Women come to the tomb of Jesus to anoint his body, but he is not there. Instead, an angel tells them, “Do not be alarmed … he is not here, he has been raised.” But they flee in fear and bewilderment. ~ Mark 16:1-8
In Leonid Andreyev’s short story “Lazarus,” many people came to see the man who had been raised from the dead. After they have seen Lazarus, however, they wished that they had not. When they peered into his eyes, they peered into the cold, blackness of the grave. They saw nothing except hideous death grinning back at them mockingly. Raising Lazarus from the dead was not a resurrection to new life but the resuscitation of a corpse. Andreyev’s story answers the question posed to us in the Exultet at the Easter Vigil. “What good would life have been to us, had Christ not come as our Redeemer?” Nothing! If the darkness of death is the last and irrevocable word on life, then does life have any ultimate meaning? If this earth is a dead-end street, then life is a journey going nowhere.
A few months before he died, C. S. Lewis wrote the following in a letter to a friend: “Think of yourself as a seed patiently wintering in the earth; waiting to come up a flower in the Gardener’s good time, up into the real world, the real waking. I suppose that our whole present life, looked back on from there, will seem only a drowsy half-waking. We are here in the land of dreams. But cockcrow is coming. It is nearer now than when I began this letter” (An Anthology of C. S. Lewis: A Mind Awake, 187).
Saint Mark’s gospel ends with the story of the empty tomb (16:1-8). In this passage, the women encounter not the resurrected Christ but the empty shell of death that points beyond this world, an empty tomb that cannot hold captive the Author of Life. At the Easter Vigil, we stand in darkness, like the women who stood before the empty tomb. All we know at this point is that, “He is not here,” and must await the proclamation, “He is risen!”
“May this Saturday, a day of transition between the agony of Friday and the glory of the Resurrection, be a day of prayer and recollection near the lifeless body of Jesus; let us open wide our heart and purify it in His Blood, so that renewed in love and purity, it can vie with the “new sepulcher” in offering the beloved Master’s a place of peace and rest.”
When Dante and Virgil reach the deepest pit of hell, located at the center of the earth, they begin to climb upwards because gravity has been reversed. This image symbolizes many truths. One is that when a great reversal takes place in our lives, we are not immediately aware of it. Dante and Virgil are still groping in the darkness, but they have reversed their course and are heading toward the light.
Holy Saturday represents those times when a great change has taken place in our lives but we are not yet aware of it. For example, after a deflating blow, often it takes our egos days, months and even years to begin to experience the deep peace of humility that the shattering event has caused. At first we feel only the death throes of what we have called our life — numbness, anger, anxiety, depression. But once the waves have subsided, there emerges the indescribable serenity of the Real Self.
Holy Saturday, is like a seed that has broken open in the ground but has not yet broken through to the surface. The growth that lies in darkness has not yet reached the light of consciousness. And when it finally breaks through to the surface, the effect is often so gentle that we don’t even recognize its presence. This is true regarding various transformations in our lives. C.S. Lewis, for example, compares his experience of coming to believe in Jesus Christ as “when a man, after a long sleep, still lying motionless in bed, becomes aware that he is now awake” (Surprised by joy 237). Lewis had spent many years reading, thinking, inwardly wrestling with and outwardly debating the existence of God and the claims of Christianity, but when the gift of faith finally arrived, he was not engaged in thinking about God nor did he feel deep emotion. Suddenly, he was conscious that faith had been given to him. The moment of transformation comes not with a thunderclap but as a gentle rain falling upon our parched, wearied, and wounded souls — unannounced. Carl Jung once said that when healing arrives, only one word can express its epiphany — miraculous. One moment, something struggled with for years is torturing a person, and the next moment is gone. Psychiatrist Theodore I. Rubin relates how a great personal failure threw him into a pit of depression and self-hate. He could not turn off the self-hating machinery of his mind and spent sleepless hours of self-torturing ruminations. He sought professional help and struggled with his demons to no avail, until one night before going to sleep he decided with his heart, “Leave it all be… That night I slept peacefully. In the morning my depression was gone” (4-5). We experience such miraculous healings in many other ways. For example, one day we discover that certain people or situations that had imprisoned us for years no longer provoke us to fear or rage. Or we respond with joyous alacrity to requests that we had previously done so grudgingly. At such times, we don’t know how the change has taken place or even when it came about. All we know is that the whole inner atmosphere of our soul has been changed. As Saint Teresa once said, often we receive the fruits of our labors all at once.
