Holy Week

Lazarus’ Tomb Bethany, Israel

The shortest verse in the Bible comes from the Book of John: “Jesus wept.” To better understand the meaning of this verse you have to understand the humanity of Jesus, He was fully God and fully man. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus had died, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, were mourning his loss, He wept. He wept because of the love and sympathy He shared with this family. Jesus asked to be led to the tomb, even though Lazarus had been dead for four days. In the natural, anyone would have had the same reaction as Martha. “Lord, by this time there will be an odor, for he has been dead four days” ( John 11:39 New American Standard Revised). Jesus reminds her that if you believe, you would see the glory of God.

Mr. Bob, (Roman soldier), Jesus (Torie) and me behind Torie

Years ago I was part  of a lay ministry that produced plays to reenact this scene. Mr. Bob always played the part of Lazarus. Mr. Bob was well into his seventies, over six feet tall, he was a character in real life. His voice was loud and animated, his wiry, snow white hair was always unruly. He was bone thin and always wore tan work boots with socks  that long ago wore out their elastic band. We did these plays in a building that was once a restaurant. Toward the back of the building  were two small storage rooms. When it was time for Lazarus to come out of the tomb, Mr. Bob came out with what resembled mummy wrappings. He held his arms straight out, looking more like a horror movie. As he made his way down the aisle, no words could truly express the look on people’s faces; some were smiling and holding in their laughter, while others looked on in amazement. Mr. Bob did a fine job scaring the children.

Lazarus Raised From the Dead

The Roman authorities, and Pharisees were not happy to hear that Lazarus was raised from the dead because this caused many Jews to follow this controversial rabbi.  All this was taking place six days before Passover; Christians refer to this period as Holy Week.

Palm Sunday

When Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem He rode on a donkey. This simple beast of burden was a sign of humility because this is what Jesus exemplified in His ministry. Palm Sunday is a great celebration; palm branches were used as a symbol of praise. The people shouted out,”Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” (John 12:13 New American Standard Revised). The word Hosanna in Hebrew means “Save us!” As Catholics we receive palm branches. Because, they are blessed they cannot be thrown away; they need to be incinerated. This is were we get the ashes we use for Ash Wednesday.

I can only speak for myself, but this is an emotional, spiritual journey for me. The excitement of Easter opens our hearts to the Resurrection of our Lord, but before we arrive we must go through the path that Jesus led us.

The Unbelievers

Soon after Jesus spoke of his death.  Some of His rebellious followers, who had witnessed many miracles, stopped believing. How does this happen? They were there when Lazarus was raised from the dead! This strange phenomenon is still happening today. People attend church; go through the motions yet continue their sinful ways. The great prophet Isaiah was right when he wrote,”He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, least they should see with their eyes and perceive with their heart, and turn to me to heal them.” (John 12:40 New American Standard Revised). God’s response to unbelievers is to blind them and harden their hearts. Until people understand the concept of free will, they will forever wander in front of the Temple of God, not knowing why they are on the outside. Jesus invites all to come to His great and mighty temple. There you will find rest. The world will offer you a pseudo life of material wealth, but what good is it if your heart is hardened against God?

Jesus Washes the Feet of His Disciples

During the many times I have visited the Holy Land, I can always remember the howling winds in the middle of the night. The old windows rattle and the worn out drapes wave when the wind makes it way through the unstable casements. It gets very windy there and the dust kicks up and dirties the entire region. It was no different in the time of Jesus; people in sandals walked for miles and their feet got dirty. The Upper Room in the Old City is located in the Jewish section. We usually pay a small stipend to visit this holy site. As we participated in the washing of each other’s feet by borrowing the wastebaskets and towels from our hotel. Yes, we were a sight –  the only Americans walking around the Old City with plastic trash cans.

When Jesus washed the feet of His disciples, He took the role of a servant. This task was usually done by household slaves, never by the host. This beautiful act of humility will always serve as a reminder of the paradox of Jesus’ character.

