Monthly Archives: April 2019

At Peace

 One of my favorite expressions is “Shalom Aleichem” : “Peace be with you,” or “Peace be on to you.” Even as I pronounce the Hebrew words, a strange tranquility comes over me. The word “Shalom” itself has so many rich meanings: peace, prosperity, welfare, tranquility, harmony, wholeness, completeness. It seems almost like an invitation to taste the wholeness and completeness of God Himself, a wishing of the good for the other person.    

 This expression has become more of a casual “Hi, how are you” in modern Israeli society. Saying “ Shalom” has become similar to saying “Aloha”: “Hi, bye.” And yet, I find such power in these words. A few years ago, after our interfaith Thanksgiving service at my parish in Bayside, NY,  I found myself talking over cookies with the wise and gentle Rabbi Weitz. I told him about my upcoming trip to Israel the following week, and he told me that he was also going there then. We were both very excited about it. As we were leaving I dared to try out my little Hebrew and told him, “Shalom Aleichem”. In the holy environment of my church the expression seemed to have so much meaning. My eyes met his shining eyes, and it felt like we shared something beyond ourselves. When he smiled and answered “Aleichem Shalom (Unto you peace),”I felt I was truly being blessed by this man of God. 

     Every year I spend the Easter Triduum in retreat at the Passionist Spiritual Center in Jamaica, NY. I usually go there without any expectations. I always know it’s going to be great. But from the beginning of Holy Week I had been asking the Lord for much-needed peace. The Morning Prayer that I recite begins by asking the Lord for peace, wisdom, and strength. I usually get stuck at “peace,” trying to measure on a 1 to 10 scale how my state of peace is.

This week I was at a 4-5 level ! I was worried about all the jobs I had to do to help out during the retreat, especially with regard to this big cross that I had built. When would there be time to have the retreatants write their prayers on it? Would it be an imposition? Was there any room left on the cross to write on? Would anyone be interested in carrying it outside to pray the Stations of the Cross? Would anyone get splinters on their hands? Would it fall on somebody’s foot?   

 My lack of peace went a lot deeper than that. I was going through a senseless feeling of unworthiness. I had become a little worn out by the people I serve in my different ministries. There was a heaviness in my heart that I could not explain.     And then, as soon as I had figured out where to put the big cross, and I was able to sit before the Lord at chapel, the most blissful sense of peace descended on me. Talk about a quick answer to a prayer!

Throughout the four days I just never worried about anything. All the retreat events unfolded before me in mysterious, delightful ways. Nothing and nobody bothered me. There was no need to assess whether my prayers, or the experiences, or presentations, were devout, inspiring, or spiritual enough. Everything just was. I usually had a smile on my face. My fellow retreatants were not like strangers; they were beloved children of God, good and gracious company. The peace of God enveloped us.     

Dear readers, why am I writing about this? I guess I really want to share this peace with you. I want to sort of wish it, pray it upon you! Shalom Aleichem!     In the Gospel (John 20: 19-31) for the Octave Sunday of Easter (also adequately named Divine Mercy Sunday), our Resurrected Lord appears before His fearful disciples (that’s us!), and tells them, “Shalom Aleichem.”

This is much more than just a “Hi, what’s up.” The Living God blesses us with the power of His love. The soothing breeze of His Holy Spirit is breathed upon us. We relish in His love. As we touch His wounds our wounds are touched and relieved. We are home. Our guilt over the times we have deserted Him is calmed. He invites us to stop retaining our sins, and through His power,  to forgive ourselves for all those sins that He has already forgiven. And then He puts us back to work. He tells us, “so I send you!”

I hope that peace of His holds out within me. And even if it goes down to a 4 or 5 again, there is a bountiful storehouse of it in His heart within our hearts, just for the taking! We are His ministers, His agents in this troubled world.     Like the psalm says: “Lord send down Your Spirit and renew the face of the Earth.”     Shalom Aleichem!

By Orlando Hernandez

This is the Day

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cross, 4th Century Sarcophagus, Rome

Easter’s over for many people, but it isn’t over. We celebrate Easter for 50 days, from the Easter vigil till the feast of Pentecost. It’s a long day. Over and over we say: “This is the day the Lord has made.”

