Bishop Robert Barron Friends, how dark are the readings for Palm Sunday! We read through Luke’s Passion narrative, leaving out the good news of the Resurrection. To get to the bottom of this emphasis on suffering, to decipher its religious meaning, is to uncover the theological significance of this day. Do you remember the first…
“Add Christian hope, born of faith, to the inevitability of death and the entire horizon of human experience is changed. Christian hope does not prevent death. Christian hope does not even delay death. But because Christian hope is hope in eternal life, it changes completely the way we are able to live here and now. Our hope for what is to come liberates us from the need to cling too dearly to life. Hope allows us to pay out our lives generously and without fear…
This is the heart of the Good News: Hope, born of faith, frees us for love.”
I tried (unsuccessively) to explain my sense of faith versus fatalism to a friend a while back. This accomplishes what I intended in just a few words, confirming the old adage that If I’d had more time I would have used fewer words; and its correlary, if I’d understood my subject better I could have explained it more simply.
You allow us to be tempted, Holy Father. I guess I should not feel bad about him coming again, especially in my sleep when my guard is down, to tempt and try my faith and my love of You and Your Son, Jesus. But I feel threatened and vulnerable having to confront even these unconscious brushes with evil.
Let me now, in Your mercy, Holy Lord, ponder them deeply in enough detail to find Your lessons for me.
He was in an unfamiliar male body, amongst others nearby. We were all at party. There was a sense of joy and happiness. My husband was there. But after a bit, I became separated from my husband and the others. I must have been preparing to leave and I’d gone to get my purse and my coat.
This man appeared behind me, whom I’d seen earlier on the outer ring of a group of friends. He said to me, ‘Before you leave take this pole and dance with it.’ A strange and obviously dark request in the bright light of morning. Yet, in my dream it didn’t seem so odd or malevolent, simply part of the journey of joy and carefreeness I was on. A May Pole, perhaps, round which to skip freely.
I agreed and took the pole he offered without much thought. At the same time I noticed, without any immediate sense of foreboding, that he took some device out of his pocket and set it nearby. And I proceeded to dance, happily, with joy.
The presence of the man seemed to fade, or maybe he left the room. But as the dream unfolded, my dancing around the pole with abandon became increasingly suggestive. An uncomfortable excitement came upon me.
Thankfully, before I slipped any further into the decadence he must surely have planned for me, I began to realize his devious intent and the purpose of the device he’d left behind. It was there to record me and my dancing. And I knew somehow that he would threaten to share it with others, delighting in the shame of my rapid, easy descent from joy to into lustfulness, intent on controlling me through blackmail and the threat of exposure.
I ran to my husband, even as I knew he would likely and justifiably upbraid me for my lack of judgment and for being too trusting. I also knew he would help me find the man and stop him and help me retrieve the evidence of my temptation.
We both ran after him. I caught up to him first and grabbed onto his sleeve. He whirled around. I expected him to strike me.
Oddly, he seemed unsurprised that I’d understood his snare. We demanded the recording to be returned, and noticed that he had similar recordings with other names on them in a medium-sized case, like a tray with a lid and lock. He did not prevent me from searching through all of them — or maybe my husband was subduing him as I searched for the one with my name. They were all labeled with first and last names.
Finally, finding the recording with my name, I took it and put it in my pocket. We struggled again briefly, but — again surprisingly to me — we overcame his strength relatively easily and managed to turn him away from me.
Nearby, I spotted his brother. I don’t know how I knew the other man was his brother, so maybe he wasn’t. But they had been nearby to one another earlier. I entreated the brother to help me subdue the evil one, so my husband could run to call the police.
I managed to get a long cord around the evil one’s neck, but my hands were weak with arthritis. I needed something for leverage to twist and tighten the cord — a piece of wood perhaps — something, to overcome his flailing and resistance.
Finally, between me and his brother, we subdued him. His brother took over. As I watched, his brother began to squeeze and squeeze the man’s throat, turning and turning the piece of wood, twisting the cord tighter and tighter. The evil one was limp and I knew he was about to expire.
Realizing he was about to kill him, I entreated his brother to ease up. ‘Don’t kill him,’ I said, ‘it will hurt you. Just keep him subdued.’
That was it. I awoke, with heart pounding, but with a sense of relief. I hadn’t yet thanked my husband for his help. There’d be time for that. I didn’t think to thank the brother. I wasn’t sure to whom he belonged.
Thanks and praise to God that I acted to resist. There would have been times in past dreams when I would have given in or participated willingly, even, in the evil one’s devices and desires.
Thanks and praise to God that the evil one was so weak, both in his appearance and his actual strength. He appeared unthreatening, a watcher and a lurker, possibly, rather than a violent or substantial force of his own, one who preyed on another’s weakness, rather than one who overpowered another’s strength. And God helped me to realize that the evil one’s strength is deceptive; it’s only as strong as our weakness and susceptibility.
