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Lest We Betray Him With a Kiss

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The Call to Holiness

My monastic vocation, as it has developed and matured over the years, is intimately bound up with the lives of my brother priests and with their desire for holiness. The Wednesday of Holy Week invites me to meditate on one priest's abject failure, on one priest's sordid betrayal of Our Lord, on one priest's headlong plunge into the darkness of despair. You all know this priest. His name was Judas Iscariot.

What I am about to share applies not only to priests; it applies, in some way, to everyone. Each of us is called to live in the friendship of Jesus. Each of us is called to holiness. Each of us is called to become nothing less than a saint.

Mysterium Iniquitatis

The Wednesday of Holy Week is designated Spy Wednesday: this because it commemorates Judas Iscariot's conspiracy to betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver. The betrayal of Jesus by Judas --his friend, his chosen one, his priest-- continues to astonish and grieve us. Why did Our Lord allow such an evil? Why did He not stop Judas, confront him with the horror of his sin, and pull him back from the abyss of iniquity about to open beneath his feet? What a mystery it is that Our Lord should so respect the free will of a man, even when that man's choices are misguided; motivated by the desire for power, or money, or pleasure; or manipulated by Satan, the father of lies!

What Happened?

Let us consider, for a moment, what might have happened, had Judas taken the risk of stepping out of his isolation, of reaching out to another. Why did Judas end the way he did? How did he go from giving up everything to follow Jesus, to betraying Him for a miserable thirty pieces of silver?

The Sickness of Our Secrets

The beginning of Judas' downfall was his secrecy. In the beginning of his discipleship, Judas Iscariot was, perhaps, more open, sharing with Jesus his thoughts, his dreams, his desires, and his fears. And then, little by little, Judas became disillusioned and jaded. He withdrew into himself. He dissimulated his temptations, his fears, his struggles, and his failures.

Something very similar happens when a soul stops going to confession, or confesses too infrequently, or puts off going to confession. One becomes accustomed to living with the sickness of one's secrets. One adjusts to living with them, and they poison us. This is something that the Church has always known. How important it is to lay bare our souls to a trusted spiritual father, to admit not only our sins, but also our temptations and our struggles. This act of humility disarms Satan, and renders him powerless. Only pride, and the secrecy that comes from pride and seeks to dissimulate sin, gives the Evil One a foothold in us.

Judas Stopped Conversing with Jesus

Judas must have stopped conversing with Jesus in a personal way. Certainly he continued talking to Jesus superficially, but mostly about business. He was, after all, responsible for administering the common fund of the Twelve. He stopped relating to Jesus in a personal way, as one trusting friend talks to another, heart to heart.

It is very telling that in Saint John's Gospel, Judas speaks rather caustically about expenses. He sounds calculating and disgruntled. "Why," he asked, "was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?" (Jn 12:5) Judas had become all business. There was little love left in his heart. He was concerned about running a successful operation in worldly terms, but in his heart a viper was hid, and it was about to sting him with its deadly poison.

Had He Turned to Jesus

If only Judas had gone to Jesus and said, "Master, I need to talk to Thee. I want to open my heart to Thee. I am troubled, and tempted, and on the verge of committing a very great evil. Save me, lest I perish. Hold me fast, my Jesus, and do not let me go. I trust in Thy love for me. I believe in Thy mercy. I remember what Thou didst say one day: "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me; and him who comes to Me I will not cast out" (Jn 6:37).

It is never too late to stop and open one's heart to Jesus in the intimate conversation that we call prayer. The worst betrayals, the most heinous crimes, and the living death of mortal sin begin their gestation when we forsake prayer, when we stop conversing with Jesus, or only deal with Him when we are obliged to do so by convention or routine. Then, there is no more friendship with Him. There is only business. And so the heart grows hard and cold.

He Could Have Turned to Mary

Judas had another recourse, but he was too proud to make use of it. He could have gone to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Even before the words of Our Lord to Saint John from the Cross, "Behold, thy mother" (Jn 19:27), Mary was a true mother to each of the Apostles. She knew them as any mother knows her children, and she loved them, even with their weaknesses and repeated failures to believe in her Son, to hope in Him, and to love Him. Any one of the twelve could have gone to Mary at any time for counsel, for comfort, for encouragement, and for a mother's blessing. She loved each of them because her Son loved them, and chose them, and called them to leave all things and follow Him.

Judas could have gone to Mary and said, "Mother, behold, my life is filled with wicked desires, with anger, and jealousy, and pride. Mother, I am ashamed to confess this to thee, but I am losing confidence in thy Son. I cannot accept His way of doing things. I am hardening my heart against His teachings. Mother, help me! And Mary, moved by an immense compassion, would have caressed his cheek, and opened her hands in prayer over his head. Mary was then, and remains even now for us, the Mediatrix of All Graces, the Mother of Mercy, the Refuge of Sinners, our life, our sweetness, and above all, our hope in this valley of tears. She would not have condemned Judas. She would not have been angry with him. She would have felt an immense pity for him, the pity of a mother for a wayward child. Mary could have saved him from the terrible fate that awaited him. But Judas did not seek her out. And so Mary would weep for him bitterly.

