A Shocking Contrast!
Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion
“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the kingdom of our father David that is to come! Hosanna in the highest!” Mark 11:9
In today’s Liturgy we face quite a contrast of experiences and emotions. We begin our celebration listening to the story of Jesus being welcomed into Jerusalem with great joy and exultation! “Hosanna!” they cried out. “Hosanna in the Highest!” Jesus was treated as He should have been treated. People were excited to see Him and there was much excitement.
But this excitement quickly turned to shock and horror as we enter more deeply into today’s readings. The Gospel culminates with Jesus hanging on the Cross crying out “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And with that, “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.” At that moment the entire congregation kneels in silence as we ponder the reality of Christ’s death.
How things can change in one short week. What happened to all the people who were shouting and praising Him as He entered into Jerusalem? How could they allow Him to enter into this Crucifixion and death?
The deepest answer to this question is one that we may not expect. The answer is that the Father willed it. The Father willed, by His permissive will, that so many would turn on Him, abandon Him and allow Him to be crucified. This is so very important to understand.
At any time during that first Holy Week, Jesus could have exercised His divine power and refused to embrace His Cross. But He didn’t. Instead, He willingly walked through this week anticipating and embracing the suffering and rejection He received. And He didn’t do so begrudgingly or even with regret. He embraced this week willingly, choosing it as His own will.
Why would He do such a thing? Why would He choose suffering and death? Because in the Father’s perfect wisdom, this suffering and death was for a greater purpose. God chose to confound the wisdom of the world by using His own suffering and Crucifixion as the perfect means of our holiness. In this act, He transformed the greatest evil into the greatest good. Now, as a result of our faith in this act, the crucifix hangs centrally in our churches and in our homes as a constant reminder that not even the greatest of evils can overcome the power, wisdom and love of God. God is more powerful than death itself and God has the final victory even when all seems lost.
Let this week give you divine hope. So often we can be tempted toward discouragement and, even worse, we can be tempted toward despair. But all is not lost for us either. Nothing can ultimately steal away our joy unless we let it. No hardship, no burden and no cross can conquer us if we remain steadfast in Christ Jesus letting Him transform all we endure in life by His glorious embrace of His own Cross.
Reflect, today, upon the contrast of emotions from Palm Sunday through Good Friday. Ponder the fear, confusion and despair that many would have had as they saw Jesus murdered. Reflect, also, upon this being a divine act by which the Father permitted this grave suffering so as to use it for the greatest good ever known. The Lord gave His life freely and calls you to do the same. Reflect upon the cross in your life. Know that the Lord can use this for good, bringing forth an abundance of mercy through your free embrace as you offer it to Him as a willing sacrifice. Blessed Holy Week! Put your eyes upon the Lord’s Cross as well as your own.
Lord, when I am tempted to despair, give me hope. Help me to see your presence in all things, even in those things that are most troubling to me. May this Holy Week transform my darkest moments and weakness as I surrender all to You, my God. Jesus, I trust in You.
Anointing the Feet of Jesus
Monday of Holy Week
Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. John 12:3
What a humble and beautiful act of love toward Jesus. This perfume was worth 300 days’ wages. That’s a lot of money! It’s interesting to note that Judas objected to this act by claiming that he thought it should have been sold and the money given to the poor. But the Gospel states clearly that Judas was really only interested in the money himself since he used to steal from the money bag. Of even greater note is Jesus’ response to Judas. Jesus rebukes Judas and states, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”
If anyone else would have said this it would have sounded self-centered. But it was Jesus who said it and He was perfectly selfless in His love. So what was this all about? It was about the fact that Jesus knew what Mary needed. And in saying what He did, He revealed what each one of us needs. We need to worship Him, honor Him and make Him the center of our lives. We need to humble ourselves before Him and serve Him. Not because He needs us to treat Him this way, but because we need to treat Him this way. Honoring Him in our humility and love is what we need to do for our own holiness and happiness. Jesus knew this, so He honored Mary for this act of love.
