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Month: April 2020

Suffering filled with his presence

Suffering filled with his presence

Have you ever wondered why the disciples walking to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus?  The gospel says that “their eyes prevented from recognizing him.” (Lk. 24:16) How could they not recognize Jesus?

Years ago, a wise priest told me that, at the time of a tragic death, people often ask, ‘Why did this happen?’  But the most important question is not Why, but What. He said that it was essential to help people to move from asking, ‘Why did God let this happen?’ to ‘What is God doing?’ The disciples were wounded by the crucifixion, and it darkened their souls. It was all they could think about. They were completely focused on Jesus’ suffering, and were probably asking, ‘Why did God let this to happen?’  But they were not asking, ‘What is God doing?’ They were stuck in the darkness.  Their eyes and hearts were clouded over.

Right now, it is so easy for our eyes to be prevented from recognizing the Risen Lord. It feels like we’re living under a dark cloud. In our nation, 54,000 people have died from COVID-19. This week three members of one family died on the Wind River Indian Reservation.  Thousands of families are mourning, but without the normal funeral rites.

The elderly and people with compromised immunity are anxious about how they will interact with others for a long time to come. Workers who were furloughed are living in uncertainty of how to provide for their families. As the economy deteriorates, business owners are making agonizing decisions. Healthcare workers are fatigued, yet they anticipate that they could be fighting this battle for the next year. Finally, we cannot fathom what it is like for the sick.

If we only focus on the sickness and death, on economic troubles and unemployment, or on how long we will be battling COVID-19, then we are stuck under a dark cloud.  Then we are like the disciples who could only think about Jesus’ crucifixion.  Their perspective was clouded because they were totally absorbed in his suffering and death.

Jesus refocused his disciples by saying, “Oh, how foolish you are! How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:25-26)  What did they fail to believe from the prophets?  The prophets always remind us that God journeys with his people. The Israelites’ journey in the desert was painful and frightening; yet, the Lord guided them the whole time.  Moses kept urging the people to trust in the Lord. They were not wandering aimlessly; rather, the Lord was leading them to the Promised Land. The Exodus was a journey from suffering to abundant life.

The life of a disciple is a paschal pilgrimage; we are going through suffering to glory. For the believer, the journey never ends in suffering, but in glory. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”  This was something Jesus had told his disciples several times, but they never got it.

Later, they saw how his obedient suffering revealed his total trust in the Father and perfect love for us.  His terrible death revealed that God’s fidelity endures beyond death and that God’s power to bestow life is immeasurable. Life always wins. God uses suffering in a mysterious way to reveal his glory. Moses and all of the prophets speak about this.

Every disciple is on this paschal pilgrimage. If we trust completely in the Father, then we will be given the grace of Christ to endure all suffering and to rise beyond death. On the road to Emmaus, Jesus urged the disciples to look at the longer journey; it is pilgrimage under God’s watchful eyes and inside of his caring hands.

Never let yourself be totally preoccupied by a tragic event. Otherwise, you will keep asking, ‘Why did God let this happen?’ Instead, say to yourself, ‘Surely the Lord is here, so what is God doing in this moment?’  What does God want us to learn as we journey during the pandemic? How are we to care for one another?  What is God asking of you and me? How is the Lord using this suffering as a way for us to enter into his glory?

This is a painful and stressful time filled with uncertainty; yet it is a special time of grace. It is a desert experience with God. It is a paschal pilgrimage, and the Lord is filling up our suffering with his presence. As Paul Claudel said, “Jesus did not come to explain away suffering or remove it. He came to fill it with His presence.”

Here is a story of someone who lived with faith that God was with him in suffering.  He sensed that God filled his suffering with His presence. Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận was imprisoned for 12 years when he was a bishop in Vietnam. The night he was captured and was being taken away, he felt sadness, abandonment and exhaustion, but he remembered the words of John Walsh, a missionary bishop in China, who had also been imprisoned.  He said, “I am not going to wait. I will live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love.”

Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận remembered this saying and wrote letters to his people. Those letters were later published as a book in eight different languages – Vietnamese, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.  The book is titled The Road of Hope.

