Have you ever noticed how many questions people ask you every day? Most of them are fairly straightforward and inconsequential:
• What’s up?
• Do you want to go to the gym this afternoon?
• Do you have any more food credits left in your account?
As the spring semester hurries on towards summer recess, some questions might get you excited:
• Do you know the band performing at the spring festival?
• How did the fundraiser for your mission trip turn out?
Others might induce some anxiety in you:
• Did you start that term paper due in 48 hours?
• Did you land an internship this summer that could lead to a full-time offer after you graduate?
(I always especially dreaded that one.)
It seems to me that so many questions are fired off at us on a given day that we don’t realize if we have even heard them all. At times, the day — or perhaps the whole semester — seems to just fly by without us having noticed much of it. Well, have you noticed that we are already at the Fifth Sunday of Lent? We are just about to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, and I know that I am still asking myself, have I noticed God’s activity in my life in a more particular way this Lent? Have I responded to the call of Ash Wednesday to “turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel”?
Perhaps the most important questions that we fail to notice each day come to us from Jesus Himself. Sometimes His questions come to us through a conversation with a close friend or relative. At other times, they come to us in quiet moments of meditation and prayer. Since we began our Novitiate journey last July, Bro. Peter Francis, Bro. Andrew, and I have spent some more time focusing on growing in our relationships with Christ and his Mother. Although God makes his presence known to us in so many different ways, I have found that Jesus speaks to us most directly through the Scriptures. Hearing the Gospel proclaimed each day at Mass has helped me notice Jesus’ presence a little more and hear the questions that he asks of me as I hope to follow him more closely.
When I was away at college only two years ago, it was always difficult for me to balance the demands of college life with my desire to spend Holy Week prayerfully in anticipation of Easter. I tried to carve out more time for prayer, but “praying in anticipation of Easter” sounds a lot better in theory than it is easy to actually practice in college. If you have been meaning to take some more time for prayer or have been hoping to notice God’s presence in your life a little bit more profoundly during Holy Week, as I was, might I suggest that you use the Magnificat to help you notice the questions the Lord is asking each of us as we meditate on Jesus’ sorrows and triumphs from Palm Sunday to the Easter Vigil?
I have selected one question from the Scripture readings used during the liturgy each day of Holy Week and offer them to you for your personal meditation and prayer during that busy, yet remarkable, week.
Palm Sunday — “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest?”
One of my hobbies in college was napping. After an early-morning rowing practice and two or three classes, I was ready for a quick (or sometimes not-so-quick) nap around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, and I usually felt great after it. After all, I had earned some time to relax. Jesus famously asks Peter, James, and John this question in the Garden of Gethsemane while He is suffering the mental anguish of knowing that He is about to endure His horrific Passion. After a nice Passover meal with some wine, the disciples probably felt drowsy, and perhaps they had the feeling that they had earned a quick power-nap while Jesus was off in prayer.
Jesus’ question to them cuts right at the main idea behind their feeling that they had earned anything. He reminds them that following Him is not easy, and it is certainly never something that we can take for granted or put into auto-pilot. Going through the motions of prayer and discipleship won’t cut it, because we have not earned anything on our own. We have to stay alert to notice God’s active presence in our lives. Do I think Jesus is condemning napping? I sure hope not! In Gethsemane, Jesus reminds his closest friends that the way of the Cross—the way of Christian discipleship—is not an easy task, but rather it is a way of living that asks us to stay alert to the ways God invites us to serve one another in love.
Holy Monday — "Why was this oil not sold for three-hundred days' wages and given to the poor?"
The median household income in Nassau County over 300 days is $77,010.41. Imagine what you could buy with that much money. Now imagine how annoyed you would be if someone in your family purchased a shower gel or cologne for that price. You would be pretty ticked off, right? Judas probably felt the same way as you or I would feel in that situation, especially because he could have benefited from that money if the woman had just donated the value of the perfumed oil to Jesus and His followers. St. John tells us that Judas was a greedy man, but I think another common temptation might have prompted Judas’ snide remark as well.
There are so many situations in life in which we think we have all the answers. We might say, “I don’t need any help,” or “I can handle this problem on my own.” In fact, those might be the mantras of American men. There is a temptation, and perhaps even an expectation in our culture, that in order to be a truly successful man, you have to have it all together and always be ready to respond to any situation. Judas might have felt that too. After all, he did spend three years with Jesus; it is reasonable to think that Jesus would have wanted to give that money to the poor, so perhaps Judas made that comment thinking he had the right answer, the right thing Jesus would want him to say. We have to avoid the tendency to think that we know it all or that we can do it on our own. If anything else, this week teaches us that Jesus did it all for us. We just have to follow Him and let Him work through us.
Holy Tuesday — "Master, why can I not follow you now?
Too often, our idealized sense of self lures us into thinking that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. “I’m young and like to do new and adventurous things, so why not?,” we might insist. One four-letter word comes to mind: YOLO. We all want to live life to the fullest, and countless people tell us to follow our dreams and to do whatever will make us happy. There might be some wisdom in that sentiment, but sometimes we are just not ready to do certain things that we want to do.
