Easter Vigil, Cycle C

Tonight’s Gospel shows an understandable confusion on the part of the apostles, but also the noble calling of being a witness to the Risen Lord, something to which every believer is called. The Apostles would be privileged witnesses to what Jesus said and did, but the holy women got the scoop: early on that first Easter Sunday morning went to the tomb and angels helped them process the incredible even that had taken place. The angels helped them to see that the empty tomb was all part of Our Lord’s plan. For their dedication to Our Lord they were blessed with being the first witnesses to the Resurrection, witnesses who announced it the Apostles themselves. Peter, to his credit, went to check the tomb, but Luke doesn’t say what he was thinking and he was uncharacteristically silent.

The readings of the Easter Vigil are many and long because they represent all of salvation history. The Old Testament hardly spoke of the resurrection of the dead, and even then the Jews believed it would only come at the end of time. Yet here were signs that it had happened in their lifetimes. The candles we light from the Paschal candle blessed on this solemn night represent the light of Christ spreading like the light of dawn. Today’s Gospel doesn’t show Our Risen Lord appearing to the disciples who had believed in him, yet the empty tomb poignantly symbolizes the dawn of a new life in Christ that we celebrate this evening, not just due to the amazing event of the resurrection, but also due to so many catechumens who receive the light of Christ tonight through baptism.

As we contemplate the candles in our hands that remind us of that day when we received the light of Christ through baptism, it’s a good moment to ask ourselves whether the amazing implications of the Resurrection have dawned on us. Let’s pray in this newly born Easter season that the light of Christ shines in everything we do.

Readings: Romans 6:3–11; Luke 24:1–12.

Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion (2)

As we contemplate Our Lord crucified today, we behold a tragedy, the tragedy of an innocent man publicly executed. Jesus’ only “crime” was to identify himself as the Messiah, and that’s who he was; he did so to the Sanhedrin, so they decided to have him killed, and he did so to Pilate. As today’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus had his ID card hanging right over his head: “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews.” If the execution of a guilty man doesn’t give us remorse (and it should, since it presents a failure of all society, not just the criminal), the execution of an innocent man does, or should.

This tragedy is even more profound when we gaze upon the Crucified One and remember that we should have been on that Cross instead of him. An innocent man is dying, brutalized on the Cross, for us. Adam and Eve’s Fall and our sins incurred the death penalty. After all God had given us and done for us, we repaid him by turning our backs on him, again and again. Yet his response leaves us as dumbstruck and confounded as the kings of the world mentioned in today’s First Reading: he takes the punishments we deserve upon himself. He doesn’t just say, “never mind, I forgive you”; he hands himself over to evil men to be tortured and executed. He teaches us how horrible the effects of sin are, not just to us, but to him, and that our sins have consequences.

Even in his last words Jesus asks the Father to forgive us for our ignorance. Today is a day not to dwell on the tragedy we inflicted on the good God who came to save us, but the love with which he did. Let’s die to sin and turn back to God and back to love.

Readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 31:2, 6, 12–13, 15–17, 25; Hebrews 4:14–16, 5:7–9; John 18:1–19:42. See also Good Friday, Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion.

Holy Week, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper (2)

This evening’s liturgy begins the Easter Triduum, and Our Lord begins by bestowing three gifts on us: the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood, and the commandment to love one another. This evening’s Gospel recalls when Jesus began the Last Supper washing his disciples’ feet, a menial chore usually reserved for a servant. When Peter balks, Jesus warns him that if he doesn’t accept this humble service, he’d be disinherited; Our Lord would deny him something he wanted to give him. Jesus’ gesture is even more poignant considered that he washes Judas’s feet as well.

In the Last Supper Our Lord institutes the Eucharist, celebrating it for the first time, and commanding his Apostles to celebrate in memory of him. In this supper Our Lord makes the apostles able to consecrate the Eucharist and offer it in Christ’s name and person on behalf of the Church, and they would hand this down to their successors, the bishops, and priests who worked with them. If washing the disciples’ feet was a menial gesture, imagine Our Lord being food and drink for us, standing vigil, at times alone, in tabernacles throughout the world, eager to be with his faithful through Holy Communion. In his actions Our Lord invites not just the ministerial priests of his Church, but all believers, to love one another as he has loved them. For a priest that translates into service, whether serving saints or sinners. Part of Peter’s inheritance this night was to receive the teaching of humility and service: if the Master should do such a menial chore out of love, his disciples should not consider themselves exempt.

