The transformative power of the Triduum

Archbishop Aquila

Next week, we will be celebrating the three holiest days of the liturgical year – the Sacred Triduum. As we prepare for these days, we should strive to receive the abundant graces God desires to give us so that our love is deepened and we may love as he loves.

Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher of the Papal Household, recently delivered a homily to the members of the Roman Curia on St. Paul’s appeal to the Christians of Rome to let their love be genuine, before he delivered a series of messages to them. “This is not one of many exhortations,” the papal preacher notes, “but the matrix from which all the others derive. It contains the secret of charity.” That secret is that our love for others and Christ must not be hypocritical but “true, authentic, and not feigned.”

Even though Jesus was betrayed by Judas, arrested, whipped, beaten, mocked and ultimately crucified, he did not fail to love his persecutors genuinely. His first words from the cross were a prayer asking the Father to forgive those who had crucified him, which includes all sinners from the beginning of time until its end. Jesus also spoke words of comfort to Dismas, the thief who was crucified next to him but who defended him from the taunts of the thief on Christ’s other side. Dismas’ simple cry of the heart, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” led Jesus to respond in love, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

It is not unusual today for Christians to be similarly derided. Father Cantalamessa describes this as “the hostility, the rejection, and the often deep disdain with which not only Christians but all believers in God are regarded by broad sectors of society, in general the sectors that are the most influential and that determine normal mainstream thinking.” When you are considered foolish for your faith, just as Jesus was by those who ridiculed him as he hung on the cross, let your love for them be genuine.

Instead of getting lost in self-pity and bitterness, if we ask Jesus for a heart like his Sacred Heart, then we will be filled with what Father Cantalamessa calls “an attitude of deep compassion and spiritual sadness, of loving these people and suffering for them, of taking responsibility for them before God—just as Jesus took responsibility for all of us before the Father—and of not ceasing to weep and pray for the world.”

On the night of the Last Supper, the day before he was to be crucified, Jesus assured his disciples that he would not leave them orphaned. He told them: “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (Jn. 14-16-17).

Having a heart that is ready to selflessly love others is impossible without God’s grace. As you approach Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday this year, ask God the Father to fill you with the Holy Spirit and form your heart so that you can love genuinely. Pray for the grace to love as Jesus loved.

Do not become, in the words of Pope Francis, “parked Christians … Caged Christians who don’t know how to fly with the dream to this beautiful thing to which the Lord calls us.” Rather, let us allow the power of the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts and minds and move us to love others genuinely.

With the salvation Jesus won for us and the outpouring of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we will be able to live the Resurrection with abiding joy and gratitude and build up the Kingdom of God on earth.

COMING UP: Wanted: faithful men of virtue

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On Friday, March 2, something happened at the Colorado state capitol that hasn’t happened in over 100 years. Lawmakers in the state House of Representatives voted to expel one of their own over allegations of sexual harassment, and this was just one of several cases being investigated.

The vast majority of the cases brought to light by the MeToo social media campaign involve men harassing women, a fact that highlights the urgent need our society has for virtuous men – men of integrity and faith.

That men tend to pursue their appetites is nothing new; it’s as old as Adam giving in to the temptation to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil. But what has changed recently is the scale at which women are treated as sexual objects, rather than being respected as daughters of God, whose complimentary gifts are indispensable for a flourishing society.

I have written in my recent pastoral letter, “The Splendor of Love,” about how contraception has contributed to this dramatic shift from partnership to objectification. But another important factor that cannot be overlooked is the loss or abandonment of virtue by men.

Those men who have engaged in harassment, whether they are from Hollywood, the business world, politics or elsewhere, have fallen into the trap of being men for themselves, instead of being men for others.

Changing one’s inner orientation from self-centeredness to living for the sake of others requires a radical change that is only possible through God’s grace.

My good friend and predecessor Archbishop Charles Chaput recently underscored this point in a talk he gave at the “Into the Breach Conference” in Phoenix. He said, “A man’s actions and words change only when his heart changes for the better. And his heart only changes for the better when he discovers something to believe in that transforms and gives meaning to his life; something that directs all of his reasoning and desires.”

That something is really someone, Jesus Christ, who reveals the eternal love of the Father for every human being. The God-Man Jesus, when he is encountered, changes everything in a person’s life. It is God and God alone who satisfies the longing for an eternal, lasting purpose that each of us has in his heart. Only he can move us beyond our fallen human nature and help us grow in the virtues of purity, self-control and sacrifice for the good of others.

One man who we can look to as example of what is possible with God’s grace is Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and the husband of Mary, whose solemn feast day the Church will celebrate on March 19.

The Scriptures tell us that Saint Joseph was a “righteous man” (Mt. 1:19). This phrase meant that he was both just in his dealings with others and that he was a man of prayer who faithfully kept the commandments.

Saint Joseph is also notable for being a man who was careful with his words. In fact, he never speaks in the Gospels. Reflecting on his namesake in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI – whose birth name is Joseph – said, “His is a silence permeated by contemplation of the mystery of God, in an attitude of total availability to his divine wishes. Let us allow ourselves to be ‘infected’ by the silence of St. Joseph! We have much need of it in a world which is often too noisy, which does not encourage reflection and listening to the voice of God.”

By being attentive to God’s voice and remaining ready to follow his direction, men fulfill their God-given role as protectors of the family. We first see this role in Genesis, where God commands Adam to cultivate and protect the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:15).

Likewise, we see that Saint Joseph protected Mary and Jesus: first, by not divorcing Mary, taking her for his wife, and second, by quickly obeying God’s direction and fleeing into Egypt to preserve the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The extensive damage inflicted by unvirtuous men who disregard God’s guidance and pursue the satisfaction of their desires at the expense of others is made painfully clear by the recent headlines and stories that continue to surface.

Fellow men, I urge you to seek the Father’s mercy and help and bring your struggles to him in Confession. Follow the example of Saint Joseph, whose relationship with God allowed him to protect, treasure and raise the Son of God. Joseph put his trust and confidence in the Father and not in the world. He put his family, Mary and Jesus, first because he knew in his heart that the Father could be trusted.

I join my voice to my brother bishops, especially Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix, whose pastoral letter “Into the Breach” has strongly challenged men to rise to the occasion and pursue holiness. To quote Bishop Olmsted: “Men, do not hesitate to engage in the battle that is raging around you, the battle that is wounding our children and families, the battle that is distorting the dignity of both women and men. This battle is often hidden, but the battle is real. It is primarily spiritual, but it is progressively killing the remaining Christian ethos in our society and culture, and even in our own homes.”

May God give all men and women the courage to seek his forgiveness and healing, so that we can become a virtuous and holy people!