Holy Saturday, writes Karl Rahner, “is a symbol of everyday life” (24). It expresses the growth that accrues hidden in the darkness of our souls and resurrects in God’s time.
God’s glory is not a radiant majesty elevated on a throne. God’s glory is a glory of love. And love has never radiated so gloriously as on the cross. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13). When God gives his life for us, he reveals his love in all its glory.
When we see the pierced hands and open side of Jesus, we can say: “We thank you for your glory.” The resurrected Lord obtains his glory from his wounds. In all eternity, we will praise his wounds as signs of his love for us.
At the cross of Jesus, you can learn where to seek your glory. “The glory that you have given me I have given them,” says Jesus (John 17:22). You can find your true identity—and reach the fullness of your life—only if you, like Jesus, spend yourself in love.
The glory that Jesus reveals in his wounds teaches you that suffering is not without meaning. By itself, suffering is something that passes. But the love you’ve suffered remains forever.
No human life is without suffering. The one who suffers in love shares in God’s glory.
“All my salvation and joy are in You, O Crucified Christ, and in whatever state I happen to be, I shall never take my eyes away from Your Cross.” ~ St. Angela of Foligno
“Having loved His own … He loved them unto the end” (John 13: 1-15), and in those last intimate hours spent in their midst, He wished to give them the greatest proof of His love. Those were hours of sweet intimacy, but also of most painful anguish. Judas had already set the price of the infamous sale; Peter was about to deny his Master; all of them within a short time would abandon Him. The institution of the Eucharist appeared then as the answer of Jesus to the treachery of men, as the greatest gift of His infinite love in return for the blackest ingratitude. The merciful God would pursue His rebellious creatures, not with threats, but with the most delicate devices of His immense charity. Jesus had already done and suffered so much for sinful man, but now, at the moment when human malice is about to sound the lowest depths of the abyss, He exhausts the resources of His love, and offers Himself to man, not only as the Redeemer, who will die for him on the Cross, but also as the food which will nourish him. He will feed man with His own Flesh and Blood; moreover, death might claim Him in a few hours, but the Eucharist will perpetuate His real, living presence until the end of time.
Today’s Mass is, in a very special way, the commemoration and the renewal of the Last Supper, in which we are all invited to participate. Let us enter the Church and gather close around the altar as if going into the Cenacle to gather around Jesus. Here we find, as did the Apostles at Jerusalem, the Master living in our midst, and He Himself, through the person of His minister, will renew once again the great miracle which changes bread and wine into His Body and Blood; He will say to us, “Take and eat … take and drink.”
It was Jesus Himself who made the arrangements for the Last Supper, choosing “a large room” (Luke 22:12), and bidding the Apostles to prepare it suitably. Our hearts, dilated and made spacious by love, must also be a “large” cenacle, where Jesus may come and worthily celebrate His Pasch.
During the Last Supper and coincident with His gift of the Sacrament of love, Jesus also left us His testament of love—the living, concrete testament of His admirable example of humility and charity in the washing of the Apostles’ feet, and His oral testament in the proclamation of His “new commandment.” The Gospel of today’s Mass (John 13:1-15) shows us Jesus, as the Master, washing the Apostles’ feet; it ends with His words: “I have given you an example, that as I have done, you also may do.” It is an urgent invitation to that fraternal charity which should be the fruit of union with Jesus, the fruit of our Eucharistic Communion. He mentioned it in precise words at the Last Supper: “A new commandment I give unto you: ‘that you love one another’ as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (ibid. 13,34).
If we cannot imitate the love of Jesus by giving our body as food to our brethren, we can imitate Him at least by giving them loving assistance, not only in agreeable circumstances, but also in difficult and disagreeable ones. By washing His disciples’ feet, the Master shows us how far we should humble ourselves to render a service to our neighbor, even were he most lowly and abject. The Master, who, by unceasing proofs of His love, advances to meet ungrateful men and even those who have betrayed Him, teaches us that our charity is far from His unless we repay evil with good, forgive everything, and even willing to repay with kindness those who have done us harm.
The Master, who gave His life for the salvation of His own, tells us that our love is incomplete if we cannot sacrifice ourselves generously for others.
O Jesus, grant that I may fathom the immensity of that love which led You to give us the Eucharist.
~ A Meditation by Fr. Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen, O.C.D.
