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

The Most Blessed of All Dwellings

“Come, lady, die to live: this wedding-day
Perhaps is but prolong’d: have patience and endure.”
– William Shakespeare

A great dark wave seems to be covering the earth, hiding us in the shadows of grief and unrest. Each morning brings us the reality of illness and isolation, desolation and death, as we endure what seems to be a darkness unescapable. In a time when we cannot see or even touch many of our loved ones, we also cannot remain untouched by a communal sorrow which words can barely express. And as we are called to fast from sacramentally receiving Christ—our Bridegroom, Love, and greatest Friend—in the Eucharist, it can seem like the remaining lights are slowly flickering out.

How could we not weep all this while, joining our tears with those of Mary Magdalene outside the tomb? “The ‘sincere gift’ contained in the Sacrifice of the Cross gives definitive prominence to the spousal meaning of God’s love. As the Redeemer of the world, Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church. The Eucharist is the Sacrament of our Redemption. It is the Sacrament of the Bridegroom and of the Bride” (St. Pope John Paul II). When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Christ’s Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity in the most intimate manner. “God’s whole life encounters us and is sacramentally shared with us” (Pope Benedict XVI), and we become little tabernacles of the Indwelling God.

It is strange: these days of fasting and mourning are not necessarily “when the Bridegroom [has been] taken away” (Matthew 9:15), like Good Friday—but when the Bride has been taken away. Unlike Mary Magdalene, we know where He has been laid. We can even see Him through the livestreaming of Mass and Adoration! Instead, it is we who have been taken, who must remain hidden, and who are called to fast from the foretaste of the wedding banquet, dying to self and holy desires in acts of love so that we and others might live. Fortunately, “both spiritual and physical hunger can be a vehicle of love” (Pope Benedict XVI). We can receive Christ through spiritual communion, which, as St. Thomas Aquinas describes, “comprises the desire or yearning for receiving this sacrament” (III, Q. 80, Art. 11, co.).

While the Eucharist is the source and summit of our life, and a mystery of trinitarian love that shows the “indissolubility to which all true love necessarily aspires” (St. Pope John Paul II), we have yet more reasons to hope. “The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist” (CCC 1617). It is “in Christ, dead and risen, and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, given without measure (cf. Jn 3:34), that we have become sharers of God’s inmost life” (Pope Benedict XVI). Through Baptism, we receive the Holy Spirit, who comes to dwell in our souls—and through the Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity, since the Holy Trinity is indivisible: “He is One” (Mark 12:32).

We are baptized into His death so that we may have life—His life—dwelling in us (Galatians 2:19-21). So long as we remain with Him in a state of grace, He remains in us. As St. Elizabeth of the Trinity explains, “Realize that your soul is the temple of God, it is again Saint Paul who says this; at every moment of the day and night the three Divine Persons are living within you. You do not possess the Sacred Humanity as you do when you receive Communion; but the Divinity, that essence the blessed adore in Heaven, is in your soul; there is a wholly adorable intimacy when you realize that; you are never alone again” (L273). Even “in the most difficult hours, when He sometimes seems very far away, [He] is in reality so close, so ‘within’ us,” (L160) hidden in the little cells of our hearts. “It seems to me that I have found my Heaven on earth, since Heaven is God, and God is [in] my soul” (L122).

In today’s Gospel, we are all called to love this trinitarian God more than we love each other—with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30)—and we are called to love each other very much indeed, loving our neighbor as our self (Mark 12:33). When Christ sees that the scribe understands this, He tells him that he is “not far from the Kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). This is true for us as well, as we are not far from the hidden life of the Trinity in the kingdoms of our souls. And with this Love, we can love Him and our neighbors as best we can, all while remaining hidden ourselves. Perhaps there is no better saint to show us this than the one whose feast we celebrated yesterday—St. Joseph, who could be called the patron of the hidden life. “St. Joseph performed no single brilliant act of holiness… What did he accomplish? He loved. That alone is what he did and that alone was enough to glorify him. He loved God with an incalculable and undiminishing love, and he was loved the same way in return” (Bl. Jean-Joseph Lataste).

