Sometimes people will ask me “when did you know that you wanted to become a
priest?” There wasn’t a specific time really, it just kind of gradually grew as a call in me
as I finished up college at the U of M, where it reached a point where I had to say “OK
God, I know what you want me to do know.”
However, there were some moments along the way where you just felt the closeness of
God; where you can sense that God is calling you to respond to Him in a certain way.
For me, I think of a Good Friday liturgy that I went to in 1999 or 2000. I remember going
into church that evening, and everything was different. The lights were just high enough
so you could see to find your pew. The crucifix was covered in a black veil. The liturgy
took on a somber tone, and the deacon leading the service (Good Friday is the only day
of the year when Mass is not allowed to be said) walked with a cross around the church,
and gave a powerful homily on the greatest love story ever told in the Passion. That
liturgy impacted me, and made me think more deeply about my life, and my faith. And I
remember leaving that night changed, thinking about all that God has done for me. It
seemed to pale in comparison to whatever problems I was going through at the time.
To this day, I strive to live out my faith. The priest says many private prayers during
Mass to remind him of his own unworthiness (hence the washing of the hands; “Lord
wash away my iniquities, cleanse me of my sins…). And when I get to Holy Week, I am
again challenged through the liturgies to think about how I live and strive to become a
What I’ve found is that each of the liturgies can have a different way of helping me to
grow in my faith. And I hope you’d think about that as you prepare to celebrate this most
solemn week on our calendar.
We begin at Palm Sunday, and what strikes me with the day is the shallowness of
people. Many of us been burned by fake people in our lives; but let’s be honest,
sometimes we have done that to other people. You have the crowds who say
“hosanna!” but then drop the palms and walk away quickly when they realize Jesus is
not going to be a political leader. You have jealousy from the Sanhedrin and those who
see Jesus as a threat to their power. You have the cowardice of Pilate who knows the
right thing to do but doesn’t do it, even when God is literally staring him in the face. You
have Judas pretending to be loyal but betraying his friend with a kiss. This liturgy
challenges us in a way to think about how serious we are about the word “love” (more
on that on Good Friday). Do we really mean that word when we say it, or only when it is
Holy Thursday gives us a lot to think about too. There is the institution of the Eucharist,
God’s gift of love to us when we celebrate at every Mass. There is the institution of the
priesthood which makes it a special day for thinking about my ordination and how I live
out my vocation. But what I’ve always been struck by is the washing of the feet. We do
this as a reminder of what Jesus did, but what I love with this ritual is that it’s a visible
thing we do at liturgy to basically say “OK people, if you are going to receive Jesus in
Holy Communion, and say I am a Christian, here’s what it means.” Holiness does not
come through hearing Latin, incense, chant or bells. There is a lot of beauty in liturgy,
and I love chant, I love incense. A good liturgy can bring us higher and touch the soul.
But liturgy always has to connect us to the greater community. Remember the words of
Pope Francis, that the Church is a field hospital. So as we see the feet being washed, it
helps us think about who’s feet we need to wash. Who might be hurting in our lives; who
we might be neglecting; or who might be hurting. Jesus even washes the feet of Judas.
Some people in our lives our lovable. Some people are challenging. We can’t just serve
or love when it is convenient – what Jesus does is give us a mandate to do for others
what He the master has done for the 12. That’s something that we need to live out daily.
What strikes me with Good Friday is what Deacon Otto preached on back in 2000 – the
greatest love story ever told. I heard another priest once say the only reason there is not
a Saint Judas church is because Judas didn’t realize Jesus still loved him. Yes, we are
sinners and do evil things. We are like those who drop the palms and walk away. But we
are loved – and this is how far God goes for us out of love. Think about that on Good
Friday as you touch the cross and reflect on the Passion again. Turn your sins and
struggles over to the one who is love itself and let that liberate you.
Lastly, Holy Saturday. I have to tell you it’s an incredible site from the presider’s chair
seeing all those candles lit. If you have never been to the Easter Vigil, do consider
going. Yes, it’s longer, but parking is a lot easier, and unlike the priest, that will mean
you can sleep in a bit on Easter, go find the Easter basket, and then go off to your ham
dinner. It’s so amazing to see the light dispelling the darkness as the Easter fire is lit; the
new Easter candle blessed and all the candles being lit from that candle. We are
reminded of God having the last word over death and of our redemption. It fills one with
hope, and when you hear the Exultet chanted, and the Litany of Saints prayed for the
newly baptized and confirmed, you are overwhelmed with this sense of God’s love and
the power of the love that exists in the body of believers, the Church.
So much more could be said about Holy Week, but I’ll just close with this: go to the
liturgies. They are not obligatory holy days, but as you experience the liturgies this
week, my guess is that you truly will grow in your faith and be touched by the love and
grace of God.
Have a blessed Holy Week!
Book of the Week: A parishioner kindly gave me a copy of “Pickle-Chiffon Pie” which I
used prior to spring break. Written in 1967 by Jolly Roger Bradfield, a Twin Cities native,
it gives a great message about thinking about others and empathy. (A good Holy
Thursday book perhaps?). Three princes vie to win the hand of a princess and they are
to bring back gifts, but only one gets what the deeper meaning of the task is.