One can go to Mary at any moment, with any temptation, any weakness, and any sin. Our Lady hates sin, but loves poor sinners. She is disgusted by evil, but is merciful towards those held in its grip. She is repulsed by vice, but full of compassion for those who struggle to become free of it. Seeing us in our sins, she weeps over us, allowing her tears to soften and purify our hearts. Turn to her and she will crush the head of the serpent who plots our ruin. It is enough to look at her image with confidence, enough to say her blessed name, "Mary, Mary!"

He Could Have Opened Up to Peter

Judas could have gone to Peter. Peter had already emerged as the spokesman of the Twelve. Judas could have said to Peter, "Peter, my brother, tonight, let us get together for a glass of wine and a plate of figs. I need to talk. I am confused, troubled, restless. Hear me out. Help me." Peter was often outspoken, and impetuous, but he had a tender side as well. He was capable of compassion. Peter would have listened to Judas. He may have argued with him, as one brother argues with another. He may have reproved him as Padre Pio so often reproved his penitents in order to win them back. But the simple fact of opening up to Peter might have saved Judas. Instead, Judas chose to live with his secret. In the end, it would kill Jesus and cause Judas to hang himself.

It a dangerous thing to hold on to one's secrets, to entertain an inner life populated by demons and noisy with their evil suggestions. There is a solution: it is enough to go to one who represents Jesus, one who so knows the Heart of the Master that he can speak on His behalf and pull us back from the precipice.

He Could Have Asked John to Intercede for Him

Judas could have gone to John. John was Jesus' beloved friend, the one with whom He shared all the secrets of His Sacred Heart, the friend in whose company He found comfort and solace, the friend who would remain with Him even on Golgotha, the friend to whom He would entrust His All-Holy Mother. John was, and is, a powerful intercessor with the Heart of Jesus. Had Judas gone to John and exposed his temptations, John would have spoken to him of the gentleness of the Master, of the love of His Heart, of His readiness to forgive. And John, interceding, would have gone to Jesus, to speak to Him on Judas' behalf.

But Judas could not bring himself to do this. Out of pride certainly, out of jealousy perhaps. And so he went his dark way into the night of betrayal and death.

The Mercy of God

Judas remains a tragic mystery. Had he renounced his sin, or had he repented after it, he might have become one of the shining trophies of Divine Mercy in the early Church. Instead he went his dark way, keeping his secrets, and refusing to reach out to Jesus, to Mary, to Peter, to John or to any one of the company of faithful disciples who might have been able to grab hold of his hand and pull him back from the infernal pit.

The very act of reaching out is an expression of humility, and humility opens the floodgates of Divine Mercy. Apart from an abiding trust in the Mercy of God, one cannot have but a tragic destiny. Merciful Jesus, save us, lest we, like Judas, betray Thee with a kiss!

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Wednesday of Holy Week

At Saint Mary Major

Today’s Roman Stational Church is the Basilica of Saint Mary Major. We go, in spirit, to this ancient church of the Mother of God, asking her to be present to us as we prepare to cross the threshold into the Paschal Triduum. We go to the suffering Christ, to the Crucified, to the Risen One with and through his most holy Mother. The Virgin of Sorrows is the Portress of the Holy Mysteries, the Keeper of the Door of Christ’s Pierced Heart, the Mother of our Joy. We will return again to Saint Mary Major for the Mass of Easter Day to sing our joy to the Mother of God -- Regina caeli, laetare! -- and to share in the joy that was hers at the resurrection of Christ. By framing the Paschal Triduum between two stations at the church of Saint Mary Major, the Roman liturgy suggests that the mystery of Christ is given us enveloped in Mary. Mary, like the Church, embodies and contains the mystery of Christ.

Christ in the Glory of God the Father

We sing today’s Introit in the presence of the Mother of Jesus. “In the name of Jesus let every knee bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth; for the Lord became obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross. Therefore our Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10, 8, 11). She who was the witness of his sufferings on Calvary is the witness of his glory in heaven, for she “has chosen the better part which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42).

We confess the self-emptying obedience of Christ, obedience even to the death of the cross, calling him LORD. We summon the entire cosmos -- things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth -- to adoration of his Name! Already, we lift our eyes to the see the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. The very melody of the introit scales an entire octave to soar into the heights, obliging us to “seek the things that are above” (Col 3:1). Dame Aemiliana speaks of “the irresistible, shining tone of triumph with which today’s Mass straightaway puts the approaching shadows of evening to flight.” Like Saint Stephen at the hour of his death, we see Christ in the glory of God the Father. “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God” (Ac 7:56). The Crucified is our Kyrios, the triumphant king, raised up into the glory of the Father.

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Into the Silence

Listening to the Passion plunges us into silence. The Word has been silenced. Only a fool would dare to speak. Perhaps there should be no homily today. Anything less than a word out of silence is unworthy of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ; anything more is superfluous. If I am so foolish as to preach today, it is for the sake of silence: a word out of silence, a word into silence. Like Saint Paul, "I am with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling" (1 Cor 2:3). In offering you these few words, my only purpose is to guide you into the harbour of an immense and solemn stillness.

The Mystery of the Cross

The Cross reveals its mystery only to those who allow themselves to be lifted up in its rough-hewn arms and held fast in its embrace. The power and wisdom of God are forever bound to the weakness and foolishness of the Cross.

