The whole church goes on retreat for six weeks about a month and a half after the Christmas season. This annual spiritual renewal prepares us for the celebration of Christianity’s most fundamental belief: Jesus was raised from the dead and is Christ, the Lord. We need to see this event from both sides – before and after – because each side of the story is incomplete with out the other.
The word Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word that means “springtime.” And while the season acquired its name because the greatest part of Lent usually falls in the month of March, which is also the month of the spring solstice, it is the spiritual meaning that we must concern ourselves with. Lent can be seen as a springtime of the soul – a time of growth in the faith and a time to nurture the faith that is already present. It is a time of spiritual preparation, reflection, growth and change.
It is customary for the faithful to include fasting or restriction of some of their favourite foods or drinks during the forty days of Lent. It is also customary to spend more time in prayer and meditation, and to make personal sacrifices in the spirit of the season. Everyone is encouraged to seek God’s love in meaningful ways.
The forty days of Lent is a time in which we do penance, fast and pray to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Our Lord; and also to remind us of His own fast of forty days before His Passion. The Lenten season begins officially on Ash Wednesday, and ends with the evening mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday.
On Ash Wednesday the spirit of Lent is embodied with the signing of our foreheads with ashes. All are reminded to be sorry for sin and to do penance, but not in a spirit of showy sadness or inward despair, but in humility, sincerity and inner joy. Knowing that God desires to forgive, to heal, and to share with all people His own divine life. Also, He asks us to discipline our passions gladly and with confidence of victory. Therefore, the Church encourages us to do some acts of penance – fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving.
Purple is the colour associated with the season of Lent and is prominent in the vestments and church decorations. It is a colour reminiscent of royalty and repentance. It reflects the serious and somber nature of this time in the life of the Church.
During Lent the joyful acclamations of “Alleluia” and “Glory to God” disappear from the liturgy. Similarly, the holy water fonts are emptied. Stones may be placed in the fonts, so as to cause those who approach to dip their fingers and make the sign of the cross to reflect on the sadness of Christ’s passion and death, and the reason that necessitated it – our sins. The ritual actions to which we are very accustomed, but perhaps have given little thought to or taken for granted, are now taken away so that we may better appreciate them and await their return when Jesus rises triumphantly on Easter Sunday breaking the bonds of sin and death.
The season of Lent describes mankind’s striving, failings, and finally salvation. The story that we recall as we commence Lent, is unfinished. Although Jesus has achieved our redemption, each human being must appropriate it to himself. To accomplish this, Jesus asks us to follow His example. To be another Christ means to serve our brothers and sisters around us, and by way of sacrifice – the spirit of the Lenten Season – to apply the fruits of the Redemption to our lives.
The message of Easter — of the resurrection of Jesus – takes us beyond the cross to the joy and hope that comes from knowing the Risen Lord. It was Christ risen that allowed his disciples to fully know that God exists, that there is a future for every human being, and that our cry for unending life is indeed answered in Him. This is the real message of Easter!
Images of Jesus’ passion, the carrying of the cross, and the acceptance of the Father’s will in sacrificial love have moved many in our diocese to see the suffering face of Christ in the refugee families that we have welcomed and supported. God moves us in faith to act with the same love that our Lord offers for the entire world. It is a love that restores dignity for those who have been exiled from their homes, transforming strangers into neighbours, and calling us to respond with compassion and care to those who are suffering and vulnerable. This is a true sign of the Easter faith which caused the disciples not to proclaim the tragedy of Jesus’ death but rather the sharing of his resurrection, the promise of eternal life with joy and confidence through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus revealed himself to the disciples in so many tangible ways especially in the enduring gift of himself “in the breaking of the bread“ – the Eucharist. He also commissioned Mary as the “apostle (the one sent) to the apostles,” to bring this good news of the resurrection to the world. He invites us like Mary to enter the tomb, to enter into the mystery which God has accomplished with his vigil of love. To enter into mystery means the ability to wonder, to contemplate; the ability to listen to the silence and to hear the tiny whisper amid great silence by which God speaks to us [cf. 1Kings 19:12] Like Mary we need humility to enter into this mystery. To know with confidence that our search for truth, beauty and love is fully revealed in the risen Christ. May our witness of this sacred mystery revealed in the dignity of each human person, silence the deafening call for euthanasia and assisted suicide in our country of Canada.
