I am apt to think of Holy Saturday as a day to prepare for our Easter celebrations or an empty gap between Good Friday and the Resurrection. To many medieval Christians, Holy Saturday was the day of the “Harrowing of Hell,” when hell itself was despoiled (invaded, robbed of its power to destroy, conquered by Christ’s triumphal entry.) Harrowing is a derivative of the Old English word hergian, which means “to despoil.”
The Harrowing of Hell was a prevalent theme in medieval art and in early church drama—particularly the English mystery plays. The descent into hell was also a subject of the seventh-century poet Caedmon, and early church fathers such as John Chrystostom, Tertullian, and Irenaeus.
Christians worldwide proclaim the “Harrowing of Hell” when they recite the Apostles Creed. “Jesus Christ . . . was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day, he rose again . . .”
Biblically, two scriptures come to mind.
“Therefore, prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.'” Ezekiel 37:12
“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice.” John 5:28
On this Holy Saturday, as we prepare for Easter Sunday, let’s rejoice together that Jesus left no stone unturned in His atonement for our sins. His love surrounds us, reaching to the depths as well as the heights of our human experience.
That Day in Jerusalem
How is it that our passions start with the best of intentions? We honor a prophet, many say the Son of God, to others at the least, a healer and messenger of joy and hope. We line the cobbled streets with love, genuine at the time, waving palms and crying, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord! Blessed is the king of Israel!”
But we’re fickle and our short-lived loyalty a handshake passed from one side of a metaphorical street to the other. Who serves me best? I’ll serve him first. What fear caused me to throw the palm branches and in a courtyard join the shouts of “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”
The dichotomy of Palm Sunday and Good Friday lives in me, in a heart divided between love of God and love of being God. I am the true tragedy of Holy Week and Jesus the triumphant savior who rescued me through the shedding of innocent blood, who never left my side before Pilate, while scourged, or when tortured on a cross.
Lost and afraid
Too late for reparation,
Too late to recant
My shouts of crucify.
Oh gentle Savior
Crushed by pain,
Vilified for innocence
You offer a gift
I reach out cupped hands, fill them,
And press them to my heart.
This past Saturday my assignment at our Community’s “Beehive” was to cut holes for new supports in a concrete basement. “Beehive” is a time when all of our community family participate in projects around the monastery. Being one of the youngest members of my particular team, I had the task of crawling in a four-foot dusty crawl space to cut holes in concrete from the inside. Cutting a concrete wall is most challenging at the start. Concrete’s strength is in the bonding together of the materials that comprise it. An eight-inch thick wall is very strong, but once a hole is cut, it becomes easier to widen the hole and possibly disintegrate an entire wall to rubble.
We had three holes to cut form the basement to the outside. The first one was done in about an hour. After small holes are drilled along the outline of the space to be cut, the outline is cut with a saw and lastly, we break the pieces out with a hammer.
Sitting down in the crawl space I was aware of how much brighter the basement space felt with just a small stream of light beaming in from the outside. There were so many qualities to the shaft of light illuminating the basement. The light itself is very bright and gives warmth equally to everything it touches. Its glow is vibrant, glistening, and creates many patterns and shadows that reflect about the room.
As our team preps for the second hole on the outside, I sit in the quiet basement awaiting the signal to start cutting again. I can’t help but think of the parallels between my morning’s work and my spiritual life. Cutting a hole in a concrete wall requires effort, intention, and tools. But cutting a “whole” in the spiritual walls of our beings also requires effort, intention, and proper tools! Like the wall that has been put up between a friend and me over a disagreement, or a wall of fear, or a wall of anything, really, that keeps me from being fully my truest-self in Christ.
Whatever these walls may be, and no matter how strong they might appear, it’s possible to have them broken down and allow light to penetrate. Sometimes we may have to choose to crawl down in a dusty basement with intent and proper tools to break down these walls. I’ll need to remind myself that like this concrete wall, often extra effort and motivation are needed at the start to allow light to enter. With the light comes the possibility to expand the fabricated opening to allow in more light, until the time when the whole wall can be knocked down.
The Fourth Sunday in Lent, called Laetare (or “Rejoice”) Sunday, takes its name from the first words of the Gregorian chant introit for this day, “Laetare Jerusalem”. The text, inspired by Isaiah 66: 10-11, translates:
“Rejoice, O Jerusalem; and gather round, all you who love her; rejoice in gladness, after having been in sorrow; exult and be replenished with the consolation flowing from her motherly bosom.”
Laetare Sunday, also known as Refreshment Sunday, Rose Sunday, and Mothering Sunday, gives us a “breather” in the midst of the long penitential season of Lent. Historically on this day, strict Lenten observances were relaxed: fasts could be broken, weddings (prohibited in ancient times during the rest of Lent) could be performed, rose vestments could replace violet ones, flowers could be placed on the altar, and organ music could be played. These same traditions were, and still are to some extent, followed on the third Sunday in Advent, called Gaudete Sunday.
In earlier times, the gospel reading for this fourth Sunday in Lent was always the miracle of the multiplication of loaves and fishes, another example of God’s loving provision and nourishment and yet another name for this day was the Sunday of the Five Loaves.
