“Give me liberty or give me death!” With these notable words articulated in a 1775 speech, Patrick Henry expressed the immense desire he possessed for freedom. This statement summed up the plea that ultimately impelled the Virginia House of Burgesses to mobilize for military action. A few weeks later, the American Revolution marked the beginning of the intense struggle in which thirteen of Great Britain’s North American colonies eventually obtained their independence. Today, the 4th of July celebrates the United States of America’s Day of Independence as it recalls when this country declared its independence from Great Britain. Freedom is a value of great importance. Having the ability to enjoy political autonomy and to do what one pleases at will is treasured by the citizens of a nation that enjoys being a free society. Who does not cherish the power to exercise the faculty of choice in political, social, and financial matters? Nevertheless, the notions that some of us have about the essence of freedom are at times faulty or misguided.
If we desire to see improvement as Christian leaders today, we need to return to the Old Testament. Several of its books will challenge us to revisit our notions about leadership. Let’s turn to the book of Exodus, which narrates the Hebrews’ experience of enslavement in Egypt. It was amid this era that Moses was born and that he went into exile for killing an Egyptian. Sometime later, Moses encountered God in a burning bush, discovered God’s plan to save Israel, and learned God’s name. The LORD God elected him to liberate and save Israel.
When we reflect on Moses’ leadership, we naturally think about ancient Israel’s freedom. Truly, there is a deficiency in a kind of leadership today among Christian leaders that the Exodus event suggests with urgency. Today, we need to cultivate among those in the Christian ministry field and within our parishes a Mosaic leadership that is capable of freeing and liberating our brothers and sisters from their sinful circumstances and from the oppressive structures that surround them. Indeed, true leadership frees people, empowers them to grow, and facilitates their social and spiritual advancement.
I remember a time when I desperately wanted to share a humorous story with a good friend of mine about something that had just transpired at work. A few days later, I had the opportunity to tell him what occurred and attempted as much as possible to hold back my laughter as the story progressed. Finally, when I arrived at the punch line and concluded the story, I bursted out laughing. As I laughed for about a minute, I glanced at my friend and noticed that he was not. He looked at me strangely and said, “I don’t get it. Why is this so funny to you?” I responded, “You really don’t get it? Don’t you have a sense of humor?” And he replied, “I do, but I do not know why this story is so funny to you. I guess I just had to be there to appreciate it.”
Blessed Are Those Who Believe
It is difficult for someone to treasure an experience that happened if he or she was not there to personally observe and undergo it. For this reason, Thomas the Apostle did not believe the other apostles when they said, “We have seen the Lord.” (Jn 20:25) He doubted. Similarly, many of us have doubted God’s presence. Thomas’ response, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” is analogous to a popular saying that many people use today, particularly in the United States: “I have to see it to believe it.” Sadly, there are many Catholics and non-Catholics alike that still say this today regarding the presence of God. Many still are reluctant to believe God is present because they cannot see Him. Some continue to say that they have to see God to believe in God.
Thomas the Apostle distrusted the apostles’ testimony. However, Jesus visited them a week later when Thomas was with them. Upon seeing Jesus and hearing Him say, “Put your finger here [Thomas] and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe,” (Jn 20:27) Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus then said, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” (Jn 20:29) These last words of Jesus ring especially true when we speak about the Church’s teaching on the Holy Eucharist.
Sacred Scripture tells us that while meeting with His disciples, our Lord Jesus Christ instructed them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for “the promise of the Father about which [they had] heard [him] speak…” He also informed them, “you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:4, 8) It should not surprise us that Jesus gave such a specific command. His first departure following His passion and crucifixion caused at least two of His disciples to leave the main group of Apostles in Jerusalem. Christ’s conversation with the disciples heading to Emmaus reveals how temptations of doubt, disillusion, depression, and discouragement can grow exponentially when disciples of Christ separate themselves from the gathered community of Faith.
On that occasion of the Ascension, Jesus instructed them to remain in Jerusalem and to wait for the Holy Spirit’s power to descend upon them. This was necessary given that the Spirit of God is the primordial witness of the Son of God’s life and mission. Indeed, the Holy Spirit accompanied Jesus Christ at all times from the moment of His conception until He ascended into Heaven; they shared in the same mission of salvation. Hence, the Spirit of God will descend upon Christ’s disciples to empower them for a divine purpose.
We know how tough departures can be. Saying “so long” or “farewell” to a loved one whom we may not see again can sometimes be a bittersweet, melancholic, heartbreaking, or even traumatic experience. These last adieus are certainly ingrained in our memory and our loved ones’ final words and actions become treasurable and unforgettable.
These experiences allow us to relate to the early disciples’ difficulty in saying goodbye to our Lord. When the appropriate time arrived, Jesus said to them, “I did not tell you this from the beginning, because I was with you. But now I am going to the one who sent me, and not one of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I told you this, grief has filled your hearts. But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” (John 16:4b-7) The thought of Jesus departing to return to His Heavenly Father filled the disciples with misery and mourning even after He emphasized its necessity…
“We ourselves are proclaiming this good news to you that what God promised our ancestors He has brought to fulfillment for us, [their] children, by raising up Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33a) Saint Paul the Apostle preached these powerful words as he addressed his fellow Israelites and others in the Synagogue at Antioch. His speech was passionate, his faith was robust, and his surrender was inspiring. Jesus Christ is risen and his conviction in Christ’s resurrection was unshakable.
