Saturday, July 10, 2021
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Pope Francis started the Year of St. Joseph with an apostolic letter, titled Patris Corde, “with a Father’s heart.” The dedication commemorates the 150th anniversary of Saint Joseph as patron of the universal Church. Patris Corde celebrates the multiple roles and titles of this holy man who was present for key events in the Gospels. He was a just man who had the courage to become the legal father of Jesus and face the dangers posed to the Holy Family. Among the titles previous Popes bestowed upon St. Joseph are Patron of the Catholic Church, Patron of Workers, and the Patron Saint of a Happy Death. He is both the Guardian of the Redeemer and Guardian of the Church.
The Pope describes seven aspects of St. Joseph’s role as a father: beloved, tender and loving, obedient, accepting, creatively courageous, working, and hidden in shadows. In the letter, each characteristic is movingly described. I was especially inspired by his obedience in the face of great obstacles, his hidden life, and his creative courage, particularly how he heard God through dreams.
Another aspect of St. Joseph the apostolic letter describes is his obedience. He heard and followed God’s will, at great cost to himself. Responding to God’s call led him on travels that uprooted his family and brought him into dangerous situations. I’ve experienced the costs of obedience myself, as I yield to the needs of society and my community. Seeing how the sacrifices I’ve made have contributed to the welfare of others makes it more than worth it.
His was a daily presence, discrete and unnoticed. In fact, he is a reminder that those who live a hidden life can play an important role in salvation history. In this time of pandemic, we’ve seen how important these individuals are: grocery store clerks, bus drivers, and delivery workers. I’ve experienced this personally. During quarantine and lockdown, the employees at the central convent supported us in ways that can only be described as essential. They provided everything we needed so we could be safe. I’m beyond grateful for everything they’ve done for us!
In the section about St. Joseph’s creative courage, Pope Francis also describes how he responded in his current situation, using his full humanity to fulfill God’s will. One way he experienced God was through his dreams. Twice in the Gospels, St. Joseph hears God’s message while asleep, and takes action when waking. I’ve never been one to find much meaning in what happens during my REM sleep; I don’t often look into my dreams for symbolic import. But I find myself resonating with Joseph the Dreamer in another way. He was open to how God spoke to him. When God revealed His will in dreams, St. Joseph was ready to respond. This challenges me. Am I as willing to hear God’s message wherever it may be coming from? Or do I let my expectations and ideas about God determine how I experience His presence? I believe that God reaches out to us in our humanity in so many ways. I certainly don’t want to miss how He comes into my daily life.
St. Joseph continues to inspire me as I journey. This apostolic letter has helped me to find new dimensions to his spiritual guidance.
Saturday, April 3, 2021
Holy Saturday may be my favorite day of the Triduum. The Three Days Catholics spend reflecting upon Jesus' betrayal, suffering, death, and Resurrection includes powerful liturgies with meaningful symbols and inspiring words. But immediately following the drama of Holy Thursday and Good Friday, there's silence. Jesus is dead and all His promises to rise on the third day seem foolish, even to his closest apostles. There's no liturgy to mark this day. The Church, for the most part, is still. We wait outside the tomb.
There is a devotion, though, that expresses the heavy quiet of Holy Saturday. It isn't assigned to that day specifically, but many parishes, including my own, practice it then. At the Tenebrae service, a candelabra or series of candles is lit, the only light in a dark room. A reader proclaims Scripture that recall the Suffering Servant and loving sacrifice. After each reading, one of the candles is extinguished. Soon they are all blown out, and participants leave quietly. In it's simple, subtle way, it captures the spirit of Holy Saturday: There's so much loss. What's left for us?
Its a heavy stillness that we don't often sit with. There are a number of reasons for that, some very practical. The Easter meal doesn't cook itself and the Church needs to be decorated. Maybe there just isn't time. And we know He rises from the dead! At this point in history, it's a foregone conclusion. But when Jesus triumphed over death, it was a miracle that only God could pull off. It was a huge plot twist that amazed and surprised the most devout believers. It brought a level of hope and joy into the world that changed everything! That victory over sin and death meant so much more to people who, just the day before, probably thought it was game over. Many, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, had given up hope.