If we try to wait out COVID-19, then we will not live these days well. To be honest, I keep stumbling in these days, which are filled with stress, new problems, and complaints. I often fail to be humble, gentle and patient with others. Yet, I sense the Lord’s presence and constant help. I am certain that the Lord is using this time to help us mature in faith, hope and charity. It is a paschal pilgrimage, a journey of suffering that is necessary to enter into his glory. It is a special time of growing in grace, perseverance and patient love.  It is an integral moment in our pilgrimage to glory.

I encourage you not to wait for COVID-19 to be over, but to live each present moment, filling it to the brim with love. However, we can do that only if we ask the Lord to fill us to the brim with his daily forgiveness and patient love. Jesus came to fill up our sufferings with his presence, so that we could live each moment, filling it to the brim with love.

Mercy in Solidarity

Mercy in Solidarity

What went through Peter’s mind when Christ appeared in the upper room? (Jn. 20:19-31) After Jesus was arrested, he swore up and down that he never knew the man. So when the Risen Lord appeared in their midst, he must have shrunk into the back corner hiding behind the others with shame.

But Jesus said nothing about Peter’s denial or the others abandoning him. Instead he expressed mercy. Twice he said, “Peace be with you.” He reassured them that their relationship is rock solid. Peter must have been flooded with feelings of forgiveness and friendship – gratuitous unconditional forgiveness and steadfast undying friendship.

Thomas also was stunned by Jesus’ gentle and patient friendship. I imagine Jesus being firm yet patient, as he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” (Jn. 20:27) The disciples were not only convinced that Jesus was risen; they were convinced that he would always be with them. Nothing could separate them from Christ, neither denial nor doubt nor anything else. Their relationship was eternal.

The disciples had an unbreakable bond with Christ, and this transformed their relationship as disciples.  His faithful love bonded them together. They became a band of brothers and sisters because Jesus was such a faithful Brother to them. That dual bond of fellowship is described in the First Letter of John who wrote, “What we have seen and heard we proclaim now to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; for our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3) A more literal translation is this: “. . . so that you too may have communion with us; for our communion is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.”

Through the grace of Baptism, we were granted communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  St. Paul says that we live “in Christ.”  St. John tells us that our communion as Christians is like our communion with God.

This is exactly what we hear in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles today. “[The disciples] devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)  This is one of the first descriptions of the early Christian community. An essential aspect of it was the communal life. (This is the same Greek word translated as ‘fellowship’ in the passage above.)

The early Christians expressed their unity in a practical way, “They would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need.” (Acts 2:44)  They generously cared for the needy; their communion reflected God’s merciful communion with them. Like Peter and Thomas, the first Christians were inspired to imitate Jesus’ mercy.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, we are refreshed with the Lord’s mercy, and we are sent to bring his mercy to others. As we deal with the pandemic, the Lord’s mercy must be lived in communion. As a Church we have made decisions based on this communion, that is, based on solidarity.  Our communion with one another ought to reflect our communion with God and his mercy toward us.

One way of being merciful is by doing everything we can to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 to any person. That is why we are not gathering for Mass or other events. Some people continue to contact me and request that we change our directives; they feel that people are unjustly deprived of the sacraments. So I want to describe all of the people we are thinking about with solidarity.

First, the elderly and those with compromised health conditions are especially vulnerable.  Second, we are thinking of healthcare workers. If we act irresponsibly and cause more people to be infected, doctors and nurses will be at greater risk. Third, almost half of our priests are either over 60 or have health conditions putting them at high risk. But we’re not just thinking of the priests.  It takes up to eight years to train a new priest, so if a few priests die of COVID-19, then some parishes may not have Mass or other sacraments for many years. Thus, we are thinking of how our decisions will affect Catholics for the next ten years, or longer. We are being in solidarity with those not yet born.

Furthermore, we must act for the good of all people, not just Catholics. Canon law states that a bishop is sent to serve all people within the geographical area of the diocese, not only Catholics. Why?  Because God has concern for all people. Our mission is to be God’s hands and feet in this world. Our solidarity must encompass all our neighbors. Thus, solidarity calls us to be united with civic leaders as they seek to serve the common good. Together, we are working for the good of all people.