Easter calls us to promote with renewed vigor the sanctity of human life with grateful and joyful hearts. Easter calls us to move beyond the tomb with conviction to share the good news of the Resurrection with one another. Easter calls us to courageously follow Jesus Christ, the risen one, and to boldly proclaim that out of darkness and suffering come new life. This Easter let us rise up to meet the world and our culture of death with the witness of our faith. It is my hope that we discover new ways to share this Easter faith, the Good News of Jesus’ resurrection.
☩ William McGrattan
Bishop of Calgary
Good Friday 2016 Jubilee of Mercy Message
Headline in the Windsor Star - September 27, 2013 - "Removal of Cross Triggers Sadness"
A large steel cross which loomed high above the Ouellette Avenue entrance of Hotel-Dieu Grace Hospital since the building's 1962 grand opening came down Friday, while a group of about 50 protesters expressed their sadness by reciting prayers, psalms and the rosary… The religious artifacts were removed because starting Tuesday the downtown medical site will become Windsor Regional Hospital's Ouellette Campus and will no longer be connected to its roots of the past 125 years with the Catholic religious community.
Many today cannot bear to look at the cross and the crucified one. They regard displays of the cross in public to be no longer appropriate and they want to remove them.
But such attitudes of advanced secularization in a pluralistic society must be questioned -it is not only a denial of the importance of history but it raises a series of questions:
Has suffering no longer a place in a world of wellness?
Do we push suffering away and suppress it?
What would our world be missing, especially what would the many who suffer be missing if this sign of love and mercy were no longer permitted to be publicly visible?
Should we no longer be reminded that: "By his wounds we are healed?"
To believe in the crucified son is to believe that love is present in the world that it is more powerful than hate and violence, more powerful than all the evil in which human beings are entangled.
"Believing in this love means believing in mercy"
Calvary sets in consoling relief the experience of all who suffer, whether the nightmare of physical pain or the emotional trauma of significant loss or the prospect of imminent death.
The human Jesus, struggling to come to terms with the reality of his predicament, echoes every human experience of suffering and of loss and reflects the complexity and confusion of emotions that attend all those caught in the slipstream of pain and loss and death.
Today, in homes and in hospitals all over Canada, those who experience pain and desolation in whatever form, all those who like Mary stand at the foot of the cross, will sense something of the complexity of emotions that were present on Calvary: the same confusion, the same disillusionment, the same desolation, the same anger, the same reproach.
How many indeed this Friday will, in whatever shape or form, echo the great lamentation of Jesus as he died on the cross: My God, what have you done to me, answer me?
All who are suffering in whatever form this Good Friday, all who struggle to make sense of what, by any human estimate, seems to be senseless will find an echo of their pain in the sufferings of Jesus because the contradiction of the cross is that what it represents, the sufferings of Christ, continues to save and to heal and to comfort.
Contemplating Jesus on the cross brings comfort and resilience and strength to those who need it. And it reminds us that it is through his suffering that everyone and everything is redeemed, that the power and the presence and promise of God are now accessible to us in our suffering and in our need.
In the pierced heart of his son, God shows us that he went to extremes in order to bear, through his son's voluntary suffering unto death, the immeasurable suffering of the world, our coldheartedness, and our lack of love, and sought to redeem them.
By means of the water and blood streaming from Jesus' pierced heart, we are washed clean in Baptism of all the dirt and muck that has accumulated in us and in the world; and in the Eucharist, we may always quench our thirst for more than the banalities that surround us and, in a figurative sense, satisfy our thirst for more than the "soft drinks" that are offered to us there.
Thus with Ignatius of Loyola's prayer Anima Christi (the Soul of Christ) we can say:
Soul of Christ, sanctify me
Body of Christ, save me
Blood of Christ, inebriate me
Water from the side of Christ, wash me
Passion of Christ, strengthen me
Good Jesus, hear me
Within the wounds, shelter me
from turning away, keep me
From the evil one, protect me
At the hour of my death, call me
Into your presence lead me
to praise you with all your saints
Forever and ever
Kiss the cross on this Good Friday, not for God's sake but for your own.
