later came to understand was the Holy Spirit. However, even though this direct encounter and relationship with the Divine gave me an understanding of His nature, I had no parallel understanding of Christianity itself.

I did not hate Christianity with the frothing at the mouth propagandized carry-on of today’s Christian bashers. But I had experienced cruelty and dishonesty at the hands of Christians. I had also drunk deeply at the cultural well of Christianity deconstruction. I honestly believed many of the lies I had been told about Christian history.

One of my first encounters with positive Christian witness was when I picked up a book called “The Hiding Place” at a used book sale. I don’t know why I paid the fifteen cents to buy that book. I only know that it was the first time I’d read or heard anything about Christians who had stood against the evils of the Nazis based on their faith in Christ.

Every bit of information on the subject of Christianity and the Nazis that I had seen, read or heard up until that time had been a version of the many Christian bashing tropes that are circulated today. Nobody told me that Christians had worked against the Nazis to their great personal peril and had been themselves been persecuted and murdered for their defiance of the evils of that time.

Corrie Ten Boom was a saint of World War II and the years after. She was an unmarried watchmaker’s daughter and a highly skilled watchmaker herself when the Nazis invaded Holland. She was a woman in her fifties who lived a quiet life with her family, in the home where she had grown up.

She was also a devoted follower of Jesus Christ in a family of devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Corrie Ten Boom’s family hid many Jews from the Nazis. They were betrayed by a man they had helped and sent to the concentration camps themselves. Corrie’s father, brother and beloved sister died at the hands of the Nazis.

Her sister Betsy was Corey Ten Boom’s best friend, companion and solace in the nightmare of the camps. After the war, Corey encountered the guard who beat Betsy and whose cruelty probably contributed to her death.

This past week has given me the opportunity to reflect on Corrie’s life. I originally intended to pray for the grace of forgiveness during Lent. But other things got in the way. Then last week I got clipped by some sort of flu-like illness. This bug has forced solitude on me. It has freed me to do what I should have been doing all along.

I have prayed deeply about issues of forgiveness in my own life. I’ve also watched more television this past week than I have in the entire year before it. Among other things, I watched a documentary about a man whose family was murdered by the BTK killer in Wichita Kansas. I also watched a documentary about Corrie Ten Boom.

The difference in how these two people responded to the horrific things that had been done to them was stark. I understand the man’s reaction. I’m not in any way condemning or criticizing him. I see a lot of myself in him.

He was a young person with a casual faith. He did not have the underpinning of years of walking with the Lord that Corrie had when tragedy overtook her. He was unable to look at the savage murder of the people he loved from an eternal perspective.

He did not have the sustaining relationship with God that upheld and sustained her even when she was, as she put it, in the pit. He was much like I was when bad things happened to me early in my life.

His life was savaged by the murder of his family. Hers was magnified. Corrie Ten Boom survived the camps and went on to become a great international speaker and evangelist for Christ.

She wrote books and traveled the globe, speaking to people everywhere about the power of forgiveness. “There is no pit so deep that His love is not deeper still,” she told people, and they believed her because she had been in the deepest pit of human devising.

The young man whose family was murdered spent time in prison. He fathered a son he did not raise and has spent his days trying to paste the shattered pieces of himself back together again.

The difference between these two people is faith and the grace of God. It is also the grace of forgiveness.

God used Corrie Ten Boom, but He did not give her an easy life. Not only did she endure personal suffering in the concentration camps, she lost the people she loved there. As if that wasn’t enough, God sent the man who had beaten her sister to her to ask for forgiveness.

This forgiveness was the decisive cleansing of Corrie Ten Boom. It was the surrender she had to make in order to be useful to Him and His purposes. If you pray to become a saint, pray carefully. God asks all of you.

This video is Corrie’s account of her post war encounter with the concentration camp guard who had tortured her sister. It describes the healing power of the Cross, which gives peace that passes all understanding.

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Help Me to Confront My Own Transgressions

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by Bruno https://www.flickr.com/photos/_pek_/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by Bruno https://www.flickr.com/photos/_pek_/

This Lenten Prayer of St Ephrem goes back to the 4th century.

