Living through the pandemic and all its challenges that have been exposed has been tough. From job loss, health crisis, identity crisis and watching the social injustice, it is easy to become hopeless and feel like there is nothing one person can do. But there is. Each and every one of us can say these five words which will profoundly impact our world:Continue reading “Five Words That Can Change the World”
With St. Mary Magdalene, let us accept Christ’s ‘Do not touch me’ with the certainty that His words give us a new mission, and a new way to be with Him, just as St. Elizabeth Ann Seton met the hardships of her life with renewed faith and strength. Written by Lisa Lickona from the Seton Reflection published last year.
This year we celebrate our great and holy Feast, the Resurrection of Our Lord, in the most unexpected circumstances, most of us separated from physical participation in the Mass and the opportunity to receive Communion.
We are cut off from our family and friends and our parish communities. And we wonder: how can we live in this new situation, separated from the Body of God—both in the Eucharist and the living Church?Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness. The Empty Tomb: Easter with Mary Magdalene and Elizabeth Ann Seton”
As was the case last year during the beginning of the pandemic closures, this year’s Stations of the Cross (or Via Crucis) presided over by Pope Francis were held in the quiet and virtually empty St. Peter’s Square. This year, though, the mediations and prayers for each Station were prepared and read by children from Rome and other Italian cities. The faith and hope expressed by these children are profound and moving and are worthy of further reflection during this Easter season. As a complement to the text of the meditations and prayers provided here, you can watch a video of the Stations and hear the children’s sweet voices, as well as see several of the children greet Pope Francis with hugs after the Stations concluded.Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness: We Adore You, O Christ, and We Praise You”
Written by Jennifer Stavinoha for Every Sacred Sunday one April 4, 2021
It’s the greatest news to ever hit the headlines of humanity – but the arrival of Easter comes with some surprising emotions.Continue reading “Shining a Light on Goodness: Hallelujah, He is Risen!”
Continue reading “New Life and Consolation Our Easter Celebration Continues”
Amid the many hardships we are enduring, let us never forget that we have been healed by the wounds of Christ. In the light of the Risen Lord, our sufferings are now transfigured. Where there was death, now there is life. Where there was mourning, now there is consolation.Pope Francis
After recollecting our Lord’s Passion and Death on Good Friday, Holy Saturday begins as a day of quiet prayer and reflection. It is a day when no Mass is celebrated in the Catholic Church (until the solemn Easter Vigil that begins after sundown). Instead, the faithful pray and meditate on the great sacrifice our Lord has made for all of us, and anticipate His Resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday.
I spend the day in the quiet, thanking Jesus for the ultimate gift that He gave to all of us on Good Friday. I try to place myself in the confusion and fear (as well as hope) that the Blessed Mother, the apostles, and the other witnesses to Jesus’ Passion undoubtedly felt on that first Holy Saturday. In doing so, I realize how fortunate I am to know how the story ends and that Jesus Christ will be rising on Sunday morning!
As the day progresses, my thoughts turn to the Easter Vigil Mass. For those who have not experienced an Easter Vigil Mass, I strongly encourage you to do so when you are able (whether attending in person or watching at home, perhaps viewing Pope Francis offering the Easter Vigil Mass from St. Peter’s in Rome). It is a long Mass (usually three hours) that gives us the opportunity to keep vigil for the Lord in the greatest solemnity of the year. You will hear, see, and feel the entirety of our salvation history and be united with members of the Church throughout all time.
The Easter Vigil Mass is divided into four parts: (1) The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil (or the Lucernarium); (2) The Liturgy of the Word; (3) The Baptismal Liturgy; and (4) The Liturgy of the Eucharist. Each of the parts of the Mass have unique characteristics and I will point out several that are significant to me.
The Solemn Beginning of the Vigil begins in the dark but you will see light beginning to break through.
The church is dark before the priest blesses a fire outside the church and then prepares and lights the Paschal candle. After the blessing, there is a procession in which the Paschal candle is brought into the dark church, with the procession stopping at certain intervals for prayer. While the procession continues, the Paschal candle is used to light the small candles that each member of the congregation has been given. It takes your breath away when you see the wave of light slowly move through the dark church representing Christ spreading His light throughout our world. When the candles are lit and the procession reaches the front of the church, the Easter Proclamation, or Exsultet, is chanted by a deacon. The Easter Proclamation is filled with images of light and recalls Christ’s death and Resurrection, giving us time to reflect on what we have prepared for during Lent and are now able to celebrate as Christ is risen. The candles that the congregation hold are typically extinguished after the Easter Proclamation and the church is again dark.