In the Arms of the Cross

Most of us are repulsed by the Cross. We live in fear of suffering. We are willing to contemplate the Cross from a distance, willing to place it on our walls or to wear it on a chain over our hearts. It is quite another thing to be lifted up in its arms, to surrender to its embrace and to remain there naked, exposed and vulnerable. And yet, the saints are unanimous in testifying that for those who surrender to the embrace of the Cross and remain there, it becomes the Tree of Life, the Marriage Bed, and the Altar of Sacrifice.

My Yoke is Sweet

An ancient liturgical text describes the beginning of Holy Week as a ship coming into harbour. The Cross of Christ is our haven and our rest. Our Lord speaks to us and says: "Come to me, all you that labour, and are burdened, and I will refresh you. Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light." (Mt 11:28-29).

The Will of the Father is Always Love

The sweet yoke of Jesus is fashioned from the wood of the Cross. Those whom He draws to Himself find rest with Him in the arms of the Cross. When we struggle and strain against the Cross, we condemn ourselves to a long and restless agony, saying with Job: "My heart is in turmoil and is never still" (Jb 30:27). When we surrender to the embrace of the Cross, we rest with Jesus in the will of the Father. We discover that the will of the Father is always love, and so begin to pray: "Father, not my will, but Thine, be done" (Lk 22:42).

Tree of Life, Marriage Bed, and Altar

The Cross is the "tree that is planted beside flowing waters, that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves never fade" (Ps 1:3). Incandescent with the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Cross is the bush that Moses saw "burning and yet not consumed" (Ex ). The Cross is the marriage bed upon which Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride, the Church consummate their love. The Cross is the altar from which ascends a fragrant sacrifice: the immolation of the Lamb who takes away the sins of the world.

The Mass

How do we pass over from struggle to rest, from the tempest to the harbour? How do we pass over from the barren desert to the Tree of Life, from isolation to communion? How do we pass over from the threshold to the altar, and from the altar to God? By the Cross. Holy Week is the time of our great passover: from darkness to light, from sadness to joy, from time to eternity, from death to life. If you would leave behind the rot of your sins, and the darkness of untruth, and the horror of all that attacks innocence and outrages the Face of Love, then let yourself be drawn to the Cross. To each of us, and in every Mass, Our Lord offers the healing wood of the Cross. The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the place, and the means, and the price of our Passover; the Mass is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross.

Come, Surrender

If you are weary, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are isolated and afraid, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you are bitter, or bruised, or fragmented, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If, in spite of your sins, you hunger and thirst for holiness, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would make of your life an offering worthy of God, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross. If you would know the joy of resurrection, come to the altar, surrender to the embrace of the Cross.

Toward the Eighth Day

In a week's time, having passed from seven days of measured time into the Eighth Day, the Day that will forever free us from the tyranny of time measured against the approach of death, we will hail the festival of Him who triumphs over hell and holds the stars of heaven in his hand (cf. Salve, Festa Dies, Easter processional hymn).

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Papal Address at the End of Way of the Cross


Two things, in particular, speak to my heart in this brief discourse of the Holy Father at the end of the Via Crucis. The first is his invitation to gaze upon the lifeless Face of the Crucified. In this we are united to His Sorrowful Mother, to His cherished Apostle John, to Mary Magdalene, Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The second is this: "Even in our own time, how many people, in the silence of their daily lives, unite their sufferings with those of the Crucified One and become apostles of a true spiritual and social renewal!" How can I not relate these words to the mission of the Spiritual Mothers of Priests and to the offering of so many others who, already, unite their sufferings to the Passion of the Lamb for the healing and sanctification of His priests?

The Sacrifice of the Cross Already Consummated

At the end of his dramatic Passion narrative, the Evangelist Saint Mark tells us: "The centurion, who stood facing him, saw that he thus breathed his last, and said: 'Truly this man was the Son of God!'" (Mk 15:39). We cannot fail to be surprised by the profession of faith of this Roman soldier, who had been present throughout the various phases of the Crucifixion. When the darkness of night was falling on that Friday so unlike any other in history, when the sacrifice of the Cross was already consummated and the bystanders were making haste to celebrate the Jewish Passover in the usual way, these few words, wrung from the lips of a nameless commander in the Roman army, resounded through the silence that surrounded that most singular death. This Roman army officer, having witnessed the execution of one of countless condemned prisoners, was able to recognize in this crucified man the Son of God, who had perished in the most humiliating abandonment. His shameful end ought to have marked the definitive triumph of hatred and death over love and life. But it was not so! Hanging from the Cross on Golgotha was a man who was already dead, but that man was acknowledged to be the "Son of God" by the centurion, "on seeing that he thus breathed his last", as the Evangelist specifies.

Gaze on the Lifeless Face of the Crucified

We are reminded of this soldier's profession of faith every time we listen anew to Saint Mark's Passion account. This evening, like the centurion, we pause to gaze on the lifeless face of the Crucified One at the conclusion of this traditional Via Crucis which, through radio and television coverage, has brought many people together from every part of the world. We have re-lived the tragic event of a man unique in the history of all times, who changed the world not by killing others but by letting himself be killed as he hung from a cross. This man, seemingly one of us, who while he was being killed forgave his executioners, is the "Son of God", who, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, "did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:7-8).