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Go Look in the Mirror. That is the Only God You’ll Ever See.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by EvelynGiggles https://www.flickr.com/photos/evelynishere/

Decades ago, not long after my conversion, I had a discussion with an atheist friend of mine.

This friend was from the time when just about all of my friends — including me — evinced a militant disregard for things Christian.

I didn’t know it at first, but that conversion to Christ was going to change everything in my life, including my relationship with people who had been as close to me as family. One by one and despite everything I could do to avoid it, I would lose them all. Worse, the same friends that I loved, truly loved, would become my worst enemies. They would do everything they could to destroy me.

This particular friend didn’t do that. But the friendship, the easy, warm trust between us, was gone almost as soon as I began to follow Christ. I tried my best to keep my new faith low key. I did everything I could to continue to blend in with my old crowd.

But … you’ve changed, this friend said one day.

It was an accusation, and I cringed inside, not understanding this “change” that he saw, even when I was doing my best to hide it. I did not realize in that moment that he had just unwittingly given me the greatest compliment he could.

He saw Christ in me. Despite everything I could do to pretend that nothing had happened and hang onto all my old friendships, I was changed. And this man saw it.

That comment began the slow unraveling of my old life as an unbeliever. I do not mean that it began my conversion. That had already happened. It was the start of the end of previous relationships with people who lived in the world of unbelief.

I fought it. I wanted to keep these people as friends. I wanted to hold onto the good times we’d shared.

But … you’ve changed, he said. And it was true.

This change began to resound in all these relationships with my old crowd. I never preached to them. I didn’t even talk about Christ to them. But I had changed on a fundamental level, and they were like ring wraiths sniffing me out.

This particular friend was the only one to address the change directly and then to lay into me at the root of that change. He knew, without my telling him, that I was now a Christian. And he began a program of reconversion.

Once, in one of our many arguments, he spat out a couple of sentences that I will never forget.

Go look in the mirror, he said. That is the only God you will ever see.

That comment was the apex of his arguing, and the end of our togetherness as people. It wasn’t the comment itself  that did it. It was the unbridgeable gap between us.

We never formally stopped being friends, but we did stop spending time with one another. It was too fraught, too uncomfortable. We had the memory of a friendship, nothing more.

He died of a heart attack a few years later. There were jokes about his vehement unbelief in the many eulogies at his memorial service. This was a man who understood friendship. The memorial service was a crowded event, the building filled to overflowing.

I walked out, gripping my husband’s hand, hoping that in those last extremities my old friend had finally turned to God.

Did he go to hell? 

I said it aloud when we got back to the car. Was he dead, really, eternally dead and gone to hell? My passionate, crazy friend — had he doomed himself to eternal death?

My husband was silent for a moment. Then, he reached out and squeezed my hand.

Probably, he said.

I changed again after that. My friend’s death shook me out of my somnambulance. I realized that being quiet about Jesus was the cruelest thing I could do to the people around me. I called quite a number of my old friends and told them directly that I did not want them to go to hell. I pleaded with them to change.

One of them changed, began following Christ and follows Him to this day. Otherwise, those calls had no effect.

You just don’t worry about me, one of them said, summing up the reaction from all of the rest.

A few years later, someone I knew and had crossed swords with was dying of cancer. This person and I barely spoke and when we did, it was barbed.

I picked up the phone and called him. Are you right with God? I asked him.

My friend’s death has taught me that there is never a wrong time to try to tell someone about Jesus, and there is never a right time to let another person slide into eternal death while you stand politely by and say nothing.

I read a headline before I began writing this post saying that 7.5 million Americans have abandoned their faith in Christ in the last year. I didn’t read the story, but I would assume that it was based on statistics from a survey of some sort.

There are a lot of reasons for the rising apostasy, but I think that the heresy of salvation through politics is one of the primary factors.

Many Christians have become besotted with a political Christianity where voting right and joining the correct political party has replaced following Christ. They have removed Jesus from Lordship of their lives and replaced him with an angry and unthinking devotion to their political party.