One person wrote to me arguing that salvation of souls no longer seems to be a priority. Actually, salvation of souls is not merely spiritual. We do not merely believe that our souls will go to heaven, but that we will be raised body and soul.  Jesus came to redeem the whole person.  Thus, the final parable in Matthew is about feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, welcoming strangers, and visiting prisoners because salvation includes caring for the entire person – physical, spiritual, psychological, etc. So my outlook keeps in mind the salvation of souls, here and hereafter.

In our policies, our team seeks to balance the salvation of souls, the grace of the sacraments, solidarity, mercy and more.  For a short time, the sacraments are being offered primarily to the critically ill and the dying. Our priests are going into the nursing homes and hospitals to bring them Holy Communion, Reconciliation and the Anointing of the Sick. We all know how important it is that they would not bring COVID-19 into those institutions. This is another good reason for extra precautions regarding the interaction of priests with the public.

Finally, when the Governor makes decisions he has a purview of the entire state.  He is aware of many areas of concern unknown to an individual citizen.  The same is true for pastors and bishops; our purview is comprehensive.  We keep in mind everyone’s needs and the greater good of the Church.  On the COVID-19 Response Team, we have four pastors who have dedicated their lives to ministry, and they are grappling with the breadth of issues at stake – pastoral, medical, theological, psychological, and more. The outlook of our team is enriched by two medical doctors and five lay leaders. In contrast, most (or all?) of the people who are complaining about the current directives have a much smaller purview.

As your brother and bishop, I am seeking to do what is best for all concerned, even when it is unpopular. My actions will be far from perfect.  Nevertheless, I pray daily about all of this. In other words, I keep nurturing my communion with God so that I might serve the communion of the common good.

As we celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday, remember two things.  First recall God’s faithful mercy. The Risen Lord is with you; he has breathed his Spirit into you. No matter what, he will always be with you. God is in communion with you.

Second, strive for communion with one another, like God is in communion with us.  Imitate the Lord’s mercy. How can you show mercy and solidarity to others? Jesus sends us to bring his mercy to others. He says to us, “As the Father sent me, so I send you.” (Jn. 20:21)

Singing Together via mp3

Singing Together via mp3

Here is a story from CNS that will lift your spirits. (To hear the final product, go to this link: Psalm 22 ). It is beautiful.

Music teacher keeps students tuned in via weekly community psalm sing

By Mark Pattison 
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) — Heidi Vass, music director at La Reina High School and Middle School in Thousand Oaks, California, was searching for a way to keep her students singing even though distance learning kept them from singing together.

Lo and behold, the La Reina Community Psalm Sing.

Each week, Vass sends her students the music, as well as a “scratch track” — a rough recording of her accompanying herself on the piano while she takes on the role of cantor — to the responsorial psalm for the upcoming Sunday as found in OCP Publications’ annual “Respond & Acclaim” psalm collection.

Students record their voices on an mp3 file and send it back to Vass. Some of the students sing the melody, while others take a different voice part as the arrangements have lines for alto, tenor and bass.

It’s then Vass’ job to take 15 to 30 mp3s and synchronize them. The finished product is then posted on YouTube. (For a sample, go to this link: Psalm 22 ).

Musically, Vass felt that hole in her soul almost as soon as it was announced that Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles would not have on-site classes effective March 16. The same held true for archdiocesan parishes; Vass is a cantor at St. Paschal Baylon Parish, also in Thousand Oaks.

“I knew immediately I was going to miss singing with my congregation and with my students,” she told Catholic News Service, adding she started thinking, “How do I bring my community together, especially with the situation we have?”

Vass said, “I’m a very observing Catholic, and the idea of not marking Holy Week or having anything for Easter or Lent, and not having my community gather, was something that didn’t seem bearable.”

The idea for the Psalm Sing came about fairly quickly, but executing the idea was not as immediate. “It took about a week to figure out how I was going to edit” the mp3 files returned to her, she said.

The Psalm Sing is optional for Vass’ students. And, since her parish uses Respond & Acclaim, she’s invited the parish choir to participate.

