Lent ends on Thursday afternoon and so we begin the Holy Week Triduum. Hopefully the process of Lent has softened our hearts and sharpened our spiritual senses, helping us to enter into the deepest mysteries of our faith. It would be wonderful if everyone could attend the liturgies associated with the days of the Triduum, but for those who cannot, praying with the Scriptures is also a good way to enter in. During these three days we become the companions of Jesus and the apostles, recalling the time in which He suffered and died for the sins of the world, offering salvation through the greatest act of love ever accomplished. We are given an opportunity to enter into God’s immense love poured out; it is a time to participate in that love and to come to know Love more intimately than ever. It is an invitation to enter into the comforting truth of the hymn so often sung during the Triduum, Ubi Caritas: “Where charity and love are, God is there.”*
(This entry will be different than my ‘usual style.’ My suggestion is to read and reflect using each section for the particular day of the Triduum, but you can reflect upon this as a whole, too.)
Holy Thursday: The Holy Thursday liturgy is only celebrated at night because it is a commemoration of everything Jesus did and taught at the Last Supper when He and the apostles celebrated the Passover meal together for the final time. It is important for many reasons: it celebrates the institution of the Eucharist as an everlasting gift such that Jesus is totally present Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the consecrated bread and wine until He comes again, but it also is the celebration of the institution of the priesthood. It is a joyous feast, a time for celebration and gratitude for these great gifts.
Entering into Holy Thursday means that we are to reflect upon what Jesus did that night. In the midst of the Passover meal, Jesus took off his outer garment and began to wash the feet of the apostles. It seemed like a strange act since this was the work of a servant, but He explained that this is what His followers are meant to do: we are to offer humble service throughout our lives. At this liturgy we observe the priest repeating this act, kissing the feet of each of the twelve who represent the faith community, just as Jesus must have done. This is a moving sight, because it is clearly a sign of the love of God present through the priest whose ordination is linked to the actions of Jesus. Jesus’ told the apostles that to lead means to serve by extending this love to others. As followers of Christ we are all called to respect others with similar reverence and tenderness. It is quite a challenge, but perhaps we can reflect upon the fact that Jesus washed the feet of Judas also, knowing full well what he was about to do.
The consecration and reception of the Eucharist follows Jesus’ act of love and humility. As the joy of this gift passes into the mysterious darkness of night, you can prayerfully accompany Jesus to the Garden where He will pray alone. At the end of the Holy Thursday Mass this is re-enacted through a procession in which the faithful follow the priest who carries the ciborium containing the Eucharist (reserved for the following day) from the tabernacle where it usually resides within the church to a place outside the worship space. Those not able to attend the liturgy can take the Scripture readings and pray with them by reading John 13:1-15 to reflect upon the washing of the apostles’ feet and then Luke 22:15-20 to reflect upon the institution of the Eucharist. No matter where we are, we can all enter into the process of the Triduum, allowing the love of Jesus to move our hearts. Thus, Holy Thursday is an invitation to enter into Love and to appreciate its depths more than ever before so that we might be moved to action, gratitude, and holiness. Perhaps we can learn to see His presence in those who feet we are called to wash. God is there.
Good Friday: This second day of the Triduum is a day of starkness. The worship space has been stripped bare as a symbol of Jesus’ suffering which was to such an extreme that it boggles the mind and confounds the heart as to the depth of such a love. On this day we fast so that our hearts and minds are continually refocused upon what Jesus experienced and to feel more keenly the enormous emptiness His death brings. The liturgy for Good Friday is not a Mass: there is no consecration of Eucharist anywhere in the world until Easter. The central reading is the Gospel in which we walk step by awful step with Jesus through His pain and suffering. In the Garden we witness His sorrow which is so great that He sweats blood. Jesus willingly takes on all the sins of the world including our personal sins, brokenness, and all the betrayals, murders, brutalization, terroristic acts, crimes of any sort perpetuated upon anyone; all injustice, prejudice, marginalization, homelessness, fear, wounds, loneliness and abandonment, and anything else done at any point in time, (including future sin.) On top of that is His personal experience of betrayal and abandonment by His friends, all of whom participated in some way in handing Him over, denying Him, and abandoning Him to the mob. Add to that the physical torture He knew He would endure and the pain of knowing His mother would witness all of it and thus suffer with Him. It is beyond all imagining.
Those who are unable to get to church in the middle of the afternoon can be with Jesus in His agony by taking the time to stop and pray in short moments throughout the day and also can spend time with the Gospel. (John 18:1-19:42) Either way, we should be thinking of Jesus and His Passion all day. In our reflection we might want to reach out and touch His face or give Him a cool cup of water. Perhaps it is right that we join in the frustration of His followers in the crowd in realizing we are helpless to do anything.