Judas asks the Jewish authorities, “What are you willing to give me if I hand Jesus over to you?” Jesus predicts his betrayal at the Last Supper. ~ Matthew 26:14-25
In Frank Stockton’s fable “The lady, or the Tiger?” we see how savage possessive love and jealousy can be. The story is set in ancient times, in a country where a semi-barbaric king has devised an ingenious method for determining a man’s guilt or innocence. The king built an enormous amphitheater with a door on one side of the arena and two doors on the opposite. The accused would enter through the single door, walk to the other side, and stand before one of the other two doors. Behind one was a hungry tiger; behind the other a beautiful young maiden. The accused had to open one of the doors. If he chose the door that concealed the tiger, the beast would devour him instantly. If he opened the other, he received the beautiful maiden as his bride.
It so happened that the daughter of the king had fallen in love with one of her courtiers, and he had fallen in love with the princess. They professed their love to one another, but it proved ill fated, for the affair became known to the king. Since it was a crime for a commoner to fall in love with the princess, the man was condemned to the arena.
But the princess was clever. She found out by trickery which door concealed the lady and which concealed the tiger. And her lover knew that she would obtain this information. So when he entered the arena, he glanced over to catch some sign as to which door he should open. The princess did give a sign. She raised her right hand slowly and with a slight movement that only her lover could see, she motioned to the right. The youth smiled in relief and opened the door on the right.
Did the princess send her lover to certain death or to marital bliss? We might presume the latter, but should not judge too hastily. When the princess found out which door concealed the lady, she also discovered who the lady was — a damsel of the court, a maiden of peerless beauty, whom the princess had often seen throwing glances of admiration upon her lover. Also, the princess perceived or thought she had perceived that these glances were returned. She had often seen them talking together, which filled her with jealous rage. She hated the woman behind the door and could not bear the thought of this creature she loathed being wed to the man the princess loved. But could the princess send her lover to certain death? Now, what greeted the man when he opened the door on the right — the lady, or the tiger? Stockton ends the story with this question.
Jealousy is fierce and barbaric. It will destroy what it loves rather than surrender it to a hated foe. The factors of jealousy and hatred can help us to understand the betrayal of Judas. William Barclay writes, “Judas was the only non-Galilean in the apostolic band, the man who was different. Perhaps from the beginning he had the feeling that he was the odd man out. There may have been in him a certain frustrated ambition… He clearly held a very important position [among the apostles]. He was the treasurer of the company… There can be no doubt that Judas held a high place among the twelve — and yet he was not one of the intimate three — Peter, James, and John… It is not difficult to see him, even if he had a very high place among the twelve, slowly and unreasonably growing jealous and embittered because others had a still higher place. And it is not difficult to see that bitterness coming to obsess him, until in the end his love turned to hate and he betrayed Jesus” (76-77).
Jealousy can be frightening in its intensity, and triangular relationships can be the most corrosive and destructive forces in our lives. The deadly venom of jealousy can destroy those around us and eat us up inside. Shakespeare was right. The green-eyed monster “mock[s] the meat it feeds on” (Othello 3.3.166-67). It devoured Judas and can do the same to us.
At the Last Supper, Jesus predicts that he will be betrayed by one of his disciples.
~ John 13:21-33,36-38
At the Last Supper, Jesus knew who was about to betray him, so he dipped a morsel of bread in a dish and handed it to Judas, a gesture reserved for honored guests. In different ways, all of us have experienced this gesture from Jesus. Call to mind a time in your life that you were on the brink of betraying God but at the last moment decided against it. Now, try to recall what made you change your mind. Perhaps someone made a remark that made you realize the serious consequences that would follow in the wake of your choice. Or perhaps a passage of scripture, a line of poetry, or a memory from childhood that came unbidden to your mind provided the means of your salvation.
We find an example of one such morsel of divine grace given at a critical crossroads of life in Michael Goldberg’s book Namasake. Goldberg’s lifelong obsession was to track down and murder Klaus Barbie, the man personally responsible for the execution of Goldberg’s father during World War II. After years of pursuing the infamous Nazi war criminal, Goldberg finally cornered him. And as Goldberg was about to kill Barbie, an old Jewish proverb began to repeat itself in his mind. “Every murder is a suicide.” Goldberg let Barbie go. Upon reflection, Goldberg realized that his decision not to kill Barbie had been his salvation. It freed him from his lifelong obsession to kill a Nazi. He accomplished this goal, but not in the manner he had intended. He killed the Nazi that lived within his own heart.
