Holy Week Movies + Chris O’Leary

If Jesus Christ can do what He did, entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to a certain and known fate, then I can do this.

–Chris O’Leary, priest sex-abuse survivor and podcaster

Passion of the Christ Today you will be with me

Many of us Catholics have the annual ritual of watching The Passion of the Christ during Holy Week.

Mel Gibson said that he made his movie as a cinematic Stations of the Cross. Some Jews have taken offense at Gibson’s depiction of the high priests, especially the way the movie connects them with Satan. Also, Gibson included numerous allusions to Anne Catherine Emmerich’s visions of the Passion. I don’t think that aspect of the movie has aged well; it makes some scenes needlessly difficult to understand.

We can recognize the movie’s shortcomings, though, and still appreciate it as an aid to our devotion. After I saw the movie for the first time, in Lent 2004, I spent hours on my knees. During my teens and twenties, I meditated on the Passion over and over and over again–and still I had to reproach myself for how abysmally I had failed to do it justice. The movie left me overwhelmed with gratitude and love.

Some Christians find Gibson’s movie too violent to watch. Who can blame them? I nearly faint every time I watch it.

But The Passion is certainly not more violent than the reality. They really did practically beat and scourge Him to death, before they made Him carry the 165-pound cross and then nailed Him to it. Death by crucifixion involved physical sufferings we can hardly even begin to imagine.

The movie also captures the pivotal moment of the Passion as well as any work of art I have ever seen.

“Are you the Messiah?” (Jim Caviezel deserved an Oscar just for the way he used his one open eye in this one scene.)

Now, allow me humbly to suggest: our Holy Week routine also ought to include watching a second movie. Spotlight. The cinematic account of the Boston-Globe investigation into the sex-abuse cover-up in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Mel Gibson gave us a gift. So did the Boston Globe, and the movie-makers who depicted the journalists’ work. Seems to me like the honest Catholic, trying to keep Holy Week in AD 2021, should meditate carefully on all the reality depicted in both movies.

…Speaking of keeping reality firmly in mind: Mr. Chris O’Leary has also given us a great, great gift. His podcast series, Sacrificed. (He also kindly publishes the text, if you prefer to read, rather than listen.)

Call me grandiose to say this, but I know it to be true: Someday we will look back at this period in Church history in which we now live (hopefully, please God, from heaven), and Chris O’Leary’s Sacrificed will stand out as the most honest and insightful document that any of us have produced.

Listening to Chris tell his story–and I hope he doesn’t mind me calling him Chris–is like watching The Passion, only more painful and more real.

Sacrificed Chris O'Leary

As ‘cover art,’ Chris has a picture of himself outside the cathedral, taken by a photo-journalist. He is being shunned by a line of concelebrating priests. The occasion was the “Mass of Reparation,” after the Pennsylvania grand-jury report came out in 2018.

The priests were there to reckon with the reality of sexual abuse by clergy. And there was a survivor, holding photos of himself with the priest who had abused him. They all ignored him. The Archbishop ignored him.

I had Chris in mind when we went to our cathedral for the Chrism Mass last year. We received the same treatment.

There we were, at the annual Mass dedicated to the communion of priests and people with the bishop. I had been unjustly suspended from ministry for publishing this blog, and our parishes had been deeply wounded. We stood outside the cathedral.

The bishop and concelebrating priests ignored us. (Two priests came to shake my hand, for which I remain grateful. Otherwise: ignored.)

Richmond Cathedral WRIC screenshot2

At this time of year, many Catholics return to the Church. Holy Mother Church endures everything, and remains there for us to come back to.

That has always been the most deeply gratifying thing for me, as a priest: to be a part of that, to represent the Mother who is always there for everyone to come back to, including all us poor prodigals who have wandered far, far away. To represent the place where God opens His merciful door to His children.

Who preaches this Gospel these days, with the most eloquence? Not the higher clergy, to be sure. They seem only to know how to isolate the Church from the world, making our community look like some kind of indefensible cult.

