Category Archives: Lent

The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

Holy sepul

Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, commemorates the dedication of a great church in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. Called the Anastasis ( Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, it was built by the Emperor Constantine and was dedicated on September 13, 325 AD, It’s one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

Calvary

Calvary

Pilgrims still visit the church and the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated , after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters. They venerate the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church Constantine built, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders; the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen here. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities. One understands here why Jesus prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots were proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on its history, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

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Via Dolorosa - 17

“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We remember his great works here. How can we forget them.

Holy Thursday

For today’s homily, please play the video file below:

God of infinite compassion, to love you is to be made holy. Fill our hearts with your love. By the death of your Son you have given us hope, born of faith. By his rising again fulfill this hope in the perfect love of heaven where he lives and reigns with you, and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

Discovering Him

 I retired about fourteen years ago. My husband, Orlando and I had great plans for our retirement. We wanted to travel, to relax, to have fun! But that wasn’t to be. God had other plans for us! Orlando’s parents in Florida got very ill and we were needed there. We became snowbirds , 6 months here and 6 months in Florida. Around that same time Orlando and I baptized our fourth grandchild, Isabel in a church if Florida. The day of the baptism our son and his wife had a surprise for us. After the baptism we were able to renew our marriage vows in front of our Lord Jesus Christ. For us that was very special because we had not gotten married in the church, we had been married about 25 years but at the court. It didn’t matter to us back then. We had spent over 40 years without God, at that time a church wedding hadn’t been important to us. Neither one of us had come from a religious family. When the priest started blessing us and our rings something happened to us in that ceremony. We were crying and laughing both at the same time. Grace was being poured on us from above!

    After that experience Orlando started convincing me to go to church on Sundays. He had been caught by the fever! Jesus had gotten his hands on him. Not so for me! Going to mass was a burden. Many times I would leave the church worse than how I had gone in. It was boring and ritualistic. But yet I wanted to make Orlando happy, so I would go. For some reason around that time I started having the urge to get married in front of God. I loved Orlando so much that I felt that maybe this would make our marriage even stronger.

    I had never been confirmed. My parents weren’t very religious. In Cuba, where I come from, I got baptized and had my First Communion but after that church did not come back into my life. Here in the U. S. life was hard. We were refugees . The Catholic Church was a great help but it didn’t inspire us to go back to it.

Well you can see what my problem was. I tried to marry Orlando in the Catholic Church but then I found out I needed to be confirmed. Was it worth it? Did I really need to marry Orlando in front of God? How was I going to work it out? I was here in NY for 6 months and in Florida the next 6 months. How would it work out with RCIA? You know now I realize that God had a plan for us as a married couple. Things worked out between our local parish here, American Martyrs Church in Bayside. NY,  and the local church in Hallandale Beach, FL where we were renting.

     In 2011 I was finishing my RCIA in St Matthew’s Church in Florida. We were told there was going to be a four day Mission at the church. We weren’t sure what that was but yet we were intrigued by what it might be. The first day we were there a priest all dressed in black with a giant heart on the left side of his chest, a giant rosary hanging from this thick belt, and a giant crucifix in his hand came to the pulpit and introduced himself, ” I am Fr. Vincent Youngberg and I am an alcoholic. ” That was a great way to start! He was a sinner just like me! During the next few days with his story and his preaching he slowly brought me closer to understanding why I was doing what I was doing. He led me to believe that Jesus, that God, wanted a relationship with me. He helped me to believe that he did exist!

The last day of the Mission Fr Vincent led us in a meditation. He said:

    “Everyone please close your eyes. Now imagine yourself sitting on the sand. You’re watching the ocean, relaxing under the warm sun. From the corner of your eye you notice a person walking towards you. You can’t see him well yet, but he looks like he might be walking straight for you. He is getting closer and closer and your heart is beating faster and faster because you can’t believe your eyes. Suddenly you realize that the person you saw in the distance that now is so close to you is no other than our Lord Jesus Christ. He comes close to you extends his hand towards you and gets you to stand up…..”

    Fr. Vincent continued but I was no longer listening. I was face to face with Jesus! I couldn’t believe what was happening to me. I was crying and laughing. I couldn’t find words to say, but I didn’t have to. He took me in his arms and said, ” Berta, you have no idea how much I love you. I have been wanting you to open the door to me for a long time. I am so happy that you are in my arms now. I will never let you go!” I had melted into his body. The hug he was giving me was delicious! Life was perfect. But then I became aware of Fr. Youngberg’s voice again bringing us back. I didn’t want to leave my Jesus, now that I had met him. But it was time and we had to part. I was back in the church crying like a little girl. They weren’t tears of sadness,no , they were tears of joy! Now I understood! I had been looking for him all my life, but didn’t know it. I knew for many years that there was something missing in my life and on that beautiful Lenten day I found it . God put Fr. Vincent Youngberg in my path. He was the one that led me through the whole process. My husband, my son and his wife, Isabel my granddaughter, the RCIA teachers and volunteers, the priests with their homilies, the new friends I had met in church, they all had a hand in leading me to meet Him!It was all designed by Him!