“It gives them something to do, first of all, but pulls from the beauty of our own liturgy,” Vass told CNS. “And it changes every week. It was a given programmatic thing that we have in a beautiful liturgy every week.”

While an optional project for students, “some of them will send me tracks with three or four different harmonies. I’m glad of that, I’m grateful for that,” Vass said.

“The beauty of it is you get the chant in the verses. I’m chanting the verses. I miss cantoring and singing with the congregation. It gives me an opportunity to do the chants in the verses and then bring everybody in for the chorus.”

The effect so far has been “completely random. It’s never been the same students every week,” Vass said. “Every once in a while I’ll get an administrator, and their kid will send me a track. … Or some kid will send me a track — and his mother (contributes).”

The results are varied. Vass has had to, er, refrain from editing out every imperfection she hears — including the squeak from a pedal on her piano.

“Liturgical singing is about community and coming tougher. When you have those flaws in tempos and someone’s a little ‘pitchy’” — Vass’ way of saying slightly off-key — “it sounds more like a congregation. … We’re not mixing it hard. We’re literally mixing it together. We’re not trying to make it something that it isn’t.”

There’s no telling when the COVID-19 lockdowns will ease, but given the liturgical cycle, “I have plenty of material,” Vass said. “If we’re in for coronavirus for the next three years, I’m in good shape.”

Redeemed Witnesses

Redeemed Witnesses

Redemption and fear are linked. Fear is in the background during every event of redemption. The Israelites were terrified when they saw the Egyptians hot on their heels. Terror filled their hearts as they “marched into the midst of the sea on dry land, with the water like a wall to their right and to their left.” (Ex. 14:22)  In the midst of fear, God draws close to redeem us.

As Jesus was arrested, all the disciples deserted him out of fear. When Peter was accused of being his disciple, he denied him because of fear. After his crucifixion, they were devastated and fearful of what would happen next. The apostles were locked in the upper room “for fear of the Jews.” (Jn. 20:19) In the midst of fear and isolation, God draws close to redeem us.

COVID-19 has instilled fear in many people. The constant news coverage rouses uncertainty and anxiety. Healthcare workers are apprehensive as they work on the front lines. People worry about how long they will be jobless. Even after restrictions are removed, how long will it take before it’s safe? On Monday someone called to argue that “fear over faith” caused us to suspend Masses. She kept repeating that the problem is “fear over faith.” Even though that is not why we suspended Masses, she is aware of all the fear in the air.

When sickness or death come knocking at the door, and our hearts recoil in fear, the Lord comes to rescue us.  In the midst of fear and isolation, God draws close to redeem us.

God’s closeness is the antidote to fear. To depict this closeness, the Scriptures often use the image of God as the bridegroom or husband. God is devoted to his people, like a husband toward his wife, so the Church is the Bride of Christ. But there is an even more potent scriptural image to describe how the Lord draws close to rescue us from suffering.  It is the Lord as Redeemer.

Listen how Isaiah consoles the people with both images in this passage written for the Israelites during their exile.  At this point, they have been in exile for 40 years. Think of how despondent, disheartened and fearful they must have been.

“The One who has become your husband is your Maker; his name is the LORD of hosts; your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth . . . For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you, says the LORD, your redeemer.” (Is. 54:5-8)

In the Hebrew culture, being a redeemer implied two things. First, the redeemer was the nearest of kin, often the oldest male relative. Second, the redeemer had an obligation to rescue his relatives from hardship. For example, if a man lost his land and was sold into slavery, the family’s redeemer was obligated to ransom him. So the term redeemer signified kinship or closeness with the obligation to ransom, rescue, or redeem.

With that in mind, the prophet Isaiah said to the Israelites in captivity, “Your redeemer is the Holy One of Israel, called God of all the earth.” Nothing can stop God Almighty from rescuing you. He is your redeemer, bonded to you like your nearest relative; he will rescue you. He is obligated to ransom you.  He must redeem you. Isaiah went on to say, “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10)

The redeemer was the ‘oldest brother’ of the clan who protected and rescued the others. That is how St. Paul described Jesus. In the Letter to the Romans he wrote, “He is the firstborn among many brothers.” (8:29) He is the eldest brother. Jesus took on human flesh and became a brother to all humanity. He breathed his Spirit into our hearts, and we became sons and  daughters of God. Jesus has a kinship with us.  He is close to us to rescue us.