Saint Paul’s encounter with the Risen Christ on his way to Damascus formed an integral part of his conviction in Jesus’ resurrection. Prior to this conversion experience, he, Saul of Tarsus, was a fierce persecutor of anyone who was a disciple of the Lord. He traveled with the intention of hunting down as many followers of the Way as possible at Damascus and bringing them back to Jerusalem as prisoners.
However, the Risen Lord manifested Himself to Saul in a flash of light from the sky as he was arriving at Damascus and questioned his persecuting spirit. The suddenly blind Saul rose from the ground and ultimately arrived at the house of a man named Judas. For at least three days, he prayed to the Risen Lord, who revealed that Ananias the disciple would pray for him to regain his sight. When Ananias finally arrived, Paul encountered the power of God, regained his sight, was baptized, and was filled with the Spirit of the Risen Lord.
On Palm Sunday, the Catholic Church celebrates the day in which Christ, in order to generously fulfill the Will of God, solemnly entered Jerusalem where He would die for our salvation. With palms, we glorify and praise the King of Kings, who has come into this world in the form of a slave (1st reading: Flp 2, 6-11) to offer to humanity the greatest service possible: “give His life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28)
Indeed, we must meditate more intensely on the great mystery of the passion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having full authority, chose to suffer everything for love of us and for our salvation. Therefore, it will be beneficial to do the following five things in the coming days:
1) On Holy Monday: consider whether or not our lives honor Jesus Christ, and ask Him for the grace to be able to live more for Him.
2) On Holy Tuesday: meditate on the times in which we, like Peter, have denied Christ, and how we need Him to give us the strength to be His true witnesses.
3) On Holy Wednesday: meditate on the times in which we, like Judas, have betrayed Jesus, and say to Him throughout the day, “Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary, have pity on me.”
4) On Holy Thursday: spend at least an hour in spirit with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, who asks us, as He asked His disciples, “Could you not keep watch with Me for one hour? Watch and pray that you may not undergo the test.”
5) And on Holy Friday: participate, with great fervor and contrition, in the prayer of the Via Crucis.
These five resolutions will help us have a Holy Week. The following parable/story sums up well the significance of what we celebrate during Holy Week:
We have all faced difficult times. Many of these have been moments in which it seems that things just continue to get worse and worse. We encounter one misfortune after the next. We do not seem to see the improvement we are hoping for. We become worried and are filled with anxiety. Our thoughts center on a particular situation seemingly without end. We think to ourselves, “When will things get better?”
When Will Things Get Better?
Our human experience is similar to the author of the book of Lamentations. His words become ours:
“My soul is deprived of peace, I have forgotten what happiness is; I tell myself my future is lost, all that I hoped for from the LORD. The thought of my homeless poverty is wormwood and gall; Remembering it over and over leaves my soul downcast within me…”
The Favors of the Lord Are Not Exhausted
However, God never permits His children to be tempted or tried beyond their strength or ability to bear them. In the midst of these troubling thoughts and restless emotions, and at a moment when we least expect it, He enlightens us with His light and truth to guide us and to lift us up:
This weekend, the Archdiocese of New York canceled all Masses. The letter announcing this news stated, “In light of the continued concern surrounding the coronavirus, and the advice of medical experts, all Masses in the Archdiocese of New York will be canceled beginning this weekend, March 14-15, 2020.”
While it saddens me that Masses have been canceled this weekend in the Archdiocese of New York, I understand the decision and the difficulty in making this decision. I accept it as God’s will because I have come to know over the years on numerous occasions that He truly works in mysterious ways.
Daily, Weekly, or Annual Mass
Like many other Catholics, I value the Holy Mass so profoundly that attending the Celebration of the Holy Eucharist is not just a weekly practice but a daily one for me, by the grace and goodness of God.
The Season of Lent is a forty-day period that occurs annually beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday. There are actually forty-six days in total between these two days. However, the six Sundays of Lent are not part of the forty-day count since Sundays are not days of fasting and acts of penance—except the required Eucharistic fast. This great season is an invitation to follow Jesus of Nazareth into the desert to pray, to do penance, and to discover, accept and accomplish the will of God. Though we are encouraged to practice prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving on a daily basis, we are ardently encouraged to do so during the Lenten season.
What to Give Up For Lent
Prayer, sacrifice, and almsgiving are crucial if we desire to know, love, and follow Christ better. Ultimately, these three spiritual works are indispensable to live as children of God. Therefore, we should pray and sacrifice well, and we must contemplate cautiously the sacrifices we decide to offer during the Lenten season—they should challenge us to grow. Sometimes we may elect to surrender something that we enjoy eating or drinking for the sake of renouncing something during Lent, but this can be too effortless. Some abstain from sweet chocolate, soda, alcohol, fatty foods, or other sweets during Lent. But we must ask ourselves whether these sacrifices truly help us draw closer to Christ. This is an important question especially if we return to these things when the Lenten period is over.
These dietary sacrifices can certainly be physically helpful over time and can strengthen our bodies which are temples of the Holy Spirit. However, many people quickly return to them when the Alleluias reappear and consume them without moderation. On the other hand, refraining from something because it will permit us to fulfill God’s will more thoroughly is not as easy. When we shun anger and selfishness, hatred and resentments, as well as pride and lust, we sacrifice those things that can truly distance us from God. Taking all this into consideration, we may need to ask ourselves, “During this Lenten season, is there something in particular that I need to give up for Lent? Or might there be something that I should be taking up?”