Easter commemorates the most significant event of Christianity – that Jesus willingly became the Passover Lamb for all mankind and then went beyond sacrifice to rise from the dead. He arose, not as a ghostly apparition of some sort, but as a living being with a real body. True, He appeared in rooms without the bother of opening the door, but His body retained the wounds and scars of crucifixion. Thomas could actually see and feel them. And He ate food with His astonished followers.
Best of all, our theology teaches us that His sacrifice and resurrection purchased admission to eternal happiness for each one of us, if we decide to accept our prize.
But wait, there’s even more . . . This incident also forms a pattern to comfort all believers through times of stress, persecution, and even martyrdom. Namely, that God’s plans are much, much bigger than we can even imagine. And He is omnipotent, no matter how impossible things may look to us at any given moment.
During those 40 days that Jesus walked the earth after being killed by the Roman government, He explained again many truths in the Old Testament that the disciples had studied all their lives, but had never truly understood.
The disciples had become followers partially because of His parables about love and forgiveness. Then the miracles He performed proved to them that He was, indeed, the long promised Messiah. However, mentally and emotionally they were so bound up in their own unhappy situation that they couldn’t begin to grasp the totality of God’s glorious plans.
At least three times* Jesus had plainly told them He would die and rise from the dead, but the disciples could not understand His statements because they contradicted all the prophetic descriptions they had staked their faith in such as:
“For thus says the Lord of hosts: Once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land; and I will shake all the nations, so that the treasure of all nations shall come, and I will fill this house with splendor, says the Lord of hosts. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord of hosts. The latter splendor of this house shall be greater than the former, says the Lord of hosts; and in this place I will give prosperity, says the Lord of hosts. Haggai 2:6-9
Like all devout Jews, the disciples knew that Jews were given special knowledge of God and that someday, under the coming Messiah, they were to share those truths with people everywhere. They expected to accomplish these results politically after some type of conquest or dramatic change in their status under Roman rule.
But we know, with the advantage of hindsight, that the message of The Messiah spread like wildfire by the people who had absolutely no status, no power, no authority. Instead the ones who changed the world were actually outlaws who spoke of their faith under penalty of death.
Also it generally spread from the servants to their masters, from the prisoners to their guards, and from the beggars to those wealthy enough to give alms. It had nothing in common with our popular campaigns promoted by graduates of the finest business schools.
Yet by AD 313, when Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, the Easter message about a common man who had been executed by the Roman government as a criminal had spread across the entire Greco-Roman world and beyond, with ordained bishops, ordained priests, and churches in major cities.
The point is that God’s answers to prayer or prophecy never resemble what we expect with our lack of imagination. So take heart, no matter what’s going on in your life today. God really does love you. Whatever you hand over to Him, will be turned into a great benefit for you and many others. While it probably will take longer than you would like, the results will reach further than you can imagine. Just consider the difference in both the plans and the results the disciples envisioned versus God’s plans for spreading the gospel of the Kingdom if you get the least bit discouraged.
“What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? Hewho did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written,
““For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
*1 & 2) Jesus specifically told the disciples about a week before the Transfiguration. Then while at Mt. Tabor, he discussed his departure in Jerusalem with Moses and Elijah. Luke 18:21, 31
*3) After returning from the mountain, they met other disciples and He again foretold His death and resurrection, but they were afraid to ask Him for an explanation. Luke 18:44-45
Matthew 27:45-46, 50-52
45 From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46 And about three o’clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . . .50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised.
Mark 15:33, 37-38
33 When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . . . . 37 Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
44 It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45 while the sun’s light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two.
“The crown of the thorns
is forced upon your head
I turn to face the guilty
I see my sins instead”
Like many Christians, I have a compulsive interest in Judas, especially his eagerly leaving the last Passover dinner in his haste to ensure the capture and arraignment of the rabbi he had been following.