He proved his kinship in the passion. Even though Peter denied him and all the disciples abandoned him, he stayed committed to them. Peter had promised to be as faithful as a blood brother, but Jesus was the true brother. The first words of the Risen Lord to Mary Magdalen were, “Do not be afraid. Go tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.”  (Mt. 28:10)

Even after they deserted him, he called the disciples his ‘brothers.’ As far as Jesus was concerned, his relationship to them was rock solid. Not because they deserved it, but because that’s who God is. This is why Pope Francis talks so much about ‘closeness.’ God’s closeness is another way of talking about his mercy.

Every Easter we proclaim the steadfast mercy of God. We sing Psalm 118 which says, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his mercy endures forever.” (Ps. 118:1) To be fearless is to be convinced that Jesus’ mercy is unshakable. “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10) He is our Redeemer, our eldest brother who is obligated to rescue us.  That is what we celebrate on Easter.

The opposite of fear is Love. One of my favorite Scripture passages is from the First Letter of John who wrote: “Love comes to its perfection in us when we can face the Day of Judgement fearlessly. In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear, because fear implies punishment and whoever is afraid has not come to perfection in love.” (1 Jn. 4:17-18) The opposite of fear is Love. If you are afraid, for any reason whatsoever, then God’s Love is not yet perfect in you.  Be patient, but don’t give up until all fear is gone. “In love there is no room for fear.”

If you think that it’s not possible, then look at Julian of Norwich. She lived in England when the Black Plague killed over half the people, and she herself nearly died from the plague. Her first husband was killed when she was 31 years old. She remarried and had three children; then her second husband died when she was 47 years old. She lived during a schism in the Church when three men claimed to be pope.  In her lifetime, the archbishop and king of England were both assassinated.

In the midst of that turmoil and tragedy, she wrote: Although we are now in tribulation, uneasiness, and woe, yet are we sure and safe by the merciful protection of God so that we perish not… Thus I saw that God is our true peace, and He is our sure keeper when we are ourselves unpeaceful, and He continually works to bring us into endless peace. . . . He said not, “Thou shalt not be tempted; thou shalt not be troubled; thou shalt not be distressed,” but He said, “Thou shalt not be overcome.”  God wills that we take heed to these words, and we be very strong in certain trust, in well and in woe, for as He loves and delights in us, so He wills that we love Him and delight in Him and strongly trust in Him; and all shall be well. (A Lesson of Love, pp. 113 & 179) Julian of Norwich knew Jesus as the Redeemer.

This Easter, there are two takeaways. First, let the love of God come to perfection in you. You can’t earn it. Just receive it – like Mary Magdalene, Peter, Thomas and the other disciples. Let the Redeemer’s steadfast mercy drive out all fear. What more could God do to convince us of his abiding love? “Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Is. 54:10)

Second, infect others with Christ. C.S. Lewis said, “[Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has — by what I call “good infection.” Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.” (Mere Christianity). Today people worry constantly about being infected by others. Instead focus on transmitting the ‘good infection’ of Christ to others.

We are meant to be witnesses, redeemed witnesses who infect others with Christ.  Peter said, “[Jesus] went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.  We are witnesses of all that he did.” (Acts 10:38-39) A redeemed witness goes about doing good and healing others. A redeemed witness rescues others in their brokenness. Like the healthcare workers who are tending to the sick, drawing close to them like brothers and sisters. Like those who are donating funds to help the needy in our communities, even though they have suffered financial losses in their own business.

A church of redeemed witnesses is a ‘field hospital’ being close to the sick and poor.  This kind of church even sacrifices gathering as a community for Easter out of concern for the sick and to prevent the elderly and those whose health is compromised from being infected. It does this out of concern for healthcare workers so that they are not inundated with even more patients.

Instead of being paralyzed by fear or disgruntled because of a short-term isolation, we ought to be redeemed witnesses. What can you do in your community to be a ‘little Christ,’ to bring God’s closeness to others? How are you transmitting the ‘good infection’ of Christ to others?

