The Gospel that we read on Palm Sunday is the climax of Jesus’s ministry. To say that this is a difficult Gospel to digest would be a vast understatement. It’s tempting to keep our distance from the story, to avoid connecting with it. How can we allow this Passion to affect us more deeply? Maybe the best way to take it in is to be taken in by it, to try to accompany Christ as he is anointed and then betrayed; as he prays not to have to face this terror and at the same time, through his prayer, surrenders to it. If we bring our own experiences of rejection, terror, betrayal, or suffering to Christ as we try to accompany him in his, we can begin to see that even in the bleakest of circumstances, his love holds a power that will lead to new life, and a new beginning. This week, four parishioners share their reflections on the questions: What feelings do you experience as you contemplate the Passion story? When have you experienced rejection, terror, betrayal, or suffering?
Each year as we hear the Passion, I am struck by the congregation speaking the request for Pilate to crucify Jesus. As a child, I always felt uneasy speaking “Crucify Him!” aloud. As I knew how the story ended, I could not believe that people of the time would willingly want Jesus to be tortured and killed. As an adult, I can now understand what was happening in that crowd. The crowd, being riled by the powers of the time, acted as one, not because it was just, but because it was easy. In our modern day, I often fall into the same inclination. It is easy to stay quiet about our faith and what we know to be the truth. It is easy to acquiesce and go along with the crowd on the topic at hand because sometimes it feels that our society judges us or accepts us based on our willingness to go along with the crowd. As I intone “Crucify Him!” this Palm Sunday, I will acknowledge those times when I stayed silent to please the crowd, instead of speaking out. I pray this year’s Passion will begin to give me the voice to speak up for what is right and follow the example Christ has set for each of us.
When reading the Passion, I feel a great sense of fear as a Christian. My fear comes from how Peter denies Jesus. Without Jesus directly telling me when I am going to deny him, how do I know, as a Christian, I won't deny Jesus for my own protection like Peter unknowingly did? I have experienced betrayal quite often because when a friend lies to me, I feel that the person who lied has betrayed my trust. I believe trust is a hard thing to give out when so many people lie nowadays. But the way Jesus was able to trust his disciples and his people inspires me to trust as many people as possible.
As I contemplate Jesus’ Passion according to Luke (I chose this narrative in particular because it speaks to me of forgiveness--whether we need it or give it, we all long for it), two parts speak to me in particular. I feel the crowning of thorns to be exceptionally cruel and torturous. So much is hidden and unseen about it. Jesus’s crucifixion was so public and physically brutal that not much is left to the imagination. By the crowning of thorns, I wonder if Jesus suffered for me in a hidden and silent way--for the mental tortures I sometimes feel . . . sadness, loneliness, anxiety--basically the feeling that I’m unforgivable, that part of me I keep hidden and unrepentant. I realize, to end my reflection there would be to miss the point of Jesus’ ministry and death--Jesus forgives us! “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). The short exchange between the repentant thief and Jesus on the cross says it all--it brings it all home! From the cross, Jesus promises the repentant, “good” thief: “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). I am saved from my sorry self! If I believe that the repentant thief represents me, then let me also pray, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).
When I contemplate the Passion, I feel my life flash before me. In my life when I have been afraid, sick, or worried, I have found that going apart to pray is important. I remember earlier Lents in my life. “Mum” comforting me in my sick bed, Sr. Candida leading our class at meditation, and another time as a young married man and father, when I went to Aunt Mae for consolation that only she could offer me. In many ways, I have identified with the faith that calls me to keep the commandments, take responsibility, and give to others; I believe in Jesus. In recent times however, when facing problems, suffering, or loss, I find that Jesus is with me as a friend. Now in my heart and soul I feel that Jesus would have me walk with him in my aging process, in the mental and spiritual weaknesses. His Word, if I listen, speaks to me: that it cannot be “business as usual.” In a recent homily I heard, a married deacon called out to us to not waste our suffering, but to witness to others by prayer and connect with those who suffer. As one spiritual writer puts it: “together with Jesus on the way to the Father.” I find celebrating the Eucharist, small group faith sharing, and Lenten observance vital to my spiritual life.
