Saturday, 31 March 2018

Holy Saturday: Mary and The Widow of Nain



Jesus Raises the Son of the Widow in the City of Nain


The events of Holy Saturday are shrouded in mystery. This is in similitude to the body of Jesus on this day: limp and lifeless, silent in the darkness of a silent tomb, and clothed in a shroud. The Gospels are almost completely silent about what took place on this day, and the Scriptures speak explicitly about it, only briefly. Tradition elucidates the core facts of what happened on this day, yet this is far from being a narrative.

There are two main stages where the scenes of Holy Saturday take place. One is on earth, the other is in the underworld.

The latter involves Jesus’ awesome descent into the underworld, where He brought release to the souls of the just who died before Him. These were waiting there since the time of the first man and woman, in a place called ‘the limbo of the fathers,’ or ‘of the righteous’. Jesus’ mission didn’t end at His death, but even in death He carried out His mission in visiting these souls so that they might enter heaven by means of the payment of His Blood. By the time His resurrection had come, Jesus had emptied this region.

Yet the focus of this brief article is what happened on the stage of earth. The experience of Jesus, who experienced this day while He was on earth even before this day happened, and the experience of Mary—how she spent this day.

In Luke’s Gospel there appears the story of the widow of Nain. Jesus is walking into the city with His disciples when suddenly He comes across a funeral procession. He saw

a man who had died [who] was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow; and a large crowd from the city was with her. And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, "Do not weep." And he came and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, "Young man, I say to you, arise." And the dead man sat up, and began to speak. And he gave him to his mother. (7:12-15).

We mustn’t forget that Jesus although man, remains the all-knowing God. He knows when He is going die, how He is going to die, and He knows how painful it will be for His blessed mother to suffer the agonies of His passing.

Yet when Jesus does die, His soul will be in the limbo of the fathers, and He will not be able to experience the grief of His Mother in a tangible way. He will not have, what philosophers and theologians call, experimental knowledge of His Mother’s sufferings post-crucifixion and pre-resurrection. This is where in the Providence of God’s Plan, Jesus encounters the widow and her deceased son. It is here in this event that Jesus in His humanity sacramentally experiences the grief of his Mother on Holy Saturday.

After all, here we have a widow, as indeed Mary was at the time of Jesus’ death, and we also have “the only son of his mother,” which indeed Jesus was. When Jesus “saw her” and “had compassion on her” he also saw Mary and preveniently “had compassion on” Mary.

In this story the Holy Spirit is also showing us a glimpse of how Mary spent that Saturday—that Sabbath following the crucifixion. She was all tears, even more than the widow of Nain. She bore the loss of a Son who was more than man, but God as well. The widow of Nain did not know that her son would be raised to life, but Mary did.

Thus comingled with Mary’s relentless and heart-boring grief was her overwhelming anticipation over the resurrection of Her Son. An anticipation that was sure and confident, but which ate her soul up with waiting. Foreshadowed some years before when she lost sight of Jesus for three days when he was a child. A loss and suffering which caused her to say to Jesus in all seriousness, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” (Lk 2:48).

Three days later—according to the Jewish sense in which even part of a day, after sunrise and before sunset is counted—Mary would find her beloved Son risen and glorified from the tomb, just as she had found him after three days of anxiety in the temple at Jerusalem (Lk 2:46). This beautiful reunion was already experienced by Jesus in type when “he gave him,” the only son who he had just raised from the dead “to his mother” who would have been beside herself with inexpressible joy.

On Holy Saturday Mary was yet awaiting this glorious reunion in the flesh with her one and only Son. The Servant of God Luisa Piccarreta shares the experience of Mary in this time:

Even though the eyes of my soul followed my Son and I never lost sight of Him, at the same time, during those three days in which He was buried, I felt such yearnings to see Him risen, that in my ardor of love I kept repeating: ‘Rise, my Glory! Rise, my Life!’[1]

On this Holy Saturday let us unite ourselves with Mary, and join in Her yearning for the resurrection of the Lord that has already occurred in the past, which is occurring in the present in our souls, and which we pray will continue to occur in our own souls and in the souls of others risen to life from the tomb of sin and faithlessness.

