Friday, March 30, 2018

Am I The Centurion?

Scripture
The centurion and the men with him who were keeping watch over Jesus feared greatly when they saw the earthquake and all that was happening, and they said, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Mt 27:54)

Reflection
Unlike Jesus' friends and even the Pharisees, who were present at the crucifixion because of the vested interest they had in Jesus' death, the Centurion and the other guards were there because they had to be, not because they wanted to be. The scriptures tell us of how the Centurion, after witnessing the signs and wonders which occurred in nature after Jesus' death came to believe in him. The Centurion experienced conversion - a shift in his heart from cold, distant unbelief, to lively, certain faith that led him to boldly proclaim that Jesus was the "Son of God".

Father Cantalamessa, in his book Life in Christ, urges all of us to experience the Passion from the inside out, not merely as detached observers recounting a piece of history.  He says:
 "An earthquake must take place in the life of every man; he should feel in his heart something of what took place in nature as a warning, at the moment of the death of Jesus when the curtain of the temple was torn in two, the stones broke and the tombs opened. It is necessary once and for all that a holy fear of God should shatter our proud hearts, which are so sure of themselves in spite of everything." (62)
Perhaps we identify with the centurion this Holy Week - attending Holy Week services as a casual observer, not allowing ourselves to enter into the truth about what we are witnessing, just watching the clock and waiting for it all to end so we can get back to our "normal" lives.  Let us ask the Holy Spirit to allow us to experience the "earthquake" of deep conversion and  the heartfelt understanding that Jesus is the Son of God who died to save each one of us from our sins.

Prayer
Jesus, I had been keeping guard over you for hours; just doing my job, watching you suffer in agony as you endured the brutal death by crucifixion  I've seen it all before and I really couldn't allow myself to get caught up in the emotions of those people at the foot of your cross. I was just waiting for time to pass so I could leave that place of death and suffering, when suddenly I felt the earth shake beneath my feet, as if revolting at your death. More than the outward signs, I felt a revolution in my heart and mind and I am filled with the certainty that you truly are the Son of God. In an instant I know that my life will never be the same. Help me, Jesus, to understand what I have experienced - help my to truly know you.

Read Other "Who Am I? Holy Week Reflections Here:
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I Simon?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Peter?

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Am I the Good Thief?


Scripture
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.” The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43)

Reflection
Here in Luke's Gospel we witness the dialogue from the cross between Jesus and the two thieves who are crucified with him. The one thief, caught up in his own pain and self-pity, joins with the crowd in mocking Jesus, while the other thief looks upon the face of Jesus and sees him for who he truly is. In this revelation, the Good Thief, known today as St. Dismas, immediately acknowledges his own sins and begs the Lord to "remember him".  His confession is met with one of the most beautiful promises in all of scripture, "today you will be with me in Paradise."

What was the difference between the two thieves? How was it that one persisted in his own pride and misery, while the other was able to humbly face the reality of his sinful life and confess that to Jesus?  Why did two people with similar backgrounds encounter Jesus in the same way, but react to him in totally opposite ways? Why do we still today see deathbed conversions of some, while others die in bitterness and unbelief?  Father Sopocko, who was Saint Faustina's Spiritual Director, describes this dramatic conversion as an act of grace:
"How close Dismas had come to eternal condemnation! A murderer and thief, he had behind him a lifetime of sin and crime. And now suddenly a ray of grace had shone into his soul, and from a thief be became a penitent."
God's grace acting in a person's soul is a mystery - a mystery for us to bow before and accept, as the Good Thief did on the cross. Father Sopocko goes on to say that all the Good Thief had
"was a little good will that led him to sympathize with Thee, O Jesus!—to follow the call of grace and co-operate with it." (read Father's entire article here)
Perhaps we identify with the Good Thief this Holy Week - seeing our own sins and shortcomings in the light of Jesus' passion. Through the same grace that touched St. Dismas, we may even be facing the truth about ourselves for the first time. Let us ask the Lord to create in us a "new heart"  - one is open to his grace and mercy, so that we too may receive the beautiful promise of being with Jesus in Paradise. 

Prayer
Jesus, I have only just met you and I can sense that you are unlike anyone else that I have ever known. Your face is bloody and disfigured and yet in your eyes I see something I have never experienced before. You are looking at me with love and kindness. I can feel the walls that surround my heart crumbling. I see inside my heart all the terrible thing I have done, the malicious thoughts I have had and all the ways I have hurt others. Jesus, I am not worthy of receiving anything from you and yet, I am drawn to ask you to forgive me and to allow me to remain with you forever.

