This week, in an especially poignant way, I have been reflecting on what it was like for Jesus to have appeared among His friends and disciples in His resurrected body. In each account in the Gospels the common denominator is that they did not recognize Him right away and also that His greeting was "Peace" or "Do not be afraid." He was well aware that His appearance would be shocking to them given that they were very confused, and given that no one had ever resurrected before, and so the disciples would not know what that would look like. This week we hear the stories of Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene and then to two disciples on the road to Emmaus; His appearances to groups of the Apostles, sometimes with all of them present and sometimes with one or more not in attendance, are also recounted. In some of these appearances they are in Galilee and in others they are in Jerusalem. But in every one of them, Jesus seems to be different, and yet He is the same. He is the Lord of all, the Son of God who came and conquered death as He promised, and yet He is the same Jesus that His friends and family had always known. It must have been mind boggling to see Him and try to digest all of that at once.
According to the Gospel writers Jesus appeared many times and in many places. It was clear there were no ‘boundaries’ and that He could enter or leave a room through a wall or door. Yet in a number of the accounts He lets his friends touch Him or He eats with them. It is clear that the Risen Jesus is not an apparition. He has form, yet His form seems to have different properties than ours. Consistently His closest friends did not recognize Him when Jesus first became present to them. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were with Him all day before they recognized Him, and that was only after Jesus blessed and broke the bread; once the bread became the Eucharist, His Body, Jesus disappeared from their sight. (Actually He was indeed still present in the Bread, so they no longer needed to see Him in physical human form.) Even Mary Magdalene, one of His closest friends, was weeping over Him and asking the Risen One where they had put Jesus' body. She had no clue that it was He who stood before her until Jesus said her name.
What is most thought provoking to me about Jesus' appearances is the thought that one day we, too, will also resurrect. He promised us that He would return one day at the end of time as we know it. When His second coming occurs, we will transform into our resurrected bodies, no matter how long we will have been dead before that time or even if we have not passed through death yet. At present, when we die our bodies decay and only our souls go to Heaven, or Purgatory and then Heaven, or for some who rejected God, to Hell. It will only be on that last day that our bodies and souls will be reunited and we will have the same glorified body that Jesus has, the body that his disciples saw when He appeared to them.
Given what we know from the Gospels we know that when that day comes we, too, will be able to pass through doors or solid objects, and yet we will have solid form such as Jesus did, able to eat and drink. Our eating and drinking will not be for nourishment, but for enjoyment, since we will be perfected and lack for nothing. We will retain our wills, but because we will have been perfected we will no longer be capable of sin or weakness. We will be totally healed of that and of all else, as there is no pain or suffering in Heaven. We will look somewhat different, just as Jesus looked different, but yet we will be recognizable to our friends, family, and all those dear ones who will also be in Heaven. We will still be ourselves; that is, we will retain our personality and that which makes us truly who we are, individual and unique. We will simply look a bit different and we will be perfected, completely whole and holy.
The resurrection stories remind us that just as Jesus said to His disciples, we should not be afraid when He comes to us, even when we do not see Him in the flesh as they did. We are privileged to see Him in the breaking of bread no less than the two disciples who walked and talked with Him on the road to Emmaus. He tells us to be at peace in the same manner as He tells all His disciples. We should never be afraid in the presence of the One who loves us more than we can ever imagine. But what we can learn is to see Him all around us both in the breaking of the bread and in the love of friends, family, and quite often, strangers.
The appearance story I love the most is not in the Scriptures at all. The appearance to which I am referring is when Jesus appeared to His mother, Mary. I have no doubt this took place. I have always thought that it was far too intimate for any of the gospel writers to have dared to put it on paper. I imagine they assumed we would know that it happened and appropriately did not write about it. It is fitting that Jesus would have gone to Mary first, since she was His mother and knew Him more than anyone else could have. She saw Him draw His first and last breaths. She was with Him just about every step of the way and never wavered in her trust in what He was doing. She was the first disciple, truly even before He was born. Therefore I have always imagined their reunion to be one of the most sublimely beautiful and intimate of meetings that ever took place on this earth. But I also think that when you and I meet our departed loved ones we will have similar joy. We are just as assured of that as we are of seeing our Lord when the day comes for us.