So let us whisper on this say, with the lips of our Holy Mother: "Rise my Glory, Rise my Life!"



[1] The Virgin Mary in the Kingdom, Day 28.

Friday, 30 March 2018

How the Snatcher Got Snatched



'The Good Thief,' Titian.

The Good Thief. Sure he was converted, but at what point during the crucifixion? The answer teaches us something profound that only Jesus Christ crucified can teach us.

The Gospels are clear. Jesus was crucified between two criminals, one on his left, the other on his right. It is well known that one of the thieves insulted Jesus saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” while the other thief—termed the good and penitent thief—rebuked him saying how they deserved what they got, but “this man [Jesus] has done nothing wrong”.

The penitent thief then turned his head towards Jesus and humbly and confidently made a request, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

This is a profound expression of faith not only in the Divinity of Jesus, believing Him to be the Son of God and Saviour of the human race, but in the mercy of God to which he wholly entrusts himself by yielding to the love of Jesus—crucified beside him. It is then that Jesus replies in the affirmative, but not just saying that He will remember this man, but that He will bring Him with Him to heaven. "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

Character Profile


According to tradition the name of the Good Thief is Dismas, who is honoured as a Saint in the Roman Martyrology on March 25.[1] The name of the bad thief is supposedly Gestas.

On a side note—to whet the interest into the character of the two thieves, the apocryphal text, The Narrative of Joseph of Arimathea describes the impenitent thief Gestas as follows:

[He used to] put travellers to death, murdering them with the sword, and others he exposed naked. And he hung up women by the heels, head down, and cut off their breasts, and drank the blood of infants’ limbs, never having known God, not obeying the laws, being violent from the beginning, and doing such deeds.

The old ways of the penitent thief are a little ‘less heavy’ although they shy away from being saintly…

[He] kept an inn [and]… made attacks upon the rich, but was good to the poor — a thief like Tobit, for he buried the bodies of the poor. And he set his hand to robbing the multitude of the Jews, and stole the law itself in Jerusalem, and stripped naked the daughter of Caiaphas, who was priestess of the sanctuary, and took away from its place the mysterious deposit itself placed there by Solomon. Such were his doings.

We shouldn’t spurn such apocryphal texts, but we must take such accounts with a grain of salt. Regardless the Good Thief was a thief, hardly the model citizen.

In Matthew, what is rendered “the robbers” who were crucified beside Jesus (Mt 27:44) is the Greek word λῃστής which bears the connotations of booty, and refers to not just any robber, but a bandit, a brigand or plunderer who steals out in the open by way of violence.[2] In a way the Good Thief, whose account above makes him sort of seem like a Robin Hood figure, was the Ancient Israelite equivalent of an Australian bush ranger.
            Luke simply calls them “criminals”.

Haters' Gonna Hate...Well, until They Don't


Yet what is often forgotten or unnoticed about the figure of the Good Thief is that this thief wasn’t made into a saint from the moment he was crucified. No, for in fact the Gospels’ of Matthew and Mark clearly state that “the robbers”—in the plural— “who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way” as the crowd who ridiculed him (Mt 27:44, see also Mk 15:32b). There are no more than two people crucified with Jesus, and both are thieves (Mt 27:38; Mk 15:27; Jn 19:18). This means that during the crucifixion both thieves are having it out over Jesus—insulting Him just like everyone else.

Luke’s account is the only account that puts the Good Thief in a good light. This account of the penitent thief isn’t contradictory to the other Gospels because all Luke is doing is recording the words of a man who has been profoundly touched and converted: instantaneously and miraculously. His soul snatched with the swiftness of a thief from the clutches of the devil. A man who beforehand had been jeering at Jesus too. Yet once the Good Thief was converted he repented within, rebuked his fellow criminal for insulting Jesus—itself an act of love, defending his Lord whom he now served, and then professed his faith in Him.