 

Peter denies Jesus, The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, (inscription: Non novi illum (I knew him not)

Judas’ Betrayal

Jesus knew who would betray Him. Judas was the disciple who complained when Mary anointed Jesus with the expensive spikenard. He didn’t care about the poor because he already had his dirty hands in the money box. (John 13:5-6). Jesus exposes Judas during the Last Supper; the other disciples were unaware of the malice. When you’re a thief, you’re a liar as well. Satan had already planted a seed of corruption in Judas’ heart. After Judas receives the morsel, he leaves to do his dirty work. It was night, and that is when the Devil does his deceitful work because he loves the cover of darkness.

Good Friday

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu shares a good view of the Garden of Gethsemane. The translation of Gallicantu is “the rooster crows.” Peter denied Jesus three times in Gallicantu, just as he slept three times while Jesus prayed in agony. After the Resurrection in the last chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks to Peter (John 21:15-17). Three times the Lord asked Peter, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” Jesus was passing on to Peter the responsibility of pastoral authority. Christ made Peter the head of the Universal Church. St. Peter became our first Pope.

On Good Friday our beautiful Lord is led down the Via Dolorosa to meet His imminent death.  He is whipped, spat upon and mocked every step of the way, while His accusers boldly cry out, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” His Mother Mary, helpless in every sense, looks up at her only Son in great despair. Her eyes have shed so many tears. To witness His death was like a sword piercing her broken heart.

The Resurrection 

Roses from my garden
My beautiful Azaleas
Roses for our Blessed Mother Mary

After a mild winter the flowers in our yard started to bloom. The azaleas surround the front of our home and are fully dressed for Easter. This is our heavenly reminder that just as these flowers come back to life year after year, our Lord is faithful in giving us tangible signs as a reminder of His Resurrection.

You can find the story of the Resurrection in all four gospels. We all know the ending of the story: Christ rose from the dead, and He is our everlasting Savior! We celebrate the  Resurrection as the climax of all Christianity. We give God the glory for without the Resurrection, we have no hope.

My Prayer

Dear Lord, as we enter Holy Week, may we be forever mindful of our spiritual direction. Continue to guide us in this Lenten journey. May we keep our eyes on Your holy Cross. Lord, lead us out of the dark and narrow paths and into Your glorious light. May we never deny Your existence, or betray You in any way. Lord, I pray that millions will return to Your Church Easter Sunday. Amen.

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Lent Sacrifices

The agony in the Garden

We are entering into the fifth week of Lent. Thus far I’ve had a good Lent, meaning that I have not broken my promise in what I gave up for this holy season. Each year I struggle with the sacrifices and usually fall from grace the first week of Lent. For thirty or so years the desire of my heart has been to lose weight, at least 20 pounds. So I gave up eating bread and sweets; unfortunately I was never able to succeed. This year was different; much to my husband Mike’s surprise, I gave up shopping. I shop for myself at least once a week, purchasing clothing, household items or whatever. I’m a regular at Marshalls, TJ Maxx, and Nordstrom Rack. These are my favorites; I never spend a lot of money, but it does add up.

Daily Mass at All Saints Church Mesa, Arizona

Last week I visited my sister Norma in Arizona. She was excited to share that Marshall’s had opened a store just a stone’s throw away from her. As tempting as this sounded, I never gave in. We attended Mass at All Saints Church in Mesa, Arizona instead. I was surprised by seeing all the parishioners. These people are faithful in their attendance because Norma sees them here on a regular basis. In spite of the social distancing, the church was pretty packed for a weekday Mass.

Virtual shopping

I have discovered a new way  to shop. I’ve been shopping online by placing items into a virtual bag and waiting for Lent to end so that I can make the purchase. Now this technique is not working out so well because most of the time I receive a notification that the items are no longer available. This saddens me for a few seconds, but then I remember the purpose for this sacrifice.

Sacrifice

If the Lord can sacrifice His life on the Cross for us, how hard can it be for me to follow this simple oblation? I want to be used by the Lord so this is a perfect lesson on obedience. I liken it to a test of spiritual growth by trusting that God will see me through this. If you have failed in your Lenten sacrifices, it’s not too late to start anew. Remember we serve a merciful God.