The Liturgy of the Word during the Easter Vigil is unlike the Liturgy of the Word that you experience during a normal Sunday Mass.
It is an extended liturgy that includes up to nine readings from the Old and New Testament, with Responsorial Psalms after each reading. These readings (which begin with the creation story from the Book of Genesis, then move to Abraham’s sacrifice and the Israelite exodus from Egypt from the Book of Exodus, and conclude with the great prophets Isaiah, Baruch, and Ezekiel) highlight crucial moments in our salvation story. This is our story of healing and redemption and it reminds me that I am part of this great story too. After the readings and psalms conclude, the lights are raised, the candles lit, and the sounds of the Gloria and bells fill the church (for the first time since Lent began). We can now celebrate that our Lord has risen and has overcome death and sin for us. The sounds and the light (arising from the previously dark church) fill my soul with joy. We then move to a reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans proclaiming Christ risen from the dead and dying no more. The Alleluias ring out, also for the first time since Lent began, and we hear the Gospel reading of Jesus’s Resurrection. This year, the Gospel reading is from Mark 16: 1-7, in which Mary Magdalen, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome are greeted by a young man at the tomb with these words:
Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Behold the place where they laid him.Focus on His truth, Mark 16:6
The Mass moves to the Baptismal Liturgy.
This is a very special and important part of the Mass for me as it is the time when adults entering the Church experience the initiation sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. I spent many years working with catechumens and candidates in the RCIA process and was so privileged and blessed to be part of their faith journeys that culminated in the reception of sacraments at the Easter Vigil Mass. At my parish, there would be a retreat for them on Good Friday evening. Each adult that was to enter the church was encouraged to take a glass, fill it with water to the level that represented where they were in their faith journey, and tell the group their story. It was truly amazing to hear the faith and hope that these soon-to-be Catholics shared with us. They then poured the water into a pitcher. The water in that pitcher was added to the baptismal pool water so that each adult would be baptized with each other’s faith journeys. What a powerful statement of faith and community! To see the glow on the faces of the newly baptized and confirmed helps strengthen my faith every year. After the sacramental rites, the congregation is given the opportunity to renew their baptismal vows and be sprinkled with holy water. We are also blessed with the faith journeys of the new members of our Church in the sprinkling of the holy water, united in our faith, the faith of our Church.
The Liturgy of the Eucharist then follows. While it is the same liturgy we experience at all other Masses, it takes on heightened importance during the Easter Vigil.
We celebrated the institution of the Holy Eucharist during the Holy Thursday Mass and now once again recreate that sacrament on the altar during the Easter Vigil. The newly baptized and confirmed will receive the body and blood of our dear Lord for the first time at this Mass. So many of them have been longing to receive this sacrament and you will see many of them overcome with emotion as they return to their pews after their First Communion. When I see their faces, I am always reminded to not take the miracle of the Holy Eucharist for granted.
The conclusion of the Easter Vigil Mass is really the conclusion of the Easter Triduum that began on Holy Thursday. The recessional will include one of the great Easter hymns, such as “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.” To join our voices together in proclaiming this great mystery that we just commemorated invigorates me in my faith as we enter the Easter season.
Jesus Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! May this truth fill your heart with peace, joy, and hope, and may you be Smitten with Goodness during this Easter season!
So much of my life I was caught up in what people would say instead of basing reality on their behaviors. This likely stems from having significant relationships in my life who were emotionally unavailable to me in my formative years. This destructive coping mechanism led me into a lot of wishful thinking and living in the hopeful future. After suffering the consequences of a failed marriage and another long-term dating relationship, I was able to see how this habit was not serving me well and was able to change my mindset to ensure that actions must match words.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus gives us the playbook to live a life of love and peace. Our faith is based on what God has promised but also on what He has done.
Even if you do not believe in me, believe the works.Focus on His truth, John 14:11
The greatest of all His works is the resurrection from the dead, which we will commemorate a few days from now. Works, or actions are always more powerful than words. Words may convince my mind but works move my will into action – to decision. Jesus continues to do the works of the Father today, through the sacraments, especially in the Eucharist and sacramental confession. Through God’s grace and love, I see these works as they really are, true actions of Christ available with the power to transform me.
