Trust in Jesus to the End

Today’s first reading is about Stephen’s martyrdom. Stephen was stoned to death for defending the teachings of Jesus Christ. He stood up tall and he stood up proud to say what was not of God and what was from God. He proclaimed the good news until his last breath. What a man full of courage. It was the Holy Spirit that guided him to fulfill his mission. I read this scriptural passage and I wonder, was he not afraid? Did he not fear for his life? Did he not worry about the outcome of his actions? Above these questions I think, wow, this man, Stephen, had incredible faith. We have seen the power of incredible faith in many saints who were martyred after him. One thing they all have in common is that they trust in Jesus Christ.

Do you trust in Jesus Christ? Do you fully trust Him? Do you trust that He loves you and will provide for you? Do you trust that He knows and understands your suffering? Do you trust in His promise of everlasting life? All of this the martyred saints believed, giving all their trust and love in Jesus.

During these unprecedented times we should also fully trust in Jesus. The main conversation taking place is around COVID-19: people being infected, people dying, people being worried and filled with anxiety. We question everything around us and everyone who is in authority. Fear and anger have made us mistrust one another. Let’s center back to Jesus. Put your trust in Jesus. He is the one who will ease your pain. He is the one who will make your worries go away. What is God’s plan? How does this virus fall into His plan? Specifics do not matter. I understand that it might be super difficult for us to accept this. But you do not need all the specifics. All you need to do is trust in God. Part of His plan includes you and your salvation. Part of His plan includes you and the forgiveness of your sins. Part of His plan includes you and the love He has for you. Trust in God to get you through this difficult time.  You are precious in His eyes and He wants the very best for you—which is for you to sit with Him in heaven. It’s hard to not worry about the difficulties of this world, but there is great treasure awaiting us in heaven.

Again, I read the scripture passage about Stephen’s death—he was the first of many to die for Jesus. Death is never glamorous and not something we look forward to. However, death is inevitable. It is as guaranteed as the air we breathe. Now I understand that Stephen was not afraid and he was not worried. He was a man that fully trusted in the Lord to take care of him. He fully knew that the Lord loved him. As he was being stoned, he looked up to heaven and fully knew he was going home. In his darkest hour Stephen was trusting in God and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

I invite you to pray the Litany of Trust.

stephen
Image credit: Stephen’s Martyrdom, Photograph taken by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P. from the Great Hall of Hampton Court [Domain: flickr.com]

Where the Waves Grow Sweet

“To be stories at all they must be series of events: but it must be understood that this series—the plot, as we call it—is only really a net whereby to catch something else… No net less wide than a man’s whole heart, nor less fine of mesh than love, will hold the sacred Fish.”
—C.S. Lewis

There are moments in our lives when grace can act like a certain slant of light cutting through a dim room at dawn. Providential conversations, series of events, and even the worst of trials can suddenly fall into place like the threads of a story at its close—and the strands of those memories can seem to gleam like liquid gold, pointing directly back to Christ, the master Storyteller. Yes, He knew what He was about. Yes, He knew what He was doing. Yes, it’s true, He was with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—even if you could not see Him through eyes filled with salty tears. Have you ever heard it? Can you remember—?

In this Gospel reading, we find the apostles back where their story began, before they embarked on the adventure of living with and learning from Christ. How the familiar creaking of the timbers, the gentle lapping of the waves, and the dappled moonlight on the deck must have consoled them—and yet, not have consoled them, for these men were not the same fishermen Jesus had called years ago. At the end of a three-year spree of miracles in which their hearts were transformed and prepared for Something by Someone, the last miracle—the greatest miracle—must have seemed just out of sight, hidden by a veil of confusion and hope. It is the point in the story when each page feels like an eternity, where, as Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade writes, “ordinary human common sense, seeing no way out of it, realizes all its weakness and shortcomings and feels completely baffled.”

It is at this very moment that the story—particularly Peter’s—comes full circle. At dawn, Christ appears “to those who belong wholly to him and disentangles them from all their troubles far more easily than novelists, working away in the peace of their rooms, extricate their heroes from all their dangers and bring them to a happy and successful end” (De Caussade). At the start of his adventure, when the nets are empty, Peter does not seem to trust when instructed to put out into the deep (Luke 5:1–11). Now, the nets are lowered without delay, and on the right side of the boat. Before, the nets are tearing, unable to contain what Christ is sending them. Now, they remain whole, receiving the entire gift. Before, Peter falls at the feet of Jesus and begs Him to depart from him, for he is a sinful man. Now, in the light of the Resurrection, in the light of Merciful Love, he immediately jumps from the boat to go to Jesus, despite his sins, just as he did to walk on water with Him—perhaps inspiring C.S. Lewis’s valiant mouse who vowed to sail, paddle, or swim until reaching Aslan’s country or sinking with his nose to the sunrise.