Take your next step: Each week of Lent, we are suggesting a journaling question to respond to. This week’s question starts with 10 minutes of reading: read the Passion according to Mark (Mark 14:1-15:47). Then grab a pen, mobile phone, or computer. At the top of the page, note, or e-mail, write: “What feelings do I experience as I contemplate the Passion story?” Write what comes from the heart. Take a few more minutes to talk to God about what you have written, and listen to God talk to you.
In this Sunday’s Gospel, people come wanting to see Jesus, and he starts talking about his death--not what they were expecting. We want to see what Jesus has to offer, but we don’t want to see death. Loss is too painful, but Jesus reveals that there is new life hidden in every death, whether it’s the end of a relationship, a dream, or a stage in life. If we are afraid of death, we are also afraid to fully live. We hold back because we’re afraid of failure, rejection, pain, and loss. Through his resurrection Jesus has already conquered death. If we are willing to face loss and death, to lay all that we have and are at the foot of the cross, to entrust our lives to God, then we can become the grain of wheat that bears much fruit. This week, two parishioners and a member of our pastoral service team share their reflections on the question: What in your life needs to fall to the ground and die, so that you can really live fully and abundantly?
I would say that I have a solid faith, but not a fresh one. It is rooted in my parents’ testimony, in my education in a Catholic school, and mainly in my involvement in a Catholic youth movement. There I learned to recognize God’s presence in my life, felt the support of a community, and was encouraged to contribute to making this world a better place. Since then, my faith has remained an important part of my life. I have been lucky to be able to share it with my wife, María, and with my sons, Eduardo and Álvaro, and I can also say that when I have passed through difficult personal or professional moments, my faith has endured and not entered in crisis. Yet now I feel I live my faith in a routine way, so that I am less aware of the role that God plays in my daily life and less open to his demands. That is why I think that my failure to let God surprise me needs to fall to the ground and die. To do this, I know that I have to make room in my calendar full of commitments for silence, prayer, and nourishment of my spirituality.
I love to garden. I see it as a great metaphor for life, and it helps me understand Jesus’s message. Jesus needed to die so that we could bear the fruit of his death. I need to die to the idea that I actually know what’s best for me. I need to remind myself that only God knows what’s best for me. Often I don’t want to go through the pruning process. I am too scared to let go and believe that everything will turn out OK, and then I remember...God has been faithful in the past, so what makes me think that God will be any different in the future? Why do I have to remind myself again and again that the hopes, dreams, and relationships that die in my life, die for a reason, even if I can’t see, feel, or understand why? I believe that faith is not a feeling, nor is it subject to complete reason. I believe that faith requires some level of doubt where all you can do is trust and take that leap with the hope of God’s promise. When the fruit appears, how wonderful it will be!
Someone I loved said something to me that left me devastated, despondent and very much alone. I lost a lot of sleep before calling a therapist I once knew to say aloud words that haunted me. It was a first step. After decades away, I made it to confession, hoping to get past “Bless me, Father….” After some awkward moments, angry at the priest for, what it seemed, directing me to elucidate further in this MY confession (good, another sin, I thought to myself), I hung in there, white knuckles aside, aware of the Holy Spirit’s presence, my sorrow, my need for absolution. As I headed out, dots connecting two seemingly unrelated events stopped me dead in my tracks. And I moved on. And now? Shedding old habits. Letting go of yesterday. Making more room for God. It’s all process. Who but God provides me with a new canvas every morning from which to shape a life? Who but God gives me the grace of insight into my faults, and forgiveness towards others, and self? Who but God lays open my defenses so I can love him more? Pray for those who hate him? Thank him at every turn? Who but God sends angels?
Take your next step: Each week of Lent, we are suggesting a journaling question to respond to. Find 15 minutes when you can be uninterrupted, and grab a pen, mobile phone, or computer. At the top of the page, note, or e-mail, write: “What in my life needs to fall to the ground and die, so that I can really live fully and abundantly?” Write what comes from the heart. Take a few more minutes to talk to God about what you have written, and listen to God talk to you.