The Holy Spirit will not honor this kind of fallen Christianity. This Christless Christianity without a cross will not produce the fruit of the Kingdom because it is not of the Kingdom.

Go look in the mirror. That is the only God you will ever see. 

Seven point five million Americans evidently decided to turn their backs on eternal life and plunge themselves into eternal death while we were barking at one another over whether or not the priest wears a stole when he hears confessions and is the Church too “feminized” and which political party is the right one for Christians.

Let me tell you something. If Jesus Christ is truly the Lord of your life, it does not matter which political party you are in or whether or not the mass or church service you attend is sufficiently to your liking.

It does not matter because wherever you are, you will do His will. If people aren’t looking at you accusingly and saying You’ve changed, then something is wrong with your relationship with Christ.

If you fit comfortably in this world, then you are not going to fit comfortably in heaven. If you sit idly by and watch people trot themselves off to eternal hell and do nothing, say nothing to stop them, then you are the most cruel of people.

Let me turn my friend’s comment around. When you look in the mirror, do you see your God?

Sin is one thing. We all sin. This is why we have confession. But if you are one of those many people who are trying to cut your faith to fit your politics, if you are trying to shear the teachings of Christ down to slip them nicely into the folder where you keep your political handouts, then you are, no matter how often you go to Church or how much you proclaim yourself a Christian, in rebellion against God.

If you do not accept the Lordship of Christ in all matters, then you are not following Christ. If you do accept the Lordship of Christ, then it does not matter where you are or what people you associate with, you will be His witness in that place.

Bearing witness to the Gospel with our lives is the universal Christian vocation.

But it doesn’t end there.

We are also called to bear witness to Christ with our words.

Ask yourself this: Have people abandoned the Church because of you? Have you driven them away with your peculiar and particular insistence on a vengeful reliance on your version of what a Christian should be? Has your unbending self-righteousness made them feel that the Church is the last place on earth they would go for love and forgiveness?

Or …

Have people come to Christ because of you? Have they felt safe to tell you of their failings, to share their doubts, to trust you with their darkest secrets? Have they experienced the love of Christ in you and begun to follow Him because you allowed yourself to be a conduit of His grace in their lives?

What fruit have you born with your followership of Christ?

When you stand before God, will lost souls point at you in accusation and say He or she never told me about Jesus.

Or worse, will they say, He or she was so angry and so self-righteous that I thought their Jesus was the devil?

How many souls will point to you and say He or she was the spark that led me to Christ?

The answer to those questions begins with another one. When you look in the mirror, do you see a beloved child of God who can trust His love to forgive their sins? Do you see a sinner who does not need to be afraid before God; someone who is forgiven and who is grateful for that forgiveness?

Or …

Do you look in the mirror and see the true lord of your life and the only god you will ever know?

 

 

If You Get Real with God. He Will Get Real with You.

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by pcstratman https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by pcstratman https://www.flickr.com/photos/32495192@N07/

Corrie ten Boom called it dying grace.

St Paul referred to it as “the peace that passes all understanding.”

I have described it as a bell jar that was over me, protecting me.

It is the grace of God, and it comes to us when we need it to do His will.

There are many caveats about this grace, none of which I’ve read in books, but which I’ve learned by walking with Christ.

First, you don’t get this grace when you don’t need it. Dying grace is for the dying. The peace that passes all understanding is for times when you’re in such deep trouble that peace of any sort would confound. The bell jar was for a time when I was being attacked while trying to pass pro life legislation.

The elements I’ve observed about this big-time, empowering grace are that (1) It is not given just because you ask for it, because, say, the hot water tank broke and flooded the floor, (2) It is given when you need it and (3) It is given when you need it to do His will, and (4) You can count on it on those times.

Dying grace comes to the dying; not those who are twenty years from dying and hypering themselves into a panic over what will happen one day.

The peace that passes all understanding comes when you are faced with that which cannot be borne without the grace of God.

The bell jar came to me — unbidden, I might add — when I was gritting my teeth to bull dog my way through doing His will, no matter what.

Dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/the bell jar are a function of the deepest humility there is: When you are on your knees before the cross with the full knowledge of your unworthiness.

If you want to follow Jesus, you need to be ready to find yourself in situations where you need this grace. Because they will come.

How do you get ready for situations where you face anger, gossip, slander, loss of livelihood, even death, attacks, and unfathomable terror as the price of your faithfulness to the Lord?

The Bible tells us quite clearly how we do this. The message is repeated all through it.

You reject burnt offerings, a broken and contrite heart you will accept. King David prayed that when he was lost in sin. We pray the same words every Lent.

But do we “get” what the words are telling us?

Jesus told the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector who went to pray. The Pharisee in the story stands for every holier-than-thou-sure-of-their-own-righteousness person in the world today. The tax collector stands in for the drug dealers, corporatists, rapists, murderers, adulterers, Christian bashers, abortionists, pornographers, bribe-taking officials — the in-your-face sinners among us.

The Pharisee stood before God and pointed to the tax collector. I thank you that I am not like that sinner, he prayed. The tax collector bowed down before God in misery because of his remorse for his sins and prayed Have mercy on me, a sinner. 

Jesus made it clear that the tax collector, not the Pharisee, went home that day justified before God.

You reject burnt offerings which means, among other things, all the good works we are so proud of and the goodness we see in ourselves. A broken and contrite heart you will accept, meaning, among other things, genuine sorrow for the things we’ve done to hurt other people.

When we get to heaven, I think the biggest surprise may be who else shows up. There is a universal (as in, I do it too) impulse to justify and understand our own sins while condemning without mercy those of other people. But if you stand before God, clothed in the garments of your own self-annointed righteousness, the Scriptures tell us that you will be clothed in filthy rags rather than heavenly garments.

Twenty-one Christians died proclaiming their faith in Christ on a beach in Libya a couple of weeks ago. Christians live the hell of violent persecution throughout that region of the world. Christian girls are sold into sex slavery, which, in my opinion, is a much deeper and more hideous martyrdom than the one those men suffered on the beach. If I had to chose, I would chose the beach over sex slavery any day.

How do they keep their faith? How do they find the grace to proclaim Jesus in those circumstances? How does a parent whose daughter has been taken, whose son has been beheaded, find the grace to continue their walk with Christ?

The answer is, they don’t. That grace comes from God. We don’t create it or deserve it. It is given to us, like eternal life, out of His love for us.

But what of those who stumble? What of those who recant their faith and “convert” to Islam to save their lives? What of those who wet their pants in terror and cry for their mamas? What of those who fall into the alone of being helpless in the hands of human monsters and crack apart, unable to pull themselves back from the horror?

Does God stop loving them?

Are we called to punish them?

The answers are no, and no.

There is another grace that comes to believers, and it is the grace of forgiveness. It isn’t so flashy as dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace. But it is the their forerunner.

If you want grace that will see you through you personal apocalypse, you have to begin by living the graces of ordinary life. Perhaps the first and foremost grace we should consider in this Lenten season is the grace of forgiveness.

Lent is not just about going to confession and getting yourself cleaned up from your sins. It is not just about no meat on Fridays and “doing” the stations of the cross. Lent is also, and most painfully for just about all of us, about forgiving.

Look into your hearts this Lent, and if there is someone who is like a running sore in your life, someone who has wronged you and hurt you and who perhaps continues to hurt you, take a moment and pray for them. Ask God to be merciful to them and take care of them. You will be amazed what this will do for you. You pray for them, and God gives to you, as well.

If you want dying grace/the peace that passes all understanding/bell jar grace when you need it, you have to do the little things now. If you cannot do them in love, then do them in obedience.

Practice forgiveness this Lent. Even if you don’t show up for the Stations and you forget and eat chicken salad instead of tuna salad on Friday, remember to pray for those who persecute you and use you unjustly. Ask God to take the beam of resentment, self-righteousness and self-pity out of your eye. Do that instead of obsessing over whether or not you hit your head on the cabinet and took the Lord’s name in vain.

Get real with God. If you do that, believe me, He will get real with you.

