For This You Are Exalted

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas (who some remember as the composer of On Eagle’s Wings) is Artist-in-Residence and Research Fellow in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas.  As part of St. Thomas’s Lenten Reflection Series, Fr. Joncas  shared today a hymn text he wrote as a meditation on Jesus’ death.  It is a great text for reflection on this this Good Friday.  

The crowds who cried, “Hosanna,”
now clamor, “Crucify!”
Where once you rode in triumph
you stumble out to die.
O suffering Messiah,
O Lord of love and loss,
reveal to us the myst’ry
of your redeeming cross.

This instrument of torture,
this altar on a hill,
this artifact of evil
confounded by God’s will
provides the godforsaken
the sign of God’s embrace:
your outstretched arms, Christ Jesus,
a miracle of grace.

God’s equal, yet you never
clung to a form divine
but in our human likeness
lived out God’s great design.
Thus emptied, stripped, and humbled,
obedient unto death,
a slave upon a scaffold,
you drew your final breath.

For this you are exalted
and marked with great acclaim,
receiving highest honors:
the name above all names.
So at your name, Christ Jesus,
now ev’ry knee will bend,
with ev’ry tongue proclaiming
your Lordship without end.

Blessings as we continue our celebration of the Easter Triduum.


He Emptied Himself

On this day, I don’t think I can say anything better:

Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
(Philippins 2:6-11)

Blessings on this Good Friday!


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.

Behold the Wood of the Cross

Yesterday I attended the Good Friday liturgy at my parish. I always find the Good Friday liturgy very moving, and yesterday was no exception.

Part of that liturgy is, as it has been for many centuries, the procession and veneration of the cross. “This is the wood of the cross, on which hung the Savior of the world,” intones the Presider several times as liturgical ministers carry the cross through the assembly. “Come, let us worship,” we respond each time.

And then, one by one, we make our way up to the cross, some kissing the cross, others laying a hand…some standing, some kneeling. For me, the power of the ritual lies not only in my own act of veneration, but in witnessing as each person in the assembly files up. Person after person: young and old, nimble and arthritic. I’m especially moved by those whose age would certainly excuse their absence from the liturgy, but who file up with canes or walkers, leaning further than their bodies seem capable of leaning, so that they may venerate the cross.

This is a part of our faith many non-Christians cannot understand. Someone on facebook referred to what he termed Christian “fetishization of the Crucifixion” as “repulsive.”

But for Christians, the cross is not merely about Christ’s suffering, although we certainly have an awareness of that suffering as we listen to the narrative of the Passion of Christ during the liturgy. Instead, as my parish’s worship aid for the liturgy notes, the cross is “a symbol of Christ’s Passover, where, ‘dying he destroyed our death and rising he restored our life.’ It is the glorious, life-giving cross that we venerate with song, prayer, kneeling and a kiss.”

And having done so, today we sit in the space between death and resurrection. Holy Saturday blessings to all.

Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit

Today is Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate the passion and death of Jesus on the cross. Although the Passion account Catholic will hear at Good Friday services today is John’s, the line that I hear will hear in my heart over and over this day is the last line Luke records Jesus speaking from the cross: “Father, into Your hands, I commend My Spirit.”

We know from the Gospels that Jesus experienced real pain on the cross. And not only physical pain – as excruciating as that must have been. He also felt abandoned and alone. We also know, from his cry on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”, that Jesus also experienced the pain of fearing his father had left him and not being sure what would happen.

But, with these last words, I hear Jesus say, I may not be able to see you or feel you, but into your hands I commend my spirit. Writing about this line, Presbyterian minister John Ortberg used the example of a child to help us understand. He writes:

A two-year old girl stands by the side of a pool. “Jump,” her father says. She is filled with fear. She is quite certain that if she jumps, she will die. But she knows those hands. She trusts those hands. So she jumps. She abandons herself to her father. In between the jumping and the landing, everything in the world depends on these hands.

The history of this earth, in a way we don’t fully understand, comes to this one moment. A lone figure is stretched out on a cross between heaven and earth, life and death. All the fear and loneliness of the human race has been somehow poured out on him. He has been asked by his father to do that which he most dreads.

But he knows these hands. He trusts these hands. So he says a prayer. He says it now because he has said it every day of his life.

And this experience of Jesus’ means everything for us. What Jesus said and did helps me to know that God is there to catch me because I see Jesus jump into the embrace of a God he cannot see and feel. No matter how difficult things may seem at times, no matter how far away God may seem to be – I know from Jesus’ experience that God is there for me. That God’s hands will always catch me.