The reason we celebrate the long day of Easter is because the Lord’s plan takes time to understand.  Jesus spent many days with his disciples, who were  “slow to understand.” So are we.

Cardinal Newman spoke of this long day:

“Let us rejoice in the Day that He has made… the Day of His Power. This is Easter Day. Let us say this again and again to ourselves with fear and great joy. As children say to themselves, ‘This is the spring,’ or ‘This is the sea,’ trying to grasp the thought, and not let it go; as travellers in a foreign land say, ‘This is that great city,’ or ‘This is that famous building,’ knowing it has a long history through centuries, and vexed with themselves that they know so little about it; so let us say, This is the Day of Days, the Royal Day, the Lord’s Day.

“This is the Day on which Christ arose from the dead; the Day which brought us salvation. It is a Day which has made us greater than we know. It is our Day of rest, the true Sabbath. Christ entered into His rest, and so do we. It brings us, in figure, through the grave and gate of death to our season of refreshment in Abraham’s bosom. We have had enough of weariness, and dreariness, and listlessness…

“May we grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, season after season, year after year, till He takes to Himself, first one, then another, in the order He thinks fit, to be separated from each other for a little while, to be united together for ever, in the kingdom of His Father and our Father, His God and our God.”
John Henry Newman, “Difficulty of Realizing Sacred Privileges,”

Signs That Lead Us On

After his resurrection Jesus appeared to his disciples, but his appearances are occasional and fleeting. None of the resurrection accounts say he stayed long with them. He appears to verify he is risen. “Do not cling to me,” he says to Mary Magdalene, who hears him call her name.Thomas puts his finger in the nail marks and his hand in his wounded side; then he is gone. The disciples eat with him, but he doesn’t stay with them. The words of scripture remind them of him.The two at Emmaus know him mainly in the breaking of the bread.

Now they will see him in another way–through signs, like bread and wine, water, in gatherings where they remember him, in reading the scriptures which speak of him, in the poor and suffering, wounded like him. It’s as if he were weaning them away from seeing him bodily. That will be the way he remains with them–through signs– and that’s the way he remains with us now.

Christian teachers like Cyril of Jerusalem emphasize this way of knowing Jesus, through signs. We are told not to miss their importance:

“When we were baptized into Christ and clothed in him, we were transformed into the likeness of the Son of God…we are rightly called ‘the anointed ones.’”

God’s Spirit rested on him and sent him forth. Now God’s Spirit dwells in us and sends us on a mission. We don’t have a mission that weighs us down. The oil that anointed us at baptism is an “ oil of gladness,” raising us up.

These Easter days offer a world of signs that lead us to Jesus Christ; they also make us one with him.

What about the “signs of the times?” Don’t forget them.They lead us on too. I like what Sister Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, says about them. “The signs of our time propel the living tradition forward.”

Tenebrae: Good Friday


Tenebrae for Good Friday begins with a reflective reading of Psalm 22, which is quoted 13 times in the gospel stories of the Passion of Jesus. The psalm reveals someone in the midst of hard suffering, yet with no bitterness, no complaints of injustice, no lashing out against an enemy. It reveals Jesus in his Passion to us.

“We meet a simple abandonment into the hands of God, and in this surrender there is peace. The psalmist asks so little of God; only that God hear his cry of abandonment. (v.2) Once God induces a mystic presence so that the psalmist can whisper ‘You heard me’ (v 21) the psalm modulates into a song of Thanksgiving.

“The psalm leads us into the suffering heart of Jesus,” who does not simply reflect on his own sufferings; “he identified himself with the agony and faith of generations of persecuted, afflicted peoples.”
(Fr. Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Psalm 1, Wilmington, Del, USA 141-151)

In his passion, then, Jesus is aware of more than his own suffering. Our reading from the Letter to the Hebrews sees Christ as high priest of the good things that have come to be. “ (Hebrews 9, 11-28)

What are “the good things that have come to be? ” Even on Calvary we see them. Blood and water flow from his side as the soldier pierces him with a lance. Blood and water are universal signs of life. Humans need both to live.