Most importantly: the Last Supper becomes the first breakfast, in which Christ is revealed in the breaking of the Bread, the edible Light. By this new charcoal fire, far from the crowds and crowing birds, Peter’s three denials turn to three affirmations of love, as Jesus sets his life on a new course. While Peter’s heart had torn earlier and could not follow Christ to the cross, his new heart would not tear as he laid down his life for the early church, as seen in the first readings this week. Every moment, every seemingly insignificant detail, led and would continue to lead Peter to love with a love more like Christ’s, a love with a decisive direction and courageous trust that the gates of hell would not prevail against. This was a moment where the threads of Peter’s life gleamed like gold, pointing to Christ—almost like the ends of stories in which hobbits grow up and save the Shire, children return to England and learn to love Aslan by another name, and boy-kings go on alone (and at once) to lead their kingdoms. Can you remember seeing such flashes of gold, and feeling your heart sing, safe in His own heart—in the folds of His Mercy?

Still, Peter’s life goes on past this moment, just like ours do. Events continue to happen, and we again find ourselves in the dark, being led where we might not have chosen to go—for all hearts being conformed to Christ’s will be led to the cross. Peter is crucified far from home. We are enduring isolation and illness, desolation and death. In the stories, the hobbits say farewell to their dearest friend, the children lose their lives in a British railway accident, and the grown king is parted from his wife and only son—going on yet again alone (and at once). But, these events are not the end of the story. “God has His pen and an open book before Him, and in this book He writes a blessed story which will end only when the world ends.” Along the way, there will be wounds that words like these cannot heal—only the Word can heal. There will be times when we don’t understand why something happened, like the apostles, like Mary Magdalene, weeping by the tomb. And there will moments when He is revealed to us at dawn, and our hearts sing in the sunrise.

This Sunday is Divine Mercy Sunday. Even if we cannot see the streaks of gold amid the gloom and each page feels like an eternity, we can try to remember and remind others of the radiant light of His resurrection. He is our greatest Friend, who desires nothing less than our whole hearts, is always with us, and weeps with us along the way. Every moment we allow Him to take, bless, break, and share us is precious, for His grace heals and elevates our hearts if we unite our sorrows to His sorrowful passion, even if our eyes are filled with tears. Yes, He knows what He is about. Yes, He knows what He is doing. Yes, it’s true, He is with you the entire time, fitting and attuning your heart to His own heart—you can trust Him, even in the dark, especially in the dark. And, from the diary of St. Faustina, “You will not be alone, because I am with you always and everywhere. Near to My Heart, fear nothing… Know that My eyes follow every move of your heart with great attention. I am bringing you into seclusion so that I Myself may form your heart according to My future plans” (797). In other words, “Take courage, dear heart” (Lewis).

Jesus, I trust in You. Amen.

 

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Fr. Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence
St. Faustina, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul
C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, On Stories
Peter Kreeft, The Worldview of C.S. Lewis and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader
His Own, Remember

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy

By Jacqueline Casquero

The first week when my Catholic school shut down, I was in complete shock. I couldn’t believe the changes that were happening. I felt that I had no control over the situation. I couldn’t go to work, as I was told to stay home except to buy from the supermarket and the pharmacy. The churches were closed, and my favorite place where I volunteered for severely disabled children was shut down. I couldn’t meet in person with my family and friends.

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. I was looking at a place of darkness but thought there must be light. Like the saying goes, “There is light in the end of the tunnel.” When I contemplate the coronation of Our Lady while praying the rosary, I tend to think she will step upon the coronavirus as she did with the serpent, who brought death and sin.

To thee do do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. I was in tears when I heard about the severe shortage of hospital supplies such as masks, gloves, PPE, and ventilators. How many lives were at stake? The rising numbers of positive cases and deaths came upon my screen. How much I cried.