Thanks and praise to God that my Lord gave me the strength and assurance of His love to know that my husband was given me for my protection and to love me. Telling him of my temptation outright was the right thing to do, even though it scared me for him to know so directly from me of my own weaknesses.
Thanks and praise to God that my Lord bolstered my own limited physical strength with the help of others and the presence of mind to use what leverage I had at hand – both physical and spiritual.
Thanks and praise to God that my Lord, ruler of all, sent me someone — even if it was the evil one’s brother or co-operator — who could be encouraged to goodness in the end. Bless him and keep him holy, Holy Lord.
Thanks and praise to God that I was tested and allowed to wrestle with evil, and to find I could overcome temptation — I did overcome temptation, with help from God through my friends. To realize that temptation and struggle build our spiritual muscle, confirm our faith in Him who loves us, and fortify our belief that God is the source of our strength and author of our redemption.
You allowed me a wonderful blessing recently, Lord, which I hope to capture here in words as transcendent as the experience.
How do I explain the experience in a way that enlivens and fills with hope the hearts of others today? It reminded me of the experience of the apostles who witnessed Your transfiguration. Could You, did You visit me here in this time and this place in a such way that I was given even a glimpse of Your luminous face?
My prayers often include expressing the desire to see You face to face, the desire to be allowed to see Your beauty. A couple of weeks ago, I believe You blessed me with just such a glimpse.
I’ve prayed for years now before a beautiful crucifix, which I found on eBay. Its seller said he found it buried on his property in Hawaii. In addition to Your crucified body on the cross, the little statue has You, our mother, Mary, and Joseph in bas relief on each of the three sides of the base. It’s lovely. I have the base positioned so that Our Lady faces out, along with Your body on the cross above her.
In all, the piece is only about 10-12 inches tall. There is a lot of beautiful detail, as it turns out, but Your face is always in shadow in the dim light of candles, Your beauty and Your mother’s hidden or obscured.
On this day I was praying the Rosary toward the bottom of the afternoon. The sun was beginning its downward arch toward the west. As I was kneeling to say my final prayers, the sun’s rays suddenly shone through the window over my left shoulder. The light fell directly on Your face in a way I’d never experienced before. The detail in the sculpture of Your eyes and Your nose and Your mouth, even through Your beard, the parts in Your hair, and the nails in Your hands. I was startled and amazed.
I know it was just a statue, not You, and yet, there You were — not in Your full heavenly beauty, but beautiful; not in Your transcendent glory, but glorious; not fully revealed, but a vision of Your future revelation. And I was transfixed.
I had to lower my eyes and give thanks to You for this gift. The experience felt not unlike the stories of Your blessing of Moses as You appeared in the burning bush, or when You took James, John and Peter up on Mt. Tabor and revealed Your transfigured body to them.
Like our ecstatically overwhelmed Peter, who suggested he and the apostles build three tents, one for each of You, Moses and Elijah, I wanted to capture the moment, bottle it up somehow, to savor forever.
And Mary’s face was alight, too, the delicate beauty of her face revealed, as well. There she was, our Blessed Mother, obedient, humble, faithful at the foot of Your cross.
I know, I know. These faces are not Your’s or our Mother’s. A statue is just a statue. Yet, the artistic detail had never shown so purely and brilliantly. Not even when I first received it in the mail and inspected it closely, enamored from the beginning with its delicate lines. It really was as though You heard my desire to see You and gave me just a taste of Your heavenly images to come.
Thank You, Lord. Thank You.
The light lingered, as did I, kneeling still, until the sun moved along its celestial path and my little crucifix resorted again to its normality. Still a creation of this world, Your shimmering essence evanesced to the supernatural mists of another day.
I pray You call me again for this special time with You, Holy Lord, when we might share, even for a few moments, the glory of Your Holy name here on earth.
So here I am, Lord. Talking to myself, practicing what I’d like to say to my priest about the on-going situation with my sister. I should probably be talking to you, Father. But we have talked, haven’t we, and I don’t feel much clearer about what to do.
All this was prompted by this morning’s readings in Matthew 5 where Jesus says we cannot be in communion with You, if we are holding anger in our hearts for our brothers (or sisters or friends or others, presumably).
You know my heart, Lord. You must know that I don’t hold any ill feelings at all for her. If anything, I empathize with her and her beliefs. We were raised by the same parents who passed on very conflicted and, in the end, wrong-headed views of You and the beauty of Your kingdom. It’s not been easy finding my way to You, but I feel as though You’ve finally led me to the right path. Don’t You, Father?
So how do we do this, Lord? How do we help a loved one to know You? A loved one who resists with such vehemence and denial?
I guess this recognition resolves the issue of whether I am holding anger in my heart for her, preempting my ability to have communion with You. I’m not.
I love her and wish her every happiness and joy. But isn’t there something, anything, You would have me do to melt the frozen wall separating us from speaking to one another?
