King Lear and Paschal Triduum 2020


In the third act of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, the protagonist loses his mind almost completely. But he retains his exquisite sense of justice.

Lear speaks to the storm clouds and winds, and he pardons them for buffeting him. Then his friends hide him in a little room in a barn. Lear proceeds to set up an imaginary courtroom. He arraigns his back-stabbing daughters for their crimes. He speaks with pure justice–to a wooden stool and a farm dog.

…I took a walk in the woods the other day. Like many of us, I found myself in a Lear-like frame of mind. I came upon an adversary. Coronavirus Holy Week, 2020, personified.

Looked like this…

rock face in the woods

I began my accusations:

How dare you? Prohibit the annual Holy-Week gathering of us priests, for the renewal of our ordination promises?

I went on:

What gives you the right to keep the faithful people at home, with no one’s foot to wash in front of the altar at church, on Holy Thursday night?

And more:

Wait. We will have no Easter fire?! No procession with candles? What maim’d rites!

Then I grew most-grave, for the final accusation:

Iniquitous monster, Coronavirus Holy Week 2020, you will thwart the catechumens and candidates from receiving the Sacraments of Christian Initiation at the Easter Vigil?

He offered no defense. Did not even deny the charges. So I began to stone the offender. But then I recognized the cold fact that I was stoning a rock. Let’s face it: we all must resign ourselves to the mystery of Providence.

Lear put it like this, to the storm that rained down upon him:

Let fall your horrible pleasure. Here I stand, your slave.

Spy Wednesday


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.

Triduum Inner Circle

As we heard Sunday at Holy Mass, the high priest asked the Lord Jesus about His teachings. He responded, “Ask the people I taught. I spoke openly.”

Now, the question suggested that Jesus had conspired somehow to subvert legitimate authority. The Lord’s answer, in that light, was perfectly honest and true. Christ could hardly have been bothered to conspire against the Sanhedrin, or Herod, or Pontius Pilate, or the Emperor Tiberias, for that matter. Christ’s horizons were immeasurably higher than political conspiracies. He loved all these leaders, of course, and willed only that they, too, could share in the joy of His Kingdom. Christ was no penny-ante revolutionary conspirator.

giotto judasThat said, we know that there is another side to this. The Lord did teach His doctrine openly, without hiding anything, speaking to large crowds. But He also spoke intimately, in private, with the close circle that followed Him everywhere He went.

The Twelve were not the smartest, nor the holiest, nor the most-attractive of all the people who heard Jesus’ teaching. But they were the men who had renounced everything else in life for the sake of following Jesus to the Kingdom of God. The Twelve enjoyed an intimacy with Christ by virtue of their level of commitment to Him. Because of this intimacy, they heard things that others did not hear. They knew things about Christ that others did not know.

This explains, I think, why the Lord said that, of all those involved in inflicting His bitter Passion and death upon Him–from the Sanhedrin and their false witnesses, to Herod, to Pilate, to the centurions who scourged and crucified an innocent man just for the fun of it–among all these guilty ones, Judas had committed the most grievous sin.

Sermon_on_the_Mount_Fra_AngelicoBecause Judas had betrayed the intimacy of friendly trust with Christ.

Christ was unfathomably humble, as we know, but He was no egalitarian. The inner-circle of master and disciples was no democracy. The deal clearly was: You trust me altogether, abandoning all your own plans, all your own ideas, your own life, and I will teach you wonderful things and lead you to a glorious place. The discipline of the inner-circle was based on total faith in Christ. Doesn’t mean there wasn’t curiosity, questioning, even disagreements and arguments. We know that there were all of these things, in the inner circle. But the bottom line always was: Jesus is the Master, and the rest of us are disciples.

Judas broke away from this inner-sanctum of discipline. Let’s take a lesson and not do that. Let’s embrace the great gift of the next three days, the gift of the Sacred Triduum, for what it is: An invitation into the inner-circle of intimacy with Jesus Christ. He demands that we follow Him very closely through a confusing, mystifying maze of events. He demands that we spend an awful lot of time in church. Listening, watching, reflecting, praying. Letting go of our lives, and putting ourselves altogether in His hands.

If we obey; if we follow; if we stay inside His circle, He will fulfill in us what He promised to the original Twelve. He will teach us wonderful things and lead us to a glorious place.

Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling

Christ mandatum footwashing Holy Thursday“Fully aware that the Father had put everything into His power, …He began to wash the disciples’ feet.” (John 13:3,5)

The Father had put everything into His power, and He knew it. Jesus knew the extent of His divine power.

