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The Great Silence and Stillness of Holy Saturday… from the Catechism

The Great Silence and Stillness of Holy Saturday… from the Catechism

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

Christ Descended into Hell

632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection. This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.

633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell”—Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek—because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him. (1033)

634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.” The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfillment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption. (605)

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” Jesus, “the Author of life,” by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.” Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades,” so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began.… He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him—He who is both their God and the son of Eve.… “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son.… I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.” [Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday]

 Catholic Church. (2000). Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Ed., pp. 164–165). Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference.

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Benedict XVI is a master theologian. You might also enjoy his reflections on Holy Saturday here.

This makes me think… entering into the place where Jesus is…

Not to know Scripture is not to know Jesus, Saint Jerome tells us. And we know Christ only if we are conversant with the words that are the words of God. Scripture tells us how such a oneness with Christ, such a penetration to the center, is to be achieved in practice. It tells us that faith is not something remote from us, something that would require us to engage in great research, or, perhaps, to cross an ocean or make an expedition into the depths of the earth. It speaks to us of what is near. The word is in your heart. You have only to enter into your own heart and you will find it there. Jesus is Lord, Jesus is risen. In these words Paul identifies the two confessional formulas of the Church, which form the heart of our confession of faith. He says: When you enter into your heart, you enter into the place where Jesus is, and vice versa you enter into your heart only when you do not simply hide yourself in yourself but co-believe with the faith of the living Church. In co-believing with the faith of the living Church, in letting yourself be carried along by it, even though many individual teachings continue to be obscure, you are hidden in the communality of the faith and so remain faithful to it, communicate with it. We read Holy Scripture as we should, from its center, from its inner unity, only when we read it in harmony with the faith of the Church.

From: L’Osservatore Romano 13, no. 8 (1983), p. 12

 Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans., I. Grassl, Ed.) (p. 269). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

This makes me think… about what it takes to follow Jesus… I gotta quit my grasping…

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Mt 5:8)”

The organ for seeing God is the heart. The intellect alone is not enough.

The ascent to God occurs precisely in the descent of humble service, in the descent of love, for love is God’s essence, and is thus the power that truly purifies man and enables him to perceive God and see him. In Jesus Christ, God has revealed himself descending: “Though he was in the form of God” he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men… He humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him” (Phil. 2: 6-9)

Those words mark a decisive turning point in the history of mysticism. They indicate what is new… which comes from what is new in the Revelation of Jesus Christ. God descends, to the point of death on the Cross. And precisely by doing so, he reveals himself in his true divinity. We ascend to God by accompanying him on this descending path.

-Benedict XVI-
Jesus of Nazareth, Vol I. (emphasis mine)

This makes me think… God is restless for us

Praying without ceasing means: never losing contact with God, letting ourselves be constantly touched by him in the depths of our hearts and, in this way, being penetrated by his light. Only someone who actually knows God can lead others to God. Only someone who leads people to God leads them along the path of life.

The restless heart of which we spoke earlier, echoing Saint Augustine, is the heart that is ultimately satisfied with nothing less than God, and in this way becomes a loving heart. Our heart is restless for God and remains so, even if every effort is made today, by means of most effective anaesthetizing methods, to deliver people from this unrest. But not only are we restless for God: God’s heart is restless for us. God is waiting for us. He is looking for us. He knows no rest either, until he finds us. God’s heart is restless, and that is why he set out on the path towards us – to Bethlehem, to Calvary, from Jerusalem to Galilee and on to the very ends of the earth. God is restless for us, he looks out for people willing to “catch” his unrest, his passion for us, people who carry within them the searching of their own hearts and at the same time open themselves to be touched by God’s search for us. Dear friends, this was the task of the Apostles: to receive God’s unrest for man and then to bring God himself to man. 

The wise men followed the star. Through the language of creation, they discovered the God of history. To be sure – the language of creation alone is not enough. Only God’s word, which we encounter in sacred Scripture, was able to mark out their path definitively. Creation and Scripture, reason and faith, must come together, so as to lead us forward to the living God. There has been much discussion over what kind of star it was that the wise men were following. Some suggest a planetary constellation, or a supernova, that is to say one of those stars that is initially quite weak, in which an inner explosion releases a brilliant light for a certain time, or a comet, etc. This debate we may leave to the experts. The great star, the true supernova that leads us on, is Christ himself. He is as it were the explosion of God’s love, which causes the great white light of his heart to shine upon the world. And we may add: the wise men from the East, who feature in today’s Gospel, like all the saints, have themselves gradually become constellations of God that mark out the path. In all these people, being touched by God’s word has, as it were, released an explosion of light, through which God’s radiance shines upon our world and shows us the path. The saints are stars of God, by whom we let ourselves be led to him for whom our whole being longs.

