What Matters

Death cast its specter over Easter this year, stealing the brightness of the Resurrection and the ease of celebration. Lives treasured and too brief were captured unexpectedly by Death and so completed the journey. For those left behind, the journey is just beginning. Hollow, tentative steps into Land of the Bereaved lead to the grayness of desolation and despair. Hope and memory are hidden deep within its secret recesses, tenderly awaiting those who dare the journey. That moment of loss becomes a moment of new beginnings, opens to the suffering and difficulties that life is really all about. There is no denying the fact that living life demands suffering and celebration. It is finding solace and balance between the two, how we navigate the heartbreak and the promise that really matters.

As a Catholic, I believe that each journey matters. In a created world, each of us has a hand in fashioning the reality of the other, being part of the mosaic and the design. I am conscious that what I do and how I do it has an impact on myself and others; I am aware that in the tiny space of my own world, I am simply one among many orbiting others. And yet, I have both role and responsibility. Interacting with respect, communicating with the grace of understanding, believing and trusting in the inherent goodness of others are essential. The tenets of Catholicism and the attendant stories and Scripture remind me that honoring each journey, embracing each person, is what really matters. No matter how long, our time here is brief, and what we do with it matters.

Catholicism, too, teaches me that suffering and hurt are part of every human experience; life is enormously complex and cannot be codified or simplified into less than that. And yet, there are also marvelous sources of comfort and courage to be found in the richness of the world around us. Catholicism reminds me to be attentive to the wren gliding towards the forsythia, to the stars peeking from an inky sky, to the laughter of children and music drifting from one car to another on the highway. There is a richness in linking hands to pray the Lord’s Prayer, to catch the gaze of a sympathetic friend, to pause to breathe deeply. And there is a bond in sharing the Eucharist together in faith.

Easter reminds us of the joys of life and the suffering of death. Catholicism reminds us that our humanity has meaning and purpose, and that we are all profoundly connected through a God and Providence that transcends the pettiness of differences and the quick assessments and judgements made about one another. Catholicism acknowledges that there are multiple pathways in life and so many possibilities. The prayers of Catholicism offer the condolences demnded in confronting death and the compassion needed to live. There is hope in the emptiness of the tomb for the Catholic; there is journey in every increment of time and there is a community continuallly defining and redefining itself in every age.

Easter 2022

He is 14, concurrently self-confident and cynical, largely dismissive of anyone’s views besides his own. “Maybe,” he said, “Jesus just crawled or tunneled out of the tomb.” While the explanation satisfied him, his classmates responded more to the tone than the substance and linked the mystery of the empty tomb to hope. Hope is the thread that links the wonder of Passover and the celebration of Ramadan and the existence of Easter. It is woven into the fiber of human beings, a buffer against the bastion of challenges that life delivers. And it is the gift that comes just past the forgiveness offered in Jesus’ cross, which comes just past the boundless presence of the Eucharist defined in the Passover sharing.

This year, Easter and these Holy Days have taken on a whole new meaning, almost simplified, and somehow amplified by merely existing. The Triduum, celebrated like a trifecta of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday with its Easter Vigil, are avenues, pathways, mainstays in the long journey that is life. It was as if the world is invited to the Holy Thursday table, each of us invited to look clearly and cleanly at Ukraine and then acknowledge Yemen, the Cameroons, the suffering global community. To become connected to one another, to acknowledge the mutuality and the kindness that is imparted, to share a common experience, that is the nature of Passover and of the Last Supper. There is a new beginning in its promise, in Jesus’ offering of body and blood in broken bread. There is a sense of real togetherness…..and there is the humanity of Judas’ betrayal.

Good Friday is a mirror of a different sort. There is the chance to see the reality that brutality was not confined to the ancients, to realize that is visited upon one another all over the world everyday. But there is also the chance to be touched by and to impart forgiveness in its most genuine form. It is about realizing that Jesus’ sacrifice was one born of the commonality of the human story He shares with us. The elements may not be the same, but the reality of the suffering, the torture humans know at the hands of one another, is undeniable. The mind-blowing dimension of it all is the aura of forgiveness that engulfs the whole scenario. He was teaching us what to expect, to know that life is impossibly difficult but we can manage. We can make choices; we can manage; we can forgive ourselves and one another; we can manage.

It is the quiet of the tomb itself that is humbling. Every life knows loss and grief. Every life knows pain and suffering. But it is in those miraclous moments when the truth of unconditional love is revealed. Jesus could not be with Mary Magadalene, but he would never leave her. He reveals himself to her first, and then to the Apostles. There is that sustaining presence that enables us to enter into the mystery of life: loss and loneliness built on love and longing.

This Easter, we can become lost in the commercialism of a hallmark holiday or even in the strength of familial traditions. Or, we can tap into forgiveness and hope. We can remember that these Holy Days might just enable us to remember a God who never forgets or abandons us. Maybe it is really all about that unconditional love of God for His people. Happy Easter! Amplified!