Even if we have decided to follow Christ, it’s easy to hold back. Sometimes we are satisfied with our lives as they are and see no need to take risks. Sometimes we know we’re not going in the right direction, but we still prefer the comfortable darkness. Encouraged by the support of a faith community and strengthened by the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, we can take steps in faith to make an active response to Jesus. This week, two parishioners and two members of the pastoral service team share their reflections on the question: What makes you afraid or causes you to hold back from making an active response to Jesus?
It’s easy for me to get caught up in the craziness of my life. As a working mother and wife, it’s hard to imagine fitting in more commitment to my faith life--especially when I consider how far I have to go. This question prompted me to take a good look at where I am at present vs. where I think the “perfect Catholic” is on the spectrum. For me, this concept is hugely overwhelming! It leads me to questions like: Am I doing enough? Am I giving enough? Loving enough? Praying enough? Well, the obvious answer is “no”--I am certain I could do better in all of those areas! But the more I think about it, the better I begin to understand that what Jesus probably wants is for us to at least spend some time asking ourselves those questions. Moreover, all that thinking leads us to make a conscious effort to take mini-steps toward that ideal. I’m not going to get there all at once, and as long as I remember that I need to question my personal place on the journey, then that’s what counts. I think that for me, it’s the times when I’ve been asked to share my time or talent in a way that steps outside my normal comfort zone, including answering this reflection, that have benefited me the most.
I think I hold back from making an active response to Jesus because I'm afraid of what he will ask of me, or what he is asking of me. Deep down, I believe that Jesus doesn't want to just tweak my life--he wants to transform me. But making tweaks to my life is so much easier (and sometimes, more fun)! I'm a big fan of those "self-help" type books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I love thinking about how to form habits, be more productive, work more efficiently, and get more done. But if I'm honest, I know that Jesus doesn't just want to help me form better habits and generally be a better person. Jesus doesn't even just want me to pray more or love more or serve more or give more. He definitely does want me to do all those things, but he wants to do so much more than that too--he wants to transform my heart. And that's really, really hard work. Sure, I can develop the habit of praying more every day, but am I really willing to open my heart up to God in prayer? Am I willing to hear what he is saying to me? And do I have the courage to respond to his call?
Talk about a challenge--writing about what makes me afraid and what is holding me back in just one paragraph. Well, I started compiling the list: my desire to be right, my urge to be well-liked by others, the comfort I feel by thinking that I am in control, my fear of being wrong, avoiding the pain of being rejected...and I was just getting started. Clearly I was going to need a different approach. Succinctly, it's the guy I see every morning in the mirror that is holding me back. So what do I do? I remind myself that Jesus loves me, that only God is perfect, that God made me and he does not make mistakes. I shake my head, take a deep breath, brush my teeth, and go on with my day hoping and trying to do the right thing and being thankful for all that I have. For another view, and a creative way to get around my word limit, I would encourage you to read the poem "The Guy in the Glass" by Dale Wimbrow.
I think that the thing that I fear most about the idea of following Christ with my whole heart is that he will ask me to give up something that I don't want to give up, like God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son, only without taking it back at the last minute like God did with Abraham! My friend Keith always says that a lot of people feel like getting involved with God will be their undoing--like God will ask us to do and be impossible things that will surely ruin our lives--and if that's what kind of God we imagine, why on earth would we worship a God like that? In my head, I know that Keith is right, that Christ wants me to have a full and abundant life, but I think my heart is still full of fear that the abundant life Christ has in mind for me may be very different from the life I have in mind for myself, that I may have to give up something precious and never get it back. I think the challenge for me is to learn to trust Christ more by trying to remember that every time I have managed to take a tiny step closer to Christ, I have received something from him, not had him take something from me.
Are you interested in offering one of these responses in the coming weeks? Please e-mail Kathy O’Leary for details on how to participate.
Take your next step: Each week of Lent, we are suggesting a journaling question to respond to. Find 15 minutes when you can be uninterrupted, and grab a pen, mobile phone, or computer. At the top of the page, note, or e-mail, write: “What makes me afraid or causes me to hold back from making an active response to Jesus?” Write what comes from the heart. Take a few more minutes to talk to God about what you have written, and listen to God talk to you.