He is so easy to hate. How could he betray Him? Jesus had shown him obvious affection and even honor. Yet Judas “sells” Jesus, and his own soul in the process, for a mere 30 pieces of silver. Such pettiness is repulsive in itself, not to mention the fact that he turned on the one person who had shown him more love in the previous three years than Judas had experienced during his entire life.
When he re-thinks his actions, he tries to give the money back as an expiation for his sin. But, it’s too little, too late. The Jewish authorities refuse to even pick up the money off the floor and they display no empathy for Judas’ regret.
At this point, Fr. Paul Scalia at Courageous Priest explains that regret has no relation to true repentance and that regret is never enough. We must repent, i.e., to turn around and change direction in order to escape our sins and stupidity.
We have to admit out loud that we did wrong. We cannot offer any excuses for our actions. Our actions were bad no matter how we “talked” ourselves into committing them. Or how we interpreted circumstances in making excuses for our own bad choices.
If you go to Confession on Good Friday, remember that eternity and ultimate truth are your main concerns, not trying to salvage any silly little vestige of your so-called dignity. Freedom only comes through absolute honesty; anything else is too little, too late.
“ . . . and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” St. John 8:32
Even my bosom friend in whom I trusted, who ate of my bread,
has lifted the heel against me. Psalm 41:9
The physical torture that Jesus endured just before His death was so great that only a robust young man could have withstood it at all. Even so, once nailed to the cross, He died within about three hours instead of the usual twenty. And He died before they needed to break his legs to stop yet another painful struggle for one more breath by pushing himself up to gasp for air despite the nails in His feet.
Still, most of us identify with the emotional pain he endured that last day because of our own suffering. Practically everyone who was graced to be in His presence while He lived on earth ended up stabbing Him in the back although He had loved each of them like they had never been loved before.
The Sadducees and Pharisees, the religious scholars who had researched prophecies about the coming Messiah their entire lives, were actually the ones who finally brought legal charges against Him. The crowds who breathlessly listened to His parables and followed from town to field to experience His miracles yelled “Barabbas!” when Pilate offered freedom to Jesus. Peter, the one Jesus had chosen to lead after His departure, was in hiding along with other followers after becoming panic stricken that powerless young slave girls recognized him as a disciple.
But, of course, the worst was Judas, who was especially close to Jesus, according to John 13. Like today, the places on either side of the host at dinner were the places of honor. John, the beloved, reclined to the right of Jesus while apparently Judas was the one to His left, the place of highest honor.
If Jesus reclined on His left arm, as was the custom, it would have been natural to pass a morsel of bread to honor the person on His left. Passing to the one of the right would be back-handed and awkward at best.
As Judas ate the food given to honor him, Satan possessed him and he awkwardly left the celebration to earn his thirty pieces of silver.
None of us have experienced such treachery, yet each betrayal we undergo, insignificant or life changing, leaves a scar that heals slowly and painfully. Our own healing depends on our willingness to forgive and let God handle the consequences for us and for the traitor.
God manages to effect change far better than we can even imagine. Just compare the limited vision the disciples had of Jesus’ ruling an earthly kingdom and the kingdom of God as portrayed in Revelation. They wanted the Jews to be triumphant over the hated Romans. God wanted “the earth to be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters that cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)
After saying this Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, “Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.” 22 The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking. 23 One of his disciples—the one whom Jesus loved—was reclining next to him; 24 Simon Peter therefore motioned to him to ask Jesus of whom he was speaking. 25 So while reclining next to Jesus, he asked him, “Lord, who is it?” 26 Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” So when he had dipped the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas son of Simon Iscariot. 27 After he received the piece of bread, Satan entered into him.