Read Other "Who Am I?" Holy Week Reflections Here:
Am I Peter?
Am I Pilate?
Am I Simon?
Am I the Centurion?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Am I Simon?

Scripture
"As they were going out, they met a Cyrenian named Simon; this man they pressed into service to carry his cross." (Mt: 27: 32)

Reflection

Simon the Cyrene was not a willing helper to Jesus. Different translations of Matthew's gospel use the verb "compelled" and "forced" to describe how Simon came to be part of Jesus' long walk to Calvary. In Luke's account Simon is described as being "seized" by the soldiers. (Luke 23:26) This was not exactly a volunteer job. And yet, through this experience, Simon was given the privilege of assisting the Lord in carrying the very cross that would be his salvation - the salvation of all the world.

The cross is the source of life and blessings, hidden under pain and suffering. However, we will only experience the life that the cross and resurrection promises us if we are willing to not only pick up our own crosses, but also help others carry theirs. St. Paul instructs the Galatians to "bear one another's burdens" ( Gal 6:2) In spite of these words, we may find ourselves, like Simon, reluctant partners in the bearing of someone else's cross. Willingly entering into the pain of another person, whether that pain is physical, spiritual or emotional, is never easy. It is far "safer" to stand aside, like the crowds surrounding Jesus, and watch from a distance. Helping to carry another's cross requires strength, perseverance, patience and love. It requires the openness to experience pain ourselves, in solidarity with that person. 

Perhaps we identify with Simon this Holy Week - finding ourselves sharing the cross with someone else. We may be embarrassed at our own reluctance to help and wondering what difference our assistance is really making. The scriptures do not tell us how Simon's help impacted Jesus. We too may never know the extent to which our help blesses another person. What we are assured of  is the promise made by the Lord himself that "whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me." (Mt 25:40)

Prayer
Why am I being asked to help you carry your cross? I don't want to be near you. I am afraid to step into your pain. What will happen to me if I do? Yet, I am drawn to your side. I am moved by your silent suffering. Struggling alongside you under the weight of the cross, this encounter with you is changing me. Help me, Jesus, to willingly and compassionately help others carry their crosses. Purify me of my reluctance to experience the pain of another's cross and give me the grace to be changed by sharing in the suffering of another.

Read Other "Who Am I?" Holy Week Reflections Here:
Am I Peter?
Am I Pilate?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I the Centurion?


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Am I Pilate?


Scripture
Pilate said to him, "So you are a king?" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice." Pilate said to him, "What is truth?" (John 18:37-38)

Reflection
Pilate is full of questions for Jesus - "Are you a king?", "Are you the king of the Jews", "Where are you from?", and finally, the infamous "What is truth?" In his interrogation of Jesus, you can almost hear the desperation in his voice. Here is a man caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, desperately looking to make the decision that will bring the least amount of personal and political harm to himself. He is so entrenched in his own world that he cannot or will not recognize Jesus as the truth that he seeks. Yet, there is something compelling for him about Jesus. He clearly recognizes Jesus' innocence and his questions suggest that he recognizes in Jesus something more.

Catholic Encyclopedia describes Pilate as
"...a type of the worldly man, knowing the right and anxious to do it so far as it can be done without personal sacrifice of any kind, but yielding easily to pressure from those whose interest it is that he should act otherwise. He would gladly have acquitted Christ, and even made serious efforts in that direction, but gave way at once when his own position was threatened."
Perhaps we identify with Pilate this Holy Week. We may be in a place where cultural, societal or even familial pressures are leading us to "wash our hands" of Jesus and go along with the whims of the crowds shouting around us. We may be tempted to give in to these external pressures and ignore the nagging voice in our heart which cries out "What is truth?" and longs to know the One who is Truth Itself.

Prayer
I am so confused. All my life I have been taught to live one way. I understand the rules of my world. But now, you, Jesus are standing in front of me and all my prior assumptions are being challenged. My world is coming apart around me and I am in what appears to my human eyes as no-win situation. If I believe you, Jesus, then my career and, more than likely, my life as I know it will be over. If I don't believe you, I fear I will be making the biggest mistake of my life. Is there an answer these questions that torment me? Are you the answer, Jesus?

Read Other "Who Am I" Holy Week Reflections here:
Am I Peter?
Am I Simon?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I the Centurion?

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Monday, March 26, 2018

Am I Peter?