 

When You Wander the Wilderness, Remember the Water and the Blood

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston

Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted by Satan.

Why did Jesus, Who was God made human, need to go into the wilderness? For that matter why did He need to be baptized?

Lent is the time when we remember Jesus’ Wilderness Days. The period of Lent mirrors the time He spent in the wilderness, which was forty days. We are heading into Easter, which coincides with the Passover.

It’s all symbol, piled on top of metaphor. But it is not symbolic. And it is not metaphorical. It is as real as hunger and thirst. As hard as torture, blood and death. Our salvation was obtained at a great price.

Jesus made the first step toward the cross when He went to be baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan river. This was the same John who first met Jesus when they were both unborn babies in their mothers’ wombs. It was the same John who leapt for joy at the presence of his Savior, even at that young age.

John’s birth was announced by the archangel Gabriel. He was a forerunner, the fulfillment of the prophecy that before the Messiah came, there would be a voice calling in the wilderness, to prepare the way for the Lord. 

Jesus approached the Jordan river where John was baptizing. His purpose was to be baptized Himself.

At first, John, demurred.

I need to be baptized by you, he said.

But Jesus insisted with enigmatic words about fulfilling all righteousness. 

When Jesus came up out of the baptismal waters, the spirit of God descended on Him in the form of a dove and the voice of God said this my beloved son. Again, it was symbolism, piled on symbolism but the reality was real. The water was wet. And the graces of baptism which are given to each of us are real.

Baptism, this fulfilling of all righteousness the Jesus referred to, opens the door we shut in the garden. It places us back in relationship with God.

Jesus followed His baptism by going into the wilderness. Why? Why did He, being wholly God, need to go into the wilderness at all?

Because He is our brother in every way. He was, as St Paul told us, tempted in every way. Just like us. Jesus is wholly God. But He is also wholly human.

He bleeds. He feels pain. He understands loneliness and anguish. He has a mother He loves with all his heart. He, at some point in His past, had faced the death of Joseph, His earthly father.

He is our brother, and as our brother, He had to experience what it was to be human, including the pain of temptation.

Temptation is not an easy thing. It is not a mosquito that we brush off, or buy the right spray and shield ourselves from. Temptation is the devil’s needle that he stabs us with over and over until it becomes a running sore.

Temptation is the chocolate cake left over from supper. Temptation is the beautiful man or woman at the office whose presence rivets us. Temptation is the money we could make, the success we could have, by, if we are a legislator, voting that one wrong way, or, if we are a cop, by looking the other way, or if we are a car salesman by telling the small lie, or if we are a doctor, prescribing that unnecessary procedure.

The list of temptations are endless. Most of them are minor things we can brush aside as if they really were that mosquito. But others get inside our souls and nag at us without mercy. These are the temptations whose temporary fulfillment fills some hole inside us.

The beautiful co-worker, the last piece of cake, the drive to have enough money to buy things and show off, all have one thing in common: They feed a hunger that goes deeper than the normal hungers which can be sated by a full meal, time with our spouse, and having enough to live a good life.

These temptations come from hungers that won’t be fed. They come from our unmeetable needs for solace, diversion, attention, and validation that go beyond legitimate needs and reach into the un-fillable holes in our souls.

Jesus was wholly human and wholly God. What that means is that He experienced our gnawing hungers for things we can not have. He understood our attempt to fill the un-fillable holes inside us with things, people, experiences.

He went into the wilderness to face the temptations we all face. It was, like the baptism that preceded it, a fulfillment of all righteousness. It was God made human, being fully and wholly human. He placed Himself before satan and let satan tempt and entice Him.

He did this when He was like we are when temptations work their worst on us: When he was alone, tired, hungry, thirsty and sore. He let satan lay out temptations when He was exactly where we are when we’re weakest: In the wilderness.

Lent is about the journey Jesus made from the Wilderness to the Cross. We spend forty days in Lent, just as He spent forty days in the Wilderness. It begins for us on Ash Wednesday when we have a cross put on our forehead made of ashes and are reminded that the ultimate end of our time in this life is the grave.