This story invites us to do the same. It invites us to look to Jesus and to make Him the center of our adoration and love. It invites us to willingly pour out all our labor for Him (symbolized by the perfume worth 300 days’ wages). Nothing is too costly for Jesus. Nothing is worth more than an act of our worship.
Worship of God is right to do. Most importantly, it’s an act that will transform you into the person you were made to be. You were made for worship and adoration of God and this is accomplished when you humbly honor our Lord with your whole self.
Reflect, today, upon the depth of your own adoration of our Lord. Are you willing to “spill” your whole livelihood upon Him? Is He worth more to you than 300 days’ wages? Is He the most central part of your life? Do you daily humble yourself before Him and pour out your heart to Him in prayer? Reflect upon this humble act of worship that Mary offers Jesus and seek to imitate her beautiful example.
Lord, may I follow the example of this holy woman, Mary. Help me to humble myself before You and honor You with my whole life. Dear Lord, nothing in life is more important than You and my total adoration of You. Draw me in, dear Lord, humble me before Your glory and help me to love and worship You with my whole being. Jesus, I trust in You.
Tuesday of Holy Week
Reclining at table with his disciples, Jesus was deeply troubled and testified, “Amen, amen, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” John 13:21
It’s very important to note here that Jesus was “deeply troubled.” This shows His humanity. Jesus had a human heart and loved Judas with a divine love through His human heart. As a result of this perfect love of Judas, Jesus’ heart was deeply troubled. It was “troubled” in the sense that Jesus could do nothing more than He had already done to change the mind and heart of Judas. It’s not that Jesus was personally offended or angered by Judas’ betrayal. Rather, it’s that Jesus’ heart burned with a deep sorrow at the loss of Judas whom He loved with a perfect love.
Judas had free will. Without free will Judas could not freely love Jesus. But with free will, Judas chose to betray Jesus. The same is true with us. We have free will and we are given the same ability that Judas had to accept the love of Jesus or to reject it. We can let His loving gift of salvation and grace enter our lives or refuse it. It’s 100% up to us.
Holy Week is an ideal time to seriously contemplate the road you are on. Each and every day of your life you are invited by God to choose Him with all your might and love. But, like Judas, we so often betray Him by our refusal to enter Holy Week with Jesus, embracing His Cross as ours. We so often fail to give completely of our lives in a sacrificial and generous way, as our Lord did that Holy Week.
Reflect, today, upon the love Jesus had for Judas. It was His love for Judas, more than Judas’ sin, that brought so much pain to Jesus’ Heart. If Jesus didn’t love him, the rejection would not have hurt. Reflect, also, on the love Jesus has for you. Ponder whether or not His Heart is also troubled as a result of the actions in your life. Be honest and do not make excuses. If Jesus is troubled in any way as a result of your actions and choices this is no reason to despair as Judas did. Rather, it should be the cause of rejoicing that you are aware of your weakness, sin and limitation. Turn that over to Jesus who loves you more than you love yourself. Doing this will bring your heart much consolation and peace. And it will also bring much consolation and peace to the Heart of our Divine Lord. He loves you and is waiting for you to come to Him this Holy Week.
My dear suffering and rejected Lord, I do love You but I also know that I cause Your Heart to be troubled by my betrayal. Help me to see my sin honestly this Holy Week. In seeing it, may I let go of that which keeps me from loving You more deeply, so as to walk with You to the Cross to share in Your glorious triumph. Jesus, I trust in You.
Stuck in Denial
Wednesday of Holy Week
The Son of Man indeed goes, as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed. It would be better for that man if he had never been born.” Then Judas, his betrayer, said in reply, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” He answered, “You have said so.” Matthew 26:24-25
Was Judas in denial? Did he truly think that he was not the one who was to betray Jesus? We do not know for certain what was going on in Judas’ mind, but one thing is clear…he did betray Jesus. And it appears from his words that he didn’t see his act as a betrayal and, therefore, he was in deep denial.