Good Friday and the Lord’s Passion is a work of pure love, beyond our human understanding. As Pope Francis says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Jesus reveals that for every man and woman who wants to find him, He is the hidden seed ready to die in order to bear much fruit. As if to say: if you wish to know me, if you wish to understand me, look at the grain of wheat that dies in the soil, that is, look at the cross.”
The cross gives us a way out of the sin of our human nature. It is the ultimate act of a loving Father, to sacrifice His son who bears the weight of darkness and the world. I will always remember one Good Friday service where we venerated the cross. Emotions of gratitude, sadness and hope welled inside me as I kissed Jesus’ crucified feet – so powerful they will never leave me.
The Three Hours’ Agony, or Tre Ore, is a liturgical service held on Good Friday from noon until 3 o’clock to commemorate the Passion of Christ. Specifically, it refers to the three hours that Jesus hung on the Cross and includes a series of homilies on the seven last words spoken by Christ. Bishop Barron was invited by Timothy Cardinal Dolan in 2012 to preside over the Tre Ore service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York which you can watch. The service includes an hour of reflections on the Seven Last Words of Christ which you can listen to here.
As we reflect on Christ’s sacrifice this Good Friday, the Seven Last Words give us powerful insight into His thoughts as He took all the sins of mankind upon Himself. With these words, He forgives His enemies, forgives the penitent thief, cries out to God, and declares the end of His earthly life:
- “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Luke 23:34
- “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43
- “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” John 19:26–27
- “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- “I thirst.” John 19:28
- “It is finished.” Matthew 27:46 & Mark 15:34
- “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Luke 23:46
This message of forgiveness provides a way out and path forward from the darkness of sin in our life. Christ’s love breaks the cycle of our natural human response where if you are cruel to me, I will be cruel to you. Gandhi also noted, “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Christ did not run away or confirm the violence afflicted upon Him. Instead, He stayed, stood His ground by refusing to cooperate with the standards of this world and mirrored the violence to those who inflicted it upon Him. We have many other examples in the lives of the saints who model this for us. Saint Mother Teresa, after finding a child in the streets of Calcutta, brought her to a baker’s shop seeking bread for the child. The owner spit in her face. She thanked him for his gift for her and asked what about the child. Saint Pope John Paul II is another example where he went to his homeland of Poland to share the good news about God, human dignity, and human rights, drawing people into a new spiritual space where the people wanted God and the wall of communism was broken down. The power of love can change lives and societies. Actions speak louder than words – the cross is the purest example.
The Sign of the Cross is a simple prayer, an action where we can show our love, which bears great spiritual power. This profound gesture opens us up to God, renews our Baptism, and acts as a mark of Christian discipleship, one that repels the devil and helps us to resist our self-indulgence and tendency toward sin. In The Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer, Bert Ghezzi reminds us of its true significance. You can download this quick read here for free.
As we contemplate our Lord’s Passion on this Good Friday, I invite you to reflect upon how your daily actions reflect your love and gratitude for God’s goodness. Has your journey through Lent opened your heart to receive a deeper encounter with God’s love? Will you continue small sacrifices of self-denial, praying and serving others? Action speaks louder than words.
May we be smitten with the goodness of loving actions,
We have spent the past 40 days of Lent renewing and reinvigorating our faith in preparation for Easter. The sacrifices and penances we have made have softened our hearts to be ready to enter the Easter Triduum — Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil — in which we commemorate the passion, crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Easter Triduum allows us to walk in Jesus’s footsteps during His final hours on earth.Continue reading “Holy Thursday — Entering the Easter Triduum”
Have you ever had an encounter with God that left you in tears because you understood the power of His goodness? I will never forget the first time I watched Passion of the Christ a few years ago and how it brought me into the life of Christ in such a powerful way. I watched Christ’s entrance into Jerusalem to accomplish the Paschal Mystery, His passion and resurrection with fresh eyes. Seeing Jesus portrayed in His humanity and divinity brought home for me the magnitude of suffering, rejection, and betrayal He faced. I may start my Spiritual Director’s practice of watching this movie on Good Friday. Will you join us?Continue reading “Palm Sunday – Encountering God’s Goodness”
Fasting is amazingly popular in our culture today if you are seeking to shed some weight or reap the debated health benefits. A google search provides an overwhelming amount of information. On the other hand, not much is written about fasting as a tool for our spiritual growth. This time-tested practice is a proven method for shedding the weight of self-will and the evolution to our lower self. Today, I challenge us see how fasting trains our soul for goodness and the higher purpose of love. I have mentioned previously, God prunes our hearts through prayer, fasting and almsgiving, as we unite with Him.