Drawing Water From the Well

The Samaritans lived in  a region north of Jerusalem. They are an ancient, ethnoreligious group descendant from Jews who had not been taken into captivity and deported but who remained in Samaria. They intermarried with the Assyrians who had been brought into the land after the  Assyrians conquest of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 B.C.  The Samaritans accepted only the first five books of the Hebrew Bible as their biblical canon. They rejected the writings of the prophets and all the Jewish traditions because they considered Judaism as an altered religion brought back with the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile in 539 B.C. (after the conquest of Judah, the Southern Kingdom by Babylon in 597 B.C.) They worshiped at the temple on Mount Gerazim, instead of the temple of Mount Moriah in Jerusalem because they considered it the original holy place where Abraham almost sacrificed his son Isaac. They were so despised by the Jews that the Jews would cross over the river Jordan and take a longer route to avoid going through Samaria. The Samaritans also harbored animosity toward the Jews.

The fourth chapter of the Gospel of  John speaks of the Woman of Samaria. The story of the woman at the well depicts Jesus breaking with tradition by conversing with a woman in public and sharing a drink with a Samaritan. In other words He was associating with a woman who was racially despised, a half-Jew/a half-gentile whose religious beliefs were considered heresy.

13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; 14 but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus offered the Samaritan woman living water. With this water we will never thirst again. A human being can survive three to five days without water, but this living water represents eternal salvation. We should all desire the living water, especially during Lent.

    from the fountains of salvation,

Garden of Gethsemane, some of these trees date back to the time of Jesus

Jesus knew all of the sins of this Samaritan woman, as He called them out, she perceived Him to be a prophet. This same Jesus sees all of our sins and, just as He was eager to forgive this Samaritan woman, we, too, can be forgiven.

Our Garden of Gethsemane

When Jesus went to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked His disciples to pray so that they would not enter into temptation. Jesus was in deep agony and prayer, so much so that His sweat turned into blood. When Jesus rose from prayer, He found His disciples sleeping. Again Jesus tells them to rise and pray that they may not enter into temptation. Three times Jesus asked His disciples to pray, but they gave in to the temptation because of their weaked spirit.

When we go into deep, contemplative prayer, we become one with God. Prayer keeps us from making irrational decisions; it helps us to choose our words and, most importantly, it keeps us from temptation. I cannot tell you how many times I want to say something mean and hurtful but when I open my mouth, it is as if God has placed a filter over it; so when I speak I’m surprised at the kind words that come forth.

If I am asked to pray for someone, it is my duty before God to intercede on their behalf. The Lord will always give me a signal as to when to cease with this prayer. During the height of COVID-19, our prayer group offered prayers of intercession and supplication on behalf of many suffering from this virus and other serious illnesses. Every night we’d meet at 8 p.m. via group FaceTime. We prayed for more than two months. What great joy we shared when receiving text messages of praise reports of healings! Thank you Helen, Marianela, and Sarah. Great is your reward!

My Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You with thanksgiving and praise. Thank You for all that You have bestowed upon our hearts to know You and to be used for Your Kingdom. Lord, allow us special time in our Garden of Gethsemane; meet us there and help us through all of our trials. When we feel alone, gently touch us so that we can feel Your Holy Presence. Lord, may we never forget the pain You endured while carrying Your Cross. May we be so gracious as we carry our own crosses. Be with us in our time of mourning and bring comfort to our hearts, knowing those whom we have lost will be in Your loving arms. Amen.

 

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The Art of Suffering

The Sorrowful Mother

Many of us are familiar with the Book of Job. Job was highly favored of God; his life exemplified a hallowed commitment to God.  He was tested to the point of death, but Job had a secret weapon: he knew the God he served. Though through his testing he wanted to die and cursed the day of his birth, he never blasphemed God.  Satan was well aware of all of Job’s blessings and wanted an opportunity to bring Job down to prove that without his blessings Job would curse God. The Devil needed God’s permission to torment Job. Because God truly knew the heart of His servant, He allowed Satan to afflict him

Job had three friends; Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. When Job’s friends heard of his terrible, unfortunate plight, they came to his side. These men were from the region of Edom, an area renowned for its wise men.