We may not know what is happening. Our reason may point to what we can see: inescapable waves of darkness, fear, loneliness, and suffering that in turn point to the end of days, or at least to the end of life as we know it. But His grace points to what we cannot see: the divine Life dwelling in our souls, an Indwelling most blessed—and a divine Light, “the true light that enlightens every man” (CCC 1216), even in the midst of darkness and suffering. As Tolkien writes, “in this hour, I do not believe that any darkness will endure.” Instead, Love will endure, a Love which “endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7). So too must we hope and “endure with patience these hours of waiting.” And in that hidden, faithful waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb here and in Heaven, where we will again see our loved ones, receive Christ, and sing for joy, let us dwell in Him and Him in us, letting Him love us and others through us in the House “of all dwellings the most blessed.”

“Don’t be afraid, be completely in God’s peace, He loves you, He is watching over you like a mother over her little child. Remember that you are in Him, that He makes Himself your dwelling here below; and then, that He is in you, that you possess Him in the most intimate part of yourself, that at any hour of the day or night, in every joy or trial, you can find Him there, quite near, entirely within you. It is the secret of happiness; it is the secret of the saints; they knew so well that they were the ‘temple of God’ and that in uniting ourselves to this God, we become ‘one spirit with Him,’ as Saint Paul says; so they went forth to everything in His radiance” (L175).

St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, pray for us. Amen.

Reading & Listening Suggestions
Pope Benedict XVI, Sacramentum Caritatis
Fr. Eugene McCaffrey OCD, Let Yourself Be Loved
St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, The Complete Works: Volume 2
Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, Consecration to St. Joseph
Fr. Marie-Dominique Philippe, O.P., The Mystery of Joseph
John Oliver, The Heart of Père Lataste
Jackie Francois Angel, New Creation
Daily Mass, Rosary, and Divine Mercy Chaplet live streams: St. Vincent Ferrer & St. Catherine of Siena

On This Friday We Call Good: Eucatastrophe and the Eucharist

From noon onward, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.

-Matthew 27:45

It is finished.

We listened as Christ’s final words were proclaimed from the altar. We adored His cross and kissed His wounds, following in the footsteps of Mary and the beloved disciple. And then, we received the Word made flesh in the Eucharist, “the one great thing to love on earth,” one last time.

Now, the sanctuary light is extinguished, the altar is bare, and the dim church is silent. The tabernacle is open, and empty. If “a stable once had some[one] inside it that was bigger than our whole world,” the absence of that dear friend leaves a hole just as large, and it seems like “all other lights [have gone] out,” that our “one companion is darkness” (Ps. 88:19). As another poet says, “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark.”

Yet, even in this hour of remembering Christ’s passion, we “do not believe that any darkness will endure,” though the “shadow lies on [us] still.” Jesus tells us himself at the Last Supper that “you will weep and mourn… you will grieve, but your grief will become joy” (Jn. 16:20). This darkness is not the end of the story. Though we may be in anguish now, and remember how his apostles were then, we will see Him again, receive Him again, and our hearts will rejoice just as their hearts did. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5).

In his essay “On Fairy-Stories,” J.R.R. Tolkien writes about this “sudden joyous turn” when all hope seems lost, which he calls a eucatastrophe. The opposite of a tragedy’s catastrophe, it is a “sudden and miraculous grace: never to be counted on to recur. It does not deny the existence… of sorrow and failure: the possibility of these is necessary to the joy of deliverance; it denies… universal final defeat and in so far is evangelium, giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

Evangelium—the Gospel, the good news. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn. 1:1, 14). As Pope Benedict XVI writes, “The Gospel is not just informative speech, but performative speech—not just the imparting of information, but action, efficacious power that enters into the world to save and transform… God’s word, which is at once word and deed, appears… For here it is the real Lord of the world—the Living God—who goes into action.” “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).

As Tolkien continues, he says, “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy.” So too does Holy Week. On Palm Sunday, Jesus joyfully arrives in Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, He gives us the gift of Himself in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith, which “[feeds] the will and [gives us] the strength to endure.” On Good Friday, He gives us His mother, Our Lady, to be our mother and companion in darkness, before giving up His very life for us on the cross out of love.

Soon, His love will be told not only on the cross, but also in the empty tomb. His faithfulness will be known among the dead, as He breaks the very bonds of sin and death. And His wonders will be known, even in the dark. We need only to take courage and wait a little while longer—for the winter will pass, the Son will be unveiled in the breaking of the bread, and the light will leap forth as we sing with Easter joy.

Referenced
Eliot, Four Quartets
Lewis, The Last Battle
Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings, On Fairy-Stories, Letters
Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth Vol. 1