Denial, if written out as an acronym, has been said to mean that I “don’t even know I am lying.” Perhaps Judas was so steeped in his own sin that he couldn’t even admit to himself, let alone to others, that he was lying and preparing to betray Jesus for money. This is a scary thought.
It’s scary because it reveals one of the effects of persistent sin. Persistent sin makes sin easier. And eventually, when one persists in the same sin, that sin is easily rationalized, justified and denied as sin altogether. When one gets stuck in this downward spiral of persistent sin it’s hard to get out. And often the only way to survive the psychological tension is to remain in denial.
This is an important lesson for us this Holy Week. Sin is never fun to look at and takes great courage to do so. But imagine if Judas would have actually confessed to what he was about to do. Imagine if he would have broken down in front of Jesus and the other Apostles and told them the whole truth. Perhaps that act of honesty would have saved his life and his eternal soul. It would have been painful and humiliating for him to do so, but it would have been the right thing to do.
The same is true with you. Perhaps you are not at a point where your sin is leading you to outright betrayal of Jesus, but everyone can find some pattern of sin in their lives this Holy Week. You must seek to discover, with God’s help, some pattern or habit you have formed. What a great discovery this would be if you could then face this sin with honesty and courage. This would enable you to shed any bit of denial regarding your sin and enable you to conquer that sin so as to discover the freedom God wants you to experience!
Reflect, today, upon Judas saying to Jesus, “Surely it is not I, Rabbi?” This sad statement from Judas must have deeply wounded our Lord’s Heart as He witnessed the denial of Judas. Reflect, also, upon the many times that you deny your sin, failing to sincerely repent. Make this Holy Week a time for honesty and integrity. The Lord’s mercy is so deep and pure that, if you would understand it, you would have no need to remain in any form of denial of your sins.
Lord, help me this Holy Week to have the courage I need to face my sin and weakness. I am a sinner, dear Lord, but it can be very hard for me to admit it. May I entrust my sin to You so that I may be set free and receive, in its place, Your abundant mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.
Humility of Service, Nourished by the Eucharist
Holy Thursday, Mass of the Lord’s Supper
“This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 1 Cor. 11:24
We begin, today, the Triduum – the three great celebrations of our Catholic Faith. Yes, there are numerous celebrations that take place throughout the year. But these three celebrations are the heart of our faith and are the culmination of all of our worship. We begin today with the celebration of the Lord’s gift of the Most Holy Eucharist given through the priesthood He instituted. Tomorrow we enter into the mystery of His Crucifixion. Saturday after sundown we enter into the glory of His Resurrection.
On Holy Thursday evening, we begin the Triduum with the commemoration of the Last Supper. This event in history, which took place as a Passover meal shared with Jesus and His Apostles, begins the gift that brings us salvation.
On Holy Thursday, we hear the Lord say for the first time, “This is my body that is for you.” We hear Him point to the gift of the Holy Eucharist as His gift to us, given for our holiness and fulfillment. It’s a gift we will never be able to fathom or comprehend. It’s the gift of His complete self-giving and sacrificial love.
If we could only understand the Eucharist! If we could only understand this precious and sacred gift! The Eucharist is God Himself, present in our world, and given to us to transform us into that which we consume. The Eucharist, in a real way, transforms us into Christ Himself. As we consume the Holy Eucharist we are drawn into the divine life of the Most Holy Trinity. We are made one with God and are given the food of eternity.
On that first Holy Thursday, Jesus also offered an example of the perfect humility and service that we are called to imitate as we become one with Him. He washed the feet of His Apostles so as to teach them and us that His Body and Blood are given so as to enable us to love as He loved. The Eucharist transforms us into true servants who are called to humility. We are called to humble service of others. This service will take on various forms but it is what we are called to.
Do you serve those around you? Do you humble yourself before others to care for their most basic needs? Do you show them you love them by your actions? This is at the heart of Holy Thursday. Humble service is a beautiful expression of our own intimate union with the Son of God.