Palm Sunday

Like poetry, the sky unravels the colors of decades in rich full hues traced gently over the horizon. There is an allure, an invitation, to see the difference in a world where beauty has an unrivaled space and truth triumphs over illusions and deceit. And the palms of this Sunday have found their way from replendent greens to the paler hues, still whole and flexible, and now woven into the symbol that ties it all together: the cross. Palm crosses dot the cemeteries, some tall and beribboned, others small and narrow, pinned to lesser graves. In their silence, the symbols speak loudly the simplicity of the Christian message: forgiveness.

The Gospel story shows all the fallacies of human beings, the adulation granted one moment and the mob mentality in another. Overwhelming fears. Power abused and misinformation rampant. Innocence devoured and violence demanded, finally satisfied. But there was so much more: humanity understood, accepted, and in the death of one, the chance for all.

Chronologically and gepgraphically, the story belongs to another time and place. It is aged by the images, even the language. There is so much more embedded in the palm and the branches, the Hosannas and the horror of it. The hopelessness of the crucifixion is not unaccompanied by bonding,community and love. Because the initial part of the story is the celebration of being together to celebrate Passover. There is tenderness in the moments of centuries of practice as the apostles gather with Jesus in the Upper Room, and the conversation rolls through the connections built in the past and alive in the present towards the future: betrayal and angst. The characters are personable, genuine, committed and curious, confused and uncertain, fully human. Celebration of Passover, the breaking of the bread and the institution of the Eucharist are close to overshadowed by Judas’ betrayal and human brutality and bitterness.

In the unimaginable loss of Jesus, a friend and rabbi, a leader and an anchor, those who waved the palms came to quiet, faced the human reality of incomprehensible grief. Each found the power of human reflection, building blocks to realizing the complexities of life and death: to be one among so many others, swept away by circumstance, overwhelmed by the unexpected and drowned by the suddenness. The moment made visible each one’s failings, not to those who heard the story alone, but to each of the characters themselves. It is Jesus whose simplicity in caring for his mother, in acknowledging his thirst, in naming his pain, who mirrors the suffering that life presents. And ultimately, it is how His promise is kept. His cross guarantees forgiveness to each of us, no matter the wrong or the weight, and gives us the chance to live with the certainty of a God who loves our very humanity, its discord and dissonance as well as its goodness and generosity.

His story has been updated and echoed in a thousand versions over the intervening millennia. But it stands still as a foundation for relations between and among human beings. Its very age testifies to the litany of centuries of attempts to find a perfect, narrow path to holiness and wholeness. But the truth of its legacy is so much more: the path is imperfect and far from narrow. Instead, it is wide open and free and empowering the forgiven to forgive and to live fully human and fully alive. The palm, after all, is flexible and easily woven into the symbol of the cross.


Just a week ago, humbled by the chance, I took a solitary walk along the national Seashore in Cape Cod. Waves crashed onto a storm-battered shoreline ravaged by winter’s rage. Lacy froth licked the sand and a piercing wind turned raindrops into unforgiving pellets. A singular moment on a national beach, a collective far greater than self. As a Catholic, I know that same sense of a solitary path and a uniquely collective one. Hours and days later, with time to reflect and moments to consider the mundane and the profound, the duality makes deeper sense than I ever realized.

Catholicism has been scarred by scandal in recent years. The practices of the past have been found wanting if not downright unjust in the light of a world highly attuned to equality, justice, and the sanctity and respect for life. In every country, this corporate examination of conscience has torn open wounds and illusions, exposing layers of denial and daring that compounded one costly decision after another. History, a relentless taskmaster, reveals a pattern to that; every generation bears flaws and strengths within its context and so there is an ebb and tide to the reputation of the insitution that is borne shaped by the world embracing it. There is a calculated reality to the gap between the life of the institution and the faith of the individual. There is the collective life and the personal life of a Catholic that bears comparison to that walk along the beach.

Catholicism has housed, from the very outset, the flawed and the broken, the human beings we actually are. And from the very outset, it was housed culturally and ethnically by those who chose it or were born into it. It bears distinctively unique chacacteristics in each of its incarnations, and it was never free from the foibles and flaws of those who participated in it. There are those who inspire and those who scandalize; those who unite and those who divide, those who empower and those who devour. It is an institution, as all institutiions are, immersed in the business of humanity and the mulitple persepctives and choices of those who become involved and active in its nuturance and sustain its development. They are neither angels nor gods but human beings doing the best they can with what they have. And so history records failures and faults and shortcomings, and the next generation works to revise and re-engage and improve all while being so terribly human themselves.

This is not to minimize the spiritual life of the individual, the person aware of who they are and how they are, who finds that something deeper in the liturgy or the quiet, the teachings or a devotion or the celebration of a sacrament, where the individual can find a pace, a space, to enteraitn the idea that there is a God who is other than human and so much more than any or each of us. At the heart of the human experience, there is a core belief that there is something more than who we are to this life. And so we walk, solitary, through the phases of our lives. And when the time comes, we take steps and forays into new aspects of life and experience new purpose and open to new adventures. And when the time comes, we know for sure that we are not winging our way through the human journey on our own: there is Godm and there are so many of us simply searching and discovering. We walk along the beach together because it belongs to all of us, and we celebrate the solitary singularity of that because we trust that God loves each of us.