He holds all things in His hands. All things: Tonight. Our lives. Our pasts and our future. All fall under the sway of what Christ knew at that moment, when He rose from the table to perform the work of a slave.

Pope John Paul II used to remind the priests of the world every year: Remember that Jesus thought of you that night, when he gave the sacrament to the Apostles. He chose you, at that moment, to be His priest. The plan according to which you would one day have the privilege of celebrating Mass—He held that plan in His mind at that moment.

Same thing goes for all of us Christians. How is it that we find ourselves at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, sharing in the gift of communion in the Redeemer’s holy Body and Blood? How did it come to pass that we would come together tonight, to rest our souls on the bedrock of holy truth, the fundamental mysteries of our faith? It has come to pass because He conceived it all–conceived us in our places at church–in His beautiful Messianic mind, when He first said, “Take this, all of you…”

The Father had put everything into His power. Awesome: the omniscience, the omnipotence of the God-man.

But there is something even more indescribably awesome, something even more awesomely powerful, than Christ’s divine foreknowledge or His divine Providence. The most breathtakingly powerful thing of all is that He proceeded to minister unto them as if He were their slave.

Continue reading “Omniscience Forgetting; Omnipotence Kneeling”

Come, O Sacred Days

The most sacred days of the year are upon us, the days of the sacrifice of Christ.

The Lord never takes a day off from us, of course. But we have a tendency to take days off from Him.

So, in His mercy, God gives us the holy days to draw us back to Him. During Holy Week the Lord reaches down from heaven and grabs the cosmic remote and turns off the stupid t.v. that fills our heads with noisy nonsense.

Then He brings His people and His priests together in church. On Monday evening, the priests of the diocese were together with the Bishop in the cathedral. Tomorrow evening, the Sacred Triduum will begin, with God’s priests and His people together, in church.

Because of God’s love, we can say—we priests—we can honestly say: Being in church on the holy days is the most important thing in our lives. We can honestly say—not because we are particularly heroic guys, but simply because of Christ’s love: We would sooner die than let Holy Week pass without celebrating the sacred rites.

Let’s just say hypothetically: If the powers of the world tried to lay down a law that made celebrating Mass on Holy Thursday a capital crime, you would find us priests in church anyway. What else would we do? Are we going to spend Holy Thursday evening relaxing, watching a George Clooney movie on DVD and throwing back some popcorn? No.

All this is a gift from God; the holy days are a gift from God. Why does He do this for us? Why does He renew the world with His goodness every year during Holy Week–without fail, year after year, century after century? Why does He call men to His priesthood in every generation, in an unbroken march down the ages? Why does He feed us with His Body and Blood at the holy altar whenever we come to Him?

He does it now for the same reason that He did it in the first place, in the first Holy Week: Because He loves us. He loves us with an ardor that cannot and will not be thwarted. The passing of time does not diminish the intensity of divine love.

So the same goes for you: What else are you going to do, other than keep the holy days in faithful prayer? Are you going to spend Good Friday lounging in a recliner and saying to yourself, “Who cares about God? Who cares about my neighbor? All I want to do is watch t.v.” No.

Even if the powers of the world tried to make it illegal to love Christ and your neighbor, you would do it anyway. You would sooner go to jail or die than pretend that Christ the King of love is not the Lord.

Praise God. Let’s let the Lord hush us down, so that we can keep the great feast.

Debt Relief

I remember using the Lubyanka Metro station in Moscow when I visited the Soviet Union in 1983.

It is the closest station to Red Square. May the poor people who died there on Monday rest in peace…

…Some people have debts that they will never be able to repay. Terrifying to contemplate: I owe more than I will ever be able to earn. I cannot provide for my family. We are in a hole we can’t get out of.

Entrance to Lubyanka Metro Station, Moscow

But there is something a hopeless debtor can do: Get a lawyer and go to a bankruptcy judge.

In the clear light of a thorough reckoning, everyone acknowledges that the debts are hopeless. The debtor agrees to a feasible payment plan. Life becomes much more austere–no luxuries, humiliating oversight–but at least the cloud of hopeless debt is gone.

This is us, people.

We owe God a debt we could never repay. How can we make up for even a single sin? He is perfect, loving–our gentle Father. To displease Him for an instant is more than we could make up for in a lifetime.

We are bankrupt before God. The human race needs debt relief.

Let’s go to the Judge. Let’s get on our knees before the altar and the mysteries of the Sacred Triduum. Let’s beg God for a feasible payment plan.

Christ will pay off all our debts and give us an austere, humble way to redeem the rest of our lives on earth.