In our final reading for Tenebrae, Saint John Chrysostom sees in them Christ fashioning his church as Eve was fashioned from Adam’s side as he slept a deep sleep. Blood and water are signs of Christ’s gift of life to us and his life-giving sacraments.

The saint says further: “As a woman nourishes her child with her own blood and milk, so does Christ unceasingly nourish with his own blood those to whom he himself has given life.”

More than whips and thorns and nails, good things come about on Calvary. Jesus give us life here, life that conquers darkness and death.

Where did it happen?

We wonder where the gospel events took place, especially during Holy Week.. Where was Jesus judged by Pilate? What way did he go to Calvary?  Where was he crucified and where was he buried?

Reliable historians generally agree that the tomb of Jesus and the site of Calvary are  in the Church of the Holy Sepucher.  “Is this the place where Christ died and was buried?” Jerome Murphy-O’Connor asks in his solidly researched “The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide” (New York, 2008). “Yes, very probably,” he answers. (p 49)

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Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

Jerusalem’s “Via Dolorosa”, the traditional way of the cross,  is less historically reliable. Beginning near St. Stephen’s Gate, where the Fortress Antonia once stood, it winds up at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  Murphy-O Connor says it is “defined by faith and not by history.” (pp 37-38) Early Christian pilgrims created it.

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Pilgrims on the Vis Dolorosa

After the Christian church was established by Constantine in the 4th century, pilgrims from Mount of Olives, where many stayed, walked through St. Stephen’s Gate up to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, stopping at certain places to recall incidents from the passion of Jesus. The present Via Dolorosa was formed from their devotions over the centuries.   (cf. Murphy-O’Connor, p 37) Pilgrims, not archeologists, have given us the present Via Dolorosa.

Jerusalem

Jerusalem at the Time of Jesus

Is their a more reliable way?  A reconstruction of Jerusalem (above) from the time of Jesus at the Israel Museum–somewhat altered here– suggests another way that  Jesus was led to Calvary.  At the bottom right is the luxurious palace complex built by Herod the Great. (below) When Pontius Pilate came from Caesaria Maritima for Passover he probably stayed there and judged Jesus in the courtyard outside the palace.

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Herod’s Palace, the Citadel

After sentencing Jesus to death, Pilate handed him over to a detachment of soldiers quartered somewhere in the great towers to the left of the palace, who scourged him and crowned him with thorns.

They then led him away to Calvary, probably parading him through part of the upper city as a warning to others. In our map of Jerusalem above, the rock outcropping near to the city wall is the site of Calvary where Jesus was crucified. The gospels say  he was buried in a tomb only a stone’s throw away.
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In Jerusalem today the Citadel stands on the ruins of Herod’s palace, still dominating the western part of the Old City.

You can walk on the southern ramparts of the city wall where Herod’s palace once stood and view some few remains of Herod’s building;  the towers have been rebuilt.

Murphy-O’Connor suggests a way  Jesus was taken to Calvary from here. “If, as seems likely, Jesus was brought into the city on his way to execution, the approximate route would have been east on David Street, north on the Triple Suk, and then west to Golgotha.” (p.38)

I walked that way some years ago, down David Street, to the Triple Suk and then west to Golgotha and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.  My sense is Murphy-O’Connor is right, but I think we better not change the Via Dolorosa. For one thing,  good piety has given us the present Via Dolorosa and it has a truth and beauty all its own.  More importantly, it would start a war in Jerusalem, and the city has enough grief now.

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For more information on the places of the Passion, see

Jesus Abandoned

In the gospels for Monday to Thursday in Holy Week Jesus is not with the crowds in the temple area, sometimes hostile, sometimes friendly. He is with “his own” at a meal.  In Bethany six days before Passover he eats with those he loved: Martha, Mary and Lazarus, whom he raised from the dead. In Jerusalem before he dies he eats with the twelve who followed him. “His own.”

During the meal in Bethany, Mary anoints his feet with precious oil in a beautiful outpouring of her love. At the meal in Jerusalem, on Thursday, he meets betrayal. The gospel readings for Tuesday and Wednesday offer a harsh picture. Judas betrays him for thirty pieces of silver and goes out into the night; Peter will deny him three times; the others flee. Jesus faces suffering and death alone. Friends that followed him abandon him.

