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
Some of the controversy surrounding The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson’s new movie, has been about who crucified Jesus. Was it the Romans? Was it the Jews? Were both equally responsible, even if for different reasons? If they were, is this where we are to place the blame?
In seeking answers to these questions, it is critically important to remember that the passion narratives in Scripture do not offer eye-witness accounts or a modern transcript of historical events. Rather the events are presented through the theological lense of the respective evangelist.
Certain historical essentials are shared by all four accounts: a growing hostility against Jesus on the part of some Jewish religious leaders; the Last Supper with the disciples; betrayal by Judas; arrest outside the city; interrogation before a high priest; formal condemnation by Pontius Pilate; crucifixion by Roman soldiers; affixing the title ‘King of the Jews’ on the cross; death; burial; and resurrection.
Many other elements, such as the crowd shouting “His blood be on us and on our children” in Matthew, or the generic use of the term “the Jews” in John, are unique to each author and must be understood within the context of that author’s overall theological scheme.
The Scriptures must be interpreted within their historical and literary contexts.
Raymond Brown in attempting to bring modern scholarship to bear on the passion narrative of John’s Gospel states that one can not disguise a hostility towards “the Jews” in the passion narrative. It seems clear that the evangelist is spreading to the synagogues of his own time the blame that an earlier tradition placed on the authorities. He is not the first to do this, for the oldest extant Christian writing speaks of “the Jews who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets” (1 Thess. 2:14-15).
But John is the most insistent New Testament writer in this usage. Why?
Because he and/or his confreres have suffered from synagogue persecution. They have been driven out of the synagogue for professing that Jesus is the Messiah (9:22; 12:42). Within a few decades of the composition of John, there was introduced into synagogue prayer (Shemoneh Esrh or the Eighteen Benedictions) a curse against deviants from Judaism, including followers of Jesus. This was an initial example of an attitude that is still with us today. For many Jews, no matter how true and long one’s Jewish lineage may be, one ceases to be a Jew when one confesses Jesus to be the Messiah.
At the end of the first century, expulsion from the synagogue seemingly exposed Christians to Roman investigation and punishment, even death. Jews were tolerated by the Romans; but who were these Christians whom the Jews disclaimed?
The evangelist may be alluding to this painful outcome in 16:2: “They will put you out of the synagogue; indeed the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God.” The context of mutual hostility between the Johannine community and the synagogue must be taken into account if we are to bring out the meaning of the Gospel texts for Christians of today.
As for Matthew’s statement,“His blood be on us and on our children,” one could argue that it was not applicable to whole Jewish people of Jesus’ time, for relatively few stood before Pilate. It might also be that it was an affirmation of present willingness to accept responsibility, not an invocation of future punishment or vengeance. However, given Matthew’s hostility to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “a brood of vipers,” any tempering of his remarks must ultimately be sought in the words of Jesus, who refers to his blood “as poured out for many (all) for the forgiveness of sins.” (26:27).
The Catholic interpretative perspective is that the Bible is the Church’s book. It is the foundational written authority for Christians. It was assembled within the Church. Its New Testament books were composed within first century church under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and are interpreted in the Church for each succeeding generation.
History shows that the Scriptures have been misused to justify war and violence, racial segregation and slavery, and antisemitism. The Scriptures are not only to be studied and prayed with, but also, to be read attentively and wisely.
For Pope John Paul II this need for an informed reading of the Scriptures has special significance in regard to Jews. In meditating on the first station of the cross, he deals with who bore responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus: “Oh no, not the Jewish people, crucified by us (Christians) for so long, not the crowd which will always prefer Barabbas because he repays evil with evil, not them, but all of us, each one of us, because we are all murderer of love.”
Even though the Jewish authorities and those who followed their lead pressed for the death of Jesus, neither all Jews indiscriminately at that time, nor Jews today, can be charged with the crimes committed during the passion.
The Church has always held and continues to hold that Christ out of infinite love freely underwent suffering and death because of the sins of all, so that all might attain salvation.
It is said that while Mel Gibson does not himself have a role in the movie, he does, nonetheless, appear in one scene. It is his hands that are pictured driving the nails into the flesh of Jesus. He did so to express his own conviction that his sinfulness, as well that of all of us, was responsible for the crucifixion.
Who is to blame? Frankly, we all are. As we watch the movie, we might also bear in mind that some of the bad guys just happen to be Jewish, but all the good guys are Jewish!
☩ Frederick Henry