Job 2:12-13

12 But when, at a distance, they lifted up their eyes and did not recognize him, they began to weep aloud; they tore their cloaks and threw dust into the air over their heads. 13 Then they sat down upon the ground with him seven days and seven nights, but none of them spoke a word to him; for they saw how great was his suffering.
The best medicine for supporting someone who is in deep emotional pain is to be there for them in person. All of Job’s friends knew that he had lost everything, including all of his children. An act of love is listening and supporting in prayer when it is needed most. For seven days and seven nights, Job’s friends did not open their mouths.
The number seven has a great spiritual significance; it is used in the Bible about 600 times. Seven is the number of perfection and completeness; God completed the earth in seven days. This is the reason we rest on the seventh day and honor God by attending church.
Job’s story takes many wild twists and turns; his own wife blasphemed God and tells Job to, “Curse God and die.”
Then his wife said to him, “Are you still holding to your innocence? Curse God and die!”  10 But he said to her, “You speak as foolish women do. We accept good things from God; should we not accept evil?” Through all this, Job did not sin in what he said.
These are truly the words of someone sold out to God. We should all be so blessed to have Job’s reverent attitude in the midst of our greatest trials.
Blessed Mother Mary
Life was never easy for the Mother of God. During her pregnancy Joseph, her husband, had to take her and flee to Egypt. The Lord picked Joseph to be Jesus’  foster father because God knew that Joseph would protect the Holy Family. Mary always allowed her Son to take His rightful role in life, because she understood who He was. Mary was the elect of God from her Mother’s womb. She is the mother of us all.
For many years I portrayed the Blessed Mother on Good Friday on the Via Dolorosa (“the way of suffering”) in Jerusalem. Nothing can be more painful than a mother seeing her child suffer and being unable to help.  A mother’s pain can only be described as not being able to breathe because of a crushed heart. Mary, meeting her Son Jesus at the Fourth Station of the Cross, and knowing that she could do nothing to save Him from His Crucifixion felt the pain of deepest wound a mother can experience. Her entire life was that of a loving, nurturing mother, but now she must see her only Son as he is beaten to the point of death. This particular Station of the Cross is symbolic of the suffering a mother goes through with her own children. The bond of a mother and child is powerful, and the agony that a mother feels for her child is the absolute description of love. I had never acted in my life, but each time I met Jesus at the Fourth Station of the Cross on the Via Dolorosa my heart swelled with pain and the re-enactment brings tears of sorrowful emotions that I can not control.

Imagine seeing your son go through such agony! Mary was there when the Roman soldiers pounded the nails into His feet and hands. She was there when they pierced His side. Our sorrowful Mother Mary was at the foot of the Cross; she never abandoned Jesus. From His birth to the Cross, she suffered His every pain. That is the true heart of a mother. The Romans were savages when it came to Jesus’ Crucifixion. The Jewish law permitted only 39 lashes because it believed that the 40th lash would kill the man before his crucifixion. To both the Jews and the Romans this was a morbid celebration; they hated Jesus and felt that He was a great threat. What the Romans did to our Lord still brings me to my knees.

AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI (Photo credit should read AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP via Getty Images)Via Dolorosa on Good Friday stock photo

Via Dolorosa on Good Friday Jerusalem, Israel - March 29, 2013: Catholic Good Friday - a group of actors presenting the crucifixion of Christ near Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Old City, of Jerusalem. 2013 Stock Photo

Me portraying the Blessed Mother Jerusalem, Via Dolorosa 2019

The Crucifix

One of my favorite churches to visit in the Holy Land is the Church of Flagellation. This small chapel is located in the Muslim Quarters in the Old City of Jerusalem. As you gaze up to the dome, the crown of thorns  is embedded into the design of the mosaic golden dome. I love to sit there and pray.
Catholics have a special devotion to the Passion of Christ because we need to be reminded of the pain that He endured for us. We feel the fullness of what Jesus did for us; we are connected with Jesus through His suffering. How else can we truly comprehend His agony?
My Prayer:
Dear Lord, we ask for the prayers of Your Blessed Mother Mary to intercede on behalf of all mothers going through trials with their children. These mothers cry out to You, Lord, for the physical and emotional crosses that their children must bear. Look down on them with great mercy, and deliver them from the snares of the Devil. Just as Your beautiful Mother met You at the foot of the Cross, meet these families who have heavy crosses to bear. Lighten their loads, and help them carry their crosses with Your beautiful, nail-scarred hands. Amen.
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