Sufferings United to Those of the Crucified One

The anguish of the Passion of the Lord Jesus cannot fail to move to pity even the most hardened hearts, as it constitutes the climax of the revelation of God's love for each of us. Saint John observes: "God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life" (Jn 3:16). It is for love of us that Christ dies on the cross! Throughout the course of the millennia, a great multitude of men and women have been drawn deeply into this mystery and they have followed him, making in their turn, like him and with his help, a gift to others of their own lives. They are the saints and the martyrs, many of whom remain unknown to us. Even in our own time, how many people, in the silence of their daily lives, unite their sufferings with those of the Crucified One and become apostles of a true spiritual and social renewal! What would man be without Christ? Saint Augustine observes: "You would still be in a state of wretchedness, had He not shown you mercy. You would not have returned to life, had He not shared your death. You would have passed away had He not come to your aid. You would be lost, had He not come" (Discourse 185:1). So why not welcome him into our lives?

Contemplate His Disfigured Face

Let us pause this evening to contemplate his disfigured face: it is the face of the Man of sorrows, who took upon himself the burden of all our mortal anguish. His face is reflected in that of every person who is humiliated and offended, sick and suffering, alone, abandoned and despised. Pouring out his blood, he has rescued us from the slavery of death, he has broken the solitude of our tears, he has entered into our every grief and our every anxiety.

Watch and Pray With Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows

Brothers and Sisters! As the Cross rises up on Golgotha, the eyes of our faith are already turned towards the dawning of the new Day, and we begin to taste the joy and splendour of Easter. "If we have died with Christ", writes Saint Paul, "we believe that we shall also live with Him" (Rom 6:8). In this certainty, let us continue our journey. Tomorrow, on Holy Saturday, we will watch and pray together with Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, and we will pray with all who are suffering; we will pray above all with those who suffer in L'Aquila, hit by the earthquake. We will pray so that in this dark night, the star of hope will appear to them, the light of the Risen Lord.

I wish all of you, even now, a Happy Easter in the light of the Risen Lord!

© Copyright 2009 -- Libreria Editrice Vaticana

Dum pendebat Filius

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Last night He sat with us at table.
His Face illumined the Upper Room
and there, just above the bread and behind the chalice,
beat His Heart of flesh.

John inclined his head;
he closed his eyes like a child secure on his mother's breast,
and listened there to the rhythm of the Love
that, mightily and sweetly, orders the sun and stars;
to the rhythm of the Love that, with every beat,
stretches upward and spirals inward to the Father;
to the rhythm of Love that meets
the pulse of every of other beating heart.

Last night, He lifted up His eyes to heaven
and, all shining with the glory of His priesthood,
said: "Father, the hour has come;
glorify thy Son that the Son may glorify thee" (Jn 17:1).

And to His disciples He said:
Desiderio desideravi . . .
"With desire I have desired
to eat this pasch with you before I suffer" (Lk 22:15).
"And taking bread, He gave thanks and broke,
and gave to them, saying:
'This is my body which is given for you:
do this for a commemoration of me.'
In like manner, the chalice also, after He had supped, saying:
'This is the chalice, the New Testament in my blood
which shall be shed for you'" (Lk 22:19-20).

In that moment, the Sacrifice was already accomplished.
The wood of the supper table fused with the wood of the Cross.
The Cross became His altar,
and He became the Lamb
fulfilling Abraham's prophecy on the mountain:
"God will provide himself the lamb for a holocaust, my son" (Gen 22:8).

After that moment, there was no going back.
Before it the entire cosmos held its breath
in fearful anticipation.
After it, the angels themselves sighed,
and began to breathe again their breathless praises.

Had He not said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth;
and would that it were already kindled!
I have a baptism to be baptized with;
and how I am constrained until it is accomplished" (Lk 12:49-50).
And they, paying attention to His Face
"as to a lamp shining in a dark place" (2 P 1:19),
remembered that He had said,
"Now is my soul troubled.
And what shall I say?
'Father, save me from this hour'?
No, for this purpose I have come to this hour.
Father, glorify thy name." (Jn 12:27).

"Then a voice came from heaven,
'I have glorified it,
and I will glorify it again.'
The crowd standing by heard it
and said that it had thundered" (Jn 12:28).

But last night in the Cenacle,
with shadows winding about them like a shroud,
there was no thunder, no voice,
but only the immensity of a silence
that He -- and those closest to His Heart --
knew to be the Father's sorrowful assent.
And the betrayer, quick to do
what could no longer be delayed,
slipped out.
"And it was night" (Jn 13:30).

In the garden,
His Face was unseen,
for the eyes of His friends had grown heavy with sleep,
and there was none to meet the gaze of the Sorrowing Son
other than the Sorrowing Father
and the Consoling Angel whom He had sent
to wipe His brow,
to caress His head
and, for a moment, to hold His hand.

This the Sorrowing Mother would have done
had she been there,
but even that was denied her.
The Mother was replaced by an Angel!
The consolation that only she could have given
was given by another,
and yet He knew the difference:
though sweet, it was an angel's, not a mother's.

Weeping like Eve outside the garden,
she consented to the bitter Chalice:
"Be it done unto me as to your Word!"
Chosen for this, she elected to remain
cloistered in the Father's Will,
hidden and veiled in grief,
to drink there of the Chalice of her Son, the Priest,
and savour it, bitter against the palate of her soul,
for nought can taste a child's suffering
like a mother's palate.

Then the Angel too was gone
and the Father hid behind the veil of blood and of tears,
leaving the Son alone with His sorrow
and with His fear,
to proceed with the Sacrifice:
the priest stopping on the way to the altar
with the chalice already in his hands.