Turn then, O most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us, and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary! When my mother and I finished the decade of the rosary, I started to really feel and understand the Hail, Holy Queen prayer. I was definitely feeling in exile, mourning over so my losses such as the lives lost, the jobs lost, our daily lives changed, but in the midst of this tornado I felt a sense of hope. Maria is our star in the sky when our ship has lost its way in the shaky waves of the ocean in the midst of the storm. Our Lady is that bright star in the right direction, and our hope. She comes to us with our Savior to redeem the world.

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Why Are We Weeping?

The Gospel for today highlights a beautiful and candid moment shared between Mary Magdalene and Jesus. It is a story we have read over and over again, and though we know the meaning of it by heart, the feeling and emotion the passage evokes in us may feel slightly different this year. As I read it, I found my eyes filled with tears. My feelings of joy welled up in me as I read of the excitement in Mary Magdalene as she recognized her Lord standing in front of her. Our Savior had risen and conquered the grave.

Jesus spoke these sweet words: “Why are you weeping?”

I think these soft and comforting words can be posed to every one of us by Jesus this Easter Sunday. Throughout this Lenten season, we have been plagued by a pandemic. We have fasted, we have prayed unceasingly, we have truly suffered and learned what it really is like to be without the Body and Blood of Christ. We are all weeping while growing weary in these times of uncertainty. We were not even able to celebrate Easter with our family in Christ. We have lost all hope, just as Mary Magdalene did when she discovered her Lord was not in the tomb.

But there is hope, a great and deep hope. Our Lord has risen from the dead and He has saved us. I can see, clear as day, Jesus coming to each one of us this Easter season, looking deep into our eyes and hearts, asking us “why are you weeping?” In true anguish, we fall into Him because we have grown tired of this burden we carry. He takes this burden away because He is our Savior. I believe this Easter season is bringing new hope to us. This pandemic will come to an end because Jesus Christ already conquered it on the cross two thousand years ago. We have a responsibility just like Mary Magdalene’s—we need to go and proclaim the good news. Our Lord is alive! There is no need to fear any more!

Blessed Is She Who Believed

As a child I loved Holy Saturday. It was a day of Much Anticipation. The more sad and somber liturgies were completed, as was the long Lent and the fasting of Good Friday. Night would bring the wonderful Easter Vigil. I loved beginning in complete darkness, then the lighting of a single flame, the spreading of the light from candle to candle, and then finally the whole church lit up at the Gloria!

I looked forward to going to sleep, anticipating the arrival of the Easter Bunny, who promised plentiful chocolate and all sorts of other treats!

Holy Saturday was also the day of the annual village Easter Egg Hunt. We would eagerly climb the hill to the Tribute Gardens, armed with empty baskets, to search for colored Easter eggs. Hidden among the newly green grass, the flowers about to bloom, between rocks and moss-covered tree roots, we would find sweet treasures. There was something about the search itself, about seeking and finding, that thrilled my young heart, then and even now.

Of course the first Holy Saturday was not a day of anticipation, but only grief. It was not a day of finding but of great loss. It was not a day of new life and beginnings, but of the realization of the stunning end of everything hoped for.

Locked in their homes for fear of what might come next, filled with self-reproach and blame for their own failings, the disciples hid away, despairing and dismayed, their hearts sealed as surely as the stone-blocked sepulcher.

Why had God allowed this? How had it happened that the one they thought of as Savior could not in the end even save Himself? The Kingdom of God had come to an end.

Except in one heart.

Only Our Lady had a heart of holy anticipation. Only she held the faith, not letting it waver or slip, even through the cracks of her broken heart.

For Mary the mystery was not Why? or How? but Who?

Mary knew the goodness of God. She knew that the goodness of God was greater than what she saw, than the dead body she cradled in her arms and then laid forsaken in the tomb. She, who was the first to receive and accept the message of the Incarnation, carried this faith on through the empty stillness of Holy Saturday.

She must have pondered anew the words of the angel, promising Emmanuel, God with us. She knew that Promise was not past tense.

She must have seen again His human body, so tiny then, for the first but not last time swaddled in linens. The myrrh from the Magi—did she summon again its scent? A strange gift to celebrate new life!

She must have recalled that first time Jesus went missing for three days, and how her heart had searched for Him, how even then He was “about my Father’s business.”

She must have remembered His words at Cana, “my hour has not yet come.” His hour has now come, but she knows it is not past. The joy of the wine at the wedding feast was only a foreshadowing.

