Celebrating Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday, a day of great celebration for all Christians. Today we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.

It is important for us to remember that today is not merely a celebration of the anniversary of something that happened to one person a long time ago. What is central about this day is not merely the historical fact of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also what His resurrection means about our own death and resurrection.

God had no reason to incarnate, die and rise for God’s own sake. God was already eternal, already not subject to death, already alive forever – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” It adds nothing new to or about God’s nature for God to die and rise.

In one sense, the whole point of God becoming human was to make resurrection a reality for us – to carry us along so to speak – such that the resurrection of Christ inherently implies our resurrection. Thus Paul says “If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised…if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised.”

Today we celebrate the death of death. We celebrate the promise of our own resurrection.

Now, for each of us, the question is: What difference does that make in our lives?


Between Death and Resurrection

Today is Holy Saturday, the day on which we wait at the tomb.

This is the time during which Jesus “descended into hell,” as we proclaim when we recite the Apostles’ Creed. The morning prayer in the Magnificat comments in respect of this proclamation that “God does not redeem from afar. The Word descended into our humanity; the Lord descended into the depths of our suffering; Christ descended into the very realm of death itself in order to set free its captives.”

In a meditation on Holy Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI said this:

Holy Saturday is the day of the ‘death of God,’ the day which expresses the unparalleled experience of our age, anticipating the fact that God is simply absent, that the grave hides him, that he no longer awakes, no longer speaks, so that one no longer needs to gainsay him but can simply overlook him….Christ strode through the gate of his final loneliness; in his Passion he went down into the abyss of our abandonment. Where no voice can reach us any longer, there is he. Hell is thereby overcome, or, to be more accurate, death, which was previously hell, is hell no longer. Neither is the same any longer because there is life in the midst of death, because love dwells in it.

In between preparations for our celebration of the Resurrection, take some time today to honor this day. Be with the Holy Saturday experience.


Today is Good Friday, a day on which we contemplate the enormity of what Jesus suffered for us.

In a version of stations of cross by Clarence Enzler (in which the prayers are fashioned as a dialogue between Jesus and those praying the stations, he has Jesus describe his crucifixion like this:

Can you imagine what a crucifixion is? My executioners stretch my arms; they hold my hand and wrist against the wood and press the nail until it stabs my flesh. Then, with one heavy hammer smash, they drive it through – and pain bursts like a bomb of fire in my brain. They seize the other arm; and agony again explodes. Then raising up my knews so that my feet are flat against the wood, they hammer them fast too.

It is not a pleasant image to contemplate, but it raises a question that is a good one to spend time with: Do I accept and believe that I am worth so much to God that Jesus is willing to bear that much pain and suffering for my sake.

And what is my response in the face of that love…of that enormous and total self-sacrifice?

As I was sitting with those questions, this song came to mind, so I share it for your reflection today.

In The Garden With Jesus

Today is Holy Thursday. This evening, we will celebrate the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, participating in Jesus’ washing of the feet of his disciples and his sharing his last meal with his friends. But what follows after that meal is also an important part of the story.

Following his last meal with his friends, Jesus went to the garden to pray to his Father about what he knew he was about to undergo.

We cannot really understand this episode (the first of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary) unless we completely embrace one of the fundamental tenets of our faith – that Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. Although this is something we profess every time we recite the Creed, I think we sometimes have a tendency to overemphasize the divine at the expense of the human.

But unless we understand that Jesus was as human as you or I, we cannot appreciate what real suffering Jesus underwent in the garden. Matthew says, Jesus began to feel sorrow and distress; Jesus says his “soul is sorrowful even to death.” This is not pretend suffering, this is not God manifesting suffering to make a point. This is the fully human Jesus truly experiencing an almost unbearable level of suffering.

And this fully human Jesus faces fear and dread of the suffering he knows he is about to undergo. Jesus has just finished his last meal with his closest friends. He has known since turning his head toward Jerusalem that this is it, so to speak. He may not know the details, but he has a clear enough idea what is going to happen; he knows he is about to be arrested and executed.

Not surprisingly, Jesus says to His father – is this really necessary? Must I suffer so much? Is it possible for this cup to pass? Jesus doesn’t want to undergo the suffering.