"My heart expected reproach and misery;
and I looked for one that would grieve together with me,
and there was none!
I sought for one to comfort me, and I found none" (Ps 68:21-22).

There began the disfiguration of His Face,
the humiliation of Beauty,
the descent deep into abjection.
Blood oozing from His pores
mingled with tears streaming from His eyes,
and blood and tears alike
precious in the Father's eyes,
soaked the earth beneath Him
filling the underworld and all the just there waiting
with a strange anticipation.

There followed the kiss of betrayal;
the grieving over one loved even in his sin;
the denial by Peter, His chosen rock, here soft as lead;
and that desolate liturgy crafted by iniquity:
a round of rude processions
first to Annas, and then from Annas to Caiaphas,
and then from Caiaphas to Pilate.

Pilate, unwittingly, summons the world
to gaze upon His Face:
"So Jesus came forth bearing the crown of thorns,
and the purple garment.
And he said to them, 'Behold the man'" (Jn 19:5).

The Seraphim above, hearing this utterance from far below,
turn their eyes of fire to behold the Man.
For a moment
-- if moments there be in eternity --
the ceaseless beating of their ruby wings is stilled
and all of heaven's eyes
meet the gaze of the Son of Man
and rest riveted to His Holy Face.

Hidden in the crowd is the Mother.
Now from her grief-stricken heart there rises over Pilate's words
that prayer of the psalmist
entrusted to Israel, and to her, the Daughter of Sion,
for this day, and for this hour:
"Behold, O God, our protector;
look upon the Face of your Christ!" (Ps 83:9).

Charged with the terrible timber of that chosen tree,
all the weight of the sin of the ages
presses into His flesh that He, the Lamb, might bear it away:
the crushing cruelty of my sins and yours:
pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.

Upon Him lies the burden of every betrayal, every refusal,
every indifference, every defilement,
every blasphemy, every hardness of heart.
This is the heaviness that pushes Him three times to the ground,
grinding His Face into the dust,
that dust out of which, in the beginning, He fashioned man,
His masterpiece, His image, His joy.

Having arrived at the place of a skull
"which is called in Hebrew Golgotha" (Jn 19:17),
He stretches out His hands
to receive the nails
that will hold Him on the wood
in the position of one waiting to embrace and to be embraced,
in the gesture of the priest standing before the altar
for the Great Thanksgiving.
His feet are nailed
fixing Him to this one place at the centre of the earth,
that all who approach the Cross
might find Him there,
the One who, immobilized,
can say only, "Come to me."
"Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden,
and I will refresh you" (Mt 11:27).

Here the Bridegroom finds His marriage bed,
here Priest and Victim find the altar,
here the King of Glory finds His throne.
Here the Oblation is lifted high;
here the covenant is ratified,
here the Spirit is outpoured
in the Breath of His mouth.

Those who approach His pierced feet,
He raises, by a word, to His pierced side,
repeating from the Cross
what He said last night at table:
"Drink of it, all of you;
for this is my blood of the covenant,
which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mt 26:28).
The Mother assisting at this,
the solemn once-and-for-all Mass of her Son, her Priest,
follows the bloody liturgy
with the absolute adhesion of her heart
to every gesture, every word.

The Mother sees,
the Mother understands
that the Cross is the new language of new liturgy
for a new temple.
Every alphabet devised by men
is subsumed into the Verbum Crucis,
the language of the Cross, the one language devised by God
to say all that He would say to man
through Christ, His mediating Priest;
the one language
by which man, speaking through the same Eternal Priest,
can say all that he would ever need to say to God.

For this is the Woman given to John,
to every priest of Jesus
to every disciple of Jesus:
that at the school of the Mother of Sorrows,
all might learn the language of the Cross,
the pure liturgy of sacrificial love.

"'Woman, behold thy son!'
After that He said to the disciple:
'Behold thy mother!'
And from that hour the disciple took her to his own" (jn 19: 26-27).

The language of the Cross,
transcending the Hebrew, the Latin, and the Greek
of the inscription affixed to the tree
will be the mother tongue of the Church,
the language of the saints of every age,
the language of the one Holy Sacrifice
offered in every place
from the rising of the sun to its setting (Mal 1:11).

If you would hear the Word of the Cross (1 Cor 1:18),
remain silent before it and adore.
Approach it not with many words,
but with tears,
and with one burning kiss of reparation and of love.
Plant your kiss upon His feet,
press your mouth against that wound
and wait,
wait in the stillness of the Great Sabbath,
to drink in the brightness of Pascha
from the river of life
that even now gushes from His open Heart.

This Hour of the Priest

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Vesperal Mass of the Supper of the Lord

April 9, 2009
Cathedral of the Holy Family
Tulsa, Oklahoma

We have entered the Upper Room,
the Supper Room, the Cenacle.
The hour is come "for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ
in Whom is our health, life, and resurrection" (cf. Gal 6:14).

All is in readiness.
The table is set with fair linen.
The lamps of evening shine.
The incense has shed tears of joy
over coals ignited by a flame that speaks of love
and the fragrance of the evening sacrifice hangs in the air.
The bread is set out in readiness
for the brooding of the Spirit and for the word that will make it His Body;
the wine itself breathes in anticipation of becoming His Blood.