But lest we get caught up in all the intensity of this, let us call to mind that Jesus died so that we can live. Let us never lose hope because there is a purpose for this: while we experience sorrow for how we have contributed to the sin of the world, it is His unfathomable love and mercy which is the gift He is giving. Our mixed emotions can be the catalyst for our growth in holiness. It is not about our worthiness to receive such a gift, but rather it is about the greatness of His love. His love is, and should always remain, our focus. That love is the entire point is exemplified in the church’s heartfelt prayers which take place after we hear the difficult Passion narrative of the Gospel. At that time we pray not only for ourselves as a Church, but we pray for unity among Christians, for our non-Christian brothers and sisters, for the leadership of our elected officials, and for all those who are suffering as a result of the brokenness and ongoing sin of the world. We pray so that we might be moved to action in word and deed as true followers of Christ, that we open our hearts to our brothers and sisters anew. God is there.
Holy Saturday: This is perhaps the most misunderstood part of the Triduum. It is not yet Easter and therefore rejoicing would be premature. Often people think that once Good Friday is over we are simply waiting for Easter. While this is partly true, we also participate in the stillness of holding vigil, in mourning with the family and friends who took Jesus down from the cross and laid Him in the tomb. But after His death, Jesus was at work saving us, gone from the world but not yet in Heaven. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after He died, Jesus descended into the place of the dead and freed all those awaiting redemption. These souls were “seen by many,” arising to Heaven with Him. (Matthew 27:52-53). So while we are keeping vigil during our prayer, we can reflect upon Jesus as He was descending to the place of the dead and then returning to the earth where He was seen by Mary Magdalene prior to completing the process of resurrecting (See John 20:11-18, particularly verse 17 in which Jesus told her not to touch Him since He had not yet ascended to Heaven.) On Holy Saturday we are encouraged to have a sense of the mourning of the apostles and the emptiness of the world devoid of the presence of Jesus, though never without the hope of promises fulfilled.
The gift of Holy Saturday is that it helps us to enter into a deeper understanding of the power of Love which overcomes every obstacle, even death. Love will go to the gates of hell for us and prevails in the end. We might have a problem or suffering that feels impossible to overcome and is quite overwhelming. But Holy Saturday teaches us that Easter will come, even if we do not experience relief in this lifetime. Jesus did not say that we would be spared from suffering here on earth; rather, His promise is for the next life in which “every tear will be wiped away.” (Revelation 21:4). In waiting for the celebration of Easter, our longing for Jesus to return again at the end of the world is heightened. It should also remind us that our earthly life, and the time of longing to be with Him in Heaven, is not empty. We are called to work at building the Kingdom with Him, to rise to the challenge of loving our neighbor as ourselves, of loving the one who has hurt us and those who are suffering in any way, of loving through sharing our goods, of loving by being more selfless, and of bringing someone to Christ, introducing them to Love Himself. Let us always remember: where charity and love are, God is there.
May we enter more fully into the Triduum by immersing ourselves into the mysteries of each day! May we find a treasure-trove of grace as we face our deepest fears and our greatest joys during this prayerful time! May we allow our hearts to be prepared for the return of Jesus Christ at the end of time! And may we learn to reach out to our brothers and sisters on the journey, with love being the tie that binds us! May we meet at the Table on Holy Thursday, in the Garden on Good Friday, in our prayerful waiting on Holy Saturday, and in rejoicing at the empty tomb on Easter morning! Peace! Happy Easter!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The lyrics to Ubi Caritas can be found at the following link: https://www.thoughtco.com/ubi-caritas-lyrics-and-translation-723653
Note: Next post on April 9.
1. I took this photo in Matatmata, New Zealand. It seemed to speak of the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world."
2. This painting is one of the works of Duccio Di Buoninsegna, called Washing of the Feet. (1308-11) I chose it because you can see the confusion of the apostles as well as the misunderstanding of Peter who is indicating that Jesus can wash his head, too. It can be found at http://www.ducciodibuoninsegna.org/Washing-Of-The-Feet-1308-11.html.
3. This is one of my photos which is intended to give a sense of the starkness of the night in which Jesus was in the Garden praying in agony. I chose it because it is mysterious, but also I intentionally did not want Jesus depicted. I wanted to heighten the sense of how incomprehensible His suffering was.
4. This is a painting called The Agony in the Garden by Paul Gaugan, (1889). I chose this particular painting because of the posture of Jesus. He is bent over with the weight of sin. I have never seen Jesus depicted with red hair and that also captivated me. It seemed to be symbolic of the blood He would shed. It can be found at https://www.art.com/products/p14499242006-sa-i6742546/paul-gauguin-the-agony-in-the-garden-1889.htm.