The faithful who have not received Holy Orders are not exempt either; loving one another often means swallowing your pride and not putting limits or conditions on your self-giving, just as Our Lord didn’t. Let’s begin this Easter Triduum in gratitude for our priests and bishops, for the Eucharist, and resolved to reap the fruits of the forty days of Lent that have concluded to truly grow in our love for one another.

Readings: Exodus 12:1–8, 11–14; Psalm 116:12–13, 15–16c, 17–18; 1 Corinthians 11:23–26; John 13:1–15. See also Holy Thursday, Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

Holy Week, Wednesday (2)

Today’s liturgy takes us right to the beginning of the Last Supper, an apt preparation for the liturgy we’ll be celebrating tomorrow evening on Holy Thursday. We see two plans in motion: Judas has made a deal with the chief priests to hand Jesus over when the time is right, and Our Lord prepares for his last meal on earth with his disciples. Our Lord’s been preparing them for what is about to happen: he warned them that he would be handed over and put to death (cf. Matthew 17:22), but now he warns them too that one of them will betray them. In John’s account of Jesus’ last days on earth we see him taking precautions, so it is no surprise that someone close to him would have to betray him.

Even though he tells Judas that he knows it will be him, and that it’ll be the worst mistake of his life (“better for that man if he had never been born”), Judas is set on his path; perhaps he thinks Our Lord is bluffing, trying to flush him out. There’s no way to know what was in his blackened heart. Our Lord, knowing his own path leads to the Cross, is also prepared in the Last Supper to share what would be two of the Church’s greatest gifts: the Eucharist and the ministerial priesthood.

Whether you attend the Chrism Mass tomorrow or the Evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, use these last few days of Holy Week and the Easter Triduum to examine your heart and see what path you’re on: following Christ’s is the surest and the safest, even though it passes through the Cross. Don’t be shocked if there’s a little bit of Judas in you to purge before taking up your cross and following Christ.

Readings: Isaiah 50:4–9a; Psalm 69:8–10, 21–22, 31, 33–34; Matthew 26:14–25. See also Holy Week, Tuesday (2)Holy Week, Tuesday and Holy Week, Wednesday.

Holy Week, Tuesday (2)

In today’s Gospel we consider the hearts of two disciples: a traitor and a coward. John describes Satan as entering into Judas; he’s just accepted a morsel, a token of friendship, from Our Lord, and in complete duplicity goes out into the night to betray him. It is reminiscent of one of the last arguments Our Lord had with the Jews who didn’t believe in him: they didn’t believe in the Father, therefore they didn’t believe in Jesus, and their “father” was the Devil. If Judas ever believed in Jesus, he doesn’t believe in him anymore, and it was time for him to stop making any pretense of following him and to cash in.

Maybe Simon Peter didn’t understand Our Lord’s announcement of his departure entirely, but in his heart and in the last weeks they’d live together he knew it was a matter of life and death. His noble aspiration of unfailing dedication to Our Lord, even until death, was expressed. Perhaps it was prophetic, but Simon Peter’s “hour” had not yet come. Our Lord prepared him for the cowardice he would soon show, not in condemnation, but to help him grow in self-knowledge. Simon Peter would discover it himself, the hard way, but was not a lost cause. In the end he did lay down his life for Our Lord, years later, in Rome.

Our Lord reads hearts. He wants to read yours and help you to learn more about yourself this Holy Week. If you’re a coward, he’ll help you discover that and overcome it. Don’t be afraid to let him. The difference between Judas and Peter is that Judas shut everyone out of his heart, and Peter didn’t. As long as you foster an open heart, there is hope.

Readings: Isaiah 49:1–6; Psalm 71:1–4a, 5a–6b, 15, 17; John 13:21–33, 36–38. See also Holy Week, Tuesday and Holy Week, Wednesday.