Saturday, June 18, 2011

Open Wide the Doors to Christ!

Gustave Dore, "The Burial of Jesus"
A Reflection on The Burial of Jesus
and the Guard at the Tomb: Matthew 27:57-66

It was evening. Soon, it would be the Sabbath. As would Your priest, who in silent, reverent awe places the Holy Eucharist in repose, your disciple Joseph of Arimethea wrapped Your body in clean linen and laid it in a newly-hewn tomb. Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” remained, even after Joseph secured the tomb’s entrance and departed. The women remained, sitting there, facing the tomb, as though paying homage and adoration to the Body of their Lord, which they had beheld with their own eyes as broken for them. Soon it would be the Sabbath, the day of repose, but they remained—because there, in repose, was the Lord of the Sabbath!

Joseph of Arimathea was a rich man, and this was to have been his tomb. One can imagine that only a rich man could have afforded such a luxury. First, there would have been the cost of the land, and then payment of the wages for the many hours of hard labor needed to dig out such a tomb. To the many poor, surely such a purchase would have seemed a waste, as did the costly perfumed oil poured out upon You in Bethany. They could never fathom paying in advance for a tomb hewn out of rock, because everything they earned day by day by the sweat of their brows went into just scraping out a living—with the intent of putting off for as long as possible the inevitable need for their burial.

Joseph was a rich man, but he was also Your devoted disciple. You taught that it is hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. But Joseph was living proof, as You also taught: that, for God, all things are possible. As one who had heard and received You as his Messiah, did Joseph, as he laid Your body in his tomb, indeed understand that You had died in his place? And after placing Your body in the tomb, did he then leave to return home, not just to prepare for the Sabbath, but also to await in hope for Your promised resurrection?

Lord, as at the burial of Your body by Joseph, You continue to trust the care of Your Body to us in the Most Holy Eucharist—but are we, like Joseph, truly your devoted disciples in our regard for this gift of Yourself? What did it cost Joseph to claim Your body from Pilate? Money? Loss of reputation? Even future suspicion and persecution? Are we willing to bear all the costs of claiming to the world that the Eucharist is indeed Your Body? Or do we, like the unbelieving chief priests and Pharisees, in effect call You “impostor;” insisting that the Sacred Host is not truly Your Body, but “only a symbol?”

In placing a guard around the tomb and securing it as best they could, did Pilate and the chief priests and Pharisees believe that doing so could actually prevent what they most feared: Your resurrection? Have we also so hardened our own hearts until they are like stones, and have we placed a guard and seal over them to try to secure them against Your triumphant entry? May we instead believe what we see, and instead heed the words of the angel of the Lord spoken at Your empty tomb, recapitulated time and again in our own time by Blessed John Paul II: “Do not be afraid!” May we, in removing the fear, remove the guard and the seal, and let you roll away the stone, and do as Your Vicar bade us: may we “open wide the doors” to You, so that You may enter triumphantly into our hearts, our lives, our world!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Death of Jesus

James Tissot, "The Death of Jesus"
A Reflection on Luke 23:44-49

It was now about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun. Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.
Jesus cried out in a loud voice, " Father, into your hands I commend my spirit; " and when he had said this he breathed his last. The centurion who witnessed what had happened glorified God and said, "This man was innocent beyond doubt ." When all the people who had gathered for this spectacle saw what had happened, they returned home beating their breasts; but all his acquaintances stood at a distance, including the women who had followed him from Galilee and saw these events.

The sun, the Son! The “Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel,” (Lk 2:32) eclipsed by death at the height of the day, in the prime of life, at the height of His ministry! Just a few days earlier, He had been proclaimed King by the people, riding triumphantly into Jerusalem as they glorified God!
The veil of the temple is torn wide open: God is no longer hidden from man. The Father Himself tore the veil in His haste in running out to meet us (Lk 15:20); He is pleased to give us the kingdom! (Lk 12:32) The Son’s eclipse reveals the Father, to Jew and Gentile alike.  The people whom Jesus excused because they did not know what they were doing (Lk 23:34) are suddenly filled with great remorse at His death. (Lk 23:48) Even the eyes of a Centurion—a pagan, who had surely carried out and witnessed countless crucifixions (the expression, “I’ve done this so many times, I could do it with my eyes closed,” comes to mind)—are opened!
Dearest Lord Jesus, you poured out Yourself completely in loving obedience to the Father. You even gave the Father the moment of your death; it was the only thing You had left to offer Him, making it the last act of submission of Your human will, the final prayer of utter trust and dependence, of unspeakable love You could offer, while You still had the powers of speech that the body He gave you possessed. I cannot fathom how, Lord, after hours of agony on the cross and at the point of death, You had the strength to fill Your lungs with enough air to be able to cry out, let alone utter a sound! How ashamed I am that I often let the least amount of bodily fatigue or stress keep me from just a moment of prayer! It is especially in these moments of affliction that I, too, should be crying out to Him in faith with complete trust!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