No, the evangelical heroes of our day are the dogged alter Christuses who have suffered in the flesh with Jesus, and have lived to tell their tale.

Mr. Chris O’Leary and Co. The survivors.

 

Spy Wednesday

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We read at Holy Mass today: The disciples did as Jesus had ordered and prepared the Passover. (Matthew 26:19)

If you looked up at the sky last night, you certainly noticed a bright full moon. The Passover moon. The Easter moon.

A comforting sight, perhaps. The moon serenely does her business, unaffected by our struggles here below. She accompanies us with firmness and constancy in her cycle. Unlike “the heartache and the ten thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” here below, as Hamlet put it.

It is one of the central and most profoundly comforting ideas or our Christian faith. God does not depend on us. He does not depend on the competence of the World Health Organization, or the nations’ heads of state. God depends solely on Himself; He alone possesses genuine ‘independence.’ Whether or not He ever made an earth, or a moon, or a universe, He would dwell in eternal beatitude, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He transcends all, and He acts with all-powerful, totally generous love.

Jesus ordered the disciples to prepare the Passover. We will obey. This year will go a little differently. We will obey in our own particular spaces.

Kyle O'Connor

Here at church we will prepare everything, so that we can pray together the Liturgy of the Paschal Triduum. We will undertake the livestream video, as the data highway of the internet allows.

Meanwhile: Prepare a place in your home. Find the readings, get them ready. Prepare some candles and a crucifix. Schedule your time. [Our local schedule is: 7pm tomorrow: the Mass of the Lord’s Supper. 3pm Friday, Stations of the Cross. 7pm Friday, the Celebration of the Passion. 8pm Saturday, the Easter Vigil. Then 11:15am Sunday morning, too.]

Let’s make lemonade out of these lemons. I had a dear friend years ago in Maryland who had a house completely full of religious images—statues, paintings. His daughter brought her boyfriend home from college for Thanksgiving. When they got to the door, she warned him: ‘Listen, my parents are wonderful people, but just prepare yourself. When you walk in, it’s going to be kinda like a church.’

Here in our humble part of the world, we will have a special guest with us for the Triduum. Father Kyle O’Connor. You may remember him as our seminarian here in the summer of 2013. He will preach tomorrow evening.

Somebody Save Us!

 

Last year, on Monday of Holy Week, Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned. Seemed like one of the worst things imaginable, at the time…

In today’s gospel reading at Mass, we hear the Lord Jesus say: “You do not always have Me with you.” (John 12:8)

God walked the earth, as a man. When He finished His work here, He ascended bodily into heaven. We have Him with us now by faith. By the faith of His Church, Jesus Christ abides on earth.

Seems like the world looks for someone to rescue it right now. It’s a desperate mess. Widespread anxiety. What will become of us? What’s the truth about what’s going on? What’s the meaning of it all? Who will provide for us? Who will save us? We need a savior, for God’s sake!

We have one. We have one.

Fellow Christians: Our moment has arrived. Our moment to believe in Jesus Christ. To believe, with everything we have. Our moment to study Him intimately. To beg Him: unite us with Yourself, Lord!

The world needs her Savior now more than ever. Literally now more than ever. The human race has never, in the history of time, experienced such a unified need for the Savior, as we do right now. Today. Now.

Jesus Christ abides on earth by the faith of the Christian Church. Seems like a huge burden for us Christians, maybe. But that’s the way God has willed to do this salvation thing.

We must believe. We must believe, today, in God crucified for us. Like thermonuclear bombs of Christian faith, exploding inside our little homes, irradiating the whole world, from the tiny corners where we find ourselves.

We have a Savior. Jesus of Nazareth.

Little Homily for Virtual Palm Procession

jerusalem2
2008 called, with a photo of me from the top of the Mount of Olives

Sometimes technology works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we get to gather at our favorite spots. Sometimes we have to shelter in place. [Spanish]

God gazes with love upon us, always. When we pray to Him, we unite.