5. This icon is called Weep Not for Me Mother, by William Hart McNichols. I chose to use it here because it captures the awful intimacy of the shared pain of Mary and Jesus, mother and Son. It can be found at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/weep-not-for-me-mother-260-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
6. This painting is called The Dead Appear in the Temple After Resurrection by James Tissot. (1886-94) It can be found at https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/4596.
7. This painting is called Nole Me Tangere, (Touch Me Not) painted by Fra Angelico. (1440-42) I chose it because it captures the moment when Mary Magdalene has recognized the Risen Jesus and attempts to hug Him, as only a dear friend would do when a loved one is near.
8. This is one of my photos taken in the gardens at Larnach Castle in Dunedin, New Zealand. I chose it because it "sings" of Easter joy.
During Lent we generally become more intentional in our spiritual lives, often referring to this process as surrendering our will and attempting to do better at conforming to what God desires for us. However, surrender is not a word that people in our culture find palatable because we think of it as a sort of ‘raising the white flag’ of defeat. In spiritual terms, surrender is not about defeat at all, but rather it is about victory. In an act of immense love Jesus surrendered to the will of the Father in Gethsemane, an act which led to His victory over sin and death. For us, surrender means we come to know more clearly that we need God who is ever the victorious one. Surrender also means that we are focused on the other (in this case, God) rather than on ourselves. Truly, surrender is not a giving away of power, but is a change of attentiveness, a choice to focus away from self to the other, and especially to God. Thus, spiritual surrender is not something we should fear, but rather it is something to which we aspire. It is a gift we give which helps our growth in holiness. Surrender begins, therefore, with a simple act: the act of listening with undivided attention. This listening means I have let go of self, that I refocus my attention, and that I am meeting you where you are, not where I want you to be. Listening is an act of love because I freely choose to be totally with you.
To surrender to God is part of the Lenten journey, and it requires that we trust God to have our best interests in mind even if we do not understand the process. This means that what we are attempting to achieve in our spiritual growth is to step aside and let God guide the way, something which He does not force upon us, but offers in love. It is the ultimate act of our love for Him that we affirmatively respond. To do this, we must listen to find out what it is that God is asking or telling us; if we do not learn to listen to Him we will have all sorts of false ideas about what we fear He might ask, instead of considering that He desires what will help us grow closer to Him. In short, He wants to love us into Paradise, that we would be with Him for eternity.
In an article in the February edition of Magnificat Jem Sullivan wrote an article about a painting which depicts a famous scene between St. Benedict and his twin sister St. Scholastica.* In recounting the story behind the painting, Sullivan reminded the reader that the Rule of St. Benedict begins with the word: “Listen!” When we listen to one another, we truly connect, and of course this includes connection with God. Listening is the most important part of discerning the will of God. If we only talk but never become quiet, if we do not focus on what He might be calling us to do, then there is no real discernment going on and there is less of a connection between our heart and His. As Sullivan concludes, “...listening is born of love.” The more we listen to God, the more we recognize the love He has for us which enables us in turn to share the Good News of that love with others. Love moves us outward in service to others, enabling us listen to their hearts, too.
To be clear, listening to God does not mean we are going to hear words spoken. While that is possible, it is exceedingly rare. What it does mean is that we are opening our hearts to God. Listening means attuning our senses to beauty, compassion, what comes to us as inspiration or alights in our imagination; it means being sensitive to words and deeds of goodness, and especially the presence of others; it means attentiveness to things happening around and within us, movements of gratitude, mercy, love, and action which arise in our hearts; in other words, anything which leads us closer to God is His voice. Therefore, listening entails a change from habitually focusing on ourselves, to surrendering self-centeredness in order to turn our focus to God.
The gospels for the third, fourth, and fifth Sundays in Lent are all about listening. (These are read at Masses when people who are coming into the Church at Easter are present). On the third Sunday, Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at a well. He is a Jew traveling through her country, yet He addresses her, something which shocks her completely. Only because He is truly listening does she continue to respond to Him. In fact, He listens so deeply that He is able to ascertain her truest desires which are for love, acceptance, healing from her sins, and ultimately to have eternal life. She is not a bad person although she is shunned for living with a man not her husband; rather, she is a woman who surrenders her defenses (shifts her focus) so that she might listen and then respond in honesty. It is her willingness to listen which enables her to hear what Jesus is offering. Her sincere response of joy and gratitude is so powerful that the entire town hears her and responds also.