Let us rejoice in the resurrection of Jesus and the promise of seeing Him one day as He truly is in the Kingdom of Heaven. Let us rejoice in the promise to us of new life to come. Truly there is nothing to fear and there is great rejoicing in this Easter season. And yes, it is a season and not a single day. Not only is it a liturgical season that goes on for seven weeks until Pentecost, but we need to remember we are an Easter people. Easter is a way of life, not an event on the calendar. At that first Easter Jesus redeemed us; we are different. In light of His resurrection we are no longer the same insofar as we have been baptized and are adopted sons and daughters of God. We are assured of salvation as long as we savor the gift and live as Easter people. So let us rejoice in this great gift which is the reality of who we are. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice in it!" (Psalm 118) That verse is true and should be our refrain every day as we realize over and over that we are an Easter people and have nothing to fear because we are never alone. We are deeply loved.
May we rejoice in the joy of the Easter season! May we truly believe that He is Risen, seeing His presence around us in a new way! May we rejoice in the great gift of His Body and Blood offered for us each and every day at Mass! May we hold fast to the consolation that we will one day be reunited in Heaven with those who have gone before us! May we accept the gift of peace and the courage He brings to us! And may we grow into the Easter people He has called us to be, confident in the promises of our own future resurrection! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Risen Lord! Peace! Alleluia!
*This entry is dedicated to my father who entered into his Easter joy earlier this week and who now knows much more about any of this than I possibly could.
©Michele L. Catanese
The icons are by Fr. William Hart McNichols. The first is The Risen Christ and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/jesus-gallery/product/33-the-risen-christ
The second is The Risen Christ Appears to His Mother and it can be found at http://www.standreirublevicons.com/gallery-views/mother-of-god-gallery/product/56-the-risen-christ-appears-to-his-mother
He Who Once Was Dead Now Lives
He is Risen! He who once was dead now lives! The tomb once filled with His precious body is now empty. He is not there! Rather, He is risen! The angels have announced it: He is not here. He is Risen!
Since Friday the tomb has been filled with His body, battered and bruised. We were all in vigil with Him as the tomb was filled and our world was empty of His presence. But now it is reversed. The tomb is empty and the world is full of His resurrected presence. The silence of the night has been turned into morning, filled with a chorus of birds singing His resurrection along with the angels and saints in Heaven. The glorious day has arrived just as He said it would. He is Risen!
The empty tomb is not where we stay. Instead we head to Galilee as Jesus instructed and as Pope Francis has reminded us (in His Easter Vigil homily).* And as we go we sing our Alleluias with our words and with our deeds. We raise our hands and our hearts in praise and adoration! We sing out in Easter joy: He is Risen! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let us meet in Galilee with the apostles and holy ones in Easter joy! Peace! Alleluia!
©Michele L. Catanese
The artwork is the Resurrection Panel from the Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grünewald, (1470-1528) a favorite of mine. You can find it at http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/grunewald_matthias.html
*For the text of Pope Francis' homily go to http://saltandlighttv.org/blog/lent-easter/pope-francis-homily-at-the-easter-vigil
There is an incredible poverty in suffering. When one is carrying a cross that is really all one has. Jesus was stripped of everything in the process of taking up His cross for us. He was stripped of His will, His friends, His family, His clothes, His dignity, and His life. He chose it, allowed everything that happened, but in doing it He chose the poverty of suffering and dying. The poverty was so complete He even had to give up carrying His own cross, needing Simon of Cyrene to complete the task. All He could do is embrace the pain and suffer on the Cross.
There is an incredible poverty for those of us who mourn as we watch Him go to His death...for us. In mourning, we are powerless to do anything at all to help the dying One. We have nothing to offer...except ourselves. We cannot take away the pain; we cannot offer anything at all to ease the journey He is on. All we have to offer is being there with Him.
It feels to us like it is not enough that we just be there, and yet it is the greatest gift we can give. Our poverty is that we know the gift we offer is flawed, broken, and weak. But it is all we have to offer. Yet we still feel the emptiness of our own inability to offer anything at all, even though we know that all we have is what we are attempting to give. In truth, our poverty IS our gift. And we need to be at peace with that gift because it is the only gift He really desires.
On this Good Friday as we accompany Jesus on the Way of the Cross, let us not be desirous of being Simon of Cyrene who at least had something he seemed to be able to offer. That was his gift, not ours. Let us not be desirous of being John the beloved disciple, or Mary the mother of Jesus, or Mary Magdalene, all of whom wept at the foot of the cross. Their gifts were theirs, and not ours. Let us simply be ourselves with our own gift of poverty and our own gift of ourselves. That is what Jesus desires when He says; "I thirst." And only we can slake that thirst by giving ourselves to Him, at the foot of the cross, beyond words, beyond thoughts, but simply there.
May we have the grace to give the gift of our poverty to Jesus! May we have the courage to give the gift of our presence at His cross! Let us meet at the foot of the cross and keep vigil at the tomb. Shalom!