But this is someone who has lived his life saying Yes to God. Who has prayed and walked with God day after day. And Jesus’ lifetime of “yes’s” to God, leads to his big yes here – Your will, not mine, be done.

The question for us, is can we do the same? As you sit in the garden this evening with Jesus and his disciples, ask yourself: What cup do I ask God to let pass from me? And then ask yourself: Am I willing to instead ask God for the strength to bear the cup?

Spiritual Direction and the Call to Greater Union with God

As someone who is both a spiritual director and one who has been receiving spiritual direction for many years, I read with interest Daniel Burke’s Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, sent to me by The Catholic Company as part of its reviewer program.

Burke and I share the conviction that spiritual direction is an important tool for helping us deepen our relationship with God. As I have told people who have asked me, I think anyone who is a regular pray-er, anyone who is committed to a life of discipleship and to deepening their life with God can benefit from direction. And I share Burke’s passion for sharing with others that which I have benefitted from.

I also agree with Burke both about the need to choose a spiritual director carefully and about the lack of knowledge/awareness many people have about what spiritual direction is. Thus, I think a book like this, that seeks to bring understanding of spiritual direction to a wider audience has great potential value. Having said that, there are several respects in which Burke and I part company.

The book begins with a chapter defining what spiritual direction is and what it is not. His description of what spiritual direction is correctly identifies that there are three parties to the spiritual direction relationship – the director, directee, and God, and that the central aim of direction is “to help guide the directee to purposely, consistently and substantively grow in their relationship with God and neighbor.” And I think some of the distinctions Burke draws are important, such as the distinction between spiritual direction and psychological counseling and the difference between spiritual direction and confession.

I do not, however, share Burke’s view that it is “sub-optimal” to have a spiritual director who is not a priest. While he recognizes that spiritual direction is not “the exclusive territory of priests and religious,” his ideal is a spiritual director that can also serve as confessor. I have seen this bias in others, knowing some people who believe that a priest, regardless of how little training in providing spiritual direction is superior to any lay person, regardless of how much training they have received. I do not share Burke’s view that the training in moral and dogmatic theology provides a sufficient basis for providing spiritual direction.

Given my training in Ignatian spirituality, I also don’t draw the sharp distinction I read Burke as drawing between the spiritual life of the directee and other aspects of their lives. While I agree that the “specific focus of spiritual direction is the spiritual life of the directee,” Ignatius’ emphasis on finding God in all things means there is virtually nothing that is completely divorced from our spiritual lives. Thus, unlike Burke, I think there is very little “elements, activities and interests that are peripheral” to the spiritual life.”

I had similarly mixed reactions to his chapters on finding a spiritual director and entering into a spiritual direction relationship. I think the most important criteria for a director is that the director himself or herself has experience in the spiritual life – that the director has a lived spirituality and is not someone who simply talks about faith and spirituality. (And I agree that there is an enormous difference between quoting from saints like Teresa of Avila and understanding their spirituality.) For me, a director’s view on “a few hot-button issues” are less important than they are for Burke. My job as a director is not to convince a directee of my theology – it is to help them grow in their relationship to God; the same is true regarding my relationship with my own director.

In his chapter on first meetings, I don’t disagree with a lot of what he suggests by way of preparing to meet with one’s director. However, I was taken aback by his claim that it is hard to get an appointment with a potential director. He asserts that director’s don’t make it easy to get an appointment as a means of gauging an interested directee’s seriousness and constancy. That may be Burke’s practice as a director. It is certainly not mine and it has not bene the practice with anyone from whom I have sought direction over the years – priest, religious or lay. When someone interested in direction calls me asking if I am available to take on a new directee, I have a phone conversation with them to determine if it makes sense for us to meet and then meet with the person. It may take some weeks for that meeting to occur given my schedule, but never would I either delay getting back to someone or do anything else to make it difficult for a person to see me.

The book contains a useful chapter on spiritual self-evaluation and of identification of “root” sins, useful not only for those seeking spiritual direction. A later chapter discusses stages of development of the spiritual life. While good, I wonder how useful some of it is for the primary audience of the book – i.e., those not yet in direction.