All of us have stood at the precipice of a self-destructive choice. At such moments, God offers us morsels of divine grace, warning us not to take that fatal next step. Even if we ignore God’s invitation of grace, God still offers us salvation in the form of forgiveness.
Judas rejected Jesus’ invitation and eventually hanged himself. But we do not know his final fate, for the offer of God’s forgiveness was as present to Judas at the moment of his death as it was when Jesus handed him the morsel of bread at the Last Supper.
Mary, the sister of Lazarus, anoints the feet of Jesus but Judas protests that the oil could have been sold and the proceeds given to the poor. ~ John 12:1-11
Picture yourself on a beautiful summer evening, sitting around in lawn chairs in your backyard, talking with friends. As dusk descends you do not notice the fading light because your eyes adjust automatically to the gradual waning of the day. This illustrates how we can change gradually without noticing.
It seems almost inconceivable that Judas, an intimate of Jesus, could betray him for a pittance. But we are told that “[Judas] was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.” In short, stealing had become a habit with him. As the habit of stealing gradually grew, Judas’ conscience deadened as he rationalized why what he was doing “wasn’t so bad.”
In Paradise Lost, Satan slips into paradise during the evening twilight. “Twilight … the short arbiter twixt day and night” (IX, 50). Symbolically, Milton is representing the deadly process of arbitration that we enter into when we allow our conscience to make concessions. As the darkness of evil gradually and imperceptibly settles over our lives, we do not notice what is happening until it is too late.
Allegedly, when Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper he searched for models whose faces depicted his conceptions of each disciple. One Sunday, when da Vinci was attending Mass in the choir Cathedral, he spied a young man in the choir whose countenance captured da Vinci’s ideal image of Christ. The young man’s face embodied innocence, compassion, love, and tenderness.
Many years later, da Vinci had only one more disciple to paint — Judas. To find a man whose face would reflect deceit, avarice, a life of sin and despair, da Vinci scoured the prisons of Milan. There he found his subject, a man whose hardened features reflected a life of crime.
As the man was sitting in da Vinci’s studio to be painted, he began to cry. When the master asked him what was the matter, the poor wretch said, “Maestro, don’t you recognize me? I sat for you many years ago. I was the young man you painted to represent Jesus.
It is frightening that often we do not recognize the most drastic change in character that takes place within us until after it has been accomplished. Judas did not realize that whatever he stole from the common purse, he stole from himself. He robbed himself of his own humanity. The same is true with us. There is no such a thing as ‘petty’ theft, for no loss of soul is inconsequential.
Saint Mark’s rendition of the triumphant procession into Jerusalem emphasizes Jesus as a humble messiah (Mark 11:1-10).
The ashes placed upon our foreheads on Ash Wednesday do not have a single meaning. They can symbolize our mortality (“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return”) or our need for conversion (“Repent, and believe in the gospel”). The ashes may also represent illusionary dreams that have come to nothing, for they are derived from the palms that we carry in procession on Palm Sunday.
On the first Palm Sunday, the people lined the streets to cheer as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem as a conquering hero, their messiah, who they believed would free them from the tyranny of Rome. They were blind to the meaning of the prophetic sign of a king astride a beast of burden, a symbol of a humble, peaceful, monarch. In T.S. Elliot’s words, ” We had the experience but missed the meaning” (The Dry Salvages,” 39).
We too misconstrue the events of our lives because we interpret them through the lenses of our needs and desires. Like the people in today’s gospel, we can project our need for deliverance upon others. For example, the desire to possess the perfect mate who will eradicate all loneliness can transform a person in one’s imagination into a god or goddess. But all our gods and goddesses are mere mortals. And when they disappoint us, we cast them down from their thrones. Our cheers of “hosanna” quickly become jeers of “Crucify him. Crucify him.”
So many relationships collapse and fall asunder because they are built on sand. Aristotle believed that true friendship is rare, that is, a relationship based upon desiring the Good for the other. Unfortunately, he wrote, the majority of what people call “friendship” is not friendship at all, but a relationship of convenience or self-seeking in which a person is pursuing his own advantage. “That is why they fall in and out of friendship quickly, changing their attitude often within the same day.” (263).
How many times have we believed people to be our “friends” only to discover that we were being used? How often have we used people in the same way?
~ A Meditation by Fr. Marc Foley, O.C.D.