We are in the Cenacle,
"Holy and glorious Sion, the Mother Church
of all the churches of the world" (Liturgy of Saint James).
The far-off there and then of a Paschal moon in Jerusalem
over two-thousand years ago
has become our here and now;
and our here and now
has been assumed into the long-awaited Hour
immeasurable in terms of time.
"Lord, it is good for us to be here" (Mt 17:4).

"Jesus sent Peter and John, saying,
'Go and prepare the passover for us, that we may eat it.' . . .
Tell the householder, 'The Teacher says to you,
Where is the guest-chamber,
where I am to eat the pasch with My disciples?
And he will show you a large upper room furnished;
there make ready' (Lk 22:8-12).

Our cathedral church,
filled with the sights and sounds
of the ancient and ever-returning Pasch of the Lord,
is that Upper Room made ready, at last.
The vaults over our heads and the walls around us
rejoice to imbibe the mystery of it.
The bones of the saints thrill from the place
where they are hid beneath the altar.

In a few moments, there will be cleansing water for our feet
and the kiss of forgiveness;
thus are we made ready for the Bridegroom's kiss
of welcome and of holy love,
even as we shudder to think of that other kiss, the kiss of betrayal.
"With desire have I desired to eat this pasch with you
before I suffer" (Lk 22:15), says the Master.

He summons us to His table;
here all are welcome, here all are embraced.
This is the banquet of "the poor and maimed
and lame and blind" (Lk 14:21).
The traditions of the Church have given a litany of names to this day,
to this gathering around the altar,
to this festival:
it is called the Supper of the Lord,
the Great Fifth Day,
the Birthday of the Chalice,
the Day of the Tradition,
and the Institution of the Holy Priesthood.

We came in rejoicing, and then,
opening the Sacred Scriptures to the book of Exodus,
we found the place where it is written,
"It is the Passover of the Lord . . .
You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord;
throughout your generations you shall observe it
as a perpetual ordinance"(Ex 12: 11, 14).

We listened to the ancient rites of passover entrusted to Moses and Aaron and kept alive in Israel, from generation to generation,
in view of their wondrous fulfillment in the Cenacle.
The blood of the Passover Lamb,
the blood marking doorpost and lintel,
the blood that meant life to the houses it marked,
is the Blood that, in a few moments,
will fill the Chalice of our Great Thanksgiving.
This is why we sang,
"Our Chalice of blessing is a communion
in the Blood of Christ!" (cf. 1 Cor 10, 16).

This is the Chalice of which David sang, "My cup overflows" (Ps 22:5).
The Church takes and drinks of it each day:
when she makes present the first and last Supper of the Lamb;
but never with greater exhilaration and thanksgiving than today,
'the birthday of the Chalice.'
So often as the Church drinks from the Chalice
she is inwardly quickened and altogether renewed.
No mere cup the Chalice.
It signifies what it contains
and contains what it signifies:
the Mystery of Faith,
the Blood of the New and Eternal Covenant.

"I will take up the Chalice of salvation," says the Church,
"and call upon the Name of the Lord" (Ps 115:13),
for this is the cup which makes the foolish wise,
the cup of every priest's sober inebriation in the Holy Spirit,
the cup that strengthens martyrs for the outpouring of their blood.
This is the marvelous cup, the Chalice containing fire,
the antidote to every poison,
the healing draught held to the lips of the weak and the sin-sick,
a divine infusion of hope
for those caught in the downward spiral of despair.

We listened as the apostle handed on to us the mystery
that he himself had received:
the mystery of the handing-over, the "traditio" of the Lord.
"I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you,
that the Lord Jesus on the night He was handed over,
took bread, and giving thanks, broke and said,
'This is my body that is for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.'
In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying,
'This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'" (1 Cor 11:23-25).

This is the Day of the Tradition
because today the Lord hands himself over to the Father
for the accomplishment of His will,
because today the Lord hands over for us
the mysteries of His Body and Blood,
because today the Lord is handed over -- betrayed --
into the hands of sinful men to undergo the torment of the Cross.

In the Gospel we were given the image of God kneeling at our feet,
of the God-Man making himself lower than those He created,
lower than those who in Him live, and move,
and have their being (cf. Ac 17:28).
Before offering us the Chalice of His Blood,
He offers us the humble service of His hands
to wash away all our filth,
to soothe feet bruised and scarred
from having toiled among the "thorns and thistles" of sin (Gen 3:18).
Before giving us His Body and Blood, food and drink for the journey,
He tends to our feet so that, with swift pace and light step,
we might, on the first day of the week before the rising of the sun,
make our way with the holy women to the empty tomb.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
lie the mysteries of His agony,
of His prayer to the Father "with loud cries and tears" (Heb 5:7),
of His betrayal, His arrest, His bitter sufferings,
His death, and His burial.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the compassion of His Mother,
standing with John at the foot of the cross.
There is the immensity of her silence and of her Great Sabbath hope.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there are the burning tears of Mary Magdalene
and a grief known only to those who love much.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the fear of the apostles and their shameful flight;
there is Peter's denial of His Lord three times.

Between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the fearful spectre of all my sins and of yours,
the painful reality of so much brokenness.

Finally, between the Upper Room and the empty tomb
there is the gift and mystery of the priesthood:
the Sacrifice making necessary the priesthood,
the priesthood making possible the Sacrifice,
and the Sacrifice bringing the Church to birth,
not once, but again and again.