©Michele L. Catanese
The drawing is by Fr. William Hart McNichols from a book called The Fifteen Mysteries by M. Basil Pennington.
Awake, O Sleeper!
Some people love to take naps. I have heard that a 10 to 15 minute "power nap" can really recharge a person's energy and lead to greater creativity. Unfortunately, I am not one of those people. If I try to take a nap in the middle of the day I will wake up groggier than I started. My blood pressure is a bit on the low side, so napping is not very helpful to me. While many struggle to get enough sleep and find napping to be beneficial, I suppose I am not alone in having difficulty with naps. Sleep is restorative and researchers say that it is important to health to get enough of it. Many struggle to get the recommended 7 to 8 hours and can therefore attest to the benefits of the sleep they often find elusive. Yet in today's reading of the Passion narrative sleep seems to be portrayed in a dim light (no pun intended) for the men who are with Jesus.
At the beginning of the Palm Sunday liturgy is a reading of Jesus entering Jerusalem from Matthew's Gospel. We might notice that there is a tremendous amount of energy being expended by many people as He rides in on a donkey. It is almost like an outdoor street party: Jesus rides in to cries of "Hosanna" as people spread their cloaks on the ground and wave palm branches. There is a flurry of activity among His apostles, some of whom have gone to find the upper room and have it prepared according to His instructions. The other apostles are accompanying Him in this throng of people who seem to be "crazy" about Jesus. However, the scene shifts dramatically when we hear the Gospel reading of the entire Passion narrative, again according to Matthew. Now the scene is of the apostles at dinner with Jesus who is offering them His Body and Blood, in what seems like a long Passover meal. Late in the evening they follow Him out to the Garden of Gethsemane. As Jesus goes off to pray, taking three of His closest friends nearer to where He is, they seem to have trouble staying awake. After all of the activity of such a chaotic day and a confusing dinner, no wonder they were sleepy!
In the narrative we see that Jesus went apart to pray three times, and at the end of each very agonizing period of prayer He returns to find His friends asleep. Here He is, truly in agony over the path He is about to travel which will include every manner of suffering possible including the betrayal of all His friends, and they are asleep. How disappointing! Actually, I do not think He was disappointed in them at all. I think He was frightened and lonely as anyone who was facing what He was to face would have been. He is, after all, fully human. But He, more than any other person, would have truly understood their sleepiness because He is also fully God. He is mercy and compassion, and He is Love.
However, what struck me this year was that their sleep had a much deeper meaning than just an inability to keep their eyes open. Yes, they were tired and overwhelmed. They had no real idea of what He was talking about at the Last Supper. They were trying to wrap their brains around His talk of giving His Body and Blood for all of us, and of ‘not drinking wine until they were in the Kingdom of His Father.' They were upset about talk of betrayal and of denial. Their heads must have been spinning as the day began with hosannas and ended with talk of death.
But I also realized that sometimes when things are too much for us, we retreat to sleep as an escape from the weight of our lives. Often we will say, (as a figure of speech), that we feel like pulling the covers over our heads and staying there so as to avoid whatever our troubles may be. Sleep can be an escape, but reality always follows no matter how much we try to put it off. The apostles may have been unconsciously fleeing the reality which they were struggling to understand, and hence they closed their eyes to it for a while. But then they had to arise when Judas and the soldiers came to arrest Jesus. And in the next few minutes of chaos, they were so groggy they went on "auto-pilot", fleeing without really thinking of what He had said earlier. It was as if they awoke to a nightmare worse than they could have imagined.
Sleep can also refer to a fog we are in, such as when we say we were "sleepwalking"
through something. We function, but at a minimal level for whatever reason. The apostles were as if in a fog. Their minds could not comprehend what was going on when the scene in the garden was unfolding. They could only think of survival, and so they ran. They were asleep to the reality of what Jesus had foretold, of the realities of all that He had said would happen, especially that He would die and then rise. They simply reverted to instinct. Even Peter, who tried to follow along to see what was happening, could not think clearly and therefore denied Jesus three times. It was not until that cock crowed that he remembered and was awakened from his sleep. That is why he wept bitterly: he awoke to the truth.
We cannot judge the apostles harshly. We would have done what they did; we are all only human. Their sleep is a good lesson for us. We, too, have been asleep at times, and like them, we have to wrap our minds around the reality that Jesus died and rose for us. He suffered terribly so that we might have life to the full. But unlike the apostles, we do know that Jesus rose and we have the advantage of the entire New Testament and of many years of teaching about our faith. However, we still are asleep to the reality of it at times. We need the reminder every year given to us through the season of Lent that we can do better. This is why we repent, give alms, pray more, and go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. We do it to wake from our sleep and to open our minds and hearts to the reality of the gift we have been given.