How loving of the Lord and the church to give us this day of refreshment and encouragement in the middle of Lent as we approach the darkness of Holy Week and look forward to the joy of the Resurrection that awaits us!
I repotted plants recently. Some looked fine on the outside, others drooped or had yellowing leaves, but all needed help. A closer look showed that the roots had grown so large that there was very little room for the soil that gives the plants their nourishment. Plants are supposed to grow, so eventually, if they are healthy, they will all become pot-bound and need a transplant.
Lent is a time of spiritual repotting. We all need it from time to time. Lent is a special time in the church year to give God permission to shake us up a bit, to show us where we’ve become in-grown, or need to break free from what binds us, like the rim of a pot. It does not necessarily mean moving, or doing anything differently, but expanding spiritually, to be able to receive more of God’s grace, to become more aware of truth and beauty around us. Isaiah 54:2 says it a little differently: “Enlarge the site of your tent, and let the curtains of your habitations be stretched out; do not hold back; lengthen your cords and strengthen your stakes.”
Repotting can be messy, and there’s usually an adjustment. My plants looked assaulted at first, but after a few days, they were happy and healthy.
Lord, help me to grow this Lent, to expand my roots, to fill the space I am in, and then, if I feel circumstances changing around me, help me to trust you, knowing that you are just giving me a bigger pot.
Saint Joseph is known by many titles: the Worker, the Carpenter, Patron of the Universal Church (in Catholicism) and Descendant of King David. Perhaps he should also be called Saint Joseph the Listener, the man who believed an angel messenger when told he would be earthly father to the Son of God. When warned of impending violence against the Holy Family, Joseph immediately obeyed instructions and fled to Egypt. And there, when he heard of Herod’s death did as the angel told him and returned to the Holy Land with Jesus and Mary. Avoiding the dangers of Bethlehem, they settled in the town of Nazareth in the region of Galilee. The Gospels describe Joseph as a tekton, the traditional name for a carpenter. It’s believed that he taught his craft to the young boy, Jesus.
Saint Joseph listened and obeyed because he first loved God. If we’re forced by circumstances to sometimes “take a back seat,” we should consider Joseph. Entrusted with the care and protection of Jesus and His Blessed Mother, Joseph remained faithful, steadfast, and anonymous. He is last mentioned in the Gospels frantically searching for the child Jesus, lost in Jerusalem. Our final glimpse of Joseph is of a confused and bemused father, confronted by the questions, “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49)
On Saint Joseph’s Day, let’s pray together for patience to listen, the grace to accept what we hear, and the wisdom of humility to recognize our own insignificance in the vastness of God’s plan.
I keep thinking about spring cleaning, and how Lent is like spiritual spring cleaning. It’s a time of inwardly quieting ourselves so that we can examine the things in us that prevent a closer relationship with Jesus.
I’m refreshed by this particular time set aside to be with Jesus and to be known, especially to ourselves. When we accept our need, Jesus can then heal the wounded areas that block our relationship with Him and with others. Of course, only He can cleanse and remove those places, but by trusting and doing our part, we allow Him to make us clean and whole.
As we work on our “spring cleaning,” we may find fewer places to get snagged by temptation. The same way a mirror or glass needs the dust, and rough dirt polished smooth to prevent more dirt collecting, we need our souls to have the sharp edges planed. The more dust (or sin) that has been removed and cleansed, the more light will be reflected.
What a great way to prepare for Easter!
Pope Gregory I, was a man of many virtues and accomplishments. Credited for organizing the first recorded large-scale mission from Rome, He also reached many through his prolific writings, more than any of his papal predecessors. During his papacy, his considerable administrative skills significantly improved the welfare of the Roman people.
In the the Middle Ages, Gregory was referred to as “the Father of Christian Worship” because of his devotion to the improvement of the Divine Liturgy. Pope Gregory was instrumental in the standardization of Western Plainchant, later renamed Gregorian chant in honor of his work and dedication.
Gregory was born in the city of Rome, around the year 540. His was a Patrician Roman family, wealthy and with close connections to the church. His father, Gordianus, served as a senator and for a time Prefect of the City of Rome. His mother, Silvia, and two paternal aunts attained sainthood, and his great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III, making Saint Gregory’s family the most distinguished clerical dynasty of the time.
While contemporaries and historical biographers referred to him as Pope Gregory the Great (Magnus), he called himself “servant of the servants of God.” He lived a devout life, punctuated by humility and sensitivity of spirit in spite of a long list of human accomplishments. Plagued throughout life with chronic illness, he never allowed physical pain to interfere with the plan to which God called him. Not even imminent death deterred his sacred work.
Before he was thirty, Saint Gregory was made prefect of Rome but resigned the office after five years. He subsequently founded six monasteries on his Sicilian estate and served as a Benedictine monk at his home in Rome. An ordained priest, he became one of the pope’s seven deacons and served six years as a papal representative in Constantinople. He was then called home to become abbot, and at the age of fifty was elected pope. In spite of great secular and religious success, he stated that his happiest years were those spent as a simple monk, a beloved calling he sacrificed to serve God.