    In 2011 I became confirmed  during the Easter Vigil at American Martyrs Church. That summer Orlando and I convalidated our marriage on August 7, 2011 in front of our dear God, our family and our friends. In September 2011 I had my first retreat at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Jamaica, Queens. I had found out that Fr. Vincent was a Passionist priest and his order had a Monastery and a Retreat House 15 minutes from my house! Orlando and I felt the need to go to the Holy Land and in November 2011 we joined a group from Texas and ended up with a Franciscan guide and our beautiful Lord Jesus leading us !

    All I can say about my new life is ” Thank You Jesus for your Love, and the blessings and grace you have brought into our lives! ” “Thank you for the beautiful Passionist priests that are now our friends, thank uou for the prayer group we are part of, thank you for my new friends, thank you for knowing that I am never alone! I love you my Triune God, without you I am nothing!!!!!”

Berta Hernandez

A Book for Lent

St. Paul Cross

Lent begins next Wednesday, February 14th. Some years ago a publisher asked me to write a book entitled A Lenten Journey with Jesus Christ and St. Paul of the Cross, to be part of a series of reflections on the daily lenten gospels that included thoughts of saints of different religious orders. The book has just been translated into Japanese.

I was initially skeptical about the project. From early on I’ve seen lent as a time to give up something and take up some devotional practice like the Stations of the Cross. Yes, Lent was a journey with Jesus, and I appreciate the daily scriptures that take us through the season with him, but where does a saint come in, even a saint important to me, like St. Paul of the Cross, the 18th century founder of my community the Passionists ?

Working on the book made me see lent differently. First, for St. Paul of the Cross lent was a time to leave the quiet mountain at the edge of the Mediterranean Sea where he lived and prayed and go to work in the Tuscan Maremma, then a swampy, malaria infested region of Italy, overrun with robbers and desperately poor. All through lent, carrying a cross and a bible Paul went from village to village preaching God’s love to people whose lives were often on edge with fear and lost hope.

Lent isn’t a time for turning inward, away from world you live in, Paul reminds me. Lent is a time to go out to the wounded world before you.

Secondly, Paul engaged his world, the world of the Tuscan Maremma, in the light of the gospel, especially the Passion of Jesus Christ. For him that mystery was not limited to a time long ago, when Jesus suffered on a Cross; it was there in the people before him. From village to village, he held up a Cross to anyone who would hear as a mirror of their reality and a pledge of the great mercy of God. Jesus died and rose again.

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday to prepare for Lent. Last Friday we celebrated the Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Tomorrow, Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, we celebrate the Prayer of Jesus in the Garden. Both feasts come from our missionary founder.

I can see him packing his bags for his lenten journey down the quiet mountain for the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma. He must remind himself what he will see. He must pray so he doesn’t forget.

“May the Passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts.”

Let Us Pray

We are not alone during this pandemic. Emmanuel means God is with us every step of the way. May these uncertain times be an opportunity to grow in prayer.

Lord, have mercy.
Jesus, Eternal Son of God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, born into the human family,
Jesus, rejected by the world you came to save,
Jesus, bargained for and sold for money,
Jesus, foreseeing your torments and sweating blood,
Jesus, betrayed by a false friend,
Jesus, deserted by those you loved,
Jesus, slapped in the face and spit upon in a court of justice,
Jesus, accused by liars,
Jesus, disowned by Peter,
Jesus, insulted by Herod,
Jesus, condemned to death by Pilate,
Jesus, beaten with whips,
Jesus, crowned with thorns,
Jesus, rejected for the murderer, Barabbas,
Jesus, burdened with a cross,
Jesus, stripped of your clothing,
Jesus, nailed to a cross,
Jesus, taunted in your pain,
Jesus, abandoned,
Jesus, shedding the last drop of your blood,
Jesus, dying for us,
Jesus, laid in a tomb,
Jesus, rising in glory,
Jesus, ascending into heaven,
Jesus, sending down the Holy Spirit,
Jesus, our ransom,
Jesus, our brother,
Jesus, our God, have mercy on us.

From Lent-Easter Meditations and Prayers 

by Fr. Victor Hoagland, C.P.

Following Jesus Christ

I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd that represents all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John are there, but they don’t stand out.Some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. Jesus sheds his light on them, even on the little child.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If so, this crowd could be us.

All the gospels recall Jesus journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, which we recall in our lenten season. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people of every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

They follow him, not just to see him die, but to go with him to glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, to those waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls all generations to follow him.

Following Jesus to glory means taking up our cross each day.“Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )

Jesus speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. “Take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours, not the physical cross Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)

He blesses those who share his cross. He gives them strength to bear what they have to bear and to carry out the mission they have been given.