Few can read or hear these words without profound sadness. Each of us has probably said the same refrain to ourselves and to anyone willing to listen. Today as the Palm Sunday congregation sang these words, no doubt, most of us remembered times in our own lives when we had felt abandoned by God. For example:
When a young child cries after losing a parent to a deadly accident
When a faithful, loving spouse discovers irrefutable evidence of infidelity
When a family member lies about his own guilt and projects it onto the victim rather than face himself
When a sibling moves to divide the elderly parent from the remaining siblings in order to increase his own inheritance
When a superior undermines an employee’s achievements to claim them as his own
When a supplicant is faced with damning lies during court cases, but not allowed to refute them because the “rules” are misapplied
When a grown child abandons the faith – and his own family in the process
Yes, devastating betrayal is part and parcel of our lives on this earth. No one I know has been exempt. However, today we all see that Jesus really did experience treachery from both friend and foe. Yet He submitted to it quietly and ended up defeating Satan and his evil “games” in the process.
The best take away is that we believers can offer up our own dishonesty and the dirty tricks that we have experienced to the God who loves us enough to undergo the same physical, emotional, and spiritual pains that we have. Only He can cleanse us and set us free from their dominion in our lives so we can live in the Kingdom of Heaven while still treading the soil of this earth.
*This verse was part of the Psalm at today’s Mass. Below is Psalm 22 from the King James Version:
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?
2 O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.
3 But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.
4 Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.
5 They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.
6 But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.
7 All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,
8 He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
9 But thou art he that took me out of the womb: thou didst make me hope when I was upon my mother’s breasts.
10 I was cast upon thee from the womb: thou art my God from my mother’s belly.
11 Be not far from me; for trouble is near; for there is none to help.
12 Many bulls have compassed me: strong bulls of Bashan have beset me round.
13 They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravening and a roaring lion.
14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels.
15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd; and my tongue cleaveth to my jaws; and thou hast brought me into the dust of death.
16 For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have inclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.
17 I may tell all my bones: they look and stare upon me.
18 They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture.
19 But be not thou far from me, O Lord: O my strength, haste thee to help me.
20 Deliver my soul from the sword; my darling from the power of the dog.
21 Save me from the lion’s mouth: for thou hast heard me from the horns of the unicorns.
22 I will declare thy name unto my brethren: in the midst of the congregation will I praise thee.
23 Ye that fear the Lord, praise him; all ye the seed of Jacob, glorify him; and fear him, all ye the seed of Israel.
24 For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard.
25 My praise shall be of thee in the great congregation: I will pay my vows before them that fear him.
26 The meek shall eat and be satisfied: they shall praise the Lord that seek him: your heart shall live for ever.
27 All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee.
28 For the kingdom is the Lord’s: and he is the governor among the nations.
29 All they that be fat upon earth shall eat and worship: all they that go down to the dust shall bow before him: and none can keep alive his own soul.
30 A seed shall serve him; it shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation.
31 They shall come, and shall declare his righteousness unto a people that shall be born, that he hath done this.
For some time, I’ve been watching a person I love struggle with unanswered prayer that involves both financial and emotional hardships. I’ve tried to offer encouragement and advice, but there is absolutely no evidence that I’ve helped in any way whatsoever. Perhaps I am too close to the situation to discern the nuances involved. Or more likely, I offered too much advice too readily. When those we love have problems, we ‘Helpful Henrys’ should back off and just pray.
But his trials have brought to my mind the times in my own life when I was in the same boat. And I can testify with great certainty that the whole experience is incredibly painful. It seems to go on forever – until you are so discouraged, you can no longer even daydream about what life will be like after the prayer is answered. Finally, the solution sneaks in like Carl Sandburg’s fog “on little cat feet” and you can almost miss it.
There are a few things I’ve learned the hard way by living through the misery of various difficulties that I want to share in case someone else should ever benefit from my experiences.
Keep your thoughts, words, and prayers as positive as you possibly can. Yes, I know your primary desire is to go to bed and sleep it off. You just want someone to “Wake you up when it’s over.” But thus avoiding reality only makes it worse, as I have learned the hard way.
As difficult as it might be, just get out of bed every morning. Just do it! I can remember many times whining to God, because no one else would listen to me anymore, that I was sick and tired of being plucky.
The complicated truth is that wallowing in pain only prolongs it. So gird up your loins and be positively, confidently, and absolutely plucky. In reality, there is no other rational choice, no matter what your emotions tell you.
