Night has fallen. The terrible sin — that of killing the Lord — the epitome of all sin, is as good as accomplished. And Judas goes off . . .
Night has fallen indeed and yet, within the supper room there is a cry of exultation that is, in itself, a shattering of the night. ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.’
Jesus is to die, and he accepts this with all the passionate commitment of his surrendered heart — so deep, so unrestricted is his love for us. His is Love to the end, the uttermost love, which is total self-expenditure.
He knows that the love driving him on is not born of the human spirit; he knows that the Father himself is pouring into his poor human heart the immensity of his own self-expending love for men.
When he hangs on the cross, naked, emptied out, reduced to nothing, we shall have some idea of what this Man is, who he is, Son of eternal Love itself. Looking on him, seeing him truly for the first time, we shall know what sort of a God we have; for the first time human beings will know what God is really like.
He is a complete reversal of all merely human notions of God: he is Love that gives.
We wounded him by our sinning — we bruised him — yet all he bore became our healing.
~ A Meditation by Ruth Burrows, O.C.D.
Father the hour has come, glorify your Son. ~ John 17:1
Mary brought in a pound of every costly ointment. ~ John 12:3
Here we are shown a woman who was truly a disciple, one with a listening ear. She was a woman for whom Jesus really mattered, more than anything else in the world, more than herself.
She saw life’s sole task as listening to the Lord, hearing the word of God’s, which always includes putting it into practice. We do not ‘hear’ in the biblical sense unless the hearing is translated into action. Like Martha, Mary too must have had many things to do but still only one sole purpose — to listen to the Lord.
The result was a deep knowledge of Jesus, of the hidden springs of his being, so to speak. As Jesus could say ‘Holy Father the world has not known you, but I have known you’ — because he lived on the Father’s will, so this woman could say, ‘Holy Jesus, the world has not known you, but I have known you.’
Thus she, of all others it seems, divined that he was to die and that this dying was his Father’s will. She did not raise an outcry, or plan a campaign to stop him going to Jerusalem. She had entered into his deepest inner movements, no matter how dimly. She came with her symbolic gesture of pure devotion, identification, anointing him for his burial.
There is nothing else a disciple can do — no heroics, no glib professions that we are ready to die with him, but rather deep humility, deep gratitude for what he is doing. He has to do it in order to destroy our sin, our alienation from the Father. Then we shall be able to follow him.
Mary of Bethany is the symbol of Christian discipleship. If we do not come to this deep knowledge what does it mean? Yes, there is a Mary in us all, a devoted woman, but each of us has also to recognize a potential Judas, the worldling whose values are completely opposite to those of Jesus. Judas scorns the folly of the cross, the way of lowliness, humiliation, unimportance. He scorns the gesture of dumb, simple devotion. He is opposed to the mind of Christ who humbled himself, became nothing . . .
Judas too is capable of conversion. Ask our Lord with great earnestness to convert him wholly. Then there will be nothing in any of us but pure devotion — and the house will be filled with sweetness, refreshing the world.
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.