The Church Father St. Ephraim (306-373 A.D.) commentates on Luke 23, stating how Jesus could have easily yielded to the request of the impenitent thief, to come down from the cross and save Himself and the two thieves. “It would have been easy for him to use a miracle to conquer anyone as a disciple. [Yet] he produced a more powerful miracle when he forced the scoffer of truth to adore him.”[3] The scoffer being the Good Thief who was converted from scoffer to adorer.

When Was Dismas Snatched?


Relying on Scripture alone, it is not possible to pinpoint with accuracy an exact moment or trigger that brought about the conversion of the Good Thief. Yet we can work out the period during which it occurred. [Tip: Skip to the next heading if you're not a fan of detailed 'why reasoning' and want to get straight to the punch].

One thing for certain is that it took place sometime after the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ garments and after Jesus’ words: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing”; and before the final words, “It is finished” and “Father into thy hands I commend my spirit.” (Jn 19:30; Lk 23:46).

The narrative in John flows sequentially from the moment Jesus entrusts Mary and John to each other, to the words “I thirst,” and the drinking of the vinegar which immediately precedes his final words and death. Indicating that these events happened one after the other, and in this order leading immediately up to the moment of Jesus’ death.

In Matthew Jesus’ cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou abandoned me” (27:46) also takes place in these last moments. For having said this “at once [someone] ran and took a sponge, filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink.” (Mt 27:48). Keeping in mind Jesus’ drinking of the vinegar took place just before he died.

Based on a cross-Gospel analysis what is apparent is that the Good Thief was ‘made good’ and converted sometime after Jesus said, “Father forgive them…” and before the beautiful scene where Jesus entrusts His Mother to His beloved disciple John, and vice versa.

The Sound of Silence


Thus, the conversion takes place after Jesus’ first word on the Cross, but before all of his other words. The conversion also takes place sometime after Jesus says, “Father forgive them,” and not immediately after it, because these words seem to be spoken in the first moments of Jesus’ crucifixion; and Luke gives the impression that it is after this that the barrage of insults come, and hence even after these words we can assume the ‘good’ thief remained a scoffer.

This is significant because what it shows is that the Good Thief was not necessarily converted as a direct result of Jesus’ words spoken—although those first words must have had their effect, sooner or later—but that the Good Thief was converted during a period when Jesus was silent, when “he did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). A time when Jesus the Incarnate Word was speaking louder than speech by way of profound example: patient, meek, without a harsh word thrown back at his deriders; naked, bruised and bloody. His wounds were doing the talking, and their message was God’s love.

The Good Thief was pierced by the lance of the Holy Spirit and was brought to a sudden realisation of who it was that was nailed beside him. First, he would have stopped his scoffing. Next, perhaps he pondered silently within himself midst writhes of pain, as the Spirit changed his heart of stone to one of flesh. Finally, he heard his Lord being insulted, the one whom He previously decried, and at this point he defends Jesus, professes his guilt, and declares his faith.

His Wounds, My Wounds


 The early ecclesiastical writer Maximus of Turin (late 4th-5th century) captures well the cause of the Good Thief’s conversion. How it was during a period when Jesus was silently-suffering that grace worked on him until it radically changed him.

Although he sees his [Jesus’] gaping wounds and observes his blood pouring forth, he believes him to be God whom he does not recognise as guilty. He acknowledges him to be righteous whom he does not think of as a sinner. He says to that other complaining thief, “We certainly are receiving what is due our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” He understood that Christ received these blows because of others’ sins. He sustained these wounds because of others’ crimes. The thief knew that the wounds on the body of Christ were not Christ’s wounds but the thief’s; therefore, after he recognised his own wounds on Christ’s body, he began to love all the more.[4]

The same goes for us. Jesus will mean nothing to us, we will push Him out of our lives and may even insult Him and those who follow Him, unless we see in the wounds of Jesus the effect of our sins: not mere wounds that ought to be gasped at, nor wounds caused by Roman soldiers at the bequest of the Jewish authorities. But wounds we caused, which our sins caused, and which our persistence in habits we know to be bad rip open more and more—inflicting in the past on Jesus’ body, what we choose to do today against our conscience.