Holy Week means going to Jerusalem, spiritually. We couldn’t go there physically right now, even if we wanted to. They’re sheltering-in-place there, too. Lord Jesus rode the donkey down the Mount of Olives and across the Kidron Valley, surrounded by crowds shouting with joy. But that pathway lies in silence now.

Look: prayer always was the way, after all. Not to get too heavy, but: Let’s face it. We all must go to meet God one day, and each of us will go alone. No spouse, no parent or child, no priest or counselor goes along.

You or I could kneel beside the same person in church for decades, talk through every sports’ season after Mass, through dozens of Final Fours and World Series. And one could wind up in heaven, the other in hell.

Standing next to each other is nice; smiling, shaking hands, chatting. Nice. But prayer alone truly unites. Prayer in Christ. The Savior Who entered Jerusalem to hosannas from everyone, then days later died alone on His cross, having given His mother to His beloved disciple.

He unites. Christ. And He wills to unite us now, too.

It’s our choice. Do we go with Him now, down this path that leads to Calvary? If we do, then this can be the holiest Holy Week ever.

Keeping Ourselves Busy

the_holy_trinity

You might wonder: What are they doing, up at church? Father, the staff, the volunteers? Just sitting around?

Four things:

1. We’re trying to keep us all connected, as best we can. Using the computer and telephone. May the good Lord reward everyone for working hard on that.

2. We’re trying to figure out how to survive financially. We have a long way to go there. If you can, please send your offering via U.S. mail. Or drop it in the basket when you stop by the church to visit the Blessed Sacrament, on your way to get groceries. Or you can use offertory.richmonddiocese.org to give on-line.

3. The diocese throws a lot of crisis-related e-mails and webinars at us. That eats up about 75, 80, 90, 100 hours a week. 🙂 So we have to spread that workload among multiple staff members.

4. Even in the midst of this crisis, I try to stick to my main job. Which is the same main job we all have. Contemplating the divine and eternal Trinity.

In the gospel reading at Holy Mass today, we hear Jesus declare Himself to be the one whom the Father has consecrated and sent into the world.

Now, we are monotheists. Like the ancient Israelites, and like intellectually consistent people of any nation. A greater mind, a greater power than us, reigns over us. We cannot conceive Him with our limited brains. He is one, all-knowing, and omnipotent.

In fact, we would know nothing about God, other than that He exists–had He not revealed something about Himself. Monotheism is not, in and of itself, comforting. Rather, it can leave us facing a meaningless abyss in times like these.

But the one and only Almighty God has revealed Himself. He consecrated and sent His only-begotten Son.

The gospels record the facts of Jesus’ Passion, death, and resurrection. We celebrate these facts as a Church at every Holy Mass, but especially during the Sacred Triduum of Holy Week. The ancient Fathers of the Church, who gave us the orthodox expression of our faith: they guide us into the mystery revealed in the facts reported from ancient Jerusalem.

Those facts reveal the Trinity. The eternal divine love, unfolding before our eyes. The eternal divine love, drawing us into the holy embrace, drawing the whole world into it.

The Father has loved the Son, and the Son the Father, in the Holy Spirit, from before all the ages, and unto all the ages and beyond. The divine Trinity has one eternal thought, one eternal will: to love. That thought, that will, made the heavens and the earth out of nothing.

And when the cosmos fell away in angelic and human sin, the triune God continued to think, to will: only love. The eternal plan to bring good out of evil unfolded, and God reconciled the fallen back to holiness. By the human death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate eternal Word.

PS. Here’s yesterday’s sermon on video, if you enjoy watching goofballs read from their phones. (We’re out of toner.)

Holy Week in Isolation

Palm Sunday arrives in six days. It reminds me: ten years ago, I wrote a little meditation, imagining something:

candleWhat if the Church possessed only one ceremony, which occurred just once a year? Namely, the lighting of the Easter candle. What if lighting the Easter candle was the entire Sacred Liturgy of the Church?

Would we persevere in faith, hoping for heaven? With just that one support?

In my little essay, I opined that we would.

I merely hypothesized, of course. I meant only to emphasize the stunning beauty and significance of the lighting of the candle. We believe He rose from the dead. We light the candle to proclaim that faith. The Light of Christ conquers all darkness.

