||This column is the bishop’s communication with the faithful of the Diocese of Madison. Any wider circulation reaches beyond the intention of the bishop.
It is hard for me to believe that this coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, and yet, here we are!
I bring this up because I want to remind you that the most important liturgies of the Church, culminating in the great Easter Vigil, begin this coming Sunday. It is the most important time in the Church year, and I encourage you to be actively engaged in it.
Holy Week begins
We begin, of course, with Palm Sunday (or Passion Sunday), which is the official start of Holy Week. And Holy Week builds from there.
During Holy Week we will have the Chrism Mass on Tuesday, at St. Maria Goretti Parish at 7:30 p.m. It is a unique liturgical act which only occurs once in the Church year and in one place in the diocese. You are all very welcome to attend the Chrism Mass and it would be great to see you there.
And then in our parish communities, we will mark the Sacred Triduum: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday, the Friday afternoon commemoration of the Lord’s Passion, and then the great Easter Vigil in all its splendor and glory — the first moments of our basking in the glow of Resurrection light!
I urge you to consider taking part in all of these liturgies and really diving into them. If you haven’t before, I hope you will be able to come to those liturgies and I hope that you will be able to bring a friend, or even multiple friends to experience prayerfully the remembrance of the saving acts of Christ.
Jesus raises Lazarus
Now, this past Sunday we heard the story of Jesus raising his friend Lazarus from the dead — a sign of His power and His glory, in anticipation of His own rising from the dead and in anticipation of what He promises for all of us who call Him “friend.”
The very last lines of the Gospel story of Lazarus always strike me. It says there, “Now many of the Jews who had come to Mary and seen what He had done began to believe in Him (Jn 11:45).”
I try to place myself in the shoes of those who were there present. I mean, how could you not be caught up in this event? You’ve just witnessed a man, who had died, been mourned, wrapped in burial clothes, and enclosed in a tomb, rise up! Just imagine what your reaction would be.
I’d like to think that my reaction would be, “Well that’s the end of it; I don’t need to have faith anymore, now I know. I saw with my own eyes. Jesus did this and I know He is the Christ!”
We’d think that’s what we’d say. But what did the Jewish people of that time, in fact, say or do? St. John tells us that the Jewish people, after they saw this, began to believe in Him.
Isn’t that an interesting word? After seeing someone rise from the dead they didn’t say, “Well, that’s the end of it, now I know that he is the Christ!” They began to believe in Him. That’s how tortuous our hearts are. And this entry into the very basic start of belief is the best that any of us, save the Blessed Virgin, can muster at first.
We think of the story of the other Lazarus in the Bible, the story of the rich man who passed the beggar, Lazarus, every day. We recall how the rich man died and went down to the netherworld because he neglected the poor who were right in front of his eyes.
He went down to the netherworld and he asked God, please raise Lazarus up from the dead and send him to my brothers because they’re going to be down here in this bad place too. Send someone from the dead and then they will repent!
And what does God say? They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them. But the rich man says “No, no, no; that’s not good enough. But, if someone rises from the dead then they will believe!” God says, “If they won’t believe Moses and the prophets, they won’t believe it if someone rises from the dead.”
When we remember that story, we see how predictable it is that when the Jews see Lazarus rising from the dead with their own eyes, only then do they begin to believe.
And we see how predictable it is for us only to begin to believe in the one who has promised our own resurrection on the last day.
Believing means being touched by the Word of God at the deepest level; encountering at that deep level something which we do not yet fully understand, and then saying a “yes” like Mary, and with Mary — an unconditional yes.
And that unconditional yes does not come easily, even if we were to see someone rise from the dead. Our selfish strain — the effects of Original Sin — runs that deep.
Indeed, we have been told of Jesus’ rising from the dead. Witnesses have passed the truth of this down through the generations, others have died for faith in that Resurrection, and we have been promised that we too shall be raised up.
And yet, that is not enough for us to make perfect our acts of faith — saying yes to God without reservation. That “yes-with-no-strings-attached” is very hard to come by.
Believing takes ‘forever’
And that’s why, year after year, we have Advent and we have Lent, and we have Pentecost and the time after Pentecost. We have that cycle every year. Why? Because it takes forever for us to come to a belief that holds nothing at all back. It takes “forever.”
And instead of ever giving into the temptation to be bored, saying, “Well, you know, we do this every year,” we can say, “Well there’s a very good reason we do it every year.”
As they say, God is not finished with us yet. He’s not finished with us until we make a definitive choice for heaven or for hell before the final judgement. That’s when He’s finished — not until then. And so we try to be patient with ourselves, but strive to invest ourselves every single year in Advent and in Lent and in the time of the Holy Spirit. Every year we have to make a new investment because we know that we have a bit farther to go, or, in most cases, a lot farther to go!
So, I say this especially with the Holy Week liturgies in mind. This sacred repetition is the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church for your salvation and for mine. When we go and participate in these beautiful liturgies with active receptivity, we are brought much closer to our own salvation, which is what we live for and what we die for. (And, by the way, that’s what actual participation means. It doesn’t mean everybody has to come up into the sanctuary to do something. It means actively receiving the most beautiful gifts that God can give us.)
Thank you for taking the time to read this! May you and yours be given the grace and opportunity to enter actively into Holy Week and the Season of Easter, so that you might be drawn ever closer to that perfect “yes” to the Lord. Praised be Jesus Christ!