Yet we mustn’t stop there, for like the Good Thief we must see in the wounds of Jesus the love of a God who let Himself be hurt unto “death, death on a cross” (Phil 2:8) because He wanted to prove to us His love. This is how much He wants our company, our friendship and personality. In Jesus hangs the full weight of the punishment which should be ours because of our fallen nature and sinfulness. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” (Is 53:5)

Nothing... Except Jesus Christ and Him Crucified


The Good Thief came to know the love of a God who sacrificed Himself for him—yes, for he a wretched brigand! He only came to know this because of his own crucifixion, his very own sufferings and brokenness which he saw in the light of the Cross: ‘Here is a God who loves me because of my misery!’ And it was nowhere else but in the presence of Jesus Crucified, and no one else but Jesus Crucified, silently loving him, that made him realise this. Such realisation of God's living love for him made him already taste in advance the bliss of paradise in his heart before he even got to heaven.

It is only in silent prayer spent in the belief that we are present with Jesus—in an attitude of total openness to receiving His Love that flows like blood, that we too can be converted again and again, into deeper and higher states of union with Jesus, expanding in love for him as we accept and learn from Him what it means to be crucified.

But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Gal 6:14).

By the conversion of the Good Thief Jesus is showing us that it’s not “lofty words or wisdom,” (1 Cor 2:1) any book, article, learning, studies or sermon that is going to bring us today into paradise and cleave us in union with God who dwells within. It’s going to be Christ Crucified by means of the Cross; and nothing is going to make us understand this until we find a secret place to be alone, stretch out our hands, accept our brokenness and all our wounds of sin, and cry out in bold faith just as the Good Thief did, on the saving name of Jesus.

Try it. Try it now even. Try it before you sleep tonight.

“Now… tonight, you will be with me in paradise.”

For sure, we might say like St. Paul, I live here and now this mortal life below, but “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Gal 1:20).


[1] Other names include, Demas, Titus and Rakh.
[2] Bible Hub, 3027. léstés, http://biblehub.com/greek/3027.htm.
[3] Ephraim as referenced in Arthur A. Just, Jr., and Thomas C. Oden eds. Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsityPress, 2003), 363.
[4] Maximus of Turin, Sermon 74.3., as referenced in Arthur A. Just, Jr., and Thomas C. Oden eds. Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsityPress, 2003), 364.

Holy Thursday! It's Moving Day



You’re moving. That’s right; you’re moving to a new house to the other side of the country. There’s so much you have to do. Loose ends need tying. Things need to be packed, organised into boxes—ideally with labels. Some things will have to be thrown away. You can always leave some stuff with people you know. That couch—that can stay, you can always buy a new one. It’ll cost more to cart it than it’s worth. 

You’ll have to say your goodbyes. Maybe organise a farewell dinner of something. Geeze, you know what that means, someone will have to give some kind of speech. 

O then there’s that property you’re renting. You’ve decided not to sell it, so you’ll need to forfeit management. Entrust that to someone else. Someone you can trust.

It is on this very theme of “moving” that the Gospel of John preludes Holy Thursday (13:1):

Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should depart out of this world to the Father…

The phrasing translated here as, “to depart” is the Greek word μεταβῇ. A compound of μετα, meaning “change” and βάσις, “a step” or “a foot,” thus literally we can understand this word to mean “a change of foot,” “a shift in where one is standing or situated.” When we read this back into the text:

Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should shift his step out of this world to the Father

Additionally, the word itself doesn’t simply mean “to depart” but “to move, change one’s place, pass over.”