Much of this desire is selfish, Father. I miss her and our conversations, no matter how stilted they have become as we both avoid the growing number of subjects that have become off-limits. Another part is probably guilt or at least the sense that I should feel guilty — the feeling that there must be something I can or should be doing to restore our relationship. Yet, what?
I can’t just call her and say, ‘oh, sorry, I didn’t mean it. I don’t really believe all those things about God and Christ.’ Yet, we both know from previous times that she (and so many others who know my desire for You) delights in hearing me use foul language or rail with abandon against some perceived injustice (whatever it might be…corporations, government, the church, educators, polluters, little old ladies in purple hats…sorry, Father. Not really.)
The point is when I let down my defenses against the “thorns and snares of the devil,” allowing the evil one to take hold of my tongue, others, who do not confess belief in You, delight in welcoming my return to their fold. To them, I’ve been normalized again. To me, I’ve been stained again with the corruption of the common and fallen. It’s been too easy for me — a sinner — to revert to old habits. Whenever I do, the devil and all who have (wittingly or unwittingly) chosen him dance and cheer in delight.
How can I walk with You in Your light, precious Lord, How can I share Your wondrous beauty, Allow Your luminous light to shine through me on others, If I can’t, in their presence, hold on to the creature I am in You?
Well, the answer is, I can’t, can I, without the aid of Your Holy Spirit? Strengthen Your Holy Spirit within me, I pray, Lord, and help me to be the person You’re calling me to be.
So I pray.
I pray, Father, that You call my sister to You; bless her with Your tender mercy and goodness; and soften her heart that she might hear Your ‘still, small voice.’ Send her a friend, an angel, Lord, who might help her see and hear and understand. And, if it is Your will, Holy Father, I pray that one day she and I might be united in our love for You, not to just care for one another as we used to do, have always done, but to love one another as sisters in Your holy family.
How broken must we all become, Holy Lord, Before we turn our eyes to You? You allow separation and division to prevail all around us and throughout our world.
The plagues of our time, physical and spiritual, they multiply daily. Covid surely, but so too the desecration of Your churches, the corruption of Your priests, evil distorting all the beauty of Your truth here on earth.
Satan’s bright lines of division—- Between lovers of life and brokers of death, Between parents and children, Maskers and anti-maskers, Vaxers and anti-vaxers, God and His humans—- Drive wedges between us, whose caustic smoke dissolves the loving ties that bind.
Yet, where you are, there is hope—Isn’t there, Father? Small Catholic communities, in the way of Benedict, possibly? Forming to pray and support one another and our relationships with You.
Bless these gatherings, Father. Use them to conform us to Your Will, to heal us, to lead us, more and more to Your purposes.
There is no sanctuary in our sanctuary. In that holy time, in Your temple, A time hopeful of preparation, That time before we all join together To celebrate the Holy Eucharist, the marriage feast— that sacred memorial, that hope-filled prayer— Of You, Lord Jesus Christ, and Your bride, the church.
Between aspiring young voices braying pop gospel melodies, Loudly, out of key; And joyful elders (and all those others without the excuse of hearing loss) Rejoicing in one another’s company, Their voices pitched for sports stadia, As even their whispers bounce to and fro In a space fashioned to carry our praise of You to all corners.
There seemed no audial space remaining for a quiet Hail Mary in the presence of our blessed sacrament. So near to You, Father, yet so unreachable.
I resigned to the small chapel. No blessed sacrament there. But, with the human cacophony now muted, I could hear Your soft cry, Oh Lord, Weeping for us all.
For the aspirations of the young woman Whose voice will forever be most appreciated in the pew;
For the lonely elders reveling in the presence of friends After so long a time away from human companionship;
For You, Lord Jesus, our one and only divine companion, Waiting patiently, watching hopefully, Longing for just a glance, A blessing, A by-Your-leave, maybe? A knee, oh gracious Lord, For You who died for us, For our salvation;
Most of all, for my sorrow-filled weakness, as I fled Your presence, Removing myself from You, who is love, Realizing my own frailty—spiritual, physical— That overwhelms Your voice, Singing to me In the quiet of Your Sanctuary.
Lord, lead me to follow You faithfully, To fall not into despair, Nor to become impatient and full of self-pity In those times when You lead me in quiet and aloneness.
But rather strengthen me to seek Your Will, To listen for Your call;
Strengthen me to wait for You, To stand alert and ready to protect Your precious prayer in my heart;
Strengthen me from weariness And the temptations of the evil one.
Help me to prepare my heart for Your coming. Teach me to trim my wicks, To fill my lamps, To soften my heart and open it fully to Your plan, Ready at a moment’s notice, To join You in joyful procession to our wedding feast.
Thanks be to God for You and Your Holy Spirit within me.
And in Your loving way, Holy Lord, You answered my tears of loneliness with calls and invitations born on wings of love.