In three months time, on June 19th,
we will enter into The Year of the Priest,
a gift of Pope Benedict XVI to the Church.
Were it not for this Hour of the Priest
there could be no Year of the Priest.
Listen then "to what the Spirit is saying to the churches" (Ap 2:29).
We are about to enter into a gratuitous outpouring of grace
upon the priests of the Church, a kind of priestly Pentecost.
Pray that no priestly heart remain closed to what God,
in his infinite mercy, desires to give;
and that no priestly heart will refuse
to be purified, and healed,
and quickened in the grace that has its origin in the Cenacle
and in this most holy night.

By the gift of the priesthood,
it is given us to taste already,
even before tomorrow's nails, cross, lance, and tomb,
the sweetness of the Resurrection.
Once the words of consecration are uttered over the bread
and over the Chalice of wine mixed with water,
the entire Mystery is made present.
Bathe in its light.
Inhale its fragrance.
The Eucharist is the Church held in the embrace of the Cross,
rising from the tomb,
and set ablaze by the Holy Spirit.
O taste and see.

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Yesterday in his Wednesday audience, the Holy Father prepared us for the Sacred Paschal Triduum. Here is his address. The subtitles are my own.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Into the Sacred Paschal Triduum

Holy Week, which for us Christians is the most important week of the year, offers us the opportunity to be immersed in the central events of Redemption, to relive the Paschal Mystery, the great mystery of the faith. Beginning tomorrow afternoon, with the Mass "In Coena Domini," the solemn liturgical rites will help us to meditate in a more lively manner on the Passion, Death and Resurrection of the Lord in the days of the Holy Paschal Triduum, fulcrum of the entire liturgical year.

Christus Factus Est Pro Nobis Obediens

May divine grace open our hearts to comprehend the inestimable gift that salvation is, obtained for us by Christ's sacrifice. We find this immense gift wonderfully narrated in a famous hymn contained in the Letter to the Philippians (cf. 2:6-11), on which we meditated several times in Lent. The Apostle reviews, both in an essential and effective manner, the whole mystery of the history of salvation referring to Adam's pride who, not being God, wanted to be like God. And he contrasts this pride of the first man, which all of us feel a bit in our being, with the humility of the true Son of God who, becoming man, did not hesitate to take upon himself all the weaknesses of the human being, except sin, and pushed himself to the profundity of death. This descent to the last profundity of the Passion and Death is then followed by his exaltation, the true glory, the glory of the love that went all the way to the end. And that is why it is right -- as Paul says -- that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord!" (2:10-11). With these words, St. Paul refers to a prophecy of Isaiah where God says: I am the Lord, to me every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth (cf. Isaiah 45: 23). This -- says Paul -- is also true for Jesus Christ. He really is, in his humility, in the true greatness of his love, the Lord of the world and before him every knee truly bows.

How marvelous, and at the same time amazing, is this mystery! We can never meditate this reality sufficiently. Jesus, though being God, did not want to make of his divine prerogatives an exclusive possession; he did not want to use his being God, his glorious dignity and power, as an instrument of triumph and sign of distance from us. On the contrary, "he emptied himself" assuming our miserable and weak human condition -- in this regard, Paul uses a quite meaningful Greek verb to indicate the kenosis, this descent of Jesus. The divine form (morphe) is hidden in Christ under the human form, namely, under our reality marked by suffering, poverty, human limitations and death. The radical and true sharing of our nature, a sharing in everything except sin, leads him to that frontier that is the sign of our finiteness -- death. But all this was not the fruit of a dark mechanism or a blind fatality: It was instead his free choice, by his generous adherence to the salvific plan of the Father. And the death which he went out to meet -- adds Paul -- was that of the cross, the most humiliating and degrading that one can imagine. The Lord of the universe did all this out of love for us: out of love he willed to "empty himself" and make himself our brother; out of love he shared our condition, that of every man and every woman. In this connection, Theodoret of Cyrus, a great witness of the Eastern tradition, writes: "Being God and God by nature and having equality with God, he did not retain this as something great, as do those who have received some honor beyond their merits, but concealing his merits, he chose the most profound humility and took the form of a human being" (Commentary on the Letter to the Philippians, 2:6-7).

The Chrism Mass and the Year of the Priest

As prelude to the Paschal Triduum, which will begin tomorrow -- as I was saying -- with the thought-provoking afternoon rites of Holy Thursday, is the solemn Chrism Mass, which the bishop celebrates in the morning with his presbytery, and in the course of which at the same time the priestly promises are renewed, made on the day of ordination. It is a gesture of great value, an occasion all the more propitious in which the priests confirm their fidelity to Christ who chose them as his ministers. Moreover, this priestly meeting assumes a particular meaning, because it is almost a preparation to the Priestly Year, which I have proclaimed on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the death of the holy Curé of Ars and which will begin next June 19. Blessed also in the Chrism Mass will be the oil of the sick and of catechumens, and the chrism will be consecrated. These are rites that signify symbolically the fullness of Christ's priesthood and the ecclesial communion that must animate Christian people, gathered for the Eucharistic sacrifice and vivified in the unity of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Cenacle