Now we have to live with something which oddly and painfully resembles my purely theoretical consideration of a decade ago. We will have to celebrate Holy Week without coming together.

It’s like running a football play as complicated as this:

football reverse diagram

with only one player. Tossing the ball to yourself in the backfield, twice, then blocking for yourself downfield.

But guess what? We will. We will keep Christ’s Passover, even under the current circumstances.

I will bless palms. A couple co-workers and I will stand outside church at the normal Mass times and hand a palm to anyone who drives by and wants one.

And we will celebrate the ceremonies of Holy Week and try to “livestream” it all. By “we,” I mean: me, the seminarians (if they return from Richmond), our organist/pianist, and a reader or two.

Church will remain open on Holy Thursday night (April 9th) for visits to the Blessed Sacrament. And open on Good Friday night, too, for visits to the Holy Cross. And open Holy Saturday night. For visits to the lit Easter candle.

And the church doors will remain unlocked Easter Sunday morning, also, for visits to the Blessed Sacrament, with the Easter candle lit. Click HERE to read the whole local schedule.

[Advisory. All these best-laid plans of mice and men remain subject to change, should more-restrictive orders be given by the authorities.]

We will persevere in faith, my dear ones. His light shines.

Such is the wonder of His love: He gathers to the feast those who are far apart, and brings together, in unity of faith, those who may be physically separated from each other. –from an Easter letter by St. Athanasius, sixteen centuries ago.

Chrism Mass on the Titanic

Titanic

Here is My servant, upon Whom I have put my Spirit. (Isaiah 42:1)

Mary of Bethany anointed Him. He pointed out: It’s for My burial.

“Christ” means… same as “Messiah”… Anointed. Almighty God put His Spirit on this man. Mary of Bethany anointed Him at the beginning of Holy Week, for burial. But the triune God anointed the Christ at the moment of His conception in His mother Mary’s womb. Jesus always was, and always will be, The Christ.

All Christians revere Holy Week and keep it sacred. But of course it is especially sacred for us priests. The Lord drew us intimately into His work of salvation by choosing all of us, as He sat at table with His Apostles. And gave the world the Holy Mass.

All Christians receive the anointing of the Spirit in Baptism and Confirmation. But we priests have also received an anointing on our hands. We have to use our minds and our voices to do our work, to be sure. But also: the hands. To hold the Host and Chalice.

Do not let your hearts be trouble Passion of the ChristIn our Liturgy, the symbol of the heavenly anointing is an oil called… Sacred Chrism. Every Holy Week, we priests concelebrate Mass with our bishop to consecrate new Chrism for the year to come.

Baptized babies will receive anointing with the Chrism on the crowns of their heads. Christians ready to spread the reign of Christ will receive anointing with the Chrism on their foreheads. And the priests to be ordained in June will receive anointing with it on their hands.

Now, one hundred seven years ago today, the Titanic sank. Last year, Holy Mother Church struck an iceberg. And by all worldly estimations, She’s going down.

I never thought I would walk into the cathedral for a Chrism Mass, with the reasonable man in the back of my head thinking: Dude, you’re like one of those violinists on the deck of the Titanic.

But here I go, up the road to Richmond, knowing full well what all reasonable observers know, during Holy Week 2019: Holy Mother Church is sinking. And the men on the bridge have no idea how to save the ship.

But we have more than worldly estimations to consider in this Church. We have Jesus, the Christ.

Judas the Petty Thief

Thirty pieces of silver. How much value did those coins have? A safe estimate: $3,000.

A lot to have in your pocket at any given moment. But not much if you think long-term. We read in Scripture that Judas was a thief. But not a grand larcenist. A petty thief.

Did Judas ever really believe in Jesus? How could he not have? He traveled as one of the Lord’s intimate companions for years. He underwent the hardships of their itinerant life together. And Judas saw with his own eyes the wonders Jesus had worked. Healings, exorcisms, feeding the multitude, raising the dead. Judas must have believed, at least for a time, that Jesus is the saving Christ. At the Last Supper, Christ made Judas one of the original priests.

giotto judasBut at some point Judas had lost his faith. He stopped trusting in Jesus’ promises.