Be grateful! So you’re in dire need of X (a.k.a. job, phone call, car, money, etc.) And you’re not being indulgent or extravagant in your request. It’s just something you do really need, but don’t have. What on earth can you be grateful for?
You woke up on the right side of the grass
The bus came on time today
Your supervisor actually smiled for a change
You noticed a daffodil blooming
You got to hear a fabulous recording of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”
There’s enough shampoo in the bottle to last until payday if you’re careful
It didn’t start raining until after you got inside
Make gratitude a habit by keeping a gratitude journal every single day, especially if you’re not the journal type. Remember, you’re in a desperate situation and you must take your medicine whether you relish it or not. It’s the effect of the medicine you’re after, not the joy of the journal itself. Each entry is concrete proof that God really does love you and is concerned with all the little details of your life. Also read a previous entry on this blog, “If this virtue were a drug . . .” written on August 10, 2016 for more reasons to be grateful.
Do at least one thing every single day to make you feel proud of yourself, especially if it’s avoiding or correcting a bad habit. Ninety-nine percent of the people I know go through life fighting one or more bad habits. So, pretend it’s Lent and work on your habit(s). After all, God has arranged this special, personal “Lenten” season just to help you; so take advantage of His School for Disciples. Every day that you avoid that particular habit or actually do that good thing you ought to do, you will like yourself better. And you’re the one you most need to impress other than the good Lord Himself. On top of that, other people will like you even better when you learn to love yourself.
As a corollary to previous suggestions, begin to seek God’s will for your life with great seriousness. We all have blind spots about our own faults, which is why they’re called blind spots. That’s the main reason we hate to receive advice – because we’re absolutely positive that it doesn’t quite apply to us. However, it is entirely possible that God may be trying to get our attention about something we’re carefully keeping out of our consciousness at the moment. That something we’re avoiding might be the key to our future success and happiness. Be willing, even eager, to change your actions and/or attitudes as needed.
Get down on your knees, fast, pray, and beg God to tell you exactly what you need to change in your life in order to fit in with His plans for you. Then obey whatever He says. If you’re not sure after prayer and fasting, ask a spiritual director, your priest, or some wise person you trust to help you discern the truth.
Neither good times nor bad times last forever and neither do the trials that test our faith. Occasionally, the cavalry will ride into the situation, guns blazing, and get rid of the bad guys. Occasionally, the answer is so dramatic, we tell the story of resolving our predicament to anyone who will listen for weeks, months, or years afterward. Most often, for me, the situation changes as imperceptibly as the earth rotates around sun. At some point, I discover I don’t really need or, perhaps, even want whatever I had asked for. Instead I am in another place altogether.
God loves me more than I love myself. He wants only the best for me. So I can rest in His care and trust Him to provide answers. Just as loving parents insist their children learn to eat vegetables and meat, not just candy bars, so God insists that even if life becomes uncomfortable, we mature emotionally and spiritually through a type of boot camp. And He personally provides a precise program that enlarges and enriches us to whatever extent that we cooperate with Him. Some of us give up and fall away early, some of us complete a type of basic boot camp, some go on to graduate the officers’ training program, and some, the saints, finish the equivalent of Seal training.
Reporting for duty, Sir!
In this way, we can put Pope John’s hope for every Christian into practice: “Every believer in this world must be a spark of light, a core of love, life-giving leaven in the mass: and the more he is so, the more he will live, in his innermost depths, in communion with God.”
1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
2. Only for today: I will take the greatest care of my appearance: I will dress modestly; I will not criticize anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
5. Only for today, I will devote 10 minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
7. Only for today, I will do at least one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure that no one notices.
8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself: I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils: hastiness and indecision.
9. Only for today, I will firmly believe, despite appearances, that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in this world.
10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed, for 12 hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.
To conclude: here is an all-embracing resolution:
“I want to be kind, today and always, to everyone.”