During this day, she alone “heard the words of the Lord and kept them,” taking to heart when He said, “I will rise after three days.”

Her broken heart held together the faith of the whole church, for the whole world. Saint John Paul II: “After Jesus had been laid in the tomb, Mary alone remains to keep alive the flame of faith, preparing to receive the joyful and astonishing announcement of the Resurrection.”

On this Holy Saturday, we are invited to remain in the heart of Mary, to keep vigil with her, to allow her hope to kindle our own.

Even as we are locked in our homes, and even as, for many of us, the Body of Christ is locked away in closed churches, we are invited to be with her in trust and peace.

We are invited to remember that God is even bigger than what we have seen so far: that He is still bringing greater good from evil, still resurrecting, still making all things new. We are invited to seek Him, anticipating the joy of the sweetness in finding Him, even in unexpected places.

Holy Saturday

Photo by Grant Whitty on Unsplash

INRI: Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews

The greatest love story ever told is that of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross for you.

What makes this so great is that this love story is not fictional, it is not a fairy tale, it is not a myth. This love story, of Jesus Christ dying on the Cross for you, is 100% real historical truth.

This week I was teaching my students about the importance of the Cross: how Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his disciples and instituted the Eucharist, how Jesus was betrayed by a close friend and handed over to the Roman soldiers, how Pontius Pilate sentenced him to be crucified like a criminal, and how Jesus knew all of this would happen and willingly chose to die for each of us because he loves us.

We know how this love story ends. It ends with victory on Easter morning, because Jesus Christ rose from the dead. One student, knowing about the Resurrection of Jesus, asked if Jesus and Judas became friends again after he came back from the dead. If Judas had not killed himself and instead asked forgiveness for his offenses, do you think Jesus would forgive the man who turned him over to his death? Yes, he would. Jesus loves everyone, and Jesus dying on the Cross was for the forgiveness of everyone’s sins, no matter how big or small. You just need to ask from your heart for forgiveness.

In today’s first reading, from the book of Isaiah, we read about the suffering servant—the prophecy that spoke about Jesus Christ bearing all the sins of the world upon himself and taking them all to his death.

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
—Isaiah 53:4–6

It was no coincidence that it was Jesus Christ on that Cross—it didn’t happen by chance. This was God’s plan for salvation. The prophets in the Old Testament told all of Israel that a servant of the Lord would bear their sins. Israel was told that the servant of the Lord would be ridiculed, humiliated, harshly treated, mocked, and scourged. It would be this servant, a man of great suffering, who would redeem the world. We often run away from suffering—not wanting to be weighed down or made to feel small and useless. We turn away and lament to be in pain, distress, or hardship. We think suffering is to be weak. But we must not think of suffering as society tells us it is—we need to look at the Cross and know that suffering is to be strong; suffering as Jesus suffered is to love.

God is not distant from us. Mankind was made in the image and likeness of God. He breathed life into us and is in the dwelling place of our hearts. God loves his children so much that his plan was to send his beloved Son to earth, so the Son could experience the hardships of sin. The second reading, from the letter of St. Paul to the Hebrews, tells us that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who has similarly been tested in every way” (Heb 4:15). Jesus knows the anguish that you are feeling. He knows that you are scared. He knows that you are full of anxiety. He knows that you worry about how you will be able to pay your bills. He knows that you worry about the health of your family and friends. Jesus knows it all because he is fully human and fully divine. And he wants you to trust in him. Trust in the sacrificial love of Jesus.

What ever sins you have committed in the past, sins that you think are too great to be forgiven, know that Jesus has already paid the price for them. If you think that you cannot be forgiven because you commit the same sin over and over, know that Jesus wants you to go to him because he will forgive you again. If you think you are in sin and suffering because you deserve it, that is a lie. Jesus has already suffered for you and wants you to have everlasting life. Out of suffering comes good; therefore, we call the day that Jesus died GOOD Friday. It is Good Friday because our God is good. It is Good Friday because God’s love is good. It is Good Friday because out of Jesus’ suffering and death, the gates of Heaven were opened, and his Blood was poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins—this is all good.