Benedict XVI, Homily, Epiphany 2012.

St Augustine and me, 18 years cancer-free.

St Augustine and me, 18 years cancer-free.

My buddy Augustine.

St Augustine and I became buddies 18 years ago. I was vaguely aware of him growing up, save the oft-quoted lines from his Confessions. Maybe you know a few of them?

This is perhaps his most famous, the first non-scripture saint quote found in the Catechism. (See CCC, 30.)

You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is without measure. And man, so small a part of your creation, wants to praise you: this man, though clothed with mortality and bearing the evidence of sin and the proof that you withstand the proud. Despite everything, man, though but a small a part of your creation, wants to praise you. You yourself encourage him to delight in your praise, for you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.

And of course, this:

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.

It was Pope Benedict, (Augustine was the focus of his doctoral dissertation), who said: “St Augustine, in his restless seeking realized that it was not he who had found the Truth but that the Truth, who is God, had come after him and found him.” I think, for me, that might be one of the most succinct ways of describing conversion… that God has been seeking us, and we let ourselves finally be found.

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Sandro Botticelli [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Today’s feast day, 1996

That summer, eighteen years back in 1996, I was in my 30s and well aware that God had found me. I trusted him with my whole life. That kind of trust means that everything is open to God, it’s all on the table. But I realized that my love had not yet been tested until I found a lump one morning. Breast cancer had found me and I found it.

After a surgical biopsy, and later, a lumpectomy, failed to remove “all of it” — meaning the cancer — there were still no clean margins. We’d have to do more. Clean margins were something I reckoned with school-ruled paper and grade school cautions to write between the lines. Clean margins meant something different entirely. Life went from pretty neat and orderly to all kinds of scribbly.

After more consultations and weighing risks and benefits, I consented to a mastectomy with reconstruction. And there was a date placed on the calendar several weeks hence. August 28. It became burned in my brain. Ever since my finding of the lump, a shadow seemed to be cast that was hard to shake. August 28, we would pray, would vanquish that.

Looking for any kind of redemption for that day, I opened the church calendar to find that it was St Augustine’s feast day… perhaps the greatest mind of Western Christianity — with over five million words written as a bishop and theologian, after his legendary conversion. God did his best work in Augustine after Augustine relinquished all to Him.

Augustine’s feast day brought me great hope.

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I am 18 — These are my gravy years.

IMG_3256You can see that God kept me around some more. Today, on the feast of St Augustine, I am 18 years cancer-free. Alleluia.

About two years after cancer struck, and when I was much recovered, I was blessed to take my first trip to Fatima. It was there, alone with Jesus in the chapel, when He started asking what my dreams were. Like, what were my dreams before cancer struck?

Job 1: Watching my children grow to adulthood.

Anything else would be gravy. 

God already knew this about me. But the question persisted. God wanted to show me that the dreams He dreamed for me were still alive somehow. I was tentative with him, not wanting to be presumptuous about the number of my days, and he dealt gently with my fears.

Well, these are my gravy years.

I’ve witnessed all my children’s sacraments — even a marriage! — graduations, and college degrees… the last one set to walk for his diploma in May.

I have traveled with my husband and children across the USA and into Europe. To see Rome, and Paris,  Fatima and Lourdes, oh, and more.

I did earn that Masters in theology in 2008 — year 12 post-cancer — and two certificates besides, and working on a third one now.

I always longed to go back to radio or broadcasting in some form, and these days God has me using a microphone to share the faith, both as a speaker on retreat and conferences, as a catechist, and as a podcaster. Gosh, back then, I never even dared to think I had a book in me.

All that happened in these last 18 years… and I know how truly blessed I’ve been to live to see dreams come true. Many of my friends from cancer-support groups have not fared as well.

I know what true gratitude is, and that nothing ought be taken for granted. Nothing. There have been many best days.

Over the years, I haven’t forgotten about St Augustine. There is a parish in the Merrimack Valley that bears his name and his image and its a lovely place to pray when I get the opportunity. 

Augustine’s prolific writing and speaking continue to inspire me. I’ve given numerous talks and written articles about his “restless heart syndrome” and how Christ is the cure. One talk I gave at a “theology on tap” setting was called “St Gus and the Restless Hearts.” What a privilege to share his story, knowing how his feast day has become a cause for rejoicing in my own life. God brought me through a tough date, and now it has become a special anniversary of God’s fidelity and graces to me.

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Praying.