The gospels are not just about long ago; they’re also about now. We are “his own” to whom he gives his life on a cross, in the waters of baptism and in the Bread at the table.  Are we unlike the others?  Are we sure we will not go away?

We think saints exaggerate when they say they are great sinners and question themselves, but they know the truth. That’s the way St. Paul of the Cross described himself in his account of his forty day retreat as a young man:

“I rejoiced that our great God should wish to use so great a sinner, and on the other hand, I knew not where to cast myself, knowing myself so wretched. Enough! I know I shall tell my beloved Jesus that all creatures shall sing of his mercies.”  (Letter 2)

Be my rock of refuge

a stronghold to give me safety.

For you are my rock and my fortress,

O God, rescue me from the hand of the wicked.  Ps 71

LET’S CELEBRATE HOLY WEEK

APRIL 15  Monday of Holy Week

Is 42:1-7/Jn 12:1-11 (257) Pss II

16 Tuesday of Holy Week

Is 49:1-6/Jn 13:21-33, 36-38 (258)

17 Wednesday of Holy Week

Is 50:4-9a/Mt 26:14-25 (259)

18 Thursday of Holy Week (Holy Thursday)

Chrism Mass: Is 61:1-3a, 6a, 8b-9/Rv 1:5-8/Lk 4:16-21 (260)

Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper: Ex 12:1-8, 11-14/1 Cor 11:23-26/Jn 13:1-15 (39) Pss Prop

19 Friday of the Passion of the Lord (Good Friday)

Is 52:13—53:12/Heb 4:14-16; 5:7-9/Jn 18:1—19:42 (40) Pss Prop

20  Holy Saturday

Vigil: Gn 1:1—2:2 or 1:1, 26-31a/Gn 22:1-18 or 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18/

Ex 14:15—15:1/Is 54:5-14/Is 55:1-11/Bar 3:9-15, 32—4:4/Ez 36:16-17a, 18-28/ Rom 6:3-11/Lk 24:1-12 (41)

21 EASTER SUNDAY OF THE RESURRECTION OF THE LORD

Solemnity

Acts 10:34a, 37-43/Col 3:1-4 or 1 Cor 5:6b-8/Jn 20:1-9 (42) or Lk 24:1-12 (41) or, at an afternoon or evening Mass, Lk 24:13-35 (46) Pss Prop

Most of us are home, no place to go. Why not celebrate Holy Week? There are no church services, but we have the church readings each day. How about celebrating Holy Week looking at them? .

The gospel readings for Holy Week are mostly from the Gospel of John, the gospel least like Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ.” We may want to know exactly what happened to Jesus on the days of Holy Week, but the evangelists, who knew the basic facts, wanted to know more. What was behind it all? Why did Jesus, the Son of God, suffer and die. They turned to the Jewish scriptures, the Old Testament, because that was how Jesus explained what happened after he rose from the dead.

On Monday we’re in Bethany. where Martha, Mary and Lazarus who was raised from the dead.

Tuesday and Wednesday, his betrayal by Judas is recalled but, as our readings indicate, all his disciples abandon him. 

On Thursday, Jesus brings his disciples to the table and as a servant washes their feet. We continue reading from this part of John’s Gospel, which explores the mystery of our union with Jesus Christ, throughout the Easter season.  Our second reading from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, recalls that on this night he was betrayed, Jesus took bread and wine and gave them to his disciples as his body and blood. The Eucharist is an enduring gift by which Jesus remains with his church.

The Good Friday readings from Isaiah tell of the Suffering Servant who gives his life for others, and Psalm 22 which recalls his suffering. Jesus is our High Priest in Jesus who always intercedes for us, the Epistle to the Hebrews says. The Gospel of John sees Jesus as a King who conquers as he suffers and dies. For a commentary on the Passion Narrative of John by Fr. Donald Senior, see here.

On Holy Saturday evening parts of the scripture are read, from Genesis on, that speak of Jesus and his mission to save us. On Easter the various gospels, beginning with John announce his resurrection. He has risen! And the waters of baptism are honored as a sign that we shall rise too.