Because of his affliction
he shall see the light in fullness of days;
through his suffering, my servant shall justify many,
and their guilt he shall bear.
Therefore I will give him his portion among the great,
and he shall divide the spoils with the mighty,
because he surrendered himself to death
and was counted among the wicked;
and he shall take away the sins of many,
and win pardon for their offenses.
– Isaiah 53:11-12

This Good Friday, I invite you to meditate upon the Crucified Jesus who died for your sins. While Jesus was hanging on the Cross he said, “It is finished,” and bowed his head handing over the spirit—he did so because he loves you.

Crucified Jesus
Image Credit: The Crucifixion by Bartolomé Estebán Murillo ca. 1675 [Public Domain: Met Museum]

Veronica

Saint_Veronica_with_the_Veil_LACMA_M.84.20_(1_of_2)In the Stations of the Cross, I’ve always felt a kind of sympathy for Simon of Cyrene. He didn’t sign up to bear the heavy cross, to enter into the horror of the Passion, to walk alongside a stranger experiencing the worst day of His life. He just happened to be standing there, minding his own business. But when the duty was pressed upon him, Simon responded. He put aside his own reservations to serve Jesus in His moment of need, and in doing so, he fulfilled a most sacred role. I have always felt an affinity for Simon’s reluctant heroism. However, this year, I have found myself drawn more toward Veronica.

Veronica had no such compulsions to step out into the brutality and chaos of Jerusalem’s streets that fateful day; she could very well have stayed in her home and closed the curtains, turning away from this scene of unimaginable suffering and sorrow. After all, it was not as though she could really do anything about this situation anyway, right? She looked out and saw the innocent Jesus in deep agony, bound for His death. She was helpless to change His course from Calvary; the crucifixion was inevitable. Approaching the suffering Jesus would only cause her pain, would it not? It certainly wouldn’t change the fact that Jesus was going to die; it would only increase her sorrows to stand witness to it.

Cristo_con_la_Cruz_a_cuestas,_encuentra_a_la_Verónica_(Museo_del_Prado)And yet, Veronica stepped out toward Jesus. She volunteered to place herself in all the agony of that hour just to give Jesus what little she could: a small moment of comfort, a gesture of kindness, an affirmation of His dignity. She took her own veil and used it to wipe away the blood and sweat on His Holy Face. She looked into His eyes and offered a brief moment of companionship during His suffering. “I see You,” she might have said, “and I am not looking away.” After this interaction, the image of Jesus’s Holy Face was miraculously imprinted on Veronica’s veil: she went forth carrying the image of Christ to the world.

The name Veronica is derived from the Latin vera icon, meaning “true image.” She is called Veronica because of the role that she played during the Passion. We don’t know what Veronica’s “real” name was, but it doesn’t actually matter. Her truest identity is Veronica, true icon of Christ. In that moment on the road to Calvary, she didn’t just receive the image of Christ; she became the image of Christ. Her very person was forever changed by meeting Jesus and offering Him the simple gift of her presence.

Carlo_Caliari_-_Jesus_Meeting_Veronica_-_WGA03773In these strange and unsettling days of pandemic, we may find ourselves looking inward, becoming consumed by our own individual fears and anxieties. But if we are too self-occupied, we may miss the opportunity to reach out to another who would be comforted by our presence. Now, I’m not suggesting that we defy quarantine orders to step outside like Veronica did. But there are many ways that we can look outward toward the needs of others during this time. Like in the case of Veronica, we might be tempted to discouragement because we can’t fix this terrible situation. For instance, we might know someone who is painfully lonely and isolated, but we can’t actually change the fact that they will not be able to leave their home or receive any visitors for the foreseeable future. We can’t offer any solutions. But we can offer our emotional presence, if not our physical presence: we can let them know we’re thinking of them; we can send a thoughtful card or gift; we can call them to chat; we can invite them to online community prayer. These gestures might seem small, but like the Face of Jesus on Veronica’s veil, they can leave a deep impression.

Most of us will receive no compulsory demand to walk alongside someone in this crisis and help them carry their cross. And unless we strive to imitate Veronica—being attentive to the needs of others instead of closing in upon ourselves—we will miss our chance. As we walk the way of Calvary this Good Friday, let us not be ruled by our fears but instead be led by compassion, offering our kindness in the face of great trial.


1. Mattia Preti, Saint Veronica with the Veil / PD-US
2. Antonio Arias Fernández, Cristo con la Cruz a cuestas, encuentra a la Verónica / PD-US
3. Carlo Caliari, Jesus Meeting Veronica / PD-US