I went to Mass this morning to thank Jesus and Mary for all their care over these years. The Holy Spirit gently brought so many names and faces of so many family members and friends who brought me through the cancer crisis and recovery, and those who’ve encouraged me to grow and take on new challenges. I went to adoration to continue my thanksgiving. As I was praying the rosary, I looked at my hands and the beads. My hands are older, and the body is feeling her age, but my heart is full. My rings remind me of my vocation, and my rosary bracelet, my consecration to Jesus through Mary. I thanked St Augustine for his inspirations and asked his coaching in whatever writing needs to come next.

This is where God found me, again, today.

Breathe in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my thoughts may all be holy.

Act in me, O Holy Spirit,
that my work, too, may be holy.

Draw my heart, O Holy Spirit,
that I love but what is holy.

Strengthen me, O Holy Spirit,
to defend all that is holy.

Guard me, then, O Holy Spirit,
that I always may be holy. Amen.

– St Augustine of Hippo-

This makes me think… about the buying more Youcats for my young friends

You need to know what you believe. You need to know your faith with that same precision with which an IT specialist knows the inner workings of a computer. You need to understand it like a good musician knows the piece he is playing. Yes, you need to be more deeply rooted in the faith than the generation of your parents so that you can engage the challenges and temptations of this time with strength and determination. You need God’s help if you want to resist the blandishments of consumerism, if your love is not to drown in pornography, if you are not going to betray the weak and leave the vulnerable helpless.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
from the introduction to the Youcat.

This makes me think… to live well, is to live the truth of the resurrection

St Augustine recalled incisively:  “Let us consider, dear friends, the Resurrection of Christ:  indeed, just as his Passion stood for our old life, his Resurrection is a sacrament of new life…. You have believed, you have been baptized; the old life is dead, killed on the Cross, buried in Baptism. The old life in which you lived is buried:  the new life emerges. Live well:  live life in such a way that when death comes you will not die (Sermo Guelferb. 9, 3). 

The Gospel accounts that mention the appearances of the Risen One usually end with the invitation to overcome every uncertainty, to confront the event with the Scriptures, to proclaim that Jesus, beyond death, is alive for ever, a source of new life for all who believe in him.

This is what happened, for example, in the case of Mary Magdalene (cf. Jn 20: 11-18), who found the tomb open and empty and immediately feared that the body of the Lord had been taken away. The Lord then called her by name and at that point a deep change took place within her:  her distress and bewilderment were transformed into joy and enthusiasm. She promptly went to the Apostles and announced to them:  “I have seen the Lord” (Jn 20: 18).

Behold:  those who meet the Risen Jesus are inwardly transformed; it is impossible “to see” the Risen One without “believing” in him. Let us pray that he will call each one of us by name and thus convert us, opening us to the “vision” of faith.

Faith is born from the personal encounter with the Risen Christ and becomes an impulse of courage and freedom that makes one cry to the world:  “Jesus is risen and alive for ever”.

This is the mission of the Lord’s disciples in every epoch and also in our time:  “If, then, you have been raised with Christ”, St Paul exhorts us, “seek the things that are above…. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3: 1-2). This does not mean cutting oneself off from one’s daily commitments, neglecting earthly realities; rather, it means reviving every human activity with a supernatural breath, it means making ourselves joyful proclaimers and witnesses of the Resurrection of Christ, living for eternity (cf. Jn 20: 25; Lk 24: 33-34).

-Benedict XVI-
General Audience, April 19, 2006

Holy Saturday: “We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness…”

Holy Saturday: “We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness…”

The death of God in Jesus Christ is at the same time the expression of his radical solidarity with us. The most obscure mystery of the faith is at the same time the clearest sign of a hope without end. And what is more: only through the failure of Holy Friday, only through the silence of death of Holy Saturday, were the disciples able to be led to an understanding of all that Jesus truly was and all that his message truly meant. God had to die for them so that he could truly live in them. The image they had formed of God, within which they had tried to hold him down, had to be destroyed so that through the rubble of the ruined house they might see the sky, him himself who remains, always, the infinitely greater. We need the silence of God to experience again the abyss of his greatness and the chasm of our nothingness which would grow wider and wider without him.

There is a Gospel scene which in an extraordinary way anticipates the silence of Holy Saturday and which again, therefore, seems to be a profile of the moment in history we are living now. Christ is asleep on a boat which, buffeted by a storm, is about to sink. The prophet Elijah had once made fun of the priests of Baal who were futilely invoking their god to send down fire on their sacrifice. He urged them to cry out louder in case their god was asleep. But is it true that God does not sleep? Does not the prophet’s scorn also fall upon the heads of the faithful of the God of Israel who are sailing with him in a boat about to sink? God sleeps while his very own are about to drown – is not this the experience of our lives? Don’t the Church, the faith, resemble a small boat about to sink, struggling futilely against the waves and the wind, and all the time God is absent? The disciples cry out in dire desperation and they shake the Lord to wake him but he is surprised at this and rebukes them for their small faith. But are things any different for us?

