First Communion season is upon us. Young boys and girls in their white suits and white dresses line the aisles of churches across the country. Some come with smiles a mile wide, and others with lips nervously quivering. Why all the fuss?
At the reception of a Catholic wedding I lately attended, a groomsman made his way over to the table where a priest and I were sitting. After enthusiastically shaking our hands, he turned to the priest and said, “Father, the service was so beautiful, it really made me want to believe.” Without so much as a by-your-leave, he turned and began pumping the arms of still further guests. Now, one might be tempted to dismiss this comment as nothing more than a kind remark made by a gentleman who was, in all probability, in his cups. Yet he said it with enough sincerity and conviction (and lucidity, for that matter) that his words gave me pause.
A certain misconception can, I think, creep into our minds around Easter time. In this glorious season, with alleluias abounding, we rejoice that the ancient record of our sinfulness has been wiped clean, that the prison-bars of death have been broken, and that Christ, coming back from death’s domain, has shed his peaceful light on humanity. In short, life is good, and it is life that has been restored to us by him who submitted himself to death but could not be bound by it. He died an earthly death that we might be spared from a spiritual one. He bore the weight of our sins to free us from them. He suffered so that we don’t have to. Or did he?
Twice a year, every year, Christians get to multiply one day into eight. For the Church, the Nativity of Christ is so important that it demands not only a Feast day on December 25th, but also an Octave spanning the eight days to January 1st. The feast continues for an entire season, culminating with the Baptism of the Lord. Medievals, putting today’s partiers to shame, kept the festivities going until the beginning of February.
One evening, about a month ago, I went to use the faucet to wash my hands and no water came out, just a sputtering sound of air and a faint gargle echoed through.
During the home stretch of our St. Dominic’s pilgrimage last year, as we left St. Matthew’s Cathedral in DC, a heavy rainstorm began. Our group numbered about twenty friars. After a few moments of hiding ineffectually under a tree and with no sign of the rain letting up, we realized that the only way home was walking for an hour in the rain.
From that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over. (Mt 26:16)
According to Catholic tradition, today, Holy Wednesday, is also called Spy Wednesday, in reference to Judas’s secret arrangement with the chief priests to hand Jesus over to them. In this clandestine meeting, Judas betrayed the friendship of the Son of God. Christ had chosen him to be one of his most intimate companions, but Judas rejected Him for a mere thirty pieces of silver.
How often do we see real change?
For starters, March 25 is the usual calendar date for the Annunciation of Gabriel to Mary, but it is transferred to the Monday after the Easter Octave whenever it falls within Holy Week. The day of perhaps the most dramatic change in human history is changed. In previous years (most recently in 2005) Good Friday has coincided with March 25, which has been customarily considered to be the date of Our Lord’s Crucifixion. That is why March 25 is the day on the Roman Martyrology to remember St. Dismas, the Good Thief. John Donne wrote an astounding holy sonnet for the occasion when the Annunciation and Good Friday coincide: on one and the same day, the Church remembers the Son of God’s very first and last moments, his entrance and exit from human life.
Admiration is our polite recognition of another’s resemblance to ourselves.
As with most of the entries in The Devil’s Dictionary, it would probably be best to take Bierce’s definition of admiration with a grain of salt. But embedded in his sarcasm is a grain of truth that should not be overlooked.
“Something strange is happening—there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness.” With these words from an ancient homily, the Church commemorates the strange silence of Holy Saturday each year at the Office of Readings and articulates the mixed emotions that greet each Christian: the Lord is in the tomb, which fills us with sorrow, and yet we are full of hope that He will soon arise. Our trust in his Resurrection assures us that, after our own death, he will repeat with new meaning his invitation to the disciples at the Last Supper: “Arise, let us be on our way” (Jn 14:31). But for now, just as we have to endure the trials of this present life, so too we must liturgically and emotionally contend with the absence of Christ, buried in the tomb.