St. Peter might have suffered from some youthful and idealistic delusions when he asked Jesus this question. He really had no idea where he would be going if he followed Jesus. Christ slaps him with a heavy dose of reality when He tells Peter that, instead of following Him now, Peter would deny even knowing Jesus three times. The ironic part of this passage is that in the end, we know that Peter does follow in Jesus’ footsteps and is martyred on a cross. Peter always had a strong desire to follow Jesus, but at the time of Our Lord’s Passion, he was not yet ready to embrace the way of the Cross. Peter needed to experience the mercy and forgiveness that Jesus offered him after his denial in order to strengthen him to lead the early Church and to give him the courage to ultimately lay down his own life in imitation of the Master. He learned from his youthful mistakes, and then he was ready to give true witness to his faith.
Spy Wednesday — "Surely it is not I, Lord?"
Don’t miss the context of this question: After Jesus tells the Twelve that one of them will betray Him, they go around the table, and one by one they exonerate themselves. It makes me think of one time in class when a student said something inappropriate and all his classmates who sat around him individually exclaimed, “It wasn't me!”
Too often, we try to throw the blame for something that went wrong onto another person. “I was late to class because my roommate took too long in the shower.” “Sorry, Mom, I only used the emergency credit card because my friend and I needed to Uber home once it started raining.” We are never the bad guy . . . bad things just happen to us. Granted, none of us are bad people, but sometimes we do have to own up to the mistakes we make and the sins we commit. We need to stop lying to ourselves — “Surely it is not I who have to change my ways” — in order to start saying, “I’m sorry — I will work on that and do better next time.” The Lord does not ask us for perfection; He asks us for a sincere attempt at bettering ourselves in order to give more freely to God and to others.
Holy Thursday — “Do you realize what I have done for you?”
This is one of the rare times in the Gospels that Jesus further explains Himself, so I’m going to let Him do the talking here:
Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me “teacher” and “master,” and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do.
The Washing of the Feet should stupefy us. Our God, who is so much greater than our minds can even imagine, reveals His love for us by cleaning the dirt from between our toes. He shows us that the messiness of our lives and the darkness of our sin only endear us to Him even more—after all, he did wash Judas’ feet too. In order to prove our love for Him, He does not ask that we grovel at His feet, but rather He commands us to serve one another. It is not a coincidence that Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the same meal during which He washed the disciples’ feet. If we believe in the Eucharist, then that faith becomes incarnate when our love reaches out to others. Only then will we truly realize all that He has done for us.
Good Friday — “Whom are you looking for?”
Perhaps this is the only question that really matters in life. People our age try so desperately to figure out who they are and who they are supposed to be, and the challenge of that self-discovery causes many of us to give up hope. We turn to drugs and alcohol, abusive relationships and casual hookups as a way to cauterize the pain that accompanies the struggle to understand our lives. Perhaps it is barely any wonder that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15-24, and that, in the last two years alone, seven Chaminade graduates have died from drug overdoses.
Ours is a dark world, but in the midst of all this darkness, Jesus asks us, “Whom are you looking for?” We are looking for a Person to give our lives meaning, not a degree or a career. Pope St. John Paul II keenly understood our quest to find our place in the world when he said in 2000, “It is Jesus that you seek when you dream of happiness; He is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you.” Our lives only find their meaning and purpose in Jesus, who desires nothing else but to show us the way to happiness with Him.
Easter — “Who will roll away the stone at the entrance to the tomb for us?”
Now that is a practical question! The women knew that, no matter how hard they tried, they would not have been able to move that obstruction blocking them off from Jesus. The stone was too heavy, and their strength was too weak. Very often, we find that there is something that is holding us back and preventing us from embracing the path of new life that Jesus offers us from the empty tomb. Road blocks like family difficulties or academic struggles can make us say things like, “If only . . .”
The women probably had an “If only . . .” moment on their way to the tomb. The stone was impossible for them to move, but think how God completely surpassed even the furthest limits of their imaginations about how they could solve their problem. Not only did Jesus move the stone; He walked out of the tomb! It would have been one thing if they found the stone pushed over just a crack so that they could crawl through one at a time in order to anoint Jesus’ body, but that was not good enough for God. He completely destroyed the obstacle and came out to them. The message of Easter is that nothing can separate us from God . . . if we just ask Him to move the stone.
If prayer is simply a conversation with God, then it seems natural that God would ask questions of us. We ask Him so many favors and questions every day, maybe it is about time that we start to listen to the things He asks us. I was surprised that there were so many questions in the Gospels during Holy Week, so it was a very prayerful experience to share these reflections with you. Perhaps you can use them as a jumping-off point each day as we dive further into the Lord’s Paschal Mystery. And while you’re at it, just remember to pray for me and for my Brothers!
May the Lord bless you abundantly with new life this Easter!
In Christ and His Blessed Mother,
Bro. Patrick Cahill