Lent is a time a reflection and prayer. But it is a faint copy of the real wilderness times of our lives. The wilderness is when your spouse leaves you and you are alone and bereft because half your life has been shorn from you. The wilderness is when you lose your job and cannot replace it and are sleeping in a house you can no longer afford. The wilderness is when the doctor says that there is nothing more he or she can do. The wilderness is when you are isolated by lies and gossip or when you must face the violence of our society alone and in the dark.

The wilderness is defeat; deep, grinding defeat that leaves you vulnerable to any form of solace you can imagine, including the ones that harm other people or that do harm to yourself. Temptation is the bottle of booze you gave up when you started going to AA. Temptation is the desire for revenge against those who have hurt you. Temptation is the pleasure we take in our enemies’ pain, the desire to one-up and out-do, no matter what the cost.

Jesus faced a bit of what I call The Alone in the wilderness. He would drink the full draught of that Alone later, in His passion.

But He did not go into the wilderness until after He had been baptized. That all righteousness may be fulfilled, He said to John the Baptist.

Lent is a forty day period that begins in water and ends in blood.

Baptism is the mark of God on our souls. It is our first entry into the family of those who are marked by the Blood of Lamb. We enter the doorway to salvation through baptism; first by water, then by blood.

Behold, the Lamb of God, John the Baptist said when Jesus approached the river. We are twice baptized. Our sins are washed away by the waters of baptism, and we are marked with the blood of the lamb of God on the doorway of souls. The message is there, for death to see: You may not enter here. It is the Lord’s passover. 

This great spiritual truth goes with us every day, and everywhere. It goes with us into the wilderness time of our lives. It is there when we suffer unjust treatment, when we are abandoned, when we are helpless before unimaginable violence, when we become the object of vicious gossip, lose our jobs, fail that test, endure that illness, lose that limb, face that diagnosis. It is there with us in the wilderness time of our Alone.

When you are in your wilderness, remember your baptism. Remember the mark of the Blood of the Lamb on the lintels of your heart. Remember, always, that your salvation was purchased with a great price, that you are indeed worth more than the grass of the field and the birds of the air.

Remember that God loves you with an everlasting love and that He has already saved you from the temptations of your wilderness time. You are not alone. You are never alone.

Not even in the arid wilderness of The Alone.

Lent: Choose God and Be Happy

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by abcdz2000 https://www.flickr.com/photos/abcdz2000/

Photo Source: Flickr Commons by abcdz2000 https://www.flickr.com/photos/abcdz2000/

Ash Wednesday is a somber reminder that we are going to die one day.

This video reminds us that our deaths are also our birth into eternal life. Lent is a time when we should shake down our loves, fitting them for the journey through this life. Do not lose eternal life by rejecting Jesus in this life.

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This video give a good overview of the practices of Lent.

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What are You Doing for Shrove Tuesday?

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Lane https://www.flickr.com/photos/shimelle/

Photo Source: Flickr Creative Commons by Shimelle Lane https://www.flickr.com/photos/shimelle/

Lent is just on the other side of tomorrow. Come Wednesday, we’re all going to church and get an ash cross on our foreheads with the admonition to “Remember, thou are but dust.”

But before Ash Wednesday comes Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday as it is sometimes called.

Shrove/Fat Tuesday is the last day before Lent, and certain Catholics use the day to party hardy before shutting all that down for 40 days of penance and fasting. Or, at least that’s how the story goes.

“Fat” Tuesday gets its name from the practice in pre-refrigeration days of using up all the fats and rich foods before Lent. The reason was both practical and celebratory. Food went bad in those days in ways that we can’t imagine now. It was eat it or toss it. People, being people, turned this necessity into a cause for rich eating and celebrating. That’s also where the idea of eating pancakes on the last Tuesday before Lent comes from. An easy — and tasty — way to use up flour and fat is by making pancakes.

Today is the last Monday before the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. On Ash Wednesday, we enter a season of reflection and penance in which we consider deeply what it means to be Christian. We follow a Risen Lord. But we also follow a crucified Lord Who died because of the humanity-shattering ugliness of sin.