An important part of the lesson of Good Friday.

The Seven Last Words of Christ

Today is Good Friday, the day on which we commemorate the Passion and death of Jesus. According to the Catholic Church’s tradition, no sacraments are celebrated on this day.

Catholics mark the day in various ways. Some churches I have been part of have outdoor stations of the cross in the early part of the day. Then, traditionally at 3:00 in the afternoon, churches have a celebration of the Lord’s passion, which consists of three parts: a liturgy of the word, veneration of the cross, and holy communion (with bread already consecrated the day before).

Some churches include as part of the Good Friday liturgies reflections on the Seven Last Words of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. These are the words spoken by Jesus while he was hanging on the cross.

You can find any number of commentaries on the words. I present them here with no commentary and with the simple suggestion that you take one or more of them to prayer today, asking yourself: what does it mean to me that Jesus uttered there words? What do they say about Jesus love for me and his absolute faith in the Father?

Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.

Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Spoken to the “Good Thief”)

Woman, behold your son…Behold, your mother. (Spoken to Mary and John)

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

I thirst

It is finished.

Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.

Veneration of the Cross

Today is Good Friday, the day on which we commemorate the death of our Lord, Jesus Christ. As part of our Good Friday liturgy, after we listen to an account of Jesus’ passion, we venerate the cross. One by one, those attending the service come up an venerate the cross in the manner of thier choosing, some kissing it, some embracing it, some touching it with with their hands, others kneeling or prostrating before it.

We say that we venerate the “wood of the cross.” But is it not, of course, that actual cross that we kiss, or embrace or kneel before in church that is the actual object of our veneration. It is not the cross itself, but what is signfies to us as Christians. In the words of one commentator

Adoration or veneration of an image or representation of Christ’s cross does not mean that we actually adore the material image, of course, but rather what it represents. In kneeling before the crucifix and kissing it we are paying the highest honor to our Lord’s cross as the instrument of our salvation. Because the Cross is inseparable from His sacrifice, in reverencing His Cross we, in effect, adore Christ. Thus we affirm: “We adore Thee, O Christ, and we bless Thee because by Thy Holy Cross Thou has Redeemed the World.”

Thus, in this solemn ritual we perform each year, we express our adoration of Christ, whose death allows us to live. One of the things we might reflect on as we venerate the cross is the staggering reality, as expressed by my deceased friend Fr. Don Shane, that Christ didn’t just die for all of us, he died for each of us.

Good Friday

Today we celebrate Good Friday, although “celebrate” is perhaps a strange word to use to mark the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Today is a day for us to stand beneath the cross and contemplate how much God is willing to do for us in the name of love.

The contemplation of Jesus’ passion we began at the beginning of Holy Week, we see through to the end today. St. Ignatius believed that it is important for us to see this through with Jesus to the end, to walk to Calvary with Jesus and be with Him at the moment of His death. This is something incredibly important for Ignatius: I do not leave until Jesus dies. Why?

The greatest question of our faith is: does Jesus really rise? Can God bring meaning and love out of death? Can the killing of the Word made flesh really make sense? Can love be stronger than hate? Does Jesus really rise from the place of suffering and death? Ignatius believes I cannot answer those questions without first experiencing the death. That I cannot leave Calvary until I let Jesus does, because only in seeing Jesus die can I see into the heart of God. (Karl Rahner once said: “at the core of God’s center is Calvary.”)

I must stand in the violence and pain and see life and hope and goodness in the midst of pain. I must be with Jesus in His experience on the cross. Not just His physical pain, but the pain of not being sure what will happen. Standing at the cross I see that Jesus felt fear that His Father had left him. I hear Jesus cry out: I can’t see you, where are you, why have you abandoned me. But I also hear Jesus say, I can’t see you, but into your hands I commend my spirit. And standing at the foot of the cross I come to know that God is there to catch me because I see Jesus jump into the embrace of a God He cannot see and feel. I cannot know this if I don’t go to Calvary. I can only know this if I stay at that cross and watch the scene in its entirety.

This is not an easy thing. Father Joseph Cassidy writes: “Staying with Jesus is not at all easy….In fact, the apostles remain prime examples of just how difficult it must have been and how demanding it still is to stay with Jesus through his Passion. Staying quietly with Jesus at the foot of the cross is an extraordinary labor of love which requires “great effort,” as Ignatius said.”

Being at the foot of the cross is not easy. But that is precisely where we are invited to be this day.