Holy Saturday is part of the roller coaster ride that is the Triduum, because to rise with Christ we must experience His death. So I invite you to linger outside the tomb. Stay with the horror and pain of the last two days. When the sun rises, it'll be that much more beautiful.
Because this stillness is heavy with potential energy. This scientific principle has much to say about how Holy Saturday becomes Easter Sunday. It might be what's at the heart of our activity on Holy Saturday, the impetus for action. The tension of the waiting becomes motion when Jesus rises, taking us with Him. As it says in an ancient homily about Holy Saturday: "Something strange is happening-- there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles in fear."
Salvation is not just for the living. We often think that believers who walk the earth-- you and me-- can be saved. But Jesus also raised up all who have fallen asleep! Before the Resurrection, there was no heaven or hell, because death was the end. But when Jesus rose, He opened the gates of heaven for all. The ancient homily goes on to describe how Adam and Eve get to go first, promised that "The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity."
I wish you all the blessings of joy this Easter. He is Risen. Alleluia!
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Usually I spend Lent with an agenda: practices, assignments, schedules. I set these for myself so I can experience all Lent has to offer. I take it up a notch for the Triduum. They are our High Holy Days, the heart of the Paschal Mystery, and the reason we celebrate Easter! So each year I have a plan and I’m all-in. I give up things and spend more time in silence and prayer; it’s a disciplined time. And each year I go into the Triduum with this mindset, only to be reminded that my efforts aren’t what matters. As the liturgies, services, and traditions begin, I quickly realize anew that I only need to fully participate in them to receive the graces I need. God takes care of me when I let go of control.
This year, Lent has been different. A part of me feels like it’s been Lent for a long time, that I’ve been making sacrifices and practicing self-denial ever since the pandemic started. With some exceptions, I’ve been at my home convent since March 2020, and haven’t seen my family since August. Being cut off from them was a painful separation, and I got lonely. When Lent started, I didn’t want to set goals and rev up my spiritual practices, as I usually do. The gravitas of Ash Wednesday didn’t plant my feet on a firm Lenten path. Instead, I drifted into the liturgical season, feeling little personal connection, struggling to focus on my prayer. I eventually realized something: I don’t need to fashion a cross for myself out of discipline, behaviors, and practices. I’ve been carrying my cross for a long time, and how I did that was what mattered. It’s my way of experiencing the Passion.
After reflection, I had some clarity about the invitation for me this Lent. I embraced opportunities to get closer to God and others, to move from the heart more, caring for others and myself. I hoped to enter into the spirit of Lent in a more gentle way, which I instinctively knew I needed. I still benefitted from Lenten practices: Stations of the Cross, special liturgies, and community devotions. I also reflected on my personal experience of the cross. There were spiritual insights. I realized that my suffering is a doorway to greater understanding of that of others. Previously, when I compared my experience with that of others during this hard time, I would negate my struggles and difficulties.
As Palm Sunday approached, I recalled bittersweetly how powerful Holy Week usually is for me. I doubted that it would be that way for me this year. But I joined the procession, palm in hand, participated in the interactive Gospel reading, and sang “The King of Glory comes…” with my sisters, and left chapel inspired. I learned the same lesson I always do: the Church will bring me into the spirit of the Paschal Mystery. She will minister to my soul, if I let her. It isn’t what I do, or don’t do, that matters.
Now I feel like my feet are on the ground. I’m more focused, as I follow the light of the fire that has been kindled within me. I'm responding to another invitation, to be close to Jesus in His Paschal Mystery. I know that I’ll find both the Crucified and Risen Christ as I continue forward, both in the liturgy and in myself. The road may still be long, but having light to walk by makes a big difference.