All we have to do is read the headlines to know that humanity is still being shattered by its proclivity for sin, and that Christianity is still the revolutionary and living expression of the Word that shines in the darkness and is hated by that darkness. Christians and Christianity are under attack all over the globe.

Lent is a perfect time for us to consider whether or not we are fit for the battle.

But before Lent, before we get those ashes put on our foreheads and remember that a grave awaits us one day, we have given ourselves Shrove/Fat Tuesday. My parish is having a dinner dance Tuesday night. If the roads aren’t icy, I plan to go. If the weather is bad, I’ll probably stay home and indulge in steak with my hubby.

What are you going to do before you strap on for Lent? Is there a party in your near future?

At Gethsemane

 

Gethsemane is far more than the physical garden where Jesus prayed the night He was taken.

Gethsemane is a place in the human heart, a destination we all reach. Some of us will go there many times in our lives.

Gethsemane is what I call The Alone. It is that stripped-bare moment when the pretenses and self lies that sustain us in our illusion of invincibility and significance are taken from us. Gethsemane is the realization that we are alone in a way that the glad-handing niceties of human interaction hide from us.

Emotions such as loneliness and even despair are trivialities when contrasted with the stark solitary helplessness of The Alone. It is a stunning thing to look into the eyes of another human being and see satan looking back at you. It is a soul-scouring reality to face the insignificance we really are to other people.

That is Gethsemane, and it is what Jesus faced for you. And for me.

Can you not wait with me one hour? He asked the disciples, and the question vibrates with the isolating aloneness that prompted it.

He had to face the awfulness of what was coming without human succor or understanding. When they came, when Judas struck Him to the heart with a kiss of betrayal, when He looked into the pitiless eyes of Satan, staring at him from another human face, He was alone.

That was Christ’s Gethsemane. Our Gethsemane, even though it will differ, is in some ways like it.

My friend Linda Caswell is director of All Things New, a ministry that shelters and redeems women who have been trafficked and prostituted. These women know The Alone, not as an event or passage, but as the whole of their lives. They have inhabited The Alone the way you and I inhabit our jobs, families and lives, because it has been their lives.

Most of these women have had very few positive contacts with people of faith. They avoid churches because the men who have bought them are also in the churches. Their only safety is in Jesus, but they do not understand that at first.

When Linda shows them the movie that Mel Gibson made, The Passion of the Christ, it inevitably breaks through the hard shell of their defenses. Women who do not understand the Gospels as anything but a lie told by lying liars who buy and sell them break down and sob uncontrollably when they see Jesus humiliated, beaten, tortured and disregarded.

This Jesus, the One who prayed “let this cup pass” in Gethsemane, they understand. And by the miracle of the grace of the cross, they believe that this Jesus understands them.

Their lives, which have been an unending Gethsemane, open to this Brother God who was beaten, tortured, humiliated and disregarded as they have been.

Because He understands. Because He does not disregard them. Because He is the only One who can go with them into The Alone of their personal Gethsemanes.

Jesus Christ suffered for us to redeem us from our sins, from the things we’ve done. He also suffered to redeem us from the things that have been done to us. In this cruel world, the things that are done to us can cut deeper and leave us less able to see the Divine than our sins.

We put people outside the bright circles of acceptability that we draw around ourselves and those we deem worthy. We cast them into the hell of unending Gethsemane where no one keeps vigil with them and no one cares that they are alone.

Only Jesus, Who has been there, can penetrate The Alone of our lives. He is the One, the only One, who can draw people back from the man-made abyss of life lived in The Alone where we cast so many of the people that He died to save.

It is important to remember this at all times, but especially today when we re-enact the Last Supper. Jesus was becoming Christ on this night when He gave us the Eucharist and the servant priesthood. He was teaching us how to love with a love that passes all human understanding and how to live the life of the Kingdom in this world. He was showing us that even in our Gethsemane, even in the deepest pit of The Alone, we are never alone, for He is always there.

And he will keep watch with us, not just for an hour, but for the whole of this life and into the one beyond.

 


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