Good News

As I was heading out of church, I knew.

I am healed.

Stained-glass window, Holy Spirit, churchIt didn’t come like a bolt out of the blue or a disembodied voice, or like some televangelist with his palm on my forehead saying the words.  I just knew.  After Mass and some friendly conversations, somewhere between my mental genuflection before the Tabernacle and crossing the threshold out into the world, my worries and prayers concerning whether or not I have cancer had an answer – I am healed.

And I was filled with a light, clear brightness like a many colored stained-glass window radiant with sunlight.  I don’t want to say that this was merely a pleasant feeling, for it was more of a deep-down knowledge.  Later, as I prayed the Glorious Mysteries of the Holy Rosary at home, I again experienced the awareness and was brought to tears of joy.

Even when I thought about how healing has different meanings, that this knowledge of mine might not mean that my uterine fibroids are benign, I still had a sense of peace.  I knew that I was healed and that meant something.  Maybe it meant that I was healed of my fears and my wariness of hope.  Maybe it meant that I would have a peaceful, joyful, and impactful transition into the next life.  I didn’t know for certain.  I just knew that I was healed. Continue reading

Christmas Cycle

One Christmas Eve, after placing a small figure of baby Jesus in its resin manger at our house, my then 4 or 5-year-old nephew asked, “But… is he… alive?”  So much was said in his look of perplexity and disbelief – If Christmas is Jesus’s birthday, then where is he?  Shouldn’t he be growing up by now?  Also… if he was born 2000 years ago… then, maybe he should be dead – right?  Then why do we act like he’s a little newborn baby?  What is this weirdness???

Nativity scene, Christmas, Jesus in manger

Of course, there is something to be said about the Eternal Now, as well as our preparation for the Second Coming of the Lord – but that something is said in other places, I’m sure, with more scholarly expertise.  What I want to reflect upon in this post is the beauty and power of the newness of our celebrations – every single year. Continue reading

Womb to Tomb: Celebrating Pascha 2016

This year, we are commemorating the day of Christ’s death on the same day that we commemorate his birth. A little weird, but wonderful – and not accidental. First, a little history… then Mystery…

Origin of “Easter”

English speakers use the word “Easter” in reference to the Most Holy Day in Christianity. Most other languages, however, use words rooted in the Hebrew word for Passover, “pesach”, as the ancient Christians used the Greek word, “pascha” for the Holy Triduum of Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and the Solemnity of Our Lord’s Resurrection[1]. We are celebrating the Paschal Mystery, after all! This is Christ’s “passing over”; he is the Paschal Lamb sacrificed for us – and risen to glory. The friends and familial loved ones of Jesus celebrated his Resurrection on every Sunday and, as the number of disciples of Jesus grew (and grows) this tradition continues. Within the first two centuries, however, Christians began wanting to celebrate the Passion, Death, and Resurrection with especially great festivity and joy once each year. So, the question became, On what date should we celebrate the Pascha?

Calendar Calculations

The key, ancient Christian scholars and leaders believed, was in determining the original date on which Jesus died. Although you might think this would be easy because of the biblical accounts… well, it wasn’t. Finding equivalents in the different solar calendars that Christians used for the days of Nisan in the ancient Jewish lunar calendar, was, let’s just say challenging. (For more on the history, see footnotes[2].) Anyway, in the course of these calculations, ancient Christians also sought to determine dates for celebrating Christ’s birth and conception, and other holy days, always keeping the Pascha as the base, the heart.

Incarnation and Sacrifice

Eastern Christian calculations came up with a date for when Jesus died upon the cross, a date equivalent to April 6, while Western calculations determined that Jesus died on the date equivalent to March 25. In choosing times to commemorate other Mysteries of Christ’s life, including Christmas, ancient Christians, both East and West, seemed to want to give a roundness, or fullness, to his life[3], and, so, chose the day of his conception in his virgin mother’s womb to coincide with the day of his death and burial in a tomb. Beautiful.

Truth and Beauty

We humans have a tendency to get caught up in technical details, calculations, charts, even dates themselves. Scholarly debates still abound on the history of date choosing and calculated dates still differ. But, Jesus did not die upon a cross for the glory of our digital ruminations. He died so that his blood, shed in divine love and mercy, could wash us clean of our sins – and that is something that we are not going to grasp with the math portion of our brains. Jesus came, Jesus comes, to reach the unique and transcendent connections of our minds, to speak to our hearts.