At The Foot of The Cross

Crucifixion, by Alfajarin Master (1480)
As they were looking on, so we too gaze on his wounds as he hangs. We see his blood as he dies. We see the price offered by the redeemer, touch the scars of his resurrection. He bows his head, as if to kiss you. His heart is made bare open, as it were, in love to you. His arms are extended that he may embrace you. His whole body is displayed for your redemption. Ponder how great these things are. Let all this be rightly weighed in your mind: as he was once fixed to the cross in every part of his body for you, so he may now be fixed in every part of your soul.

from "What We Behold On the Cross"
St. Augustine of Hippo (c. 354-430)

Had Jesus not come to die, but instead to restore the earthly kingdom of David in glorious triumph, who would not have wondered and worshiped! But as King of kings, He had no need to take what was already His. What the King did not have was me: banished forever because I would not serve! So what did He do? He Himself relinquished His own kingdom, and came to live with me, in this valley of tears, where Satan rules. Taking up the cross, He told Satan, “You cannot have her! She is mine! Take me instead!” How could the evil one refuse such an offer, believing that he would then truly be the King’s usurper!

And now I see the terrible price of my redemption! Nothing less than His body and blood! The evil one and those who serve him have inflicted a form of execution upon the King so horrific, that it could only have come out of hell itself! It tears me apart to see you like this, dear Lord, but still, I must look at You! And as I behold Your wounds, Your very heart pierced through, Your broken, lifeless body still fixed to the instrument of Your death, I find that I, too, no longer wish to live.

What have I done! Forgive me, Lord! I didn’t know that You loved me. I didn’t know what love was—until now. Why is it, Lord, that only now do I love You; that only now I am Yours? Yet now I see, my precious Lord: it is precisely by the death You endured that You have won me for Yourself! And even in Your glorious victory over death, may I never forget the cost; may the scars You ever bear ever be for me tokens of this Love that will not let me go!

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
Relentless as the nether world is devotion;
Its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
Nor floods sweep it away.
Were one to offer all he owns to purchase love,
He would be roundly mocked. (Sg 8:6-7)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Preparations for the Passover

A Reflection on Mark 14:12-16

It was on “the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb…” I imagined the Lord and His disciples together in the temple observing the ritual slaughter, and then tried to imagine what thoughts, emotions, and prayers flowed through Jesus in that moment, as He saw the lamb’s blood flow out into the cup, then passed from one priest to the next, and was finally sprinkled onto the altar. Jesus, Lamb of God, did Your thoughts race ahead to the moment of Your own death; the one and only atoning death which this ancient ritual foretold? Would any of these same priests play a part in putting You to death? There You stood, all alone in Your knowing and understanding, just as soon You would be all alone upon Your own altar of sacrifice; and then, too, no one but You would know and understand. Did you then hear and understand Your disciples’ question, “Where do you want us to go to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” as “Where do you want us to go to prepare for your death?”

Also unknown to Your disciples, You Yourself had already prepared everything ahead of time—not just for them, but for us; for all of us, and for all time. “Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a water jar. Follow him.” Who is this man with the water jar? We only meet him and follow him. Is it the Baptist? But he does not pour out the water; we do not wash. But just the sight of him and the water jar speaks of, reminds us of, our need for purification before we enter the Master’s house. It was then that I heard the words the priest speaks at the beginning of each Mass: “To prepare ourselves to celebrate these sacred mysteries, let us call to mind our sins.”

Yes, Lord, You have already prepared everything-- everything except the meal. You have already spoken to the Master of this house, made arrangements with him for us to be allowed to enter it with You, to eat the Passover with You. If it were not for Your relationship with the Master, we would not be able to enter.

The room is large and furnished. It is a guest room. It is Your guest room. Lord, this room then is my heart, where you are the Guest. In this room, where do I let you sit? What place do I give you? Is it one of the highest honor?

How often do I—do I really and truly—thank You for what you have done; that You have prepared a place at the table for me, with You, in your Father’s house? How I take it for granted, not giving thought to what it cost you, to obtain this place for me—with You!