“O Jesus, I contemplate You in Your triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. Anticipating the crowd which would come to meet You. You mounted an ass and gave an admirable example of humility in the midst of the acclamations of the crowd who cut branches of trees and spread their garments along the way. While the people were singing hymns of praise. You were filled with pity and wept over Jerusalem. Rise now, my soul, handmaid of the Savior, join the procession of the daughters of Sion and go out to meet your King. Accompany the Lord of heaven and earth, seated on an ass; follow Him with olive and palm branches, with works of piety and with victorious virtues.” (cf. St. Bonaventure).
O Jesus, what bitter tears You shed over the city which refused to recognize You! And how many souls, like Jerusalem, go to perdition on account of their obstinate resistance to grace! For them I pray with all my strength. “My God, this is where Your power and mercy should be shown. Oh! what a lofty grace I ask for. O true God, when I conjure You to love those who do not love You, to answer those who do not call to You, to give health to those who take pleasure in remaining sick!… You say, O my Lord, that You have come to seek sinners. Here, Lord, are the real sinners. But, instead of seeing our blindness, O God, consider the precious Blood which Your Son shed for us. Let Your mercy shine out in the midst of such great malice. Do not forget, Lord, that we are Your creatures, and pour out on us Your goodness and mercy” (T.J. Exc, 8).
Even if we resist grace, O Jesus, You are still the Victor; Your triumph over the prince of darkness is accomplished, and humanity has been saved and redeemed by You. You are the Good Shepherd who knows and loves each one of His sheep and would lead them all to safety. Your loving heart is not satisfied with having merited salvation for the whole flock; it ardently desires each sheep to profit by this salvation… O Lord, give us then, this good will; enable us to accept Your gift, Your grace, and grant that Your Passion may not have been in vain.
~ Prayer by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magadalen, O.C.D.
Wishing all of you a very blessed Palm Sunday and Holy Week!
My Beloved, May I console Your heart? Sadness and weariness are so palpable in this encounter. Is it necessary that You go through all those moments of suffering and anguish for me? The anguish of Your precious heart, O Lord, breaks me. It’s happening all over again…
You are only loving and giving. How can this be happening? I don’t want to fall asleep my Jesus. I want to stay awake, to console Your precious heart, like the angel from heaven did in those dark days.
Would You allow me to be in Your presence now, Lord? I know You need to pray to your Father. For his strength and courage will be upon You. But Lord, I pray, allow me to remain with You now. In silence and in communion. Your tears are overflowing and my garden is wet from those precious tears… Your tears are cleansing and healing everything.
O Beloved Jesus, Thank You for loving me with such infinite and unconditional love. I can’t express in words how much gratitude I feel for You saving me.
Beloved, let us pray together. Let us stay in this silent union of love and trust, That all is in the Father’s heart.
I stay awake. Let us be together. Let us pray together, my Beloved.
In the Gospel of John we read how Mary of Bethany takes a whole bottle of expensive pure nard and pours it out over the feet of Jesus (Jn 12:1-8). This bottle contains a fortune, the costliest and very best that Mary has. When she has poured it out over Jesus’ feet, she dries them with her hair. What a waste! She uses no towel to dry his feet; she uses her hair, herself.
Since that time, there have always been people who feel drawn, yes forced to do as Mary. People, who in their innermost being know that they must give everything, not just what they have, but what they are. They must give their whole self. They must give it all at once. They don’t even ask what purpose it serves. But the whole Church, the whole world, is filled with the fragrance of their devotion.
There is no other incident in the gospel which so clearly expresses the uniqueness of the contemplative life. Those who enter such a life, whether in a monastery or in society, ask no questions about their talents and whether these will bear fruit, nor do they ask whether the contemplative life will develop their personality. All they think about is to give all their love to the Lord, spreading a fragrance everywhere.
~ A Meditation by Wilfrid Stinissen, O.C.D.
by Blessed John Henry Newman
Dear Jesus, help us to spread Your fragrance everywhere we go. Flood our souls with Your Spirit and Life. Penetrate and possess our whole being so utterly, that our lives may only be a radiance of Yours. Shine through us, and be so in us, that every soul we come in contact with may feel Your presence in our soul. Let them look up and see no longer us but only Jesus! Stay with us and then we shall begin to shine, as You shine; So to shine as to be a light to others; the light, O Jesus, will be all from You, none of it will be ours; it will be You shining on others through us.
Let us thus praise You in the way You love best, by shining on those around us.
Let us preach You by our words and by our example,
by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what we do,
the evident fullness of the love our hearts bear to You.