Even the little child in Rembrandt’s painting is blessed with his grace, even though he’s in his own world, playing with some little thing, not hearing a word. Even the child is blessed.

Lent Means Looking Again

Our readings this week began with Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel calling us to reach out to “the least”–the stranger, the prisoner, the sick, the naked. Christ reaches out to them, and he says we will find him in them.

But what about those people? Don’t some of them– perhaps many of them– deserve to be in prison or sick or out of a job? That’s what the 1st reading today from the Prophet Ezekiel asks. Why pay attention to them? Let’s take care of the good people.

In Matthew’s Gospel today Jesus takes up the same question, calling his disciples to go beyond the “righteousness” of the scribes and Pharisees, who permitted killing someone as an act of God’s judgment. Jesus returns to the ancient command, “You shall not kill.” Leave someone’s judgment to God.

And he goes further. Avoid any killing judgment against someone by anger or words. They can destroy people too. Leave ultimate judgment to God. 

Does that mean we shouldn’t judge others at all? Jesus never hesitated to judge others, but before judging others he says we have to remove “the splinter in our eye.” That can be anger or arrogance or pride or a lack of self-knowledge or even an ignorance of human nature. It can come from not loving others. Make sure they’re not splinters clouding your judgment, Jesus says. (Matthew 7, 1-5)

When he came among us, some early Christian saints said, Jesus went in search of the lost image of God in every one of his creatures;  he welcomed tax collectors like Matthew and others society condemned. In them he saw “the lost image of God.” He came to call sinners. 

Are we meant to search for the lost image of God in others and to welcome sinners too? But how?

“Respect” is a wonderful word. It describes a wonderful virtue that I’m afraid is more and more ignored in today’s judgmental world. “Respect” comes from a Latin word meaning “to look again”, to look again at someone or some thing to see a value we didn’t see before or denied too quickly.  Respect keeps looking, searching. It’s a permanent way to see others as long as we live, never losing hope of finding the image of God there. 

God’s image is there. We need to see it. Lent means looking again.

Grieving

By Orlando Hernández

To many of us Good Friday always feels like a day of mourning. We remember how our beautiful Lord was cut down in the prime of His life. Part of us feels like we lost a true friend, family . Maybe we remember those we lost. How we buried them. How we grieved and yet the world went on as if nothing had happened, business as usual. I remember when I was a kid in Caracas, Venezuela in the 1950’s. On Good Friday the whole city would shut down: government, business, entertainment. The streets seemed empty. There was a silence everywhere. Even the few TV stations and the local movie houses would only show films about the life and the Passion of Christ, which I would find very scary.

And yet today, on Good Friday, in New York, most people are unaware. They are out trying to make a living. Tonight they’ll be out in the bright city at restaurants, clubs, bars, and theaters. So different from the way I feel. This poem, by W.H. Auden (maybe you know it) expresses some of my feelings about Good Friday :

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead,
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My moon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

My soul agrees with the feelings in this poem. But it also disagrees with its message. Love does last forever. Good can come out of suffering and loss. This is a message of the Passion : The Resurrection of life and of love. But I think about those apostles in the darkness of the Upper Room!
Their guilt, their desolation, their grief, their uncertainty. I think of Peter, my friend Peter, remembering his question (my frequent prayer to the Lord): “Master, to whom will we go? Where can we go, when You have the words of Eternal Life?” And now where is that Life?

I can think of so many friends who lost their loved ones in the last few weeks, the despair they feel. And those who feel abandoned in nursing homes, jails, and hospital beds, those who feel unloved by God, who have forgotten how to believe. I am reminded of this excerpt from “The Crucified God”, by Jörgen Monltmann: “Our faith begins at the point where atheists suppose that it must be at an end. Our faith begins with the bleakness and power which is the night of the cross, abandonment, temptation and doubt about every thing that exists! Our faith must be born where it is abandoned by all tangible reality. It must be born out of nothingness.” Only God can do this. And He does.

Again, I think about these apostles in fear and disbelief, at the edge of despair. But I believe that they could not have been totally deaf! Our Lord told them more than once that He would “Rise again”. They had seen His miracles. There must have been some hope against all hope in their hearts as they cowered in that dark Upper Room. Even I, after the benefit of so many graces and instruction, at times like this, I momentarily forget that our Lord Jesus resurrected full of glory, power and love. I truly believe that when you have experienced Jesus in your life, no matter how hard your faith in Him is buffeted by adversity, hope still remains… A hope that is His gift from the cross, which is fueled by His infinite Love.

Dear Lord. By the power of Your Cross awaken in us the certainty of Your Resurrection within our dark, troubled hearts. You live, you live in us. We are not alone. Let us rejoice in your indestructible Love. Give us the confidence to share this joy with others during this Easter season.