Father Howard Hansen’s Reflections
for Holy Week 2011
Palm or Passion Sunday
Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew
“Say to daughter Zion, “Behold, your king shall come to you, meek and riding on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Mt. 21:5)
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.” (Mt. 5: 5)
Both of the above quotes, the first from the Gospel of Matthew during the procession with the palms in this morning’s Liturgy, and the second from the Sermon on the Mount, refer to Jesus as being meek. Let’s take a moment to look at this word. The word meek, as used by Matthew in his Gospel, is meant to carry the meaning of gentleness, humility, courtesy in dealing with others. Usually in English it carries the meaning of being timid, maybe even cowardly or submissive to another. These meanings do not apply to Matthew’s Gospel. The “land” or “earth” spoken of here literally is Palestine. In the Beatitude, it means Kingdom.
Jesus said to his disciples in Mt. 11: 29: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” Here Jesus invites the burdened to take the yoke of obedience to his word, under which they will find rest and peace. This makes for a different interpretation of the word meek than we find in the common use of the word today.
For that matter, we don’t hear the word meek used very often in common conversation today. At least, I don’t. Meekness, gentleness, humility are not the ways people today get what they want. Once again, the vocabulary of the world and that of the disciple of Jesus is different. Jesus wants his disciples to be calm, considerate, respectful, aware of the rights of others, just, giving everyone their due. This time of the Passion certainly shows the meekness of Jesus being submissive to his persecutors and going meekly to his death on the cross.
St. Bonaventure, in a sermon preached in Paris on Oct. 4, 1255, noted the importance of the virtue of meekness in the life of St. Francis of Assisi (Francis of Assisi, Early Documents, II, pp. 518-519.) Here Bonaventure writes, “ We ought to learn meekness, which is utterly necessary, from St. Francis. He cherished meekness not only toward other people, but also toward dumb animals. Even wild animals came running to him as their friend and companion.” Bonaventure goes on to tell us that meekness is necessary to the pursuit of truth both in those learning and those who teach; it is necessary for the inward and outward practice of virtue, to make right judgments, for without it others are not corrected but destroyed. Finally, he says, meekness is necessary to attain eternal life. The meek person does not create favoritism toward persons, but will care for both the lesser and the greater. The meek person is simple. He should posses only what is necessary for his needs. He should be someone who comforts the afflicted.
Meekness is quite a virtue when you take the time to uncover all its many facets. Where do I find myself in my life with the virtue of meekness? Do I see in myself a gentle person, a humble person, a person who is courteous and respectful in my relationships with others? Am I calm and considerate or do I find myself often becoming angry and frustrated with others?
Let’s all spend a little time during this Holy Week thinking of this virtue of meekness, of its many demands on us, and how entrenched it is in our own lives. It will be worth the effort for our spiritual growth.
Monday of Holy Week
John 12: 1-11, Isaiah 42: 1-7
The first reading in this Liturgy for the Monday of Holy Week is from the Prophet Isaiah and serves as an introduction, if you will, of the servant of the Lord: “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, Upon whom I have put my Spirit.” Isaiah then proceeds to list the identifying marks of the servant of the Lord that all of us are called to be.
The first mark of the Christian Servant given by Isaiah is the virtue we spoke of yesterday on Palm Sunday: meekness or gentleness. Christian ministry needs a certain amount of tenderness to go along with it. I sense that people have a difficult time seeing meekness, tenderness, or gentleness in myself. In order to do so, you have to break through the surface. I have a rather powerful voice when I want to use it and can present a gruff manner. I cannot remember how many people have asked me whether or not I was ever a drill sergeant in the army! But once you get through this surface stuff, you will discover that I am an emotional marsh mellow, compassionate and very gentle. Do people see meekness, humility, gentleness, tenderness, when they look at you?
The second mark of the servant is boldness. The meek person is not a wimp. The meek person stands up for what he/she believes. The meek are not people who can be pushed here and there. The meek speak freely of their ideals and values; they boldly proclaim Jesus as their way, truth, and life.
Thirdly, along with the meekness goes a costliness. There is often pain associated with being the follower, the servant of Christ, but it is likened to the pain of a woman giving birth to a child that eventually gives way to joy and happiness.