When the storm passes we will realize just how much this small faith of ours was charged with stupidity. And yet, O Lord, we cannot help shaking you, God, you who persist in keeping your silence, in sleeping, and we cannot help crying to you: Wake up, can’t you see we are sinking? Stir yourself, don’t let the darkness of Holy Saturday last for ever, let a ray of Easter fall, even on these times of ours, accompany us when we set out in our desperation towards Emmaus so that our hearts may be enflamed by the warmth of your nearness. You who, hidden, charted the paths of Israel only to become a man in the end with men – don’t leave us in the dark, don’t let your word be lost in these days of great squandering of words.

Lord, grant us your help, because without you we will sink. Amen .

“The Anguish of an Absence (Three Meditations on Holy Saturday)”
by Joseph Ratzinger
(later Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI)

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, in the darkness of death You made a light shine; in the abyss of the deepest solitude the powerful protection of Your love now lives for ever; in the throes of Your concealment we now can sing the hallelujah of the saved. Grant us the humble simplicity of faith, which does not let us stray when You call us in the hours of darkness, of abandonment, when all seems difficult; grant us, at this time when a mortal struggle is being waged around You, light enough that we will not lose You; light enough for us to give to all those who still have need of it. Make the mystery of Your Easter joy shine, like the aurora of the dawn, on these days of ours; grant that we may truly be men of Easter in the midst of history’s Holy Saturday. Grant that in the course of the days of light and dark of this age we may always with happy hearts find ourselves on the pathway to Your future glory. Amen.

Joseph Ratzinger

Meditationen zur Karwoche,
Kyrios-Verlag, Freising 1969

 

This makes me think… about presence

Advent, this powerful liturgical season that we are beginning, invites us to pause in silence to understand a presence. It is an invitation to understand that the individual events of the day are hints that God is giving us, signs of the attention he has for each one of us.


Pope Benedict XVI

Homily at First Vespers of Advent,

November 28, 2009

My Top Three Take-Aways from the Year of Faith… where did you find meaning this year?

My Top Three Take-Aways from the Year of Faith… where did you find meaning this year?

1. Never Forget: The Holy Spirit guides the Church, and the Papacy

Wow! Who could have predicted this? The Catholic news story of the year was not only the Year of Faith but the resignation of the reigning pontiff, and the conclave to elect a new pope!

We also had the first encyclical that was the work of two popes! Lumen Fidei was first drafted by Benedict, but completed by Francis. (You can find my 5 part series on the encyclical here. Here’s the introduction.)

God bless the mission of our Holy Father, Pope Francis, and the monastic retirement of Benedict XVI.

Two Popes, praying together. Benedict XVI & Francis.

Two Popes, praying together. Benedict XVI & Francis. In my mind, this is the Catholic photo of the year! 

2. Pray! And Pray More! Stay close to Jesus in the Eucharist!

This Year of Faith offered us many opportunities to pray both with the Church and privately. I loved watching on TV and praying my way through World Youth Day, and I loved this moment at Adoration:

Praying with others, outside of the Sunday Mass is also more of a priority for me now. I was privileged to start and lead The Bible Timeline bible study at my parish, as well as hold rosary meetings in my home. Not to mention I was honored to travel the country giving retreats and talks to women related to my book, Blessed, Beautiful and Bodacious.

All those activities are really the fruit of prayer. Prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy chaplet, plus staying close to Jesus in the Eucharist and confession are indispensable and continue to be a very strong call in my life. I made an Ignatian-style retreat in April and most recently have been talking to Jesus and my priest about taking steps change my personal schedule to include more breaks for prayer.

By the way – are you a techno geek? This year I noticed that I was praying more “on the go” using apps on my phone like Magnificat, The Divine Mercy, The Rosary Miracle App, and Verse-Wise’s Holy Bible RSV-CE, and more. This is a new side to my prayer, not so much in the way I pray, but in the resources I use.

 3. Spiritual Reading must remain a weekly, if not daily, exercise.

The nature of my writing work requires me to be in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in a regular way. So, where as many people undertook reading the Catechism this past year, I was already largely doing that. For me this year, I’m renewed my commitment to pray with scripture, as I work my way through much bible reading for the bible study.

I’m also reading Undset’s biography of St Catherine of Siena, and several other saints biographies. As devotee of St Francis, and a graduate of Franciscan University, I’m very interested in getting to Chesterton’s Francis of Assisi next (and find it hard to believe that I’ve missed it all these years!)

Finally, as mentioned above, I really dove into Lumen Fidei.

Now, I’m looking forward to the release of Francis’ new text, Evangelii Gaudium sometime later today.

What was your experience with the Year of Faith?