We struggle no less than the apostles, even knowing how the story turned out. (You will notice I am not saying "how the story ended" because His resurrection was a new beginning and not an ending.) We are human, and hence are weak and broken, but we are continually offered new life, healing, and wholeness through the graces of the Holy Spirit who became our new Advocate upon the death of Jesus. But the truly Good News is that each year when we embark upon Holy Week and hear the story of the apostles in the garden who could not stay awake with Jesus, we know that He will forgive us and in His mercy and compassion will lead us to new life. He will never stop offering Himself for us. We can use this opportunity to truly walk with Him on the way to the cross so that we can rise with Him at Easter as well.
Let us not be asleep this year. Let us beg Him to help us to stay awake to our own sinfulness and the areas in which we need healing and strength. Let us ask Him to lift the fog of doubt or lack of faith, renewing the graces of our own Baptism and the reception of the gift of Eucharist which He left for us at the Last Supper. Let us not try to escape the suffering of the Passion, because if we do, then we are inadvertently trying to escape the triumph of the Cross, which culminated in the Resurrection. Let us walk with Him and be present to Him in His loneliness and suffering, knowing that when we are lonely and suffering He will never stop being present to us. Let us not be tempted to nap in the middle of it, but to have new awareness of the magnitude of the gift He gave us and therefore the overwhelming depth of His love and mercy which flowed from His side and His hands and feet washing us clean and giving us life.
May we enter into the mysteries of Holy Week with our eyes open and our minds clear! May we have the grace to walk with Jesus through each moment of His journey to the Cross! May we be freed of that which keeps us asleep and therefore which keeps us bound to our weaknesses! May we be near to Him when He needs us most, so that we may be aware of His nearness to us when we are most in need as well! May we come to understand more deeply the gifts Jesus gave us in His Body and Blood being given during His Passion! And may we have the courage to become more awake and alive in our faith, accepting the reality of the Cross so we can accept the gift of His rising at Easter! May we continue to meet in the Heart of our Lord who loves us so much that He gave everything He had to give us life! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The first painting is The Entry Into Jerusalem by Giotto. It can be found at http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/giotto/the-entry-into-jerusalem
The second painting is The Agony in the Garden by Andrea Mantegna (1430-1506). It can be found at http://www.katapi.org.uk/Art/Gethsemane.htm
The third is La Sangre de Christo, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/44-la-sangre-de-christo
De-cluttering for new life
I have never liked clutter. Whenever my mother wanted a desk cleaned out, a closet cleaned, or some cabinets reorganized, I was the one to call. She would tease me and say that I had no sentimentality when it came to getting rid of "stuff" because I would easily put things in the 'to be donated' box or the trash without blinking twice. Actually she was pretty much correct in her assessment of my 'talent' for letting go of things which were no longer needed or that were simply clutter. Even now I have this habit of going through my desk drawers and file cabinets about every 6 months to throw out papers which have no value or use. When I get in one of those moods, look out; nothing is ‘safe’ in the area upon which I have set my sight! But afterward it is as if my house is sighing with relief because there is that much less junk inside weighing it down.
All of the readings of the Sunday liturgy in this fifth week of Lent were about opening the windows of our hearts so that we can let in new life. The first reading from Ezekiel was the promise from God that He would ‘open their graves and have them rise from them’ (Ezek. 37) referring to the restoration of the land of Israel to His people who had been in bitter exile. His promise was to put a new spirit within them so that they would have a breath of new life within their hearts and within their community. After all they had done to embrace the death of sin God was still offering mercy by forgiving them and restoring them to new life. In the second reading we heard St. Paul remind us that we are in the spirit if we belong to Christ. He said that the One who raised Christ from the dead will also give us the new life of resurrection, echoing the words of Jesus in the gospel: "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me will never die."
The culminating story of our Lenten journey so far is the gospel story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead. (John 11) It is the high point of all the miracles performed by Jesus in the gospels. For John this is the event that explains who Jesus truly is and the nature of why He had come into the world: He came so that we might live. Jesus came to offer us a way out of the darkness of death into the new life of being a true child of God. Therefore during Lent we are reminded of this so that we can continue to shake the dust out and remove the clutter from our hearts, a process we began anew at the start of Lent. We are moving toward Holy Week with the joyful hope of the resurrection to come.
Unlike Jesus' disciples, we do know that the resurrection will come, but that does not mean we need this journey from death to new life any less than they did. That which is dead within us needs to be restored to life. The messiness of daily living has accumulated within our hearts once again, so we go through this process every year with the knowledge that this really is not about a simple airing out, but it is about the new life that we are being continually offered by God, especially when we come to the end of our lives, in anticipation of Jesus’ second coming. It is about growing in holiness so that we are ready when that day comes.