And finally, along with gentleness, boldness and costliness comes the mark of mightiness. There is nothing weak about the ministry of the servant. All of this can be summed up in a few words by saying the Servant of Jesus Christ is like Christ himself, a gentle giant.
On this Monday of Holy Week, let us pause for some quiet time and look into ourselves. Do we see in ourselves the marks or at least the semblance of the marks of the follower of Christ? Where do we need to grow? Which mark or marks do I need to work on the most?
Lord, help me to continue to grow as your faithful follower and servant.
Tuesday of Holy Week
John 13: 21-33, 36-38
“Will you lay down your life for me? Amen, amen, I say to you, the cock will not crow before you deny me three times.”
“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16: 18.)
As with so many people in Scripture, it is possible to read something good about them in one place and read about a defect they have in another place. So it is with the two quotes about St. Peter given above. In the one instance, Peter is told by Christ that he will deny him three times. In the other, Christ takes this weak but loving follower, Peter, and makes him the head of his church here on earth. This causes me to look at myself. On the one hand I see a gifted and talented person, a good person and one loved by God. On the other hand, I see a sinner, one who chooses his own will over the will of Jesus’ way every day. And this revelation of myself goes to remind me that all of us, as human beings, are not either/or but rather both/and. We are not either good or ignorant, but rather both good and ignorant.
During this time of Holy Week, let us look at the both/and side of our human nature. Sometimes I just stop, scratch my head, and wonder how I can do some of the things I do and at the same time profess to be a follower of Jesus and a lover of my neighbor. I wonder how I can admire so and so as a good and talented person and in the next breath repeat some gossip I heard about him or her. I wonder how I can say I love God first and foremost and at the same time push daily prayer aside for my own “important” things.
Let’s all take a little time on this Tuesday of Holy Week and examine this both/and paradox in our own lives. What can we do about it?
Wednesday of Holy Week
Isaiah 50: 4-9
Today is Wednesday of Holy Week and we are getting closer and closer to the cross. Isaiah writes: “Morning after morning he opens my ears that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned back.” We must learn to listen to God before we can speak. When the ear has been opened, when we pay attention to what Jesus has said, then we can open our lips and speak. We must listen before we speak and listen more than we speak.
We are reminded of another place in the Scriptures here where the Lord speaks to the boy Samuel. Samuel has to learn to say, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (ISam. 3:10.) It was only after he listened that he was given the responsibility of passing on what he had heard to others. This only makes sense. I have to listen to someone before I can say what they said. I have to pay attention to the details before I can pass them on to others. In practicing the 12 Steps of Spirituality, for example, I have to work Steps 1 through 11 before I reach Step 12 where I am told to pass this message on to other alcoholics. No one can give what he/she does not have.
On this Wednesday of Holy Week, let us all ask ourselves if we don’t sometimes get this whole process backwards. Do we speak before we have taken the time and patience to listen? This is where prejudice comes from. In fact, that is exactly what the word prejudice means, to make a judgment before knowing the facts. This is where falsehood comes from. Do I blunder into this occasionally?
Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper
For the Holy Thursday Liturgy I would suggest you follow the road map passed out for the parish or the church where you are attending the Liturgy. Things have been changed somewhat here and there and the Liturgy may vary from place to place.
Traditionally, the Chrism Mass is celebrated on Holy Thursday. Many places now make a special celebration out of the Chrism Mass and celebrate it before Holy Week. In this ritual the Holy Oils used in the administration of the various Sacraments are consecrated by the Bishop. There are three oils used by the Church on particular occasions: The oil of the catechumens is used in the Sacrament of Baptism. The oil of the sick is used in the Sacrament of the Sick. And, thirdly, the Chrism is used in the Sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders.
The Chrism Mass also pays honor to the priests who serve the people of God. On our part, let us remember today to say a special prayer for all our priests.
In todays Liturgy, the Church remembers the gift of the Most Holy Eucharist. This is the greatest of all the gifts our Lord has given us. He gave us Himself; his flesh for our spiritual food and his precious blood for our spiritual drink. How grateful we should be for these very special gifts.