The “calendar date” is not what’s important. What’s important, what’s of earthshaking and ego-shattering importance, is that Christ Jesus is God Incarnate, that he was (is) truly human and truly divine, and that he died for love of us – and rose from the dead so that death will never be the end for any human being. This is why the name of Jesus is above all other names, this is why true Christians willingly sacrifice out of love for God and neighbor, this is why we are a people of hope and joy.

Yet, the dates in the Liturgical Calendar are not without rich significance. The Church lays out the Holy Days for our hearts and minds, so that, throughout the months and seasons, we may enter into the Mysteries of Christ and live intimately with him all year. There is truth in the content of the Holy Days and beauty in the context of their timing. Saint Augustine expresses this reality exquisitely:

For He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also He suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which He was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which He was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before nor since.[4]

Ponder This

Beautiful timing is befalling us this year and it is something highly worth reflecting upon …. In the Year of Our Lord 2016, we are called to commemorate both when Christ died and when Christ was conceived on the very same day!

Yes, the Annunciation coincides with Good Friday this year, as ancient Christians in the West believed that it should. Mark it and marvel. The thought gives me a beautiful sense of awe. And that sense deepens when I look upon my local church’s statues of both the Blessed Mother and Jesus on the Cross covered over for Passiontide, wrapped in veils, hidden from our eyes… Mary conceived Jesus as she was overshadowed, covered over, by the Power of the Most High… and, when her son, the Son of God, died on the cross, darkness covered the sky and his body was enshrouded and sealed in a tomb… waiting for revelation to the world…

I gaze upon the veiled statue and I can almost see Mary’s belly pulse and ripple beneath the purple cloth …

veiled Mary copyright

And as I gaze upon the veiled crucifix, I can almost see Christ, wrapped in his burial shroud, the cloth starting to move as his chest suddenly rises with the returned breath of life…

 veiled Jesus copyright

Awaiting the revelation of what is hidden from our sight, we mourn, we hope, we celebrate…

Happy Pascha!

 

© 2016 Christina Chase

Photo credit: Dan Chase, inside St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, Suncook, NH


[1] See Religion Facts: Easter

[2] the calendar used by Jews in the first century was lunar, with an extra month thrown in once in a while by the will of the Sanhedrin to keep it in line with the natural seasons. Christians used solar calendars, but there were many different calendars, with different months and dates. See: Catholic Encyclopedia: Easter

[3] in-depth exploration of “integral age” of Prophets with a Jewish source here at National Catholic Register ; Also see : William Tighe’s article   Passover to Easter and Calculating Christmas

[4] Saint Augustine. See: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf103.iv.i.vi.vi.html

The Human LORD

If you knew you were going to die, what would you do on your last day?

The liturgy of Holy Thursday begins the holiest part of Holy Week, the Easter Triduum. On this day, we commemorate the Last Supper and also the institution of the Priesthood – and we could just pass over it (no pun intended) as something only religious people care about. But, Jesus is not just a “religious” figure. Being fully human, he had family and friends, personality and appetites. He worked for a living and his muscles got sore as he built things with his own hands. There were people whose company he enjoyed particularly – and foods and times of day and songs and stories that he liked particularly, as well. And then came the day when he knew it was all going to end.

What would you do on your last day on earth?

Being also fully divine, Jesus knew he was going to be killed in a cruel and horribly agonizing way. On the evening before his death, he gathered with his friends and shared a meal with them – his last meal. When he broke the bread and passed the cup of wine, he told them that it was his body and blood given up and poured forth for salvation, and that they were to eat and drink of his body and blood in continuing re-presentation, or remembrance. And his friends were confused and perplexed. After supper, he, whom they called Master, tenderly washed their feet – and they didn’t really know why, although he tried to explain that he was leaving them an example of service and love. All evening, he shared his hopes with his friends, gave them words of advice and encouragement, all the while knowing that they had no idea what he was about to go through. Even when he tried to tell them, they didn’t get it.

Jesus knew he would have to go through the pending ordeal and horror of arrest, torture, and crucifixion without his loved ones’ understanding or support. But… he was willing to go through it anyway for their sake – even for the sake of the friend who would betray him, even for the very people who would seize, torture, and kill him. Despite it being difficult for his loved ones to grasp, Jesus knew that the immensity of his pain and suffering was for their good, for the good of every human being on his beloved earth. Yet, he, very human, was in dread of going through it.

Later that night, Jesus, agonizing, sweat tears of blood, alone. But, he did not run away.

What would you do? (What would I do…?)

Christina Chase