Jesus knew that his hour had come that he should move / pass over out of this world to the Father

Literally speaking, Jesus knows that he is going to die. In the interim after his death, his soul will be in the limbo of the fathers, and then He’ll return resurrected, only to depart and move on to be with the Father in Heaven. He knows His body is going to be killed, that and the events culminating in his ascension into heaven—his great move—to the Father’s Heavenly House, body, soul and divinity, are underway, and the evening of Holy Thursday marks the threshold. 

He's Getting Out of Here


Jesus is going away. He’s leaving the suburb of this world to take up residence in the suburb of His Father. He’s leaving the country of Israel and is headed for the celestial Fatherland. Jesus is moving and He knows it; and like anyone who is moving He is making preparations: His very own, ‘Pass-over preparations’.

Hence, we have the Last Supper, and at this Sacred Meal Jesus is both wrapping things up and putting some things in place before He commences His exodus to the Promised Land above.

Jesus' Public Ministry has ended and the Last Supper is its private conclusion, paralleling in many ways the nature of the Wedding of Cana which marked the private commencement of His Ministry. At the Last Supper John records reams of teachings which Jesus gave, including the great commandment of love. It is during this moving-meal, pass-over meal (whichever of the seven days of Passover one believes it was held) that Jesus summarises His message and elucidates the most important truths to those gathered about Him. From speaking about the Persons of the Trinity, the promised Holy Spirit, the relation of the Father and the Son; to the mystery of communion in the Church in Christ the Vine. He not only teaches but prays, “that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (Jn 17:21).

Going away, Jesus isn’t prepared to leave His “little children” (Jn 13:33) defenseless. He knows that they’ll temporarily fall away and will be swamped by uncertainty after His death—but He prepares them by giving them five gifts at the Last Supper.

The First Gift - Knowledge


The first of these gifts is the gift of knowledge. He does so by teaching them about Himself who is Love, and warning them about the fate that awaits those who follow Him—who in their turn, will suffer at the hands of a world resistant to the grace of salvation. Jesus isn’t duplicitous, He is straight-up with His followers. He tells them what being a disciple is going to take. Yet He doesn’t neglect to unfold to them the benefit—the bliss of what it means to be one with Him.

The Second Gift - Love-In-Action, Example


The second gift is that of example—a concrete experience of Jesus’ loving command in action. An act of love which those present were given to carry in their memories and hearts, and would share to the world above all by imitation. This Master and Friend not only teaches by word, but by deed. This is shown most clearly in the washing of the feet.

“He rose from the supper, laid aside his garments… and began to wash the feet of the disciples” and He said, “Indeed, a pattern I gave you, that as I did to you, so also you should do…” (Jn 13:4-5, 15).

After washing their feet, Jesus speaks about the illumination they have received and the corresponding action it requires: “If these things you know, blessed are you if you do them.” (Jn 13:17).

The Third Gift - The Eucharist


The third and greatest gift Jesus gives at the Last Supper is that of the Eucharist: His very Self, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” under the appearance of bread and wine. This is the fulfillment of the Passover, and the very Passover itself, given to the disciples. Combining notions of meal and sacrifice. Jesus washes their feet with supreme love; and this very love is encapsulated in the consecrated Bread and Wine. 

He’s going away, and yet here in the Blessed Sacrament Jesus shows Himself incapable of leaving man alone in a broken world. He’s moving to heaven, but by His Real Presence in the Eucharist He’s not going anywhere. Sure, He’ll be going away, but He’ll also be staying present with them “until the end of the age” in this Gift of gifts.