In the midst of fear and isolation, God always draws close to redeem us.  In these days, despite physical distancing, we are sent to draw close to others as redeemed witnesses.  We are sent to be brothers and sisters like Christ.


Masses suspended thru April 30

Masses suspended thru April 30

On April 3, Governor Gordon extended the prohibition of gatherings of more than ten people and other social distancing measures through April 30. Thus, the suspension of public Masses in the Diocese of Cheyenne, as well as the other directives in the March 20, 2020, Policies and Procedures Document, are extended through April 30, 2020.

The faithful are dispensed from the obligation to attend Sunday and Holy Day Mass while the public celebration of the Mass is suspended. Also, the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick continue to be suspended, except for serious illness and danger of death. If you need a refresher of the March 20 directives, go to: COVID Policies.

Recently, some people have expressed concern about being forgiven of sin for Easter. The teaching of the Church is that forgiveness of all sin is granted to anyone who makes an examination of conscience and a sincere Act of Contrition; this forgiveness includes even “mortal sins if it includes the firm resolution to have recourse to sacramental confession as soon as possible” (Catechism, 1452). 

Each morning I pray for everyone in our Diocese as I celebrate Mass. In a particular way, I ask the Lord to bless the sick, healthcare workers, civic leaders and all who are most affected by COVID-19. Let us be one in heart through unity in prayer and charity toward our neighbor.

In this Great Week, be confident of the power flowing from the cross and resurrection of Christ. Even though we are prohibited from gathering in Church, the paschal mystery is at work. Christ’s redemption is greater than all sin, sickness, death or evil. Grace is always greater!

Triduum Liturgies

Triduum Liturgies

I will celebrate the Triduum Liturgies with the priests of St. Mary’s Cathedral and a few liturgical ministers, and these will be live-streamed from St. Mary’s Cathedral.  You may join us in prayer by going to this link Triduum Liturgies at the following times:

You participation would be improved by reading the Scripture passages in advance (click on the links above).  During the liturgy, please silence electrical devices.  Instead of watching as a spectator, join in the songs or prayers  when possible.  Also stand, sit and kneel as you normally would do if you were present.  If possible, light candles and mark a Bible with the appropriate Scriptures.

Prayer in Crisis

Prayer in Crisis

In a crisis, it is normal to feel perplexed in prayer. Someone wrote to me this week that he feels ‘discombobulated’ this Lent. We are in the midst of a health crisis and an economic crisis. How has the coronavirus affected your relationship with God? Is your prayer filled with trust and peace, or are you perplexed and anxious? Do you feel like you know how to pray right now, or are you lost in the desert?

Jesus’ plea from the cross is a beautiful prayer in crisis. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46) That is the first verse of Psalm 22, but Jesus was praying the whole psalm that day, not just one verse. The psalm has such rich images, and his prayer was much more than a cry of anguish.  Below I have cited the first five verses of Psalm 22. As you read these verses, imagine what Jesus was expressing to his Father in this prayer.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief. Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the glory of Israel. In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.” (Ps. 22:2-6)

Jesus prayed honestly.  He candidly exposed his struggles and anguish. He speaks openly of feeling abandoned. “Why are you so far from my call for help, from my cries of anguish?”  Although he cried out in distress, he did not despair. He still trusts because he knows that God has always been faithful over the years. “In you our fathers trusted; they trusted and you rescued them. To you they cried out and they escaped; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

Despite feeling forsaken, he trusts that the Father is faithful. He shares his feelings of being forsaken, but he knows that God hears and will never abandon him. In these days, we need to pray honestly and express any sense of fear or abandonment. Yet, we ought to trust. We trust in God because of his constant fidelity.

Psalm 22 is a lament. Psalms of lament express human suffering openly because of deep trust.  A lament psalm expresses raw agony with steadfast faith. If you do not know how to pray right now, then go to the psalms. They have taught me so much about praying. Jesus often quoted from the psalms, and it seems that he had them memorized. During the passion, he quoted from Psalms 22, 31 and 42. If Jesus learned how to pray from the psalms, then we should use them too.

