Faith in the Family
It is striking to see how many people attend church for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Many churches experience their biggest congregations on these two days. Both are important days in the Christian calendar – but both are part of a longer journey. The journey does not grind to a halt in pain and darkness with Good Friday. The journey continues to the joyful awakening of Easter Sunday morning and beyond that to Pentecost and to a vibrant Christian life.
Right in the middle of Lent, this Sunday’s Gospel reminds us what this Lenten journey is all about. “Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but may have eternal life.”
We make a mistake if we think that Jesus’ death is all about an angry, vengeful God who demands payment for our sins. Even the cross that we will encounter in Holy Week is a statement of love – God’s love for the world and for us, Jesus’ love for us and for the Father. It is this love that will call us beyond the suffering of Good Friday to celebrate the joy of Easter Sunday.
That image of Lent as a journey is one worth exploring.
The Gospel readings at weekday and Sunday Masses through the rest of Lent see Jesus journeying towards Jerusalem. He is aware of the dangers that await him there. The tension is rising and yet he chooses to continue his journey.
We are invited over these coming weeks to travel with him. We are invited to enter into the dynamic of Lent, to spend some time reading and thinking about what is happening in the Gospel stories and to accompany Jesus on his way to Jerusalem.
Some years ago I was involved with the Children’s Liturgy group in our parish. Palm Sunday came and, due to a mix-up in the rota, there was no team to lead the liturgy for the children. A few of us volunteered to do it. So, without much time to prepare, we stuck a large sheet of wallpaper up on the wall in the liturgy room.
My artistic skills would not be the best but, over the next 25 minutes, with the children we drew a detailed picture of Jesus’ journey. We talked about where he was coming from and why he was going to Jerusalem. We explored the feelings – those of Jesus and his disciples. We talked about why Jesus might be nervous going to Jerusalem where the scribes and pharisees as well as the Romans may be looking for him.
The children described with enthusiasm the welcome that Jesus received when he entered the city and how that may have confused the disciples, leading them to believe that everything would be a wonderful success. We wondered if Jesus knew that this great welcome would be short lived. We imagined how we would feel if we were in the crowd or if we were one of the disciples.
The children entered into the journey and made it their own.
By the end of our session, they were feeling the dust of the road beneath their feet, listening to the cheering voices, feeling the anxiety of what the coming days could bring and the jostling of the hot, excitable crowd beneath the Jerusalem sun.
Imaginative prayer is not only for children. St Ignatius was a great believer in the power of the Holy Spirit to use our imaginations to open up a piece of scripture in new and wonderful ways. Why not try it over the remaining weeks of Lent and through Holy Week to Easter Sunday and beyond? If you don’t have a missal, then the website www.sacredspace.ie/dailyprayer offers you the Gospel for each day.
Read the Gospel through a few times, familiarise yourself with it. Then imagine that you are right there in the Gospel scene. You may be observing from a distance or you may be in the middle of the action, engaging with Jesus, listening to him and having the opportunity to speak to him. Be wherever you are comfortable. Watch, listen, feel, smell, touch – allow your imagination to engage all your senses to bring the Gospel to life.
Afterwards, just spend some time thinking about what struck you in your prayer. Was there a particular insight, emotion or experience that has stayed with you? Take some time to reflect on why this may be.
If you find it difficult to engage your imagination, don’t worry. There are other ways you can walk with Jesus through the Gospel readings. As you read the Gospel just think about how the people involved may be feeling. Reflecting on the emotions within the Gospel lifts the words off the page and allows them to come to life.
We find ourselves connecting with the humanity of Jesus, the disciples, the people who come to listen, to seek healing and even those who are challenged by Jesus and his message. This type of reflection is something that we can all get involved with – even just as a discussion in the car on the way home from Mass.
Did Mary want to try to persuade Jesus to turn back? What gave her the courage?”
The Fourth Sunday of Lent is when we celebrate Mothers’ Day and I find myself wondering how Jesus’ own mother, Mary, felt watching her son travel towards Jerusalem and the dangers that could bring.
Early in Luke’s Gospel, Simeon warned Mary that her child would be rejected and that a sword would pierce her own heart too.
Like every mother, she must have wanted to protect her son from harm. Did she want to try to persuade him to turn back? What gave her the courage to stay by his side, even at the foot of the cross? We pray today for all mothers and thank God for the ways they nurture, protect, challenge and support their children.
Over these coming weeks let’s take some time to pray and reflect, individually or as a family. We are invited to walk with Jesus, to stay with him through darkest times so that we can rejoice with him when Easter dawns.