So often, true “greatness” is misunderstood. Greatness is often perceived with a secular understanding of success and admiration. Too often we want others to admire our accomplishments. But Jesus offers another view of greatness. On Holy Thursday, He shows that true greatness is found in this humble act of service. Imitating Him requires that we surrender our pride. And this is made possible when we consume the Holy Eucharist with faith. The Eucharist enables us to love and serve others in this humble way. And that love and service is an act that will win the hearts and souls of others for the Kingdom of God.
As we celebrate Holy Thursday, we are all challenged to ponder our humility and to commit ourselves to a radical and total gift of self to others.
Reflect, this night, upon whether or not you imitate the humility of our Lord. Are you committed to seeking ways in which you can serve others, showing them you love and care for them? Let Holy Thursday transform you so that you can imitate the great love that Jesus offered us on this glorious night.
Lord, help me to understand what it means to be a servant. Help me to live this humility in my actions. May the gift of Your most Sacred Body and Blood transform me into the person You desire me to be. Jesus, I trust in You.
God Suffers Death
Good Friday of the Lord’s Passion
Ponder today, this dark day, the final words of Jesus. Scripture records seven last statements, or the “Seven Last Words.” Take each phrase and spend time with it. Seek the deeper spiritual meaning for your life.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Jesus’ forgiveness of others was radical and to a degree never seen before. While hanging on the Cross and enduring the cruelty of others, Jesus spoke words of forgiveness. He forgave them in the midst of His persecution.
What’s more is that He even acknowledged that those crucifying Him were not fully responsible. They clearly did not know what they were doing. This humble acknowledgment of Jesus shows the depth of His tender mercy. It reveals He died not in anger or resentment, but in willing sacrifice.
Can you say these words? Can you call to mind the person who has hurt you and pray that the Father forgives them? Leave judgment to God and offer mercy and forgiveness.
“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
What a consolation it must have been for the good thief to hear these words. He must have been experiencing a certain despair in life at that moment as he, along side of Jesus, was dying on a cross. What a gift it was to be there next to the Savior of the World, sharing in the sufferings of Christ in such a real way. And this man was privileged to be among the first to receive this gift of salvation won by Jesus on the Cross.
Jesus offers us the same assurance. He offers salvation to us beginning today. And He offers it to us in the midst of our own suffering and sin. Can you hear Him offer you this gift of mercy? Can you hear Him invite you to share His gift of everlasting life? Let Him speak this invitation to you and let the eternal life of paradise begin to take hold more deeply today in your soul.
“Woman, behold your son.”
What a gift! Here, dying on the Cross, Jesus entrusted His own mother to John. And in so doing, He entrusted her to each one of us. Our unity with Jesus makes us a member of His family and, thus, sons and daughters of His own mother. Our Blessed Mother accepts this responsibility with great joy. She embraces us and holds us close.
Do you accept Jesus’ mother as your own spiritual mother? Have you fully consecrated yourself to her? Doing so will place you under her mantle of protection and love.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus was not abandoned but He allowed Himself to feel and experience this complete loss of the Father in His human nature. He felt the deep experience of despair. He allowed Himself to know and experience the effects of sin. Therefore, He knows what we go through when we despair. He knows what it feels like. And He is there with us in those temptations enabling us to press on through any despair toward total faith and trust in the Father.
What a meaningful statement. He thirsted physically at that moment for water to quench His dehydration. But more than that, He thirsted spiritually for the salvation of all of our souls. Jesus’ spirit still longs for this gift of salvation. He longs to call us His children. He thirsts for our love.
Ponder Jesus saying these words to you. “I thirst for you!” He says. It is a deep and burning thirst for your love. You satiate Jesus’ thirst by returning that love. Satiate His thirst this Good Friday by giving Him your love.
“Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
These are the words we need to pray more than any. These are the words of complete surrender to God. Prayer is ultimately about one thing. It’s about surrender. It’s about trust. Say these words over and over today and let this perfect surrender of Jesus also be your surrender.
Surrender means God is in control. It means that we let go of our own will and choose only God’s. And it means that God pledges to accept our surrender and guide us into the perfect plan He has in mind for us.
“It is finished.”
It’s significant that He said “It is finished” as His last words. What does this mean? What is finished?
This spiritual statement from Jesus is one that affirms that His mission of the redemption of the whole world is accomplished. “It” refers to His perfect sacrifice of love offered for all of us. His death, which we commemorate today, is the perfect sacrifice which takes away the sins of all. What a gift! And what a sacrifice Jesus endured for us!
We are used to seeing this sacrifice on the Cross. We ponder this sacrifice every time we look at the crucifix. But it is important to note that our over-familiarity with the Cross can tempt us to lose sight of the sacrifice. It’s easy for us to miss what Jesus actually did for us. He accomplished the act that saves us and He is now offering it to us. Let this completed act of Divine Mercy penetrate your soul. He desires to say that His sacrifice has “finished” its work in your soul.
So today, on this Good Friday, it would be good if we spent the day pondering the reality of Jesus’ sacrifice. Try to understand what it was like for God Himself to suffer and die. Contemplate what it was like for God Himself, the Creator of all things, to be put to death by those whom He created, to suffer at the hands of those whom He loved with a perfect love.
Understanding Jesus’ sacrificial love will enable us to love as He did. It will enable us to love those who have hurt us and those who persecute us. His love is total. It is generous beyond description.
Lord, I know You thirst for my soul. You finished what You started by dying on the Cross for my salvation and the salvation of the world. Help me to understand Your love and to accept it into my life. Help me to forgive. Help me to invite you into my own darkness and sin. Help me to abandon all to You. I thank You, dear suffering Lord, for the gift of Your Precious Blood, poured out for the salvation of the world. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Silence of the Tomb
Today, there is a great silence. The Savior has died. He rests in the tomb. Many hearts were filled with uncontrollable grief and confusion. Was He really gone? Had all their hopes been shattered? These and many other thoughts of despair filled the minds and hearts of so many who loved and followed Jesus.
It is on this day that we honor the fact that Jesus was still preaching. He descended to the land of the dead, to all the holy souls who had gone before Him, so as to bring them His gift of salvation. He brought His gift of mercy and redemption to Moses, Abraham, the prophets and so many others. This was a day of great joy for them. But a day of great sorrow and confusion for those who watched their Messiah die on the Cross.
It’s helpful to ponder this apparent contradiction. Jesus was accomplishing His act of redemption, the greatest act of love ever known, and so many were in complete confusion and despair. It shows that God’s ways are so far above our own ways. What appeared to be a great loss actually turned into the most glorious triumph ever known.
So it is with our lives. Holy Saturday should be a reminder to us that even those things which seem to be the worst of tragedies are not always what they seem. God the Son was obviously doing great things as He laid in the tomb. He was accomplishing His mission of redemption. He was changing lives and pouring forth grace and mercy.
The message of Holy Saturday is clear. It’s a message of hope. Not hope in a worldly sense, rather, it’s the message of divine hope. Hope and trust in God’s perfect plan. Hope in the fact that God always has a greater purpose. Hope in the fact that God uses suffering and, in this case, death as a powerful instrument of salvation.
Spend time in silence today. Try to enter into the reality of Holy Saturday. Let divine hope grow within you knowing that Easter is soon to come.
Lord, I thank You for the gift of Your suffering and death. Thank You for this day of silence as we await Your Resurrection. May I also await Your triumph in my life. When I struggle with despair, dear Lord, help me to be reminded of this day. The day when all appeared as loss. Help me to see my struggles through the lens of Holy Saturday, remembering that You are faithful in all things and that the Resurrection is always assured to those who put their trust in You. Jesus, I do trust in You.
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