By the end of Psalm 22, the suffering person praises God for delivering him from suffering.  Likewise, this praise of God was moving in Jesus’ heart on the cross. Listen to the praise of God in verses near the end of the psalm. “I will proclaim your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise you: ‘You who fear the Lord, praise him; all you descendants of Jacob, give glory to him; revere him, all you descendants of Israel!’ For he has not spurned or disdained the misery of this poor wretch, did not turn away from me, but heard me when I cried out. I will offer praise in the great assembly.” (Ps. 22:23-26)  Jesus teaches us how to pray in agonizing suffering. He shows us what faith looks like in the midst of feeling abandoned.

Our prayer should be even more confident than the psalmist who wrote Psalm 22. Why?  Because we know that God raised Jesus from the dead.  We know that the Risen Lord is with us and accompanies us. He does not always keep us from suffering, but he empowers us in the midst of suffering. Through the Holy Spirit, he gives us his strength to never give up, to persevere in all things. He shares with us his immense trust in the Father’s love.

What a gift we have in Jesus’ prayer! He teaches us to cry out in distress, to be honest about our anguish and suffering. At the same time, he teaches us to never give up.  To always trust in God’s love.

Sometime this Sunday, pray Psalm 22 mindful of the cross and resurrection.  Pray it as a believer who knows the paschal mystery – that God raised Jesus from the dead.  This is our mystery too.  As St. Paul said, “Are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life.” (Rom. 6:3-4)  Through Baptism, the mystery of his dying and rising is at work in us.

Then pray Psalm 22 a second time – for those suffering from COVID-19, healthcare workers, and all who find themselves perplexed. In crisis it is normal to feel perplexed, anxious, or distressed.  Bring those feelings to prayer and speak about them openly, but with certain faith and perfect trust.

Holy Week

Holy Week

On Good Friday, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart for an end to the coronavirus at 11:00 AM (MT).  Follow this link to join the prayer: Sacred Heart.  He has issued the following statement for Holy Week:

“Future generations will look back on this as the long Lent of 2020, a time when disease and death suddenly darkened the whole earth. As we enter into Holy Week, these most sacred days of the year, Catholics across the United States and the world are living under quarantine, our societies shut down by the coronavirus pandemic.

“But we know that our Redeemer lives. Even in this extraordinary and challenging moment, we give thanks for what Jesus Christ has done for us by his life, death, and resurrection. Even now, we marvel at the beautiful mystery of our salvation, how precious each one of us is in the eyes of God.

“These are times almost without precedent in the long history of the Church. In the face of this worldwide contagion, bishops here and in almost every country have been forced to temporarily suspend public worship and celebration of the sacraments.

“My brother bishops and I are painfully aware that many of our Catholic people are troubled and hurt by the loss of the Eucharist and the consolation of the sacraments. This is a bitter affliction that we all feel deeply. We ache with our people and we long for the day when we can be reunited around the altar of the Lord to celebrate the sacred mysteries. In this difficult moment, we ask God for his grace, that we might bear this burden together with patience and charity, united as one family of God in his universal Church.

“On Good Friday, on behalf of the bishops in the United States, I will pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for an end to the coronavirus pandemic.  “I ask you to join me in this prayer, which will be livestreamed over the internet (go to: Sacred Heart). Let us join as one family of God here in the United States in asking our Lord for his mercy.

“The Holy Father has granted a special plenary indulgence to those who pray for an end to this pandemic. To receive this indulgence, you need to pray the Litany of the Sacred Heart on Good Friday, be truly sorry for your sins and desire to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation as soon as it is possible, and you need to pray for the intentions of the Pope.

“In the heart of Jesus, pierced as he hung on the cross on Good Friday, we see the love of God for humanity, his love for each one of us.  This Holy Week will be different. Our churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his Gospel is not in chains. Our Lord’s heart remains open to every man and woman. Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek him in the tabernacles of our own hearts.

“Because he loves us, and because his love can never change, we should not be afraid, even in this time of trial and testing. In these mysteries that we remember this week, let us renew our faith in his love. And let us ask our Blessed Mother Mary to intercede for us, that he might deliver us from every evil and grant us peace in our day.”

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