When our lives are aligned with and to God, we become conduits of enormous power. A force for good. When we step fully into our higher self and reflect God’s goodness in our broken world, we impact every person in our life.
Attachments block us and break us from this flow. The ego is involved in all our attachments. We can be attached to wealth, possessions, persons, a group, our jobs, or our intelligence. It is anything I convince myself I cannot live without such as money, power, pleasure, honor, comfort, social media, you get the picture, right?
This past year, with the pandemic and my husband’s transplant, brought to light many of my attachments that I am now choosing to let go of. Clothes, purses, and shoes do not bring the same joy as they used to. It is also time to let go of my coveted Houstonian membership as I simplify and pare down to only what I need.
We have more than 2,000 years of history that point to the benefits of fasting. With the right intention, fasting trains our soul for goodness and to resist evil. Out of love for His father, Jesus overcomes the temptations of sin and shows Himself as God’s servant, obedient to the divine will opposed to Adam who gave into temptation and ate the dreaded apple. Did you catch that? Jesus prays and fasts out of love for His father. It is not about what is being offered it is the why. As I offer things for God’s love, it increases my love and faith for my God.
I love my coffee and there are days when I would really like to have a third cup. As I have grown in my knowledge about fasting, I often offer up that third cup of coffee for God’s love and feel him smiling at me for this small sacrifice.
In our developed countries the flesh rules and our lives are oriented to this reign of self-destruction. We think it is a blessing that we can find whatever we want, whenever we want it, in abundance whether legal or illegal. Instead of making our lives better, this addiction reverses the intended roles of our lower and higher natures. Immediate gratification feeds our lower nature and our craving for the things of the flesh that seek to rule us. It feeds our desires that lead us to the seven deadly sins and their offspring, all of which unchecked, lead us into our own personal hell. These desires enslave us to the wants and whims of our feelings rather than to our intellect and will that God has given to us. This enslavement leads to a weakened will and down a pathway to internal disintegration including anxiety, stress, and ultimate separation from God.
Return to me with all your heart, with fasting.Focus on His truth, Joel 2:12
In the Lost Art of Sacrifice, Vicki Burbach provides a pathway to reinvigorating the lost art of ascesis – of saying yes to God and no to the flesh. She gives us a process of reordering the flesh so that it is subordinate to the spirit which is essential in knowing the peace of God and to the soul’s progress to sanctity. Fasting is a disposition that helps us develop the art of sacrifice.
The precepts of the church are set in the context of a moral life bound to and nourished by the liturgical life. Observing the days of fasting and abstinence prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. Interior penance can be expressed in various ways, but scripture insists above all on fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Throughout scripture we find that God’s people fast and as they fast, the power of their prayers increased, especially when they are engaged in spiritual warfare. Voluntary self-denial through fasting sets us free.
St. John Chrysotom wrote about God allowing temptation for us to grow our spiritual muscles. Since we have received greater power and a sharper sword against evil through baptism, we learn through trials, the superiority of His grace and the greatness of this spiritual strength. God allows these attacks and the opportunity to gain many victories.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux shows us that making sacrifices in the proper spirit brings us joy and growth. She understood that the size of the sacrifice is not important, but it is the motive of the heart. As a child, St. Thérèse knew this power and would carry a sliding string of beads in her pocket as a reminder. She wanted to make at least ten acts of love daily, so she would offer up a small sacrifice and pull one of the ten beads to the other side of the string, until all the beads were pulled.
A friend of mine told me a story about the $8 Priest. Every day this priest set aside eight one-dollar bills in his wallet as Gods money to use as He willed. Some days the priest would be called to give the money to eight different people, others he might give all the money to one person. Small things done in love.
I hope this post helps you identify something in your life that you are willing to give up for love during the forty days of Lent. For me, I think this year I need to give up worry. Every time I start to worry, I will offer that up in prayer “Jesus, I trust in You!”
As Matthew Kelly says, “Love is a choice, and an important one, because we become what we love.” Will your higher self be victorious over your lower self as you reflect on your day? I pray that our small daily victories add up to great wins so we can be smitten with goodness, spreading seeds of goodness throughout our world.
In His Love,