☩ Frederick Henry
The name Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin might not ring a bell but many years ago he was one of the most powerful men on earth. A Russian Communist leader, he took part in the Bolshevik Revolution 1917. He was the editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today. There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly of Communists. The subject was atheism.
Addressing the crowd, he attacked Christianity, hurling insults and arguments against it. When he had finished, he looked out at the audience. "Are there any questions?" he demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium, but then one man approached the platform and mounted the lectern.
After surveying the crowd, he shouted the ancient greeting of the Russian Orthodox Church: "CHRIST IS RISEN!" The crowd stood up and shouted in a thundering voice: "HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
Amazed and dejected, Bukharin left the stage in silence. He learned that faith in Christ’s resurrection was deeply rooted in his Russian Orthodox communist followers!
Three facts point to the resurrection. First of all, the sudden and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so tenacious as to withstand even the trial of martyrdom.
Secondly, the explanation of this faith that has been left by those who had it, that is, the disciples. In the decisive moment, when Jesus was captured and executed, the disciples did not entertain any thoughts about the resurrection. They fled and took Jesus' case to be closed.
Thirdly, the insistence on the fact of the empty tomb. If it was full, you simply couldn’t proclaim a risen Christ.
However, it is the appearances which testify to a new dimension of the Risen Christ, his mode of being "according to the Spirit," which is new and different with respect to his previous mode of existing, "according to the flesh." For example, he cannot be recognized by whoever sees him, but only by those to whom he gives the ability to know him, His corporeality is different from what it was before. It is free from physical laws; It enters and exits through closed doors; if appears and disappears.
The disciples could not have deceived themselves: They were specific people — fishermen — not at all given to visions. They did not believe the first witnesses; Jesus almost has to overpower their resistance: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe!" They could not even want to deceive others. All of their interests opposed this; they would have been the first to feel themselves deceived by Jesus. If he were not risen, to what purpose would it have been to face persecution and death for him? What material benefit would they have drawn from it?
What does the resurrection mean for us?
First and foremost, belief in the resurrection affirms something profound about Jesus himself. This was, in fact, the first concern of the early Christians and of the New Testament. By raising Jesus from the dead, God ratified the identity of Jesus as God's unique Son and the revealer of God's love for the world. Jesus is proven to be triumphant over death. Therefore love is stronger than death, as the Song of Songs had proclaimed.
Resurrection affirms in a powerful the sacredness of the human body and of the whole of creation. The resurrection commits the disciples to fostering and protecting life in all its expressions as affirmed in Pope John Paul II’s promotion of a "culture of life" to counter the "culture of death."
Sacraments are resurrection realities - transforming human life through the mediation of earth symbols made sacred and powerful by the grace of God. We believe that God's grace and the divine presence are in fact mediated in and through created realities: the water of baptism, the oil of anointing in the sacrament of the sick, the laying on of hands in ordination, the union of bodies in matrimony, the bread and the wine of the Eucharist.
Our spirituality is not detached from nor hostile to the reality of our bodies. Belief in the resurrection of the body also affirms that we are not simply alien visitors to our planet with our true home located somewhere else and therefore being detached from our bodiliness and our essential link to creation itself.
The Christian commitment to justice must be constant, comprehensive and unyielding. But, at the same time, the vision of the Christian expands beyond the here and now to the transcendent world beyond death because of our faith in resurrection.
The quest for liberation from oppressive structures, the striving for an end to violence and conflict, the commitment to alleviate hunger and all forms of human suffering and the full realization of our hopes will be experienced not through any human structure or strategy but only when, through God's power, the final grip of death on humanity and the created world is broken forever and when the human family, body and spirit, lives in communion with the God of Jesus Christ.
Finally, belief in the resurrection of the body should be seen as the most profound affirmation of the enduring value of human love. Fear of death, in many instances, is not a fear of physical suffering but a fear of infinite loneliness and isolation from all those we love. It is through our bodies that we humans relate to each other and to the world we know, and if our body no longer lives we wonder if our love for each other is just as fragile and limited. Belief in the resurrection of the dead and belief in bodily resurrection affirm that indeed love is stronger than death and that the consuming experience of our destiny is communion with a God of love and with all those whose love we have known.
"HE IS RISEN INDEED!"
☩ Frederick Henry