In all, there is much I thought beneficial in the book, but also a number of things that cause me hesitation about it.

Pope Francis Is A Challenge To All Of Us

I’ve been watching over the last two weeks as Catholics in the United States from various points on the political and religious spectrum argue about who between Republicans and Democrats or conservatives and liberals have more to fear from Pope Francis. “Republicans have a Pope Francis Problem,” proclaimed one op-ed, prompting a blog post titled, “Who Has a Pope Francis Problem? Not only Republicans.” Comments to articles and posts along either lines yield heated debates about whose “Pope Francis Problem” is a bigger one, “progressive” or “conservative” Catholics; political liberals or conservatives.

I was reminded while reading such posts of a conversation I had with my then spiritual director before an election some years ago. I remarked that I was no longer comfortable calling myself either Democrat or Republican. Without a pause he replied, “That’s because you’re not Republican or Democrat. You’re Catholic.”

The discussion of which of Republicans or Democrats or which of “progressive” or “conservative” Catholics has a bigger “Pope Francis problem” is at best a silly one and at worse a convenient diversion from the real issue.

Pope Francis is a challenge to all of us in the United States. Very few of us are living the lives of radical simplicity, generosity, and prayer his life models. All (or at least most) of us consume far more than we need. All (or most) of us could be more generous to and concerned for the needs of the most vulnerable around us. All (or most) or us could spend more time deepening our relationship with God.

Pope Francis calls all of us to a deeper relationship to Christ. And he calls each of us to live lives that reflect that relationship. It would be far more beneficial for each of us to focus on the challenge the new pope offers to our own lives than to worry about whether someone else has a bigger “Pope Francis Problem” than we do.

Follow Me

I tend to accumulate scraps of paper with notes to myself, some of which I actually look at again, although I confess that sometimes I can’t actually remember what the note means (and sometimes can’t even read the scribbles).

Cleaning out some excess papers from the folder containing things relating to my book talks, I came across one that said “Roland Flint follow.”

Roland Flint was a member of the English department at the time I was an undergraduate at Georgetown. He was both a wonderful teacher and an extraordinary poet.

When I saw the note, I remembered a woman coming up to me at one of my talks and talking to me about him. Since I wasn’t sure about the “follow” part of the note, I did what I’m guessing most of us in this internet age would do: I put “Roland Flint follow” into Google. And what I discovered was this poem, titled Follow, written by Flint:

Now here is this man mending his nets
after a long day, his fingers
nicked, here and there, by ropes and hooks,
pain like tomorrow in the small of his back,
his feet blue with his name, stinking of baits,
his mind on a pint and supper – nothing else –
a man who describes the settled shape
of his life every time his hands
make and snug a perfect knot.

I want to understand, if only for the story,
how a man like this,
a man like my father in harvest,
like Bunk MacVane in the stench of lobstering,
or a teamster, a steelworker,
how an ordinary working stiff,
even a high tempered one,
could just be called away.

It’s only in one account
he first brings in a netful –
in all the others, he just calls,
they return the look or stare and then
they “straightaway” leave their nets to follow.
That’s all there is. You have to figure
what was in that call, that look.

(And I wouldn’t try it on a tired working man
unless I was God’s son –
he’d kick your ass right off the pier.)

If they had been vagrants,
poets or minstrels, I’d understand that,
men who would follow a different dog.
But how does a man whose movement,
day after day after day,
absolutely trusts the shape it fills
put everything down and walk away?

I’d pass up all the fancy stunting
with Lazarus and the lepers
to see that one.

I know nothing about Flint’s theology or his relationship to God or Christ. So I have no idea if what the poem captures is his own feeling.

What I do know is that the poem captures a question that can only be satisfactorily answered by experiencing Christ. What made those men drop everything is not something that can be explained intellectually, in a manner satisfactory to someone who has not had a personal encounter. (And if you’ve had the personal encounter, you know what it is that made them put everything down and walk away.)

The only answer is the one Jesus gave to the disciples of John when they first inquired about who he was: “Come, and you will see.”

This week, our invitation is to continue to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. And the same thing that caused those fisherman to drop their nets and follow Jesus is what allows us to stay with him all this week.

Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord

Today is Palm Sunday. Catholics today will process into Mass palms in hand, listening to St. Luke’s account of Jesus triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We will hear how as Jesus rode into Jerusalem, people spread their cloaks on the road and “began to praise God aloud with joy.”

It is almost jarring to hear the crowds proclaim, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord. Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.” Jarring because we know the rest of the story.

And since we know what will shortly follow that scene, we have to ask ourselves, how did the crowd turn so quickly from “Blessed is he” to “Crucify him”? How could the same people who proclaimed the first demand the second?

It is not just an interesting historical question. It is not just about those people on those two days. Don’t we really do the same? Praise God in one moment and, by our words and deeds, reject him in the next.

I posted once before this song by Danielle Rose. It is a good one to help us think about the ways in which we do exactly as the crowds did who turned against Jesus.

Update: At the Mass I attended this evening at my sister’s church, the priest asked us to remember that Jesus was aware of our fickleness – our ability to move from praise to condemnation to indifference – and went through his part in his father’s plan anyway.

Covenant and Hope

In today’s first Mass reading, God promises through the prophet Ezechiel that he will gather the children of Israel “from all sides to bring them back to their land” and that he will “make them one nation on the land.” They will be delivered from their sins and cleaned “so that they may be my people.”

We heard a similarly rosy prophesy in our first reading on Thursday, where God promised Abraham that he would maintain his covenant with Abraham and his people. Got promised, “I am making you the father of a host of nations. I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you.” God promised to give to Abraham and his descendants “the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession.”

Fast forward to the time of Jesus, a time when the Jewish people had reason to be discouraged. These were God’s chosen people. They had been promised great things by Abraham, Exechiel and the rest of the prophets – they would be the leaders of all nations, they would enjoy great peace and the worship of the one true God was to spread from them to all the peoples of the earth.

Instead, at the time of Jesus, the Jews were ruled by the Romans and forced to pay tribute to Caesar. Their lives were lives of hardship and they sought deliverance from that hardship.

Into that environment, comes Jesus. Not with a message of worldly power, but with a message of hope.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God; blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me – rejoice and be glad.

Do not store up treasures on earth where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven.

Do not worry about your life. Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin. Yet not one of them falls to the ground without yoru Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted.

I am the bread of life. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.

I could go on and on. Jesus brought promise. He brought hope. And he brings the same promise and hope to us that he did to the people he encountered while he walked on earth.

The hope we have been given.

The hope we are meant to convey to the world.

Mary and the Fourteenth Station

Today is Friday and Fridays during Lent are a traditional day for Stations of the Cross. Many churches have evening services where people do the Stations in groups. Others like to pray them individually.

There are many versions of the Stations and many people have their own favorite – whether it is Clarence Enzler’s Everyone’s Way of the Cross (one of my favorites) or the St. Alphonsus Liguori Stations of the Cross or the Social Justice Stations of the Cross and so on.

The one I picked to reflect on this week is The Stations of the Cross with Mary, from Creighton University Online Ministries.

For all of us who have suffered the loss of a loved one (which I’m guessing is pretty much all of us), the prayer of the Fourteenth Station, Jesus is laid in the tomb is a very powerful one. Here it is:

No mother should ever have to bury a child. Just a short time before this day, Jesus looked into Lazarus’ tomb. He must have known he would be laid in a tomb like that soon. And when he thanked God for hearing his prayer, he must have known that the Father who sent him would give him life that would never die. In just a few days, this tomb would be empty and forever a sign of Jesus’ surrender to the forces of sin and death, for us.

As we picture this scene, let us place the image of the empty tomb before our eyes. Whenever you are tempted to stand outside any tomb and grieve, remember this empty tomb and know that, through the eyes of faith, all tombs are empty. Today, join me in giving him thanks. Join me in signing ourselves with the sign of his cross, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Even during Lent, we remember that the tomb is empty. I’m reminded, as I pray Mary’s prayer, of the some lines of a song I’ve heard used as a recessional hymn, Goodness is Stronger than Evil: “Vic’try is ours, vict’ry is ours through him who loved us. Vic’try is ours, vic’try is ours through him who loved us.”