Jesus knows well the experiences of anger and frustration, of joy and hope, of excitement and disappointment, of love and heartbreak. He knows all that we experience--not as an outsider looking in, but precisely as one of us. God sent Jesus to bring his saving love into every area of human life, and to show us a better way: what it really means to be fully human, fully alive. This week, four parishioners share their reflections on the questions: What areas of your life need God’s saving love? How might choosing to follow Christ change your life?
Humbly and honestly, I need God’s love and warm embrace in all facets and relationships in my life. Each day has its challenges. I encounter them as either a son, husband, father, brother, uncle, friend, neighbor, co-worker, instructor, or mentor. The Lord has given me many blessings and challenges along the way, and has given me a free will to make good, not-so-good, and simply bad decisions. I need God’s saving love in my heart, his guidance towards a right path, and the willingness to accept my mistakes, errors, and frailties. I believe choosing to follow Christ can, and does, have a dramatic effect on my life. Jesus provided the ultimate example of selfless, caring, and boundless love. He provided a timeless example of meeting people where they are on the road by extending a warm word, handshake, or embrace with open eyes, mind, and heart. I strive to emulate Christ in lending this assistance without judgment, but with love and concern for those I encounter. “Let he without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). I often recall how my parents reinforced this faith principle to me and my five siblings: “Lend a hand and comfort in thanksgiving for your blessings and riches, and leave the judging to the Almighty.”
“Jesus began to weep. So the Jews said, ‘See, how he loved him!’” (John 11:35-36). Love is the most basic of human emotions, and sorrow on the death of a loved one is the most natural response. Even Jesus, confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus, wept. As we age, loss visits us more often. In less than four years I experienced the death of my husband, parents, two in-laws, a dear friend, and the spouses of good friends. I felt that death would never leave my doorstep. For me, discipleship is not a moment, it is a lifelong journey that a loved one’s death could interrupt or completely derail. Inspired by my late husband’s raw fortitude, I decided to put discipleship into action. The haze of sadness inspired a shift in ministry, to bereavement work. Others needed comfort that, with a bit more education, I was now uniquely qualified to give. Mary Oliver’s poem resonates with this new chapter in my life: "Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this, too, was a gift.” Jesus wept, but he also comforted Martha and Mary.
Until recently, I have always overlooked the power of God’s choice to bear the struggles of being human. My recent reflections on Christ’s humanity and his struggle to trust in God’s plan amidst ridicule and persecution have forced me to question my need for control in my life. I have always had an eye on the future, planning two or even three steps ahead. The future has often consumed me, and in the unhealthiest of ways, I have often defaulted to going it alone in an attempt to carve my own path independently. I am just now realizing the flaws in this methodology as I have begun to question these seemingly stable plans I had formed for myself. As the foundations I had built for my future began to crumble right in front of me, I began to realize that I was building my plans on unstable ground. I believe this was God’s way of telling me to loosen the grip of control and hand it over to him. Just as Jesus trusted in God to carry him through the struggles of being human to the point of death, I, too, should trust that God will not forsake me, but will take the reins and will build for me a solid foundation for a satisfying and fulfilling future.
The thought of Jesus being sent to save human nature intrigues me. Anger and frustration, joy and hope, excitement and disappointment, love and heartbreak. Why would God want to save our ability to be angry, frustrated, disappointed, or heartbroken? I often wonder about this, and the best answer I can imagine is that without these “negative” feelings, we cannot truly understand the “positive” feelings of joy, hope, excitement, and love. These emotions are a challenge to control and balance on a daily basis; however, believing that Jesus understands that we feel them gives me great comfort and hope that anger, frustration, disappointment, and heartbreak will be overcome and ultimately conquered by joy, hope, excitement, and love. Following Christ helps me accept that there are times when my feelings are not where I (or Christ) want them to be, but if I continue to follow Christ, I will be led to a better place.
Are you interested in offering one of these responses in the coming weeks? We’d love to include you! Please e-mail Kathy O’Leary for details on how to participate.
Take your next step: Each week of Lent, we are suggesting a journaling question to respond to. Find 15 minutes when you can be uninterrupted, and grab a pen, mobile phone, or computer. At the top of the page, note, or e-mail, write: “God sent Jesus to bring his saving love into every area of my life. What areas of my life need that love right now?” Write whatever comes from your heart. Take a few more minutes to talk to God about what you have written, and listen to God talk to you.