On the fifth Sunday of Lent, Jesus restores Lazarus back to life. In this passage the two sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, separately approach Jesus and have encounters which are almost identical. Both women have learned how to listen deep within their hearts and therefore they trust Him. But we also see the great listening ability of Jesus: He not only hears their words, but also their pain at losing their beloved brother. He hears so acutely that He enters into their suffering and thus, He weeps. Most stunning is that Jesus speaks but three words, “Lazarus, come out!” and the dead man hears and obeys! Such is the power of listening and hearing: to those who listen it brings wholeness, healing, and new life even in the midst of death, and therefore they truly hear the word spoken by Jesus.
During these next weeks of Lent we are encouraged to listen even more attentively for the Word of God in our works of abstinence, service, and generosity as well as in our prayer. We need to continue working at shifting our focus from ourselves to the other. We are called to meet Jesus in each person, whether it is the person we are serving in a soup kitchen, the checkout person as we buy our groceries, a family member, or friend. We are called to listen with all of our senses, allowing our eyes to meet, acknowledging that we are aware of the presence of the other, giving them the dignity of a sincere connection. A smile with our acknowledgement might even change the course of someone’s day. Let’s go further: when we see someone, let us greet them as if it was Jesus. We can truly be with those whose presence we are in, giving our undivided attention to the one who speaks as an act of surrender in refocusing our attention from ourselves to them. And if someone asks what is going on within us, we will be ever more grateful when we recognize the gift they are offering.
One of the best gifts God offers is that He listens to us. He never stops listening, and in His wisdom He directs us to that which we really need. If we want to grow in holiness and also in love of God, surrendering as an act of refocusing will create the proper disposition needed. Only when we listen, will we hear Jesus tell us of His love. With continued effort, we can enter even more deeply into Lent to discover the graces we seek and to give Jesus the gift of love He longs for. If we listen, we will discover the path is already before us and that it is not always difficult to find. And it is wide enough to invite all those who are lost to come along as well, so they can learn to listen with the heart, too.
May we have the courage to ask the Lord to help us learn to listen more attentively! May we desire to refocus our attention away from ourselves and turn it toward others! May we learn how to greet Jesus in the people we encounter! May we learn how to discern that which leads us closer to God by listening to the movements within our own heart as well as that which is around us! May we spend time letting the Gospels speak to our heart! And may we be moved outward toward our brothers and sisters, ministering through the sincere listening that comes with love and mercy! Let us continue to meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* The quote is found in the February, 2018 issue of Magnificat and it is from Jem Sullivan, a writer on art, catechesis, and the New Evangelization. Note that the painting depicted here is not the same as the one in Magnificat.
Note: Next post March 26.
1. This is a photo which I took of Lyttleton Harbour just outside of Christchurch, New Zealand. There was a regatta of some sort going on, and in this photo you can see the boats just after the start of the race. I chose to use it here because the racers must focus on conditions and the positions of the markers, the other boaters, etc. They cannot afford to focus on themselves.
2. The second image is a painting of St. Scholastica and her twin brother, St. Benedict. It seemed perfect because she is clearly listening as he is speaking. (I suppose one could look at this as a bit of irony, too: he who wrote about listening could appear to be talking too much.)
3. This is a painting by Gustave Baumann called Point Lobos. (1946) I chose to use it here because it appears to be a place of solitude and beauty in which one could truly listen.
4. This is a work by the great painter of Scriptural scenes, Duccio Di Buoninsegna. It is The Woman at the Well. (1308-11) I chose to use it because I simply love his work. I especially love that he painted the well to look like a baptismal font rather than like a traditional well. "The water I shall give will become...a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14)
5. This is one of my photos, taken in the gardens at Larnach Castle in Dunedin, New Zealand. I chose to use it here because it exemplifies clarity: the blind man now sees spiritually with a depth he did not have before. He could now recognize Jesus as the Son of God. Just as one has to look more closely to see the bee in this flower, we have to have a measure of courage to see and acknowledge to others what we have seen and heard.
6. This is The Raising of Lazarus by Giotto. (1306) I love this painting because there are so many witnesses to the miracle. Everyone is listening, and those who truly are aware of the presence of God within Jesus are kneeling in gratitude and humility.
7. This is called The Road Menders by Vincent van Gogh. (1889) I thought it worked well here because of the workers on the right side of the frame who must truly be aware of one another to repair the road correctly, but also I liked the woman on the left who seems to be paying close attention to them. Perhaps she is seeing Jesus among them?
8. This image was painted by Fr. William Hart McNichols and it is called Jesus Listen and Pray. I chose to use it here because it seemed to sum up what my post is about: during His life Jesus prayed and discerned the will of His Father, but He continually listens to us as well. You can find this image (and can order a copy in one of many mediums if you like) at http://frbillmcnichols-sacredimages.com/featured/jesus-listen-and-pray-251-william-hart-mcnichols.html.
Heart Speaks to Heart