Finally, Our Liturgy today is a memorial of the commission we all have from Christ to serve one another. This ritual is taught in the washing of the feet of some of the congregation by the Celebrant of the Mass. Service to others is the very essence of discipleship. As Jesus served us, so we are to serve others.
Our Holy Thursday Liturgy, then, is about blessing the holy oils, honoring the priesthood, Eucharist and service. Let us thank God this evening for his many gifts and renew our commitment to follow in his footsteps.
Celebration of the Lord’s Passion (GOOD FRIDAY)
The Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John
The Liturgy of Good Friday is divided into the Liturgy of the Word, the General Intercessions, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion. There is no Mass as such on Good Friday.
Today’s Liturgy ends the Passion of the Lord. Tomorrow evening we will celebrate the Vigil of Easter and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus from the dead. Our season of Lent again comes to its conclusion. If one thing stands out for me during the season of Lent, it is the virtue of humility. We began Lent with the imposition of ashes on our heads and the humbling reminder that we are dirt and will return to dirt. All of the various rituals of Lent remind us of our obligation as disciples to humbly serve God and our neighbor. Holy Thursday evening we read how Jesus humbly washed the feet of his disciples and urged us to do the same with each other. Today we witness Jesus dying humbly upon the cross for our sins. And again on Holy Thursday evening, we remembered Jesus giving himself to us in Eucharist, his greatest act of humble love to all of us.
All of this talk about the virtue of humility reminds me of what St. Francis of Assisi wrote in his Letter to the Entire Order. I would like to include that writing in this homily for Good Friday:
Let everyone be struck with fear,
let the whole world tremble,
and let the heavens exult
when Christ, the Son of the Living God,
is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!
O sublime humility!
O humble sublimity!
The Lord of the universe,
God and the Son of God,
so humbles Himself
that for our salvation
He hides himself
under an ordinary piece of bread!
Brothers and sisters, look at the humility of God,
and pour out your hearts before Him!
that you may be exalted by Him!
Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,
that He Who gives Himself totally to you
may receive you totally.
Let us close now with the beautiful words of Micah the Prophet: “You have been told, O my people, what is good and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do the right and to love goodness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Lord Jesus, help us always to walk humbly with our hand in yours.
THE EASTER VIGIL AND THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS
Mt. 28: 1-10
The Easter Vigil and the Feast of the Resurrection are both celebrations of light and new life. There is an ancient homily that has come down to us that was preached on Holy Saturday centuries ago. The Homilist related that after Jesus died on the cross, he went in search of our first parent, Adam, looking for him as a shepherd would seek a lost sheep. When he finally found him, Jesus took Adam by the hand and raised him up, saying, “Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”
In this homily, Jesus raises Adam from Sheol, the underground, where those just souls went who died while the gates of heaven were still closed. In order to rise again, Adam received the light of Christ, the Light of the World. Our own resurrection, then, is new life brought to be by the light of Christ.
Last evening’s Liturgy of the Vigil was all about the light of Christ at its very beginning. The new fire was lit and then the Paschal Candle and then the smaller candles of the faithful were also lit. This is a beautiful and meaningful ritual when the whole Church is lit by nothing but the candles of the faithful. The Paschal Candle, signifying Christ, is then placed in the sanctuary where it will remain until the Feast of Pentecost. The Easter Proclamation is then sung about Jesus being the light and savior of humankind.
We are raised to new life by the waters of Baptism and our way through life, our pilgrimage to the Father, is lit by this light, the values, way, truth and life of Jesus. We will not stumble or fall if we follow him in his light. We learn his values of love, compassion, service, humility, honesty, openness, forgiveness, respect and become happy and peace-filled, whole and holy people. All we have to do to rise is follow the light of Christ, the beacon to new life. The choice is ours: to follow Jesus or not to follow Jesus. Judas had the same choice, as did Peter, John, the tax collectors, the woman caught in adultery, the woman at Jacob’s well – the whole world including you and me and all who encounter Christ along the way.
Jesus’ words to Adam are addressed to all of us on the Easter Day: “Awake, O Sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.” All we have to do is say: YES!!!