The Fourth Gift - The Priesthood


The fourth gift Jesus gives is that of the Priesthood. As Tradition teaches us, it was at the Last Supper that Jesus instituted the priesthood—ordaining the Apostles as priests by way of conferring on them the authority to consecrate Bread and Wine as a living memorial in His Name. The Upper-Room that night was a seminary—a place of training; and a church, a place of ordination. Everything Jesus did at the Last Supper, although not exclusively so, was to prepare these men for their vocation as Passovers, Movers, instruments that move God from heaven to earth under the guise of Bread, and who move souls from sin to grace, and from the world to heaven. It’s Jesus the Great High Priest doing the moving and passovering, but through His ministers. And in preparing them He prepares every generation of priest and bishop.

In a spiritual way all the baptised—all of us—as royal priests, share in being mediators. Mediators through whom Jesus passes over into our lives and into the world around us. By digesting the Eucharist with loving lips into prayerful hearts, we are called to go forth and be Footwashers—servants of love, putting aside the garments of social propriety and pride, and doing what needs to be done to help others and to bring a little warmth into the coldness of this world; washing away bitterness and divisions for the sake of oneness in Christ.

 The Fifth Gift - The Church


The fifth gift Jesus gave at the Last Supper was the Church. We are the Church, yet the gift of ourselves as a Body, was given to us by Jesus when He gave to us His Body in the Eucharist. It was then and there in that Upper-Room that Jesus gave to us His Church which He had already being moulding and crafting in His Heart since the day He became Incarnate, and especially since the day He gathered the Twelve. 

Pentecost is said to be the birthday of the Church. Elsewhere it is said the moment the blood and water gushed forth from Jesus’ side on the Cross, was the birthday of the Church; and yet again, the same is said of the Last Supper. All are correct, since each of these grasp and make manifest the Mystery of the Church which especially owes its existence to the Last Supper, the Passion and Pentecost, three events unfolding the single action of God. 

However, keeping in mind the roots of the Church in the People of Israel, if we were to present a simplified synthesis we might say that the Church was conceived at the Institution of the Eucharist; was in the process of being delivered at the Cross through the birth pangs of Mary the Mother of the Church, and was brought forth in all its glory into the world at Pentecost.

The gift of the Church is wonderful. It’s like that house we mentioned at the beginning of this article. You know—the one you were renting and were going to entrust to someone else to manage while you were away. Ring any bells… The Parable of the Tenants (Mt 21:28-46; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19). For the Church is the created Household of God which Jesus the Master Carpenter fashioned for us to live in communion with God and each other. Peter and successive Popes are tasked with the responsibility of looking after the entire Household which is the Church; followed by the bishops who manage large portions of this Household called diocese, followed by priests who are charged with looking after a parish, religious with their communities, and laity with their family households.

Wrap-Up


Jesus moved to heaven, gave us His teaching and example, alive in the Scriptures; He remains with us in the Eucharist, and built for us a Home: the Church, to live in. He doesn't just ditch us and chill out with the Father in the Holy Spirit in Paradise. He carves out a slice - reserving a home for us hereafter, and accessible now, all in the Church: home sweet home.

No matter how many sinners seem to crowd the Church here bellow. No matter how depraved some of Her members become. No matter how annoying we may find fellow pilgrim members, how unsavory we find a particular parish, priest or pastor. The Church is perfect and holy because of Jesus it’s Head. After all the Church is not simply a collection of believers, nor a pile of stones, nor is it built on one priest or nun, but it is the space, the room, the home Jesus opened up for us to dwell with Him and to be with Him, so that where He is going we might also go, “even if for a short time we have to bear with all sorts of trials” here below (1 Pt 1:6).

[For] in my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And when I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (Jn 14:2-3)

It is no coincidence that Jesus spoke these words during the Last Supper, His farewell meal at which He made the final preparations before His great ‘Passover move’. Jesus will come again at the end of time, but already in the Holy Eucharist, in the Mass, Jesus comes and takes us to Himself, so that we might be exactly where He is in heaven, as He is where we are on earth. A sweet and profound communion. Like that which we see in John’s Gospel where “One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus” (13:23). Let us be this disciple whom Jesus loved.