Scripture
Then the maid who was the gatekeeper said to Peter, “You are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not."...Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They said to him, "Are not you one of his disciples? He denied it and said, "I am not." One of the servants of the high priest, a kinsman of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, "Did I not see you in the garden with him? Peter again denied it; and at once the cock crowed. (John 18:17, 25-27)

Reflection
The denial of Peter is one of the most-recognized moments in the passion narratives and is recorded in all four Gospels. There we see all of Peter's bravado and solemn declarations of loyalty spoken on Holy Thursday dissolve into a heap of panic and cowardice when he is faced with the reality of Jesus' arrest. Peter's repeated denial of Jesus seems to be an epic failure and an irrevocable breach of friendship. But that is simply not true. No sin or denial, no matter how grave, is ever out of the reach of the mercy of the Lord. 

In a 2006 General Audience, Pope Benedict XVI spoke about how Peter's stumbles were not unique to him, but affect the lives of Christians in every age.

"Peter's rash generosity does not protect him, however, from the risks connected with human weakness. Moreover, it is what we too can recognize in our own lives. Peter followed Jesus with enthusiasm, he overcame the trial of faith, abandoning himself to Christ. The moment comes, however, when he gives in to fear and falls:  he betrays the Master (cf. Mk 14: 66-72).
The school of faith is not a triumphal march but a journey marked daily by suffering and love, trials and faithfulness. Peter, who promised absolute fidelity, knew the bitterness nd humiliation of denial:  the arrogant man learns the costly lesson of humility. Peter, too, must learn that he is weak and in need of forgiveness. 
Once his attitude changes and he understands the truth of his weak heart of a believing sinner, he weeps in a fit of liberating repentance. After this weeping he is finally ready for his mission."

Likewise, Pope Francis, in a February 2014 homily spoke about the necessity of understanding Peter "...within the context of a long journey, after having traveled a long path. A path of grace and sin." It is "the disciple's path", the Pope said. In fact, he added, "following Jesus enables us to know Jesus. To follow Jesus through our virtues" and "also through our sins. Always following Jesus!" (L'Osservatore Romano

Perhaps we identify with Peter this Holy Week: afraid and ashamed of our own failings.  Then, like Peter, we must persist in following Jesus in spite of our weaknesses, sins, and missteps along the way. We must learn to see our life of faith as the journey which both Popes speak of - a journey which has all the drama of human success and failure. We must rely completely on  God's grace and not our own strength to help us resist the temptations along the way. When we stumble and fall into sin, we must trust Jesus' mercy and run to beg for his forgiveness, so that through the mercy of God, we too, like Peter may be "ready for our mission."  

Prayer
Lord, in the depths of my heart I desire to follow you, and to publicly demonstrate my love for you, but my fear of being persecuted by being associated with you is crippling my faith. Forgive me Lord, for the times when my fear has paralyzed me and I have denied you before others. Strengthen me, through the power of your Holy Spirit, that I may become the bold disciple that you wish me to be and declare my love for you with every fiber of my being.

Read Other "Who Am I" Holy Week Reflections here:
Am I Pilate?
Am I Simon?
Am I the Good Thief?
Am I the Centurion?

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Sunday, March 25, 2018

"Who Am I?" A Series of Reflections for Holy Week


"Who am I this Holy Week?" 

This was the question posed a few years ago by one of our parish priests during his homily on Palm Sunday. He explained further:

"Which of the people we meet in the passion narratives from the Scriptures do we most identify with?"

  • Am I Peter, full of bravado initially, but overcome by fear and unable to stand for Jesus?
  • Am I Pilate, pressured by the circumstances of the world into condemning Jesus?
  • Am I John, loving disciple of Jesus who stood at the foot of the Cross, faithful to the end?

At the beginning of each Holy Week, I ask myself this question. Each year I find that I  identify with someone different, some of whom I am not exactly proud to admit. This year, as we begin this most sacred week, let us ask ourselves which of the people present during the Lord's passion, death and resurrection do we most relate to. It is important to not be fearful of the answer, but rather to allow the Lord show us the truth about ourselves, strengthening us in our goodness, and gently correcting our weaknesses.

Beginning on the Monday of Holy Week and ending on Easter Sunday, Saints 365 will post a daily reflection entitled "Am I...." Each reflection will provide a scripture verse, an exploration of the characteristics of one of the people present during Lord's passion, and a prayer.

I invite you to subscribe or stop by each day for these reflections and pray that they help us to enter more deeply into the celebration of Christ's redeeming acts during this Holy Week.



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