In the gospel story we see that Jesus delayed in going to his friend Lazarus on purpose. He explained to His disciples that He chose to do that so that He could glorify the Father. Usually what strikes me is that the delay is about letting Lazarus lie in the tomb so that there is no doubt that the man was truly dead, thus showing that Jesus truly raised him, showing the power of God in Jesus. But this year what struck me was that Jesus did this for the Father more so than for Himself or even for Lazarus! It was directed at giving the glory to His Father, the One who was well pleased with Jesus, 9as we hear in the other gospels) on the day of His baptism. The connection with baptism here is obvious because of the path from death to life that happens with immersion into the water and rising up from it. But I also see the connection with Jesus wanting it to be about the Father and not about Himself. Jesus surely could have had all the glory He wanted, but instead He does all He can to glorify the Father, as if He is culminating His work so that we can see just what God will do for us through baptism.
In two weeks the catechumens coming into the Body of Christ will receive baptism. They will move from death to new life. I think that is why the final week before Holy Week is when we hear this gospel. It is all about baptism and the cleansing of the filth of sin, the clutter in our hearts and souls, and the rising to new life in order to glorify God. It glorifies Him when we are made more whole, when we are sanctified, and especially because we become His in a new way. He is at the baptismal pool in every Church and as each one is coming out of the water, it is as if He is saying: "He/She is mine!" For those of us who are already baptized and are renewing our promises He is saying: "You are truly mine and I have fully empowered you for the life to which I have called you!" He wants us to come home to Him when the time comes, so He is giving us all He can so that like the people of ancient Israel in the reading from Ezekiel, we will be home with Him as His people in Heaven forever.
The story of the raising of Lazarus is filled with much we can learn from. There are the statements of Lazarus' two sisters who say that they know Jesus has the power to raise Lazarus on the last day, displaying their deep faith in Jesus. We see Jesus weep over the death of His beloved friend, which indicates that He suffers when we suffer. We see the amazement of the crowds when Jesus cries out, full-voiced: "Lazarus come out!" But we must not forget what He said just prior to that cry: "Father, I thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that you sent me." Jesus is glorifying God and He is offering new life to the entire crowd, not only to Lazarus. As I said earlier, he delayed in His arrival for a reason. It seems to me that Jesus wanted to attract a crowd so that He could offer new life to all of them, and hence to all of us, for the sake of His Father.
Let us accept the offer of new life that Jesus is making to all of us once again. It is not too late to enter into the cave in order to sweep out the dust, the clutter, the unnecessary, and that which weighs us down. We need to enter in if we want to come out healed. If we want new life, we have to acknowledge that sin mires us in death and then allow Him to heal it. Each time we walk the journey of Lent with Him we come out with a little more wholeness. It means we need to respond when He calls us out of the dark cave. Some people may prefer the dark, because they are afraid to do the work or are afraid the light will reveal too much. When Lazarus came out of the tomb, the light revealed that while he had new life, he still needed help getting unbound from the burial clothes. So too, will we need continued help along the journey. Baptism does not end the process of us falling into sin, but it does empower us with the tools to combat sin's lure. That is why we need to clean out the clutter over and over. Like Lazarus we see that in this life it is a process and it is not over until we are perfected by God in Heaven. Let us respond to His call to come out, knowing that He will continually help us to grow in holiness, offering us mercy, forgiveness, and new life until the day comes when we are with Him forever.
May we persevere through this last part of Lent, trusting in the promise of new life! May we be courageous enough to enter into the cave in order to see what needs to be cleansed and removed! May we respond to Jesus' call to come out so we can enter into the light of His love more directly! And may we accept the gift of new life He offers so that we, too, may glorify the Father by our lives! Let us continue to meet in the Heart of the Lord who is the Resurrection and the Life! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
The photo is one of mine taken in New Mexico. The painting is The Raising of Lazarus by Giotto and can be found at http://www.zeno.org/Kunstwerke/B/Giotto+di+Bondone%3A+Kirche+San+Francesco+in+Assisi%3A+Die+Auferweckung+des+Lazarus
The icon is called Christ Immanuel Flowering Cross by Fr. William Hart McNichols. It can be found at http://www.fatherbill.org/all-categories/product/35-christ-emmanuel-flowering-cross. I chose it because the flowering reminded me of the new life of resurrection offered by Jesus. It is new life coming from death which is what He offers us all.
Heart Speaks to Heart