In the afternoon Mass, called "In Coena Domini," the Church commemorates the institution of the Eucharist, the ministerial priesthood and the new commandment of charity, left by Jesus to his disciples. St. Paul gives one of the earliest testimonies of all that happened in the Cenacle, vigil of the Lord's Passion. "The Lord Jesus," he wrote, at the beginning of the 50's years, based on a text he received from the Lord's own realm, "on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'" (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Words charged with mystery, which manifest clearly the will of Christ: Under the species of bread and wine he renders himself present in his body given and with his bloodshed. It is the sacrifice of the new and definitive covenant offered to all, without distinction of race or culture. And from this sacramental rite, which he entrusts to the Church as supreme proof of his love, Jesus appointed his disciples as ministers, and those who followed them in the course of the centuries. Holy Thursday is, therefore, a renewed invitation to render thanks to God for the supreme gift of the Eucharist, to be received with devotion and to be adored with lively faith. Because of this, the Church encourages, after the celebration of Holy Mass, watching in the presence of the Most Holy Sacrament, recalling the sad hour that Jesus passed in solitude and prayer in Gethsemane, before being arrested and then being condemned to death.

The Precious Blood and the Wood of the Cross

And so we come to Good Friday, day of the Passion and crucifixion of the Lord. Every year, placing ourselves in silence before Jesus nailed to the wood of the cross, we realize how full of love were the words he pronounced on the eve, in the course of the Last Supper. "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many" (Mark 14:24). Jesus willed to offer his life in sacrifice for the remission of humanity's sins. Just as before the Eucharist, so before the Passion and Death of Jesus on the cross the mystery is unfathomable to reason. We are placed before something that humanly might seem absurd: a God who not only is made man, with all man's needs, not only suffers to save man, burdening himself with all the tragedy of humanity, but dies for man.

Trust and Abandonment in God

Christ's death recalls the accumulation of sorrows and evils that beset humanity of all times: the crushing weight of our dying, the hatred and violence that again today bloody the earth. The Lord's Passion continues in the suffering of men. As Blaise Pascal correctly writes, "Jesus will be in agony until the end of the world; one must not sleep during this time" (Pensées, 553). If Good Friday is a day full of sadness, and hence at the same time, all the more propitious a day to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and courage so that each one of us will carry his cross with humility, trust and abandonment in God, certain of his support and victory. The liturgy of this day sings: "O Crux, ave, spes unica" (Hail, O cross, our only hope)."

In the Silence of Mary

This hope is nourished in the great silence of Holy Saturday, awaiting the resurrection of Jesus. On this day the Churches are stripped and no particular liturgical rites are provided. The Church watches in prayer like Mary, and together with Mary, sharing the same feelings of sorrow and trust in God. Justly recommended is to preserve throughout the day a prayerful climate, favorable to meditation and reconciliation; the faithful are encouraged to approach the sacrament of penance, to be able to participate truly renewed in the Paschal celebrations.

The Paschal Vigil

The recollection and silence of Holy Saturday lead us at night to the solemn Paschal Vigil, "mother of all vigils," when the singing of the joy of the resurrection of Christ will erupt in all the churches and communities. Proclaimed once again will be the victory of light over darkness, of life over death, and the Church will rejoice in the encounter with her Lord. We will thus enter into the climate of the Easter of Resurrection.

The Triduum with Mary

Dear brothers and sisters, let us dispose ourselves to live the Holy Triduum intensely, to participate ever more profoundly in the mystery of Christ. We are accompanied on this journey by the Holy Virgin, who in silence followed her son Jesus to Calvary, taking part with great sorrow in his sacrifice, thus cooperating with the mystery of the Redemption and becoming Mother of all believers (cf. John 19:25-27). Together with her we will enter the Cenacle, we will stay at the foot of the Cross, we will watch next to the dead Christ, awaiting with hope the dawn of the radiant day of the Resurrection. In this perspective, I now express to all of you the most cordial wishes for a happy and holy Easter, together with your families, parishes and communities.

The Great Week

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Dear Readers,

As we go forward into the Great and Holy Week, you may want to look at my entries for Holy Week 2007 and Holy Week 2008. I will be preaching during Holy Week at Saint Thérèse Maronite Catholic Church in Tulsa on Holy Monday, Holy Wednesday, and Good Friday, and at the Cathedral of the Holy Family on Maundy Thursday and again at the Paschal Vigil. The Diocesan Priests' Schola will be singing for the first time at the Chrism Mass in the cathedral on Tuesday evening.

If you are looking for a good commentary on the liturgy of Holy Week, I recommend The Great Week by Dame Aemiliana Löhr, O.S.B. I know of nothing better but, being out of print, it is rare and hard to find.

Heartfelt thanks to those of you who prayed for my special intention on Thursday, 2 April, the 4th anniversary of the death of Pope John Paul II. My mission here -- Eucharistic adoration, reparation, and spiritual support to the clergy in response to the 2007 letter of Claudio Cardinal Hummes, Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy -- is growing. It is urgent that the Cenacle find a suitable and permanent home.

Although our original plan was to build, the current economic crisis has discouraged potential donors from offering the kind of substantial gifts that would make this possible. There is, within the diocese, a beautiful piece of forest with suitable buildings already on it. At the moment I am awaiting the owner's response to my proposal, but even if his response is positive, our means are very limited. Please continue your prayers. Two other monks have asked to join me here in the Diocese of Tulsa. It would be wonderful if we could begin the Year of the Priest announced by Pope Benedict XVI for this coming June 19th, solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, in a suitable permanent location.

In lumine Vultus Iesu,
Father Mark

About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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