Let’s try to sympathize. Judas found himself confronted with a stark either/or, similar to the choice faced by the high priests at Jesus’ trial. Judas had to believe that this man was indeed the diving King of the universe, the Lord of Israel—even though he had no military plans and no apparent thought of any kind of political maneuvers whatsoever. Judas had to believe this man when He consecrated bread and wine as the new Passover sacrament, saying “This is My Body and Blood.”

Christ had drawn Judas so close that the petty larcenist did not have his usual recourse to half-measures. He couldn’t wait and see anymore. He either had to accept that this pilgrimage to Jerusalem would unfold as only the Master could foresee, with a goal that only the Master understood—that is, Judas had to walk beside Christ with total faith—or Judas had to bolt, start over, walk off—with as much cash in his pocket as he could lay his hands on.

Judas made the wrong choice. Yes, Christ demanded total faith during the last Passover pilgrimage to the holy city. But why wouldn’t we trust in Him like that? Why wouldn’t we let Him lead us through the dark mystery of death? Does it make more sense to walk away from this rabbi? Hardly.

Let’s choose to believe, and stay close, and accompany the Christ to the end.

Christ Going Alone

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Where I am going you cannot come. (John 13:33 and 36)

Lord Jesus said this at least four times. Where is the Lord going, anyway? Up to Jerusalem for the Passover feast? Yes. But He did not go alone on that pilgrimage; many Jews accompanied Him.

Up to the Upper Room for the Last Supper? Or up to the Mount of Olives to pray? He had fewer companions in those places. But, again, He did not go alone. He had company—His Apostles.

But then even His friends abandoned Him and left Him alone.

Lord Jesus went before the Sanhedrin, and before Pontius Pilate, alone, with no human advocate. And of course He spread out His arms on His cross alone.

Only the Christ, only the divine Lamb, could offer the sacrifice that restores justice to creation. And only the new Adam could go to the realm of the dead and liberate the ancient souls who awaited Him. And only the omnipotent Creator could rise from death in a human body with such power and life that no force of nature could ever drag Him back into the grave again.

No one can accompany Christ into the inner heart of the Paschal Mystery.

But, as He said to the Apostles, we can do His will now by loving Him and each other. And, as He said to St. Peter, we can follow Him to heaven later.

The Week to Come

giotto palm sunday entry

This coming week, all the Christians of the world go on a kind of journey. Lord Jesus traveled to Jerusalem, and we do, too. Why? Because we believe in Him, and next week we keep the anniversary of His death and resurrection.

This coming Sunday, when the Lord entered the holy city on a donkey, and the people greeted Him as the Messiah—what’s this Sunday called?

Palm Sunday is a fun day at church, and it’s a hard day at church. Fun because we hold palm branches like the people in Jerusalem did. Hard because on Palm Sunday we read the account of Jesus’ Passion.

This is what it means to believe in Him: that we stand ready to accompany Him through all the pain, strife, and sadness of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. His pain, strife, and sadness is our pain, strife, and sadness. Also: We see in Christ’s face the strength, serenity, and confidence He received from the Father. Jesus’ strength, serenity, and confidence during His bitter Passion is our strength, serenity, and confidence.

God is not some vague, faraway thing. God is Jesus Christ, united with His Father in the Holy Spirit. We meet our God, and know Him, and receive His love, in the gritty details of Jesus’ Passion. All the things that we read about and remember during Holy Week—all these things happened. When they happened, Almighty God taught us the truth about Himself and gave us the gift of His love.

Going to Jerusalem with Jesus for Holy Week is not easy. But we could never imagine being anywhere else. When we keep this most-sacred anniversary, we find God, and He finds us. If we want the answers to all our questions about life; if we want to know what springtime really means; if we want the peace